SPME BDS Monitor Report, Vol. 4

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October saw BDS activities in full swing across the entire spectrum of economic, religious, political, academic and cultural affairs. Only in academia and the Protestant church can BDS groups claim a measure of success.

In the political sphere negotiations continued over the European Union’s (EU) purposed guidelines to limit member states’ contacts with Israeli institutions across the “Green Line.” European negotiators continue to appear anxious to ensure Israeli participation in the Horizon 2020 project, a major EU research and development undertaking.

Reports indicate that EU representatives are seeking “creative solutions” to bypass the new regulations with a ‘lenient’ interpretation and ensure the participation of all Israeli institutions. Israeli negotiators continue to state that Israel will not participate if any Israel institutions and individuals are discriminated again.

After initially giving the appearance of a united front on the proposed regulations EU member states have also begun to issue public statements reassuring Israel that products from the “West Bank” will not be singled out for special labeling or boycott. The visit of an EU trade delegation to Israel indicates further that European economic considerations are out of sync with political proposals coming from the EU’s unelected bureaucracy.

More notable traction for BDS initiatives is visible within European Christian denominations. In October an online consultation regarding BDS appeared on the Methodist Church UK website. The page solicited church members’ opinions of BDS and followed up a July 2013 motion passed at a church conference directing “production of a briefing on the arguments for and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” The motion made reference to the church’s policy on “ethical investment” and described the motivation as the document “A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering” produced in 2009 by the Palestinian Christian group “Kairos Palestine.”

The Kairos document is an implicit attack on the concepts of Jewish national identity and sovereignty in Israel and an explicit assault on Christian Zionism. It also describes “the occupation” as a sin, legitimizes violence as “resistance,” and calls for a South African style BDS campaign against Israel. A similar document originating with Kairos Britain was also cited in the Methodist solicitation, in which historical British support for Jewish national aspirations was condemned and the BDS movement supported.

The Methodist consultation primarily solicits justifications for BDS. The results will be collected and presented to the Methodist Council in January 2014. The Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed concern regarding the motion in July. Reports now indicate that after meetings with Board of Deputy representatives, Methodist UK leader had “agreed to consider alternatives to boycotting Israel.” Representatives of the British Jewish community had expressed concerns regarding an earlier effort in 2010 saying that the document under consideration at that time “seeks to begin a theological process that would demonise supporters of Zionism in both the Jewish and Christian communities.”

Warnings regarding the decline of support for Israel among Evangelical Christians in the US have also increased. As Palestinian Christian groups such as Kairos and conventional Christian supersessionist theology penetrate further into Evangelical churches previously shaped by Christian Zionism, support for BDS has expanded. Active efforts are underway to undermine the support for Israel and friendship towards Jews in other global Evangelical communities such as in South Korea. The pattern of Palestinian Christians and Western supporters working to undermine theological and practical support for Zionism in Protestant denominations goes back to the early 20th century and the decline of Christian Zionism in the Church of England.

One incident demonstrated the activity of BDS oriented individuals in left-liberal American Jewish and human rights organizations. An op-ed by Kathleen Peratis called explicitly for American Jews to support BDS as a tactic to pressure Israel to end the “occupation.” Peratis is co-chair of the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch, a member of the New Israel Fund’s International Council, and a former J Street board member. Her op-ed was reproduced and endorsed on a variety of pro-BDS websites. Other BDS sources implied disapproval since she continued to support the existence of Israel.

While still a J Street board member in 2011 Peratis made a controversial visit to Gaza to meet with Hamas representatives and urge reconciliation with Fatah. J Street condemned her visit. More recently, in 2013, Peratis had called for concerned American Jews to oppose the “occupation” and work on “saving Israel’s soul by another route.” Her calls to ‘save’ Israel by means of BDS illustrates the logic of Jews who claim that Zionism and BDS are compatible.

Despite failures in other areas, the impact of BDS on academia continues to raise serious concerns. The matter of the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Journal of Academic Freedom devoted to BDS (largely from the point of view of advocates) has been discussed separately in a special BDS Monitor. It continues to attract little attention within academia or from the public.

The AAUP incident showed how BDS supporters continue to use academic organizations and publications as platforms to promote BDS, with or without the knowledge of the organizations as a whole. Such efforts are widespread. One example is the regular submission of resolutions calling for BDS to the American Public Health Association in the interest of “improving health in Palestinian occupied territory.”

Efforts aimed at academic and professional organizations complement campus level activism such as “Apartheid Week” and guerilla theatrics such as the recent incident where 1000 students at Rutgers University found mock eviction notices on their dorm rooms. The Rutgers New Brunswick chapter of “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) posted the eviction notices as part of a “Palestinian-style eviction movement.” Similar campaigns have taken place at Harvard, Florida Atlantic University, and the University of California at Berkeley. The use of individual web pages stored on university servers to promote BDS by faculty members and students is another example of grassroots activity.

Finally, October saw continued unsuccessful BDS activity against entertainers. Singers Tom Jones and Rihanna gave performances in Tel Aviv. Both had been subject to strong pressure from BDS groups to cancel their appearances. A small controversy emerged when an Israeli news outlet claimed that Rihanna had changed to lyrics to one of her songs to mention “Palestine.” This claim was widely repeated but was false. Famed French singer Charles Azvanour is scheduled to appear in Israel in November. BDS groups are now pressuring him to cancel.

Pressure on entertainers in the US was equally unsuccessful. A major fundraising event in Los Angeles for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces organized by Israeli-American film and television producer Haim Saban featured a performance by entertainer Lionel Ritchie. British music producer and television personality Simon Cowell also attended. Singer Stevie Wonder had been pressured to withdraw from performing last year. Some reports indicate that there is growing awareness of the problem of BDS within the entertainment community and that pro-peace organizing is underway.

In other news, the Jordanian band “Autostrad’ has found itself subject to calls for boycott after performing in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

SPME BDS Monitor Report, Vol. 4

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Alex Joffe

Editor SPME / BDS Monitor

Alexander H. Joffe is an archaeologist and historian specializing in the Middle East and contemporary international affairs. He received a B.A. in History from Cornell University in 1981 and Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 1991. From 1980 to 2003 he participated in and directed archaeological research in Israel, Jordan, Greece and the United States. Joffe taught at the Pennsylvania State University and Purchase College, and has been Director of Research for Global Policy Exchange, Ltd., and The David Project, Center for Jewish Leadership.

Joffe's work is uniquely broad. Since 1991 he has published dozens of studies on the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and is a leading figure in contentious debates over the relationship between archaeology and politics in the Middle East. He has also authored numerous works on contemporary issues, including Middle Eastern environmental security threats from pollution and weapons of mass destruction. His work on the problem of dismantling intelligence agencies is widely cited by experts and democratic reformers alike.

In the past decade Joffe has written and spoken on topics as varied as the future of American Jews, the Palestinian refugee problem, and nationalism. During that time as well he has been deeply involved with combating the problems of campus antisemitism, the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions' movement against Israel, and in educating Jews and others about threats to Israel and the West. His current projects include a biography of a British World War II general and several novels. He and his family reside near New York City.

Read all stories by Alex Joffe

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