Anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) promoters have long tried to stake out the moral high ground — depicting themselves as the champions of the oppressed, and positioning their movement as being on the right side of history.
But the reality is that BDS rarely acknowledges, or works to prevent, harm to Palestinians that is meted out by their own governments and societal extremists.
What’s even worse is that BDS leaders often egg on and incite these depredations with an anti-normalization campaign characterized by coercion and strong-arm tactics against peace activists and co-existence groups — along with just about any Palestinian who dares to cross the BDS picket line to cooperate with or even just talk to Israelis.
This strategy of anti-normalization, long a mainstay of the BDS movement, originated at the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa — an antisemitic hate fest where Jew-hatred became so ugly that the US delegation walked out. Ever since, BDS has opposed any contact between Palestinians and Israelis that fosters dialogue, so as not to “normalize” Israel’s existence.
Basically, BDS calls for the boycott of all Israeli-Palestinian projects and programs that don’t sufficiently emphasize Israel’s alleged brutality and wrongdoings. In fact, the only people-to-people engagements that PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) condones are those that support “resistance.” All others are rejected as undermining Palestinian rights and the national struggle.
Consider, for example, how the Palestinian Authority (PA), which strictly enforces an anti-normalization policy, reacted several weeks ago to the “heartwarming scenes of coexistence” between young religious Jews and Palestinian revelers dancing together at a wedding in the West Bank village of Deir Qaddis.
For Palestinian leaders, ultra-Orthodox Jews from the nearby settlement of Modiin Ilit celebrating at the wedding of the son of village council leader Radi Nasser was unacceptable. It didn’t take long for the PA to sack him, and for the Fatah party, the PA’s largest faction, to condemn Nasser and remove him from its ranks on account of his “harmful behavior” in “the shadow of … threats of normalization between the Arab world and the Israeli occupation.”
In response to the bullying, it’s understandable if regrettable that Nasser ended up issuing a heartfelt apology in which he denied inviting the Israeli youngsters, and insisted that he threw them out “as soon as he found out about it” — even though a widely distributed video of the happy circle of men singing and dancing shows that they were actually friends and welcomed guests.
According to The New York Times, which covered the case in a front-page story a few days ago, Nasser has now gone into hiding and fears for his life.
This shameful incident isn’t the first time that Palestinians have faced recrimination and punishment just for acting in a friendly and neighborly way toward Israeli Jews. Several years ago, outrage was also sparked when the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Efrat invited Palestinians from nearby villages to share a meal with his family during the Sukkot holiday. The PA had the men arrested for “fraternizing with the enemy.”
It’s important to appreciate that BDS leaders demand that the PA silence and severely reprimand any Palestinian willing to “normalize” relations with Israelis.
Several years ago, on Lebanese TV, Tel Aviv University graduate Omar Barghouti, the founder and now senior official of the BDS National Committee (BNC), an umbrella group that reportedly has ties to terrorist organizations, and Haidar Eid, a member of the BNC Secretariat, castigated the PA for “undoing the standards of the boycott” by allowing left-wing US peace groups, like One Voice, Seeds for Peace, and the Peace Alliance, to operate in the West Bank.
Each of these organizations’ stated missions is to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in an effort to create the infrastructure on which peace can be forged. But Barghouti and Eid loathe coexistence groups. In the interview, the two are positively irate that these peacemakers could be allowed to “destroy the boycott campaign.”
For Barghouti, Eid, and other anti-normalization activists, this isn’t just talk. For nearly two decades, moderate Palestinians have been relentlessly intimidated, sometimes by having their jobs and even their lives threatened.
Khaled Abu Toameh of the Gatestone Institute documents repeated efforts over the years to shut down joint Israeli-Palestinian peace conferences and get-togethers hosted by left-wing NGOs and think tanks.
Ironically, the featured lecturers at these events have been well-known “outspoken critics” of Israeli policies. But as Toameh notes, that hasn’t stopped BDS activists from “storming the conference rooms” to chant slogans, disrupt the speeches, and force the speakers to abandon the podiums and the “participants to flee.”
In an article for Legal Insurrection, I also highlighted the boycotting of joint Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives and the bullying of Palestinian peace and human rights activists (other such incidents recently occurred in Ramallah and East Jerusalem).
In fact, as I showed, no one and nothing is immune from the pressure and threats.
Even the now-defunct annual Jerusalem Hug event, which for nearly a decade used to bring “passionate Jews and Muslims” together with the goal of creating unity and peace, was violently disrupted back in 2016 by “Palestinian anti-normalization activists.” They reportedly threw water on people and “assaulted those present.” Palestinian participants were called “donkeys” and accused of leading Jews to “storm Al-Aqsa,” references to the perennial wild conspiracy theory that Israel has malevolent designs to defile and destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.
When BDS thugs can bust up hugs, you have to wonder about all the other lost opportunities for people-to-people dialogue. How many activities designed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to build trust, empathy, and mutual understanding never happen on account of BDS/PACBI intimidation?
By now it should be obvious that BDS isn’t pro-human rights or pro-social justice. It’s a fundamentally intolerant movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel’s very existence, traffics in antisemitic tropes, and demoralizes Zionist Jews while also suppressing Palestinians who sincerely want peace. Basically, BDS negates everything that the anti-racist left is supposed to stand for. So, progressives who support it are essentially betraying their principles.
Miriam F. Elman is Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, an independent non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that combats BDS and anti-Israel delegitimization, promotes Israel literacy, and advocates for academic freedom and campus free speech. She is on leave from the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University