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Anti-Israel Boycott Movement - B'nai Brith Canada

Summary 

The anti-Israel boycott and sanctions movement is a carefully crafted propaganda campaign started in the early 2000s by a group of NGOs seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel at all costs. They are committed to the goal of ensuring that Israel is held accountable for all Palestinian displacement and for, what they claim are, violations of international law in Israel’s dealings with Palestinian-Arabs. The movement has several demands, all of which are inconsistent with solving the current conflict and are incompatible with a genuine peace plan in the region.

Their demands include:

  • Israeli withdrawal to indefensible pre-1967 boundaries
  • Recognition of the ‘fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality’ (which is already in place)
  • Importing the descendants of all Palestinian-Arab refugees from across the globe, into the Jewish State of Israel, thus fundamentally altering the demographic makeup of Israel. (bdsmovement.net, 2015)

Boycott organizers popularly refer to their movement as ‘BDS’, for boycott, divest and sanction. This is linguistic trickery, since really, the movement should rightly be called simply ‘BS’. In practice, the ‘divestment’ strategy is the same as that of the boycott arm of the movement, since their ‘divestment’ activities are simply boycotts coming from institutions rather than individuals. They are both asking for the same thing – that people (individuals, companies, trade unions, etc.) refuse to support Israel through financial means. Don’t buy Israeli goods, don’t support Israeli business... it’s all the same strategy. However, one can’t really fault the movement’s founders for not wanting to call their newfound project ‘BS’, even if that’s the more accurate and honest thing to do. 

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There is evidence that anti-Israel activities also lead to increased antisemitism on Canadian streets, with many violent attacks on Canadian Jews and their allies occurring during anti-Israel gatherings. Since B’nai Brith and the League for Human
Rights have been tracking antisemitic incidents in Canada for the past three decades, there is an abundance of longitudinal data on this issue. Whenever there is a rise in anti-Israel activity in Canada (for example, during the 2014 Israeli Operation ‘Protective Edge’), there is a corresponding rise in both number and severity of antisemitic incidents. With 2014 proving to have the highest number of antisemitic hate incidents ever reported, it is imperative that steps be taken to combat this movement.

Full Text of B'nai Brith's Paper The Anti-Israel Boycott & Sanctions Movement: It's Just BS

Background

The anti-Israel boycott and sanctions movement is a carefully crafted propaganda campaign started in the early 2000s by a group of NGOs seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel at all costs. They are committed to the goal of ensuring that Israel is held accountable for all Palestinian displacement and for, what they claim are, violations of international law in Israel’s dealings with Palestinian-Arabs. The movement has several demands, all of which are inconsistent with solving the current conflict and are incompatible with a genuine peace plan in the region.

Their demands include:

  Israeli withdrawal to indefensible pre-1967 boundaries

  Recognition of the ‘fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality’ (which is already in place)

  Importing the descendants of all Palestinian-Arab refugees from across the globe, into the Jewish State of Israel, thus    fundamentally altering the demographic makeup of Israel. (bdsmovement.net, 2015)

 

Boycott organizers popularly refer to their movement as ‘BDS’, for boycott, divest and sanction. This is linguistic trickery, since really, the movement should rightly be called simply ‘BS’. In practice, the ‘divestment’ strategy is the same as that of the boycott arm of the movement, since their ‘divestment’ activities are simply boycotts coming from institutions rather than individuals. They are both asking for the same thing – that people (individuals, companies, trade unions, etc.) refuse to support Israel through financial means. Don’t buy Israeli goods, don’t support Israeli business... it’s all the same strategy. However, one can’t really fault the movement’s founders for not wanting to call their newfound project ‘BS’, even if that’s the more accurate and honest thing to do.

B’nai Brith Canada strongly condemns the anti-Israel BS movement, on the grounds that:

a)  It is antisemitic and discriminatory, aiming economic penalties and sanctions at Israel, while ignoring flagrant human right violating regimes all around the world;

b)  It endangers the livelihoods of all Israelis, as well as those of the Palestinian-Arabs, the people that the movement is supposed to protect;

c)  The movement is manufactured using falsehoods as evidence;

d)  It is in violation of legislation in both Ontario and Manitoba;



