The BDS (Divest, Boycott and Sanction of Israel) movement has hit Japan. The Japan-based chapter of this organization has kicked off a campaign aimed at punishing Israel – the only democratic nation in the Middle East – serving as a marked contrast to the unifying message Tokyo needs as it prepares to open its arms to the world for the 2020 Olympiad.
Japan BDS’ campaign of targeting a single country for discrimination is fundamentally at odds with the Olympic spirit and runs directly counter to Japan’s values in the postwar era as a democratic, liberal society that upholds human rights and equality. Japanese government leaders in Tokyo must wake up to the ugly reality of Japan BDS and take a firm stance against this prejudiced and slanderous movement.
At its core, BDS seeks to delegitimize Israel’s existence as a nation-state of the Jewish people. It accuses Israel of being an apartheid state where the human rights of Palestinian people are violated.
The Japan-based chapter of this organization also aims to do damage to the Jewish state by pressuring Japanese companies to avoid doing business with Israel. This will inevitably result in Japan’s business community encountering BDS protests and other disruptive activities more frequently as Japan’s commercial and tourism relationship with Israel grows. The Japanese business community will need guidance on how to handle this divisive issue.
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center fervently hope that Japanese government leaders will take a firm stance against Japan BDS and advise the Japanese business community accordingly.
Sadly, BDS’ actions are directly at odds with the remarkable growth of investment from Japan to Israel in recent years. BDS will often coordinate demonstrations, riots and other disruptive events to bully any person or business into withdrawing from activities related to Israel. While BDS has focused largely in the economic sphere, its activities have also spread to the political, cultural, religious and legal arenas.
Let’s get real – BDS is not about helping the Palestinian people. It is about punishing Israel. There are accounts of the movement using mob tactics and intimidation to shut down Israel-affiliated businesses, even those that employ Palestinians, the very people the movement purports to help.
To date, Japan BDS’ known activities have included the following:
- Pressuring Honda Israel to cancel a 2018 racing event that it sponsored in Israel;
- Demanding that Daimaru Department Store in Tokyo withdraw Israeli wines from a 2018 Mediterranean food festival it hosted;
- Pressuring Hitachi to withdraw its bid for Jerusalem’s light-rail project;
- Persuading SoftBank to withdraw its sponsorship of a 2018 security expo in Kawasaki that was organized by Israeli and international corporations; and
- Pressuring Japanese artists not to perform in Israel.
It bears saying that some members of BDS Japan may be decent and proactive citizens who believe they are engaged in the noble and just cause of helping the Palestinian people. Yet many seem to misunderstand the odious and deceptive nature of the movement.
Some of those who demonstrated against this year’s expo in Kawasakiwere anti-2020 Olympics activists, while others were campaigning against Japan becoming further involved in the arms industry. Yet the international BDS movement used the activities of the Japan-based groups for its own propaganda purposes, asserting that those activities were a clear sign of Japanese society’s support for boycotting and sanctioning Israel.
While Japanese citizens are free to criticize Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, they should have a clear idea of what participating in the international BDS movement really means.
Unfortunately, these unsuspecting people are victims of years of biased reporting by the Japanese media that frequently paints Israel as an oppressor of the Palestinian people. They may be misinformed about the true anti-Semitic nature of the BDS movement as the Japanese media fail to report that many Western countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France and Canada, condemn the BDS movement.
They may also be unaware that BDS is being supported by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist organization that has engaged repeatedly in terrorist acts over the decades.
This is the same PFLP that masterminded the Japanese Red Army’s 1972 massacre of 26 people at Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) in Tel Aviv. Kozo Okamoto, one of the attackers, still lives in Beirut under the protection of the PFLP.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center urges Japanese political leaders and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take a stance against Japan BDS. We also call for the Japanese government to take the lead in educating and advising Japanese businesses of the true nature of the BDS movement.
Beyond this, the center is deeply troubled that certain Japanese activists have taken up BDS’ anti-Israel boycott, a cause we believe to be discriminatory and anti-Semitic. Japan cannot have it both ways, first seeking to increase its business footprint in Israel while not opposing BDS’ mission to delegitimize Israel.
Japan BDS’ narrative and its destructive activities must be countered by Japanese leaders. Now is the time to raise awareness in Japan of the evils of BDS before it takes hold as a larger movement. Much is at stake, including the positive image resulting from Tokyo’s earnest support of the Palestinians over decades and the goodwill generated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s laudable efforts to bring the Japanese and Jewish peoples closer together in recent years.
This article was co-written with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Kinue Tokudome, an adviser to the center. Ted Gover is also an adviser to the center.