This article was originally published in Jewish Policy Center’s inFOCUS Quarterly Spring 2020 issue.
Defeating the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is the best way for Americans to fight rising anti-Semitism and the hate groups that radicalize and polarize our country today.
In September, the United Nations – a body with a well-documented history of bias against the Jewish state – released an unprecedented report on the worldwide spread of Jew-hatred. The world body acknowledged that anti-Semitism is growing around the world, stemming from three primary sources: the far left, the far right, and radical Islam. In the report, the UN-recognized for the first time that “the objectives, activities, and effects of the BDS movement are fundamentally anti-Semitic.”
The next day, the Israeli government released a landmark report, “Behind the Mask: The Anti-Semitic Nature of BDS Exposed.” The document revealed rampant anti-Semitism within the BDS movement, including its calls for violence against Jews and the dismantling of Israel. Promoted by an Islamo-leftist alliance, the BDS movement has intensified hatred and violence against Jews around the world. The report provided 80 examples of anti-Semitism committed by key BDS activists.
This followed another bombshell Israeli government report, “Terrorists in Suits,” which exposed more than 100 different connections linking Palestinian terrorist groups to BDS organizations. The report substantiated how Hamas (Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement), Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) created the BDS movement in 2001, and documented the current ties of these terror organizations to at least 13 anti-Israel NGOs, who have managed to place more than 30 of their members – including individuals previously jailed, some for murder – in senior positions in BDS organizations.
Now, StopAntisemitism.org and Zachor Legal Institute have released a groundbreaking report. “The New Anti-Semites,” not only connects the dots between the UN and Israeli government reports but also provides evidence of the far right’s embrace of BDS ideologies and tactics and recommends concrete solutions for lawmakers to eradicate anti-Semitism before it spirals out of control.
And make no mistake: this hatred is now manifesting across America, spreading from Islamo-leftist to other hate groups and increasing violence against Jews and other minorities. Fortunately, with the assistance of federal and state governments, we have the power to annihilate it.
Rising Jew-hatred in America
American Jews face the perfect storm of anti-Semitism. The memory of the Holocaust and historic anti-Semitism is declining. Conspiracy theories and the use of social media to target Jews and Israel are spreading at lightning speed and with lethal effects. Assault-style semi-automatic weapons are readily available for anyone who seeks to commit deadly violence against Jews. And Jewish organizations have not been able to curb the rising tide of hate and violence to date.
While this hatred has long existed, the incidence of violent acts against Jews has been increasing for the first time in decades. The most recent hate crime statistics conclusively show that Jews are the target of most religious-based hate crimes. This fringe hatred is moving into the mainstream, enabled and promoted by the BDS movement.
“The New Anti-Semites” report has exposed the true face of the Islamo-leftist BDS Movement as a 19-year-old campaign that promotes demonization and delegitimization of Israel and has effectively mainstreamed anti-Semitism worldwide.
Ties Between Radicalization and Anti-Semitism
The Islamo-leftist BDS movement has been instrumental in spreading violence against Jews. Permitting the BDS movement to present Jews living in Israel as human rights violators, war criminals, and occupiers make it open season to depict nearly all Jews as villains who deserve harassment and physical harm. This is the main reason why physical attacks on Jews worldwide are increasing exponentially.
Growing social divisions in the United States have given oxygen to fringe radical movements that promote anti-Semitism. This has enabled hate groups like the BDS movement to gain more popularity, influence, manpower, and energy. Anti-Semites, whether on the far right, far left, among radical Muslims or extremist elements like the fringe offshoots of Black Hebrew Israelites, hate Jews for different reasons. At the same time, their hatred is a threat to our core American values: democracy, free speech, and freedom of religion.
While the Nation of Islam is well-known, these outlier Black Hebrew Israelites were a relatively unknown extremist group until late last year when three affiliated individuals committed the deadly shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City and the machete attack at a Chanukah party in Monsey, New York. The black supremacist groups maintain a belief that black people are superior to people of other races and some of them preach that black people are the true descendants of Biblical Israelites and that today’s Ashkenazi (European) Jews are impostors.
Each of these radical movements wants to fundamentally reshape democratic societies. To build their movements and coalitions they start their attacks on the most convenient and vulnerable minority group: the Jewish community. The radical left seeks to destroy capitalism, eliminate freedom, and stop free and open debate. So, it repurposes Soviet propaganda to blame Jewish Zionists for social and financial troubles while shutting down campus dialogue on Israel.
The radical right seeks to destroy democracy by promoting fascism and neo-Nazism, and it blames Jews for just about any problem in the world.
Radical Muslims want to end the Judeo-Christian ethical base of American civil society through both violent acts and “peaceful” expansion of Islam. We have seen this radicalism spread to predominately African American groups like the Nation of Islam and certain fringe elements (but not all) segments of the Black Hebrews who push similarly anti-Semitic agendas, which contributed to the string of attacks in metropolitan New York City.
