A vicious sickness known as anti-Semitism has infected people with hate across centuries, cultures, and continents — and Jewish communities have often paid the price for it. In the U.S., after decades of historic declines in anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents, the disease has come roaring back at an exponential rate over the last seven years. According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. grew by more than one-third in 2016 and have jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. Nowhere has this rise in incidents been more pronounced than on America’s college campuses.
How do we explain this astronomical rise?
In no small part, it is the result of a systematic campaign to demonize the Jewish state using the same tactics that have long been used to demonize the Jewish people: the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
In my work as a pro-Israel activist and philanthropist, I’m often asked: is BDS really anti-Semitic? Does it really lead to an increase in anti-Semitism?
If you look at the evidence — and examine the roots, goals, and strategy of BDS — you see that the answer is an unequivocal yes!
Let’s start with the evidence, which shows that anti-Semitism spikes when BDS strikes. One recent report found that on 64 campuses with a large presence of BDS activists, 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred, compared to 198 occurrences that took place during the same time last year, reflecting a 45 percent increase.
The student governments at 10 of these schools took up anti-Israel divestment resolutions. Of these 10 schools, eight showed the largest increase in anti-Semitism from 2015 to 2016. BDS activity does not merely encourage, but also causes anti-Semitism: at 7 of the 9 schools in the 2015 study that considered or voted on divestment resolutions, there was a drastic decrease in anti-Semitic activity the following year, when no divestment resolution was considered.
Despite this evidence, for the past seven years, many in the Jewish-American community ignored or downplayed the threat of BDS. In opinion pages across the Jewish and Israeli press, you continue to find claims that BDS is not connected to anti-Semitism and arguments that BDS has been beaten or is fading away. When you take the time to learn about BDS and its expansion into mainstream America, you understand how dangerous it is and why we need to fight it.
This movement has roots in anti-Semitic boycotts that began long before Israel was even a country. From the Romans to the Nazis to the anti-Semitic leaders of the Soviet Union, organized boycotts of Jews have a long history. An official, organized boycott of the Jewish community in the area that is now Israel started as early as 1922, more than 25 years before the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948. An official boycott was adopted by the Arab League in December 1945, which became an official boycott against the country of Israel when it was founded three years later, with the goal of isolating the Jewish state from the international community.
Boycott policies have continued to this day, taking different forms over the years. While the strategy hasn’t changed, those behind these today’s anti-Israel boycotts have gotten much more sophisticated.
Over the past 15 years, BDS has effectively branded itself as a human rights movement, hiding its true intentions from the public and obscuring the role of the extremists, racists, terrorists, and radicals behind the Movement.
By 2006, BDS had developed a robust model of operating in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. They focused on a few areas where their movement can enjoy structural advantages, such as the judiciary, academia, churches, and trade unions. They formed alliances with social justice and minority groups, speaking out on totally unrelated issues — from prison reform to global warming — so that they could ingratiate themselves with these new allies and indoctrinate them with their lies about the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
The result? Anti-Israel hate that was once on the margins has entered the mainstream, becoming accepted as a legitimate voice in too much of our political discourse.
How did this happen? The BDS playbook developed in the UK has been exported to the rest of Europe and to America, and its success here has followed like clockwork (I’ll speak more about this in my next op-ed).
Many in the American Jewish community ignored this threat when it first emerged. Some have even accepted BDS’ claims that it was simply a human rights movement and had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
Anyone who spends the time to dig a little deeper discovers the truth. BDS has made clear time and again that their goal isn’t to exert international pressure to change Israeli policies: it is to destroy Israel and demonize any that support it.
The maps that BDS groups publish of the region make clear that they seek Israel’s elimination, depicting a single Palestinian state that extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with no trace of the Jewish state. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said publicly that he’s working for Israel’s “euthanasia.” Hatem Bazian — the other major co-founder of BDS in America — has called for an armed struggle, an “intifada,” against the United States and spouted anti-Semitic stereotypes from his pulpit as a lecturer at UC Berkeley.
Those who see BDS for what it is — a sophisticated hate movement committed to the destruction of the Jewish people — are the only ones equipped to defeat it. The time has come to put the delusions behind us, but we cannot be successful without courage, conviction, and unity. We must stand up and fight BDS now — with all the tools and all the strength that our community can muster — before it’s too late.