BDS and Israel generally were overshadowed in September by the rapidly changing Syrian problem. A number of incidents demonstrate how Israel remains the primary focus for BDS activists and selected politicians even as a weapons of mass destruction tragedy unfolds.
Prior to the outbreak of diplomatic activity over Syria, Israel had begun negotiations regarding the European Union’s (EU) recently proposed regulations boycotting relations with Israeli institutions located across the 1949 Armistice Line (“Green Line”).
The key issue is now Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 project, in which Israel had expected to invest around €600 million and receive €900 million in research grants and other EU investments. Israeli leaders have stated they will forego participation in the project rather than agree to any restrictions on Israeli institutions or individuals. The negotiations were inconclusive and any EU-Israeli agreement is unlikely before November.
In a related development, a number of former European Union leaders (the “European Eminent Persons Group”) issued a public statement to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling on her and current leaders to follow through on the new restrictions. A group of 500 European academics apparently organized by the BDS group “British Committee for the Universities of Palestine” also sent a letter to Ashton supporting the boycott regulations.
US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly urged European leaders to postpone the restrictions in the interest of advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Earlier unconfirmed reports indicated the US did not object to the restrictions on Israeli entities over the “Green Line” when they were first proposed over the summer.
Several developments noted the continuing role of European states in promoting BDS. In one, the Dutch engineering company Royal HaskoningDHV abandoned a contract for a sewage treatment plant in the Kidron valley in the “West Bank.” The facility would have been located across the “Green Line” and served both Israeli and Palestinian communities. The Dutch government took the lead in pressuring the firm to abandon the contract. The move was promoted and then hailed by Palestinian leaders.
Another development demonstrates how European elites circulate through various positions. The newly elected head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, is also chairman of Ghorfa, the “Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry,” While Ghorfa was characterized as an Israel boycott group, its materials indicate it is a trade organization. One of the organization’s purposes is to inform German firms regarding Arab states’ rules on boycotting Israeli goods and individuals. After strong criticism from Jewish and German groups, reports indicate Bach will resign from Ghorfa, as well as from the German Olympic Sports Confederation.
BDS on campus was well represented at the start of the academic year. A conference was held at New York University Law School entitled “Free Speech, the Law, and the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.” A parallel event was held at Fordham University Law School under the title “BDS: The Current State of U.S. Campus Activism and the Academic Conscience.” Both featured the same prominent BDS activists from the far-left “National Lawyers Guild” and were sponsored by that organization. They were “endorsed by: Jewish Voice for Peace-NYC, Adalah-NY, Center for Constitutional Rights, New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT).”
The NYU panel discussion was advertised with the question “How has the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement affected discourse surrounding Israel, Zionism, and the Occupation on U.S. campuses, and what is the role and importance of the academic boycott in this context?” In contrast, the Fordham event was advertised by BDS proponents as “a discussion reinforcing the legitimacy of non-violent BDS against the Israeli Occupation, including the cultural and academic boycott of Israel.” The discussions were scheduled for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, making attendance by Jewish students less likely. This is a typical BDS strategy.
A third BDS event was held at George Mason University by the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.” The “2013 National Organizers’ Conference” was a weekend-long BDS teaching event and anti-Israel rally.
The NYU and Fordham events show BDS is strongly supported by lawyers on the far-left. They demonstrate the strong alliance between lawyers on the far-left and anti-Israel activism, and how deeply anti-Israel activism is rooted in many legal non-profit and non-governmental organizations.
The law school events also employed standard BDS strategies for holding events in academic settings. They gave the impression of apparent if not real endorsement of the schools. If challenged, the school would then be blackmailed into supporting the event as free speech. The NYU event was advertised as an academic discussion when in fact it was purely political. The overall goals are to gain access to impressionable and someday influential constituencies and misrepresent support for BDS as an academic norm.