There were a variety of BDS related developments in August, the most significant of which demonstrated the political impact, real, imagined and threatened, of BDS. Other events again demonstrated the mendacious and threatening tactics used by BDS supporters
Reports indicate that US Secretary of State John Kerry conveyed to Israeli officials that it faced boycotts, legal action and “deepening isolation” if it did not agree to participate in renewed peace talks, and if those negotiations were not successful. Kerry was reported to be aware that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was nearly as concerned about international delegitimization of Israel as the Iranian nuclear program. The message was conveyed publicly through a well-known journalist.
The incident demonstrates that BDS is being used as a bludgeon, or a threat, by the Department of State. It also demonstrates that the US believes that the question of delegitimization has traction with the Government of Israel, and that it is willing to use this as pressure.
The proposed European Union guidelines forbidding Israeli entities located beyond the 1967 boundary or ‘Green Line’ to participate in EU projects continues to be a major political issue. Israeli officials have indicated they will not participate in the Horizon 2020 project if it includes a clause outlawing participation of Israeli universities, companies or individuals. This could result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants.
Meanwhile, reports indicate several European countries have warned companies not to do business with Israeli entities including companies and municipalities located over the ‘Green Line.’ In one case the Dutch government warned a large engineering firm not to participate in a sewage treatment project on the Kidron River that flows from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.
Another series of incidents demonstrated the tactics used by BDS supporters. An initial press release from a BDS group celebrated the apparent removal of Israeli snack products by Delta Airlines and claimed this was the result of BDS pressure. Delta subsequently clarified that the move was a normal rotation and that Israeli companies continued to supply products and services to Delta.
In another incident, a press report claimed that French transportation company Veolia, which owns a 5% share in Jerusalem’s light rail system, and which both within and outside the 1967 boundary, had been pressured to give up its concession. This claim, which has been circulated for several years, is false. Veolia is, in fact, seeking to expand its businesses in Israel.
False claims of success are common for BDS. Recently BDS supporters asserted that the teacher’s retirement fund TIAA-CREF had removed the Israeli firm Sodastream from its portfolio as a result of BDS pressure. Research into TIAA-CREF’s immense holdings showed instead that some funds had sold Sodatream while others had purchased it. In the past TIAA-CREF has faced resolutions from the BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace in the name of minor shareholders demanding that it divest from Israeli companies. These demands have been rejected by the company, with the agreement of the Securities and Exchange Commission and under threat of lawsuit from anti-BDS activists. Overall the firm has articulated a strong stance again BDS.
The pattern of making exaggerated and false claims regarding the success of BDS is a standard and longstanding tactic by its supporters. By making loud claims of success and quietly backing down, BDS groups simultaneously present themselves publicly as successful – when they are not – and then energize their tiny base of supporters with private admissions of failure. This appears more of an unconscious development than an active strategy. Either way, mendacity is key.
Finally, the question of musicians boycotting Israel continued to simmer. One focal point remained Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Water and his use of the Star of David along side fascist and corporate symbols during performances. On his Facebook page Waters responded to criticism saying that he “had many close Jewish friends.” Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli demanded that Waters halt using her image during performances, stating that if he wanted to boycott Israel, he should “go all the way.” Despite criticism Waters showed no sign of backing down, and he endorsed British violinist Nigel Kennedy’s support for boycotting Israel, which Kennedy described as an “apartheid state.”
New report indicate that BDS advocates have called on singer Tom Jones, scheduled to perform in Israel in October, to cancel his shows. Afropop star Salif Keita also announced that he was canceling a charity performance in Jerusalem. His foundation stated the reason was “his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, ‘not for peace, but for apartheid.’ These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.”
BDS activists and organizations denied Keita was threatened. Such denials are standard BDS practice. One group even demanded that artists bowing to BDS pressure, including intimidation and threats, “should not stain their courageous and civic act of solidarity with violent and deceitful statements about our philosophy, goals and methods.” The pattern of making threats, denying them, and demanding that the threatened parties deny them as well, is a notable feature of the BDS movement.