Analysis of the Anti-Israel Boycott and Sanction Movement

The BS movement labels itself as a human rights movement, but it is nothing more than a campaign sanctioning antisemitism and intimidation against world Jewry. During anti-Israel rallies in Calgary last summer, BS organizers shouted chants of ‘kill the Jews’ and ‘Hitler was right’. Recently, a video appeared on YouTube of British protesters calling for the boycott of ‘Jewish’ businesses, not ‘Israeli’ businesses (Cohen, 2014). The organizers of the boycott movement may claim that it has nothing to do with antisemitism, religion or anything more than Israeli domestic policy, but aiming protests at individual Jews,rather than the state of Israel itself, demonstrates that this is false. The rhetoric used falls well within the definition of antisemitism outlined by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia,as outlined in Appendix A. Specifically, criticism of Israel becomes antisemitism when it:

●  Denies the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

●  Applies double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

●  Uses the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

●  Draws comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

●  Holds Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Although anti-Israel activists and supporters often claim that the BS movement is not about the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state (because that would be antisemitic), and that they support a two-state solution, the leaders of the movement feel differently; their aims are diametrically opposed to a two-state solution. One of the most influential and prolific leaders of the movement, and founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel Omar Bargouti said:

“We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia. Going back to the two-state solution, besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with.” (Barghouti, 2004).

The movement organizers would like full Israeli citizenship granted to the descendants of all Palestinian-Arabs worldwide, regardless of current citizenship, residency, or place of birth. If this were to happen, the demographic shift alone would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It would eliminate the need for a two-state solution, while simultaneously denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. The fact that this is based solely in antisemitism is clear from the fact that the BS movement does not expect any accountability from other countries responsible for Palestinian displacement, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

The movement’s condemnation of Israel and wilful ignorance of human rights abuses in Arab states within the region, and indeed of those taking place in Gaza and Ramallah as well, only serves to underscore the shameful double standard to which the movement’s activists would hold Israel and her policies. If the boycott movement were really about protecting the rights of Palestinian-Arabs in the region, they would look at Syria, where ISIS is deliberately killing civilians, including women and children (Tayler, 2015). They would look to Iran, who Canada lists as the premier state sponsor of terror, and where homosexuality is illegal, punishable by death. They would look to Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, or to Egypt and Lebanon, where Palestinian-Arabs, the very people they are supposedly trying to protect, have almost no rights at all. Not only do they not call for justice in any of these cases, they refuse to recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization. Considering that the world has witnessed countless incidents of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, and the international community has condemned it as a terrorist organization, failing to condemn the actions of Hamas is, at best, an act of gross negligence. No – the boycott movement is not, fundamentally, about human rights; it is a thinly veiled attempt to legitimize antisemitism. If it were not, the organizers would be calling for improved conditions for Palestinian-Arabs across the region (and for all people, generally), not just the outright dismantling of the Jewish state.

Re-Framing Israel

An important element of the boycott movement is the re-framing of Israel’s image on the world stage from victim of Arab aggression and terrorism, to one of occupier and thug. Only by rewriting history does this argument make sense. The movement depends on the erroneous presupposition that Palestinian-Arabs are the area’s historical inhabitants, being driven from their homes by white colonial Israeli settlers and effectively cleansed from the region. Those who remain are supposedly oppressed and denied independent statehood. This argument, however, relies on the false claim that Israeli Jews are aliens from European countries, and therefore have no claim to ownership of the land. Unfortunately, this plays to the colonial hold-over of ‘white man’s guilt’ of Western audiences, while similarly ignoring the historical Jews who lived in the region and in Israel itself for thousands of years (as recognized by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922), and the 850 000 Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee Arab lands (Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria), migrating to Israel to ensure their safety. The Jewish people have maintained a continuous presence in, and desire to return to, Israel for thousands of years. To claim otherwise is ridiculous. The fact that the BS movement has only taken hold in areas of the world where there are predominantly white populations (Canada, the US, Australia, Great Britain, France, etc.) demonstrates what a shrewd tactic this is. The BS movement has failed to gain traction throughout Asia and Africa precisely because this tactic of generalized white colonial guilt and manipulation cannot be applied. The exception of course is South Africa, where scars of racial tensions and white oppression still run deep.

Finally, the movement uses evidence to support their claim of unprovoked and disproportionate Israeli violence that is dubious at best, and an outright fabrication at worst. A 2014 BBC report showed that many of the most widely circulated photos presented by the anti-Israel movement, claiming to show Palestinian-Arab victims of Israeli oppression are actually photographs of other conflicts, particularly those in Iraq and Syria. The disproportionate number of casualties from conflict on the side of Palestinian-Arabs has nothing to do with the level of Israeli aggression, and everything to do with the fact that Palestinian authorities continue to commit double war crimes by firing on civilians while using other civilians as human shields.