It’s important to note that alliances between some of these groups often defy logic. In recent years, North America has joined Europe witnessing a growing alliance between radical Muslims and radical leftists. Radical Muslims stone women and reject the most basic of women’s rights, execute gays, engage in ethnic cleansing, and in general disregard what is considered in the West as basic human rights. On paper, the radical left should be appalled by theocratic Islamist ideology, but instead its adherents often unite based on common hatred for Western power in the world and Jewish influence. The BDS movement empowers that connection.
BDS’s Special Anti-Semitic Role
The BDS movement is one of the key drivers spreading anti-Semitism in the modern world. Since its establishment in 2001 by the major Palestinian terrorist organizations, BDS has masqueraded as a nonviolent grassroots human rights movement that aims to “improve” the well-being of Palestinian Arabs. Instead of elevating Palestinians, however, the movement is laser-focused on economically, culturally, and politically isolating and eradicating Israel, using the model that was applied against the apartheid regime of South Africa. BDS uses seemingly legitimate criticism of Israel to promote the ideological, social, and political delegitimization of the Jewish state and ultimately blatant anti-Semitism.
Until recently, the BDS movement, with substantial support from the radical left, was able to hide its true intentions, building alliances with global civil rights groups. Under the guise of freedom of speech, BDS promoted hate and incitement to violence against Jews in Israel and abroad.
To be clear, anti-Zionism itself spreads anti-Semitism.
The Working Definition of Anti-Semitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) states that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic when it promotes the delegitimization of Israel, the demonization of Israel, or subjection of Israel to double standards. The BDS movement meets all three in most cases but always meets the first test because its overall goal is the destruction of the Jewish state. The United States and 40 countries in Europe, South America, and Oceania have adopted this comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism to help combat Jew-hatred. This definition is currently used at the State Department and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on anti-Semitism included this definition as well.
The BDS movement is undoubtedly anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition. It meets the definition by equating Israeli policy to those of Nazis; denying the Jewish people its right to self-determination, also known as anti-Zionism; and using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel, Israelis, and anyone who supports them.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” In recent years, it has become increasingly evident the BDS movement is – and always has been – a front for Palestinian terrorist organizations to pursue the destruction of Israel by other means and that they are still coordinating major global BDS activities and have close links to many of its members and groups.
Who Must Act
The Jewish people are not new to existential wars. I, myself, served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and saw firsthand what was at stake and what we can accomplish when going on the offense and thinking outside the box. Throughout history, when Jews responded courageously and fought back, they prevailed. And today, we are fortunate to live in a time with a strong and thriving Jewish state. We no longer have to be afraid and passive. To defeat anti-Semitism, we must fight it head-on. If we don’t, history shows that the results could be catastrophic.
Similarly, American Jews are more empowered than Jewish communities in the past. We have human and civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution and upheld by Western values. We have power and influence.
But we must move away from being risk-averse and go on the offensive using all resources at our disposal. That means that we must create a strong coalition leveraging the powerful trifecta of the modern State of Israel, the Jewish American community, and the moral majority of Americans who stand against antiSemitism and for justice. How can these three groups help?
First, the Start-Up Nation is the most dynamic and powerful shield that the Jewish people have ever known, dedicated to safeguarding the Jewish people around the world. Israel is a strong ally of America with common values, and they face common enemies. The United States can draw on Israel’s knowledge and strength to combat radical movements at home.
Second, the American Jewish community is one of the most successful immigrant communities in U.S. history. Right now, many of its members are hesitant to utilize our resources and influence to fight against anti-Semitism. The longer we wait, however, the less power and influence we will have. Jewish leaders must immediately transform their mindset from risk-averse to taking the offensive. We can use our leadership and resources to put anti-Semites on the defensive.
Third, we must expose the fact that Jew-hatred is not just a Jewish problem, it first and utmost an American problem. Hatred, racism, and bigotry threaten democratic societies and our American way of life. We cannot sit idly by in the face of this distinct threat to the values at the heart of Western society.
What We Must Do
“The New Anti-Semites” report recommends tangible ways to defeat the terror-affiliated anti-Semitic BDS movement and roll back the tide of Jew-hatred that threatens America, Europe, and the world. Fortunately, many patriotic Americans are ready and willing to uphold the Western values that make life and liberty possible for American Jews.
First and foremost, there must be wide adoption in the United States of the IHRA working definition on antiSemitism, which is currently only a non-binding document. Per the report, “the working definition should be adopted at all public institutions that have antiracist and anti-discrimination codes of conduct on the books—municipalities and state-funded offices, courts, federal departments of government, public hospitals, public colleges, police forces, and military… Legal authority can provide the necessary mechanism to effectively combat anti-Zionist forms of anti-Semitism, i.e. new anti-Semitism, which has permeated the world today.”
The IHRA working definition also must also be incorporated into community standards or end-user agreements for social media platforms and as a foundational pillar for educational curricula pertaining to Jewish history and Israel.
These are concrete solutions to reduce the spread of Jew-hatred in America. They focus on eradicating the BDS movement and its influence. If we want to uphold the values that make America a beacon of freedom, justice, and safety for the world, this is how we can lead the way.
Adam Milstein is a businessman, philanthropist, a co-founder of the Israeli-American Council.