Boycotting The Boycotters

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Recent trend sees BDS campaigns dashed by counter activity

By Michael Zeff
BDS, standing for Boycott Divestment Sanctions is an international campaign, started in 2005 by several different Palestinian NGOs calling on individuals, organizations and nations to apply economical, academic and cultural pressure on Israel.

As such, it is not one cenrtal organization but rather, today, a general term for various groups and activities that promote the BDS principles.

Thus, BDS activity can take the form of just one person using his name and influence to prevent artists or academics from visiting Israel or it can take the form of a well-funded and publicized advertisement campaign targeting the public, calling them to boycott Israel.

It can be a spontaneous anti-Israel rally of activists with little to no connection to each other or it can be full-blown lobbying activity by actual NGOs and official groups like student unions.

The morality of BDS activities has often been questioned, and critics, such as the Anti Defamation League, accuse it of outright Antisemiticm and delegitimization of Israel in its entirety.

However, as suddenly as this phenomenon became known and started gaining traction and successes we now see the begining of a new, reversed trend. Where once BDS against Israel was just a given fact of international relations,now, various BDS labeled campaigns and activities are failing.

Whether it is the recent wave of anti-BDS legislation in Europe and the United States or the failure of particular BDS efforts and campaigns around the world, something different is happening.

In May, Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, signed into effect a bill which passed unchallenged in the Illinois State House of Representatives. The bill requires state pension funds to divest from companies that support BDS against Israel.

A statement made by the Illinois governor’s office to Al Jazeera confirmed that the governor had been “looking forward to signing the bill to make Illinois the first state in America to divest from companies that boycott Israel.”

Similar bills in the United States (US) have recently passed in the Indiana,Tennessee and South Carolina state legislatures. In the state of New York, such a bill is currently in the works, to be added to a pioneering anti-BDS law from 2014, targeting BDS on New York campuses. Joining state legislation, a federal bill is currently entering the legislative stage in Washington D.C.

Early in June US President, Barack Obama, signed into law the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, being the legal guidelines of the ongoing bilateral free-trade negotiations between the US and the European Union (EU). This broader legislation contained several anti-BDS provisions, guiding U.S negotiators to give top priority to rejection of anti-Israeli BDS by the EU.

More recently, an attempt by former Pink Floyd frontman, Roger Waters, now a vocal supporter of BDS to dissuade Brazilian Musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso from giving a concert in Israel, was thwarted.

Waters is quite active in using his fame and influence and personally applying pressure on artists and musicians who are scheduled to perform in Israel.

Waters’ effort was answered with refusal by both musicians along with a letter from Veloso in which he wrote to Waters “I think it is counterproductive to isolate Israel. That is, if you are seeking peace. I have many doubts about such a complex subject.”

“I would never cancel a show to say that I am basically against a country, unless I was really and with all my heart against it. Which is not the case. I remember that Israel is a place of hope. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir died pro-Israel,” wrote Veloso.

These are just a few examples from the last few months and these events are not happening in a vacuum. With the rise in fame and effectiveness of BDS, rose also an understanding that Israel and its supporters need to turn from reaction to BDS to preemption of BDS.

Many Jewish and Israeli individuals, as well as foreign supporters of Israel all over the world have taken it upon themselves to stand against BDS and cut them at every possible corner. Whether acting alone or with a group or as part of an official NGO, one can find these people to some extent behind recent BDS failures.

One such organization, active in Europe, is the Israel Europe Freedom Center (IEFC). Tazpit News Agency spoke to Mr. Wilhelm T. Roth, CEO of the IEFC, about their recent successes.

“We are active on two main levels,” Roth told Tazpit News Agency. “Parliamentary activity and field activity. Utilizing what I call a Phalanx strategy: we block BDS activity head on and we strike against it from above.”

Roth and the IEFC are behind a legislation passed in the Austrian Parliament on March, which stops national funding to NGOs that are related to anti-Israeli activity. They are currently busy with countering a BDS attack on a business deal between Israel and Switzerland as well as preemptive lobbying in Britain.

“In terms of field work we have small victories which don’t get much media coverage; however we did have two big victories recently in Europe, blocking BDS campaigns.” Said Roth.

The more known incident Roth was referring to happened in Denmark in April. When a local BDS supporting group posted advertisements on Copenhagen city buses, the ads called the public to boycott Israeli made products.

IEFC, along with another NGO, My Israel, petitioned the Movia bus company and Movia removed all such ads from their buses, calling the campaign “unnecessarily offensive.”

“Just a few weeks ago we happened to have another success in Finland,” Roth added. “During the NGOWorld event in Helsinki, anti-Israel activists managed to chase away representatives from the Jewish National Fund and the Woman’s International Zionist Organization from participating in the exhibition.”

“The IEFC appealed to local authorities and our activists were allowed to operate our own stand and tent, with positive and fair information, and advocacy of Israel. We drew about 8,500 visitors,” said Roth. “and even managed to convince a Muslim girl to adopt a fairer, slightly more balanced outlook on Israel.”

Critics and opponents of BDS now feel that although the phenomenon is far from diminished, it is noted that in recent months counter BDS and preemptive activity, has gained many successes in raising awareness to the discriminatory and offensive nature of many BDS campaigns.

Supporters of counter BDS activity additionally feel successful in promoting the concepts of freedom of movement, cultural and academic enrichment, freedom of trade and speech over the often indiscriminant voices of hate and exclusion, which various BDS activities are often criticized for promoting.

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