Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / August 27, 2020
Israel is frustrated at its failure to tackle the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement despite the huge budget allocated to the task and the recruitment of pro-Israel activists worldwide to help. The movement continues to flourish in its effort to get Israel to abide by international law.
What’s the reason for Israel’s failure? Is it related to financial, political or security issues? What impact do these have, and how do they affect Israel’s global image?
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs was assigned the task of dealing with BDS in 2017, under the leadership of Minister Gilad Erdan, who is now the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations and is due to become the Ambassador to the United States. Recent leaks suggest that bureaucracy is one of the reasons for its anti-BDS failure.
Two generals recruited to oversee Israeli efforts against BDS are Yaakov Amidror, former head of the National Security Council, and Yossi Kuperwasser, former president of the Military Intelligence Research Division (Aman). They have targeted human rights organisations engaged in pro-Palestine activities.
A prominent focus of Israel’s efforts in this respect has been students, academics and intellectuals who dare to criticise the occupation state’s policies when attending courses and conferences around the world. Pro-Israel activism included the publication of the names and phone numbers of dozens of lecturers, presumably so that they can be harassed, as well as calls for students to boycott their classes and putting pressure on universities to cut ties with them. This strategy has failed.
The Israeli government has faced a lot of criticism about the means deployed to deal with BDS, including the misuse of power between the ministries involved, particularly Foreign Affairs and Strategic Affairs. The State Comptroller’s report highlights the lack of cooperation between these ministries.
The government hides the budget for anti-BDS activities, supposedly for security reasons, although there is no justification for keeping it secret. However, the available data speaks for itself; the budget of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs for 2019 was 120 million shekels (around $35 million).
Strangely, despite its best efforts, Israel has failed to utilise social media effectively in its anti-BDS crusade. Social media has a significant influence on public opinion and is used by the BDS movement to raise awareness about Palestine and the Palestinians, and counter Israeli propaganda. The Israeli government seems to have been unable to convince its citizens to engage in this online struggle effectively.
Although Israel deploys its diplomats and quasi-national institutions with bases around the world, such as the Jewish Agency, to tackle BDS, and they have had some success in getting allied governments to take steps against the movement, every such “success” only serves to highlight the apartheid nature of the occupation state.
Indeed, the progress made by BDS has prompted the Israeli government to prepare a detailed report citing more than 80 “hostile” examples of the movement “demonising” Israel and, it alleges, Jews. Erdan presented the report — Behind the Mask — to European MPs. The goal of the 90-page document was to discredit the boycott movement and incite the EU and the international community against it. It includes examples of anti-Semitic tropes allegedly used by the movement; it cannot be ruled out that these have been posted on fake pro-BDS social media pages as “black ops” are a common feature of pro-Israel and anti-Palestine activism.
Nevertheless, such tactics are having some success in persuading friendly states to take measures against BDS and BDS activists, including, for example, the US, Germany and Switzerland. Borders have been closed to some of them, as have their bank accounts. Writers and journalists are especially prone to such attacks on their personal rights and freedoms. Human rights activists and members of civil society at the forefront of the BDS movement are described by Israel as “saboteurs wearing ties”. The aim is to create the entirely false image that BDS is “terrorism”, even though it is an entirely peaceful movement and is against violence.
Aside from its failure to tackle BDS effectively, Israel faces a number of other challenges, including legal action in the international courts and UN, as well as the coronavirus and economic crises. Social instability is fertile territory for highlighting injustice, and Israel is an easy target for pro-justice protests because of its clearly unjust occupation and discriminatory policies, even against its own non-Jewish citizens. Despite the efforts it has made, therefore, it is premature to claim that Israel has succeeded in disabling the BDS movement; the occupation state is right to be frustrated at its failure to do so.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic