PARIS – The world has recently seen a rapid succession of efforts to delegitimize Israel. Earlier this month, the CEO of French telecommunications company Orange declared at a press conference in Cairo his desire to part ways with an American partner that is too closely tied to Israel. In May, Palestinians tried to have the Israeli soccer federation expelled from FIFA. And Britain’s National Union of Students recently approved a resolution supporting boycotts and sanctions against Israel.
Meanwhile, a campaign to ban Israeli products has been gaining strength in the United States and Europe. And then there are the many performers who – following the lead of Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Vanessa Paradis, Roger Waters, and others – wonder out loud whether or not to appear in “occupied Palestine.”
None of these developments is, in itself, of great moment. But, taken together, they create a climate – and perhaps form a watershed. And this is no accident. All of the recent episodes can be traced, more or less directly, to the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, established in 2005 by 171 Palestinian nongovernmental organizations. So they provide a good occasion to remind those who support this campaign of its true nature.
BDS is supposedly a worldwide civil-society movement embodying respect for law, democracy, and human rights. If that is true, why target the only country in the region that was founded on those values, and that has continued, for better or worse – and despite a nearly 70-year state of war with its neighbors – to be broadly faithful to them? How is it that these scrupulous humanists have had nothing whatsoever to say about the 200,000 victims of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the crimes of the Islamic State, or the massive deportation of Christians from the Plain of Nineveh, to name just a few contemporaneous issues?
BDS is an “anti-apartheid” movement, comes the reply, adopting the methods and spirit of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. That sounds splendid. But then, once again, why the focus on Israel? With its multiethnic polity and society – a mix of Western and Eastern Europeans, Americans and Russians, Ethiopians and Turks, Kurds, Iranians, and Arabs (17 of whom sit in the Knesset) – Israel is precisely the opposite of an apartheid state.
By contrast, in Qatar, whose foundations (together with Saudi think tanks) provide most of the financing for the BDS movement, 95% of the labor force consists of Asian non-citizens working in slave-like conditions under the kafala system, which is a close cousin to apartheid.
Perhaps the goal is to pressure Israel to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians, which surely is worth a little accommodation with Qatar. In that case, it is a peculiar peacemaking strategy that puts pressure on only one of the belligerents, and that, instead of strengthening the hand of the many Israelis who favor negotiation, imposes collective punishment in the form of exclusion from the community of nations.
Only one real formula for peace exists, and everyone knows it. That formula, enshrined in the Oslo Accords, is the two-state solution. One has only to read the declarations of Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah, and other promoters of the BDS movement to see that this solution is precisely what they do not want. They prefer a “one-state solution” (Abunimah’s term) – under a Palestinian flag, of course.
Is this just a detail that can be safely ignored on the grounds that BDS targets “only” the territories, the Jewish settlements being built there, and the goods that the settlers produce? This is another sucker trap.
Here, too, it is enough to read the movement’s founding declaration of July 9, 2005, which specifies that one of its “three objectives” is to “protect” the “rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” In fact and in law, that would amount to establishing on those lands a new Arab country that could be counted on, in short order, to undergo an ethnic cleansing that would make it judenfrei.
And, finally, how can I refrain from reminding those whose memory is as full of holes as their thinking that the idea of boycotting Israel is not as new as it appears? In fact, it is older than the Jewish state, having emerged on December 2, 1945, from a decision by the Arab League, which then wasted no time in relying on that decision to reject the United Nations’ dual resolution to establish two states. Among the promoters of this brilliant idea were Nazi war criminals who had settled in Syria and Egypt, where they gave their new masters lessons in marking Jewish shops and businesses.
A comparison is not an argument. And the meaning of a slogan does not reside entirely in its genealogy. But words do have a history. As do debates. And it is better to know that history, if we wish to avoid repeating its ugliest scenes.
The truth is that the BDS movement is nothing more than a sinister caricature of the anti-totalitarian and anti-apartheid struggles. It is a campaign whose instigators have no aim other than to discriminate against, delegitimize, and vilify an Israel that in their mind never stopped wearing its yellow star.
To activists of good faith who may have been taken in by duplicitous representations of the movement, I would say only that there are too many noble causes in need of assistance to allow oneself to be enlisted in a dubious one. Those worthy causes include fighting the jihadist decapitators, saving the women and girls enslaved by Boko Haram, defending the Middle East’s imperiled Christians and Arab democrats, and, of course, striving for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His books include Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.