Impact of the Boycott Movement

Along with being discriminatory and illegal, the boycotts actually harm the very people that the movement claims to support. Under intense pressure from the movement, in 2014 SodaStream closed its plant in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, costing 500 Palestinian-Arab workers their jobs. Indeed, last year saw a further 3.5% of Palestinian-Arab workers left unemployed, and a 38.5% unemployment rate in Gaza (United Nations, 2014). Those interested in supporting the rights of Palestinian-Arabs, whose most basic freedoms are being violated daily by the oppressive Hamas regime and rampant government corruption in the Palestinian Authority, would do better to highlight these injustices rather than boycotting Israeli companies and taking away the livelihoods of the people they’re purporting to help.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority’s daily newspaper published a report stating that Palestinian-Arabs are better off working for Israeli companies than for other Palestinians, citing working conditions and wages which were substantially better under the former group’s employ (Berman, 2014; Marcus & Zilberdik, 2014).If the boycott movement succeeds in impacting Israel’s economy, it ultimately means fewer good jobs for Palestinian-Arabs, and little else.

The actions of the boycott movement do not just affect the people of Israel. Earlier this year, B’nai Brith released the Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, demonstrating a 28% increase in incidents of antisemitism in Canada during 2014. And while the proponents of the BS movement argue that boycotting Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism, the fact remains that for many of the violent incidents recorded in 2014, the antisemitism directly resulted from anti-Israel activities (such as the multiple violent incidents stemming from an anti-Israel rally in Calgary). Since B’nai Brith began tracking antisemitism in Canada in 1982, there has shown to be a clear correlation between violence in Israel and an increase in violent antisemitism in Canada. Whenever the Arab-Israeli conflict flares, a subsequent spike in incidents occurs. We saw this prominently during the 2006 war with Lebanon, and during the 2009 and 2014 conflicts with Gaza.

Since the inception of coordinated anti-Israel activities in Canada in the early 2000s, we have also seen a dramatic increase in domestic antisemitic incidents. For most of the late 1990s, the numbers remain relatively constant, averaging between 200 and 300 incidents per year. With the introduction of the BS movement, we see a dramatic increase, with 857 incidents reported in 2004, skyrocketing to 1042 by 2007.

Unfortunately, for many involved in this movement, there is no difference between the Israeli government and the average Canadian Jew, regardless of their level of involvement with, or interest in, Israeli political life. Leaving aside the movement’s blatant attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, stirring anti-Israel sentiment has been clearly shown to increase antisemitism on Canadian streets.



The Importance of Language

One of the simplest methods the boycott organizers use to draw others to their cause is the deliberate crafting of the language used to discuss the movement. They are careful to describe themselves as ‘Pro-Palestinian’ and not ‘anti-Israel’. This has the devious result of necessarily making their opponents ‘anti-Palestinian’, which is simply not true. As one of Canada’s senior human rights organizations, B’nai Brith Canada is very concerned about the rights of Palestinian-Arabs, and indeed all people in the Middle East.

In reality, the movement itself can onlybe seen as anti-Israel, because it has no reasonable claim to be pro-Palestinian. It focuses on the destruction of Israel at all costs, not on concrete improvement to the lives of everyday Palestinian-Arabs. If the movement were equally concerned with any of the Palestinian injustices taking place within the rest of the Middle East, they would have a stronger position from which to moralize. However, the boycott movement fails time and time again to even recognize the atrocities occurring to Palestinian-Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They choose to ignore the denial of fundamental human rights to Palestinian-Arabs in all other areas of the Middle East, focusing solely on the Jewish state of Israel, the only democracy in the region.

Another linguistic tactic is to refer to Israel as an ‘apartheid state’. This characterization is patently false and offensive. Under an apartheid regime, people like Haneen Zoabi, the first Palestinian-Arab woman elected to Israel’s parliament, or Omar Barghouti, would not be able to attend Israeli universities. But they did. The fact that high-profile Palestinian-Arabs continue to choose to study in Tel Aviv, rather than in Gaza or Ramallah, both of which have universities, speaks to the accessibility and quality of secular education in Israel to all people. And, unlike in Israel, it is nearly impossible for Palestinian-Arab students to obtain visas to study in neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Referring to Israel with such language is disrespectful to the true victims of apartheid South Africa, and minimizes the horrors faced there. There is no legitimacy in co-opting the pain and suffering of others to support a political cause, especially when the two scenarios are dissimilar in virtually every respect. However, the claim of apartheid is not the only instance where the boycott movement uses language that belittles the suffering of other people. Making parallels between Israel and the Nazis is another common tactic used. This is not only ridiculous, but also offensive to Holocaust survivors, many of whom helped to establish the State of Israel and all of its civil liberties.

