As the Middle East devours itself, leaving behind the worst human devastation since World War II, an international movement seeks to delegitimize Israel, the region's only intact society. Israel alone in the Mideast has an independent judiciary, a free press, universal healthcare and religious freedom. Yet the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS, has singled out the Jewish state as the world's most pressing problem in the early 21st century.
BDS is at once immoral and a threat to peace. Immoral, because it perpetuates the lie that Israel is solely or even primarily to blame for the absence of a Palestinian state — rather than the repeated rejection by Palestinian leaders of peace plans presented over the decades. Immoral, too, because it ignores the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate education on which generations of Palestinians have been raised, an education that denies any place for a Jewish state in any borders.
The BDS movement not only places the entire onus for the conflict on Israel, it is counter-productive. The primary beneficiary of the attempt to turn Israel into a pariah state is the Israeli hard right. Far-right politicians have long argued that the world hates the Jewish state not because of what it does but because of what it is — and therefore Israel should dispense with the niceties of democratic norms in its war against Palestinian terrorism, end the illusion of a negotiated agreement and stake its maximalist claim to the entirety of its ancient homeland. In intensifying the Israeli public’s sense of siege and despair, while encouraging Palestinian intransigence, the international movement to isolate and punish Israel undermines a two-state solution.
Like a majority of Israelis, I recognize that the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people is a long-term threat to my country’s well-being. The occupation challenges the integrity of Israeli democracy and threatens its Jewish majority, which is demographically essential for maintaining the only corner of the planet where Jews are sovereign. For these reasons, a majority of Israelis, according to polls, supports a two-state solution.
But that same majority of moderate Israelis is deeply wary of the ultimate goal of the Palestinian leadership — both the nationalist Fatah party and the Islamist militant group Hamas. As the Palestinian media broadcast on a daily basis, the goal isn’t two states living in peace but a single Arab-majority state in which Jews would be at best a tolerated minority. And given the fate of minorities throughout the Middle East today, the likely scenario is far more nightmarish.
The Palestinian national movement as a whole intends to destroy Jewish sovereignty through the “right of return,” the demand that descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war — a war of aggression initiated by Arab states against Israel’s creation — move to the Jewish state, rather than to a future Palestinian state. That would create an Arab majority in Israel, undermining the state's Jewish identity from within. Israel would collapse.
Israelis across the political spectrum well understand the chilling implications of the right of return, even if much of the international community does not. The BDS movement — whose website endorses the right of return as one of its three core goals — promotes that vision of a world without Israel. BDS dupes those of its supporters who genuinely seek a two-state solution into believing that they are working for peace. Indeed the BDS website doesn't even mention two states for two peoples among its goals. Even if Israel were to uproot every settlement, redivide Jerusalem, forfeit its claim to the holy places and return to the eight-mile-wide borders of the pre-1967 war, the BDS movement presumably would press on until Israel was erased from the map.
BDS activists brand Israel as an illegitimate colonialist state, a European transplant in the Middle East. This historical distortion erases 4,000 years of intimate connection between the Jewish people and the land. It ignores another factor of demography: A majority of Israel’s Jews don’t come from Europe, but from the Arab world, descendants of the nearly 1 million Jews effectively expelled from Arab countries where Jews lived for millenniums. Israelis call them the forgotten refugees.
As a means of applying economic pressure on Israel, BDS has failed. Despite the boycott, investments in Israel haven't diminished. Israel is far too integrated into the global economy and the high-tech sector to be isolated.
The attempt to turn Israel into a version of the old, apartheid South Africa will also fail because there are too many people around the world who admire Israel. Israel-lovers are no less passionate in defending the Jewish state than Israel-haters are in seeking to harm it.
The real threat of BDS, though, is more subtle than economic pressure. BDS creates an atmosphere in which Israel is solely to blame for the failure of peace between Jews and Arabs, and it negates the very idea of a nation-state for the Jewish people. BDS takes one of the world’s most complex and heartbreaking conflicts — between two traumatized peoples — and turns it into a morality play between darkness and light. The movement to criminalize Israel is itself a crime. Rather than Israel, it is the BDS movement that must be exposed and ostracized for its bigotry and hatred.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His book “Like Dreamers” won the Jewish Book Council's 2013 Book of the Year award. He is working on a book about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
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