by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
April 1, 1933 is one of those dates that is permanently etched in the memory of the Jewish people. It was on that date that the Nazis carried out their first nationwide planned action against the Jews in Germany. That action was to boycott Jewish businesses. Nazi spokespersons were clear this was an act of retribution and not just against the Jews. This was also revenge on foreigners, US and English journalists and anyone else who had the courage to criticize the Nazi regime. The Jewish people would take the brunt for all. On that day Nazi storm troopers filled the streets in front of Jewish businesses, threatening those who would cross the boycott line, marking shops by painting them with yellow stars of David and posting signs saying “Don’t Buy from Jews.” Other signs read, “The Jews are our misfortune.”
However the underlying motives of the Nazi action soon became apparent. This wasn’t just retribution. This was a decided effort to isolate the Jewish people, separate them from the rest of the German population, demonize them and prepare the way for their ultimate destruction. Today’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has all of those same hallmarks, minus the storm troopers, of course. Only this time, the target is the nation of Israel.
The current leaders of the BDS movement would have us believe that the campaign began on July 9, 2005 when over 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel. The truth, however, is a little different. The movement actually began in September of 2001 at the UN Durban Conference on Racism. It was here that virulent anti-Israel forces took control of an official United Nations event and turned it into an unprecedented and vicious propaganda fest. It was here that the campaign to brand Israel as an apartheid state first saw the light of day. And it was here that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions strategy was chosen as the tactic to achieve the goals of those who were bent on Israel’s destruction.
The 2005 move to frame BDS as a Palestinian grassroots movement to counter “Israeli apartheid” not only lent credibility to the movement, but separated it from the now infamous Durban conference. However, the list of 170 NGOs reveals strange bedfellows indeed. Labor unions, educational institutions, Islamic organizations and Christian churches signed on the dotted line with the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. That council is a coalition that includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some of the most violent subsets of Fatah. Further, 13 of the signatories are from Syria, six from Lebanon and two from Jordan.
Over the past decade, BDS promoters have worked very hard to take this ideological assault outside the borders of Israel and beyond those groups who are clearly identified with the Palestinian cause. The movement now operates globally in such spheres as campus and academia, churches, civic institutions, the arts and even the corporate world. As organizations and individuals who have no obvious “Palestinian axe to grind” have taken up the cause, the movement has grown and has significantly impacted the political discussions around Israel.
While the movement continues to employ the ruse that it is a grass roots organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of the Palestinian people, its real objectives become clearer every day. Clearly all of its efforts are directed toward isolating Israel, separating it from the rest of the nations, demonizing it and preparing the way for its ultimate destruction. No longer is the criminalization of the State based on any specific policy or action, but rather the attack is on Israel’s very existence. And unfortunately the accusers often rely on the misrepresentation of international law to justify such actions.
However, Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University school of Law and a recognized world class expert in constitutional and international law with a focus on boycotts, says there’s definitely light at the end of the BDS tunnel. Earlier this year he testified before a US congressional committee and spoke with refreshing clarity about the irrationality of boycotting Israel. Even less understood, Kontorovich said, is that in many cases those boycotts are actually illegal. Under corporate law, any organization, including a nonprofit, can do only what it is permitted under the purposes specified in its charter. Boycott resolutions that are beyond the powers of an organization are void, and individual members can sue to have a court declare them invalid. For instance, an educational institution whose bylaws call for the free exchange of ideas and information is legally prohibited against boycotting that kind of exchange with another educational institution, i.e. universities in Israel. Not only that, individuals serving on the boards of these organizations may actually be liable for damages.
There are those in the United States and Europe who say that BDS activities are protected under free speech guarantees. However, Kontorovich says nothing could be further from the truth. “Not only is this not free speech,” he says,” it’s actually hate speech and therefore it is not protected under the First Amendment. It’s illegal.”
Kontorovich further makes the point that various types of discrimination are prohibited under international law. That includes economic discrimination which is clearly the goal of the BDS movement. Not only that, such actions are antithetical to peace, justice and equality, and a stumbling block for democracy and human rights for all the people of the Middle East.
And light there is. Over the past couple of years, Kontorovich and his colleagues have had amazing success in combating the evils of BDS. In June 2015, US President Barack Obama signed an anti-BDS bill into law, conditioning any free trade agreement with the EU on its rejection of BDS. But that’s only the beginning. Since then Colorado, Arizona, Tennessee, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, California, South Carolina and Illinois have passed various types of anti-BDS legislation. Twenty other states are considering similar legislation. Many of these bills not only prohibit actions of boycott, divestment or sanctions within their own states, but also prohibit doing business with those that engage in such activities. Kansas and Pennsylvania have adopted legislation to defund any university that takes part in academic boycotts of Israel. And it’s not just America: the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Germany and Spain have all enacted similar legislation.
Of course the conflict is far from over. The BDS movement is gathering its forces and preparing to go to battle on the legal front. But Kontorovich remains positive. He truly believes the law is on Israel’s side and he recognizes that Israel has many friends around the world. “If they will rally in support of these government initiatives and change the narrative,” he says, “Israel will win. Let’s not call it BDS. Let’s call it economic discrimination, because that’s what it is.”
So let’s change the narrative and watch Israel defeat yet another enemy.
Recently Bridges for Peace participated in a historic meeting held at the Israeli Knesset with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and Israel’s Delegitimization Caucus. Prof. Eugene Kontorovich and Joe Sabag were two of the speakers. This article and the one that follows on page 14 will give you a glimpse into the incredible work being done by these two men to fight the BDS movement on a global scale.
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