Finally, and perhaps most effectively, the movement uses language itself as a weapon. They have a broad reach and loud voices. By trumpeting buzzwords and connecting them to concepts with which everyone is familiar, they achieve a sort of reframing of language in their favour. For example, they often use the phrase ‘Zionism = racism’. For someone who doesn’t really understand Zionism, seeing and hearing it constantly framed in this way, it quickly becomes the truth. Whenever they see the word ‘Zionist’, they immediately think ‘racist’, making it impossible to be a legitimate Zionist. Zionism is an essential component to Jewish life.


Canada’s Role in Boycott Movement

The Canadian government has long been one of the most vocal Western powers in support of Israel, and the belief that Israeli citizens have the right to live in peace and security has been at the core of Canada's Middle East policy since 1948. However, in the last decade, a number of Canadian universities and their student unions, along with the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, have opted to support boycott activities on their campuses. The adoption of anti-Israel policies has led to many Jewish students feeling unfairly targeted, and ultimately threatened and unwelcome.

In both Ontario and Manitoba, there is currently legislation that makes it illegal to refuse to do business with a person or organization based on their ethnicity, religion or country of origin. The Discriminatory Business Practices Act was introduced to ensure that the Canadian tolerance for multiculturalism is upheld in business, as it is in all other areas of public life. Anti-Israel boycotts are in direct violation of these laws, as they are calling for economic boycott against businesses, because they are owned by, or do business with, Israeli nationals.

There was federal anti-boycott legislation proposed in 1978 to directly address the Arab boycott at the time. Despite broad support from both the Canadian public and Parliament, it was never passed, due to the 1979 election call.

In January, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel signed a memorandum of understanding, reaffirming an earlier 2014 commitment for both countries to work together to overcome the targeting of Israel by the boycott and sanctions movement. As part of the January memorandum, Canada agreed to the development of a ‘coordinated, public diplomacy initiative’ to oppose the boycotts aimed at Israel and its people, within three to six months.


Recommendations

Given the discriminatory, antisemitic and illegal nature of anti-Israel boycotts, and the points laid out in the memorandum of understanding between Canada and Israel, B’nai Brith Canada makes the following policy recommendations:

a) Enforcement of legislation, where it exists, against those calling for anti-Israel boycotts as the discriminatory business practice that it is. At the time of this writing, there is no evidence that these laws has ever been applied in the context of anti-Israel boycotts, despite the clear applicability under the law;

b) The creation and implementation of legislation in all Canadian jurisdictions (including new federal legislation) similar to that of Ontario and Manitoba, aimed at preventing illegal boycott activities;

c) Development of legislation patterned on that of the recent Israeli law which allows civil action against those calling for illegal boycotts;

d) Increase funding and resources to both hate crimes units in local police forces, as well as to organizations which dedicate their time to combating racism and antisemitism;

e) In accordance with the January 2015 Memorandum of Understanding between Canada and Israel, the government should immediately begin development of a coordinated public diplomacy initiative to oppose the boycotts aimed at Israel and its people;

f) Examine the potential for implementing a law fashioned on that recently passed in Illinois, requiring Canada's trading partners to also reject anti-Israel boycott activities.


Conclusions

The anti-Israel BS movement is, at its core, an antisemitic exercise in advocating for the demonization and ultimate destruction of the Jewish state. The movement not only hurts the very population that it purports to protect, but there is evidence that anti-Israel activities have a direct correlation to an increase in antisemitism in Canada. With 2014 proving to have the highest number of antisemitic hate incidents ever reported, it is imperative that steps be taken to combat this movement. In jurisdictions where legislation already exists to counter boycott activities, full recourse should be taken to prevent anti-Israel activities. In those jurisdictions where no such legislation exists (including the federal level), immediate steps should be taken to develop such legislation. Canada must honour its Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Israel, and begin to take real and concrete steps to counter the boycott movement.


Appendix A

Working Definition of Antisemitism from European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

The purpose of this document is to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism.

Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

●  Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

●  Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

●  Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

●  Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

●  Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

●  Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

●  Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

●  Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

●  Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

●  Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

●  Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

●  However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country

cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others.


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