BDS is a prominent form of modern antisemitism, which tries to hide its true nature by couching its antisemitic goals, tactics and rhetoric in the “politically-correct” language of human rights. However, the statements and actions of its leaders and activists reveal the anti-Jewish racism at its core. BDS incitement has led on numerous occasions to threats against Jewish targets. In fact, BDS and delegitimization have had a much greater negative impact on the sense of safety of Jewish students and groups than on the State of Israel.
BDS is antisemitic according to the most widely-accepted international definition of antisemitism- the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition. The IHRA definition has been adopted by bodies around the world, from the English Premier League to the Argentine Football Association, from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to the Global Imams Council, and by hundreds of governments, municipalities, political parties, unions, law enforcement bodies, religious associations, universities and student groups across the globe.
The IHRA definition states: “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…institutions and religious facilities.” It then goes on to state that, “Manifestations might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” with the caveat that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Crucially, the definition then lists 11 “Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere.” These examples include hallmark traits of the BDS campaign, such as:
- 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 to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
BDS explicitly denies the right of a Jewish state to exist anywhere in the Middle East, thereby denying the Jewish People their right to self-determination in their ancient homeland. For example, BDS National Committee Founder Omar Barghouti has declared, “Most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
In addition, BDS claims that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, applies standards to Israel not demanded of other democracies, uses classic antisemitic motifs and tropes, and compares Israeli policy to that of the Nazis (see examples below.) As such, it unambiguously meets the definition of antisemitism.
Among the countries in which parliament or government bodies have adopted IHRA are the United Kingdom (including the Parliaments of Scotland and Wales), Austria, Romania, Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, the Republic of North Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Republic of Moldova, Czech Republic, Hungary, Canada, Luxembourg, Greece, France, Cyprus, Italy, Sweden, Uruguay, Serbia, Argentina, Israel, the United States and Bahrain (The King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence).
Unsurprisingly, the antisemitism which permeates the BDS campaign has frequently led to blatantly antisemitic actions. The following are just a very small number of countless examples:
- Spanish BDS activists targeted American Jewish singer Matisyahu, who was invited to perform at a Spanish reggae festival. Following the BDS “campaign of pressure, coercion, and threats,” Matisyahu was asked to denounce Israel and express support for a Palestinian state as a condition for being allowed to perform. He was the only artist asked to make a political declaration in order to participate.
- Activists with leading North American BDS campus groups have repeatedly made antisemitic statements, such as “Hitler had a lot of great ideas” and “every time I read about Hitler, I fall in love all over again”. Students for Justice in Palestine Co-founder Hatem Bazian told a Berkeley rally, “Take a look at the type of names on the buildings around campus — Haas, Zellerbach — and decide who controls this university.” Bazian also tweeted blatantly antisemitic images, including of an “ultra-orthodox Jew” proclaiming, “I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians. Yay #Ashke-Nazi.”
- BDS activists in South Africa have called to “shoot the Jews,” put a pig’s head in the kosher section of a supermarket as part of a BDS campaign, and threatened the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
- Roger Waters, the leading spokesperson for cultural BDS, opined that more American musicians have not supported his call for an anti-Israel boycott because, “The Jewish lobby is extraordinarily powerful here.” He also has ended performances by floating an inflatable pig decorated with symbols of “evil”, on which the only religious symbol was the Jewish Star of David.
- BDS National Committee Coordinator Mahmoud Nawajaa promoted an anti-Semitic podcast entitled “About the struggle in America against Zionism, the foreign bankers, lobbyists, and corporations.” At a May 2019 BDS National Committee rally in Ramallah, BDS leader Khalid Mansour held up a sign showing a dog with a Jewish Star of David around its neck and bloody fangs.
BDS activists frequently try to hide their antisemitism and claim that they are just targeting the Jewish State. But as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has declared: “Anti-Semitism has evolved, grown more complex, and adopted new guises…In more recent times, it is expressing itself in attempts to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist, including calls for its destruction, using the pretext of the situation in the Middle East to target Jews and Jewish symbols.”
At a time when antisemitism is rising around the world, threatening the sense of safety of many Jewish individuals, organizations and communities, BDS antisemitism should be of great concern for all who care about the fight against all forms of racism.
Criticism of Israeli policies or actions is certainly legitimate. Many Israelis in fact are vocal critics of their government. The BDS campaign, however, goes far beyond legitimate criticism, and clearly cross the line to antisemitism. All who oppose racism and who care about the human rights of Jews must show zero tolerance for all forms of antisemitism, including BDS.