The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global network known as BDS, that seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel, can be compared to the many-headed hydra of Greek myth. The Philadelphia Jewish community came together to cut off one of its heads, metaphorically, when it successfully challenged a 2012 BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, when the head of the hydra is cut, two more grow back in its place. The only way to vanquish the hydra, as the heroic Heracles found, is to work cooperatively.
This summer, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization whose mission statement stresses its focus on promoting “lasting peace with justice,” and the group Jewish Voices for Peace are sponsoring a “Summer BDS Institute for Student Leaders.” The five-day program in New York is to train students to organize BDS campaigns when they return to their campuses in the fall. In practical terms, this could mean more BDS activity on Philadelphia-area campuses come September.
By affiliating with the BDS movement, the AFSC places itself at cross purposes with its own mission statement. The BDS movement does not promote “lasting peace” anchored by solutions that provide for the needs of both Palestinians and Israelis. Instead, the BDS movement expresses its pro-Palestinian stance through anti-Israel rhetoric and actions. The goal of the BDS movement is not coexistence — it is a one-state solution that would mean the eradication of Israel as a Jewish, democratic and multicultural state and its replacement by a majority Arab and Muslim state.
Why, then, do some well-meaning groups, including faith-based communities, student groups and civil rights organizations align themselves with the BDS movement? The movement offers a simplistic and disingenuous analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that unambiguously paints Israel as the aggressor. By ignoring the complexities of the conflict and placing the onus for a solution on Israel alone, the activities of the BDS movement do not help the peace process — they hinder it.
Furthermore, the BDS movement offers sanctuary to those individuals and organizations that are forthright in their hatred for Israel and, sometimes, for Jews. Anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish rhetoric is a recurring theme of conferences and activities sponsored by the movement.
Those who ally themselves with BDS but do not support such extremes would do well to remember Lawrence Summers’ reaction to those who supported divestment efforts when he was president of Harvard University: “Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.”
Standing up against the message and methods of the BDS movement is not a task for the Jewish community alone, and we are fortunate to have friends and allies to help us. Because of their leaders’ openness to dialogue and interfaith understanding, the United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted against divestment at 2012 conventions, rejecting the calls of vocal minorities within their respective denominations to demonize and isolate the state of Israel. Others, such as the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, have spoken up and rejected divestment and boycotts as “unhelpful.”
Particularly in Philadelphia, with its long and rich Quaker history, we need our allies and friends within that community to stand with us in opposing the BDS movement and all that it represents. Help us to create an atmosphere in which real dialogue and understanding pertaining to the conflicts in the Middle East can take place instead of the biased and inflammatory grandstanding that so often characterizes an event sponsored by the BDS movement. Don’t forget that to actually slay the hydra, even the mighty Heracles needed the help and support of a friend.
Linda Maizels, Ph.D., is the new senior associate for Israel and Middle East Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.