Sobering Thoughts about BDS


In its annual survey of the Jewish world, the Israel-based think tank Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) considered the de-legitimization threat posed against Israel by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The think tank, which is chaired by longtime U.S. diplomats Stuart Eizenstat and Dennis Ross, submitted its assessment last month to the Israeli government. And while it may achieve the same fate as many other blue-ribbon reports, the assessment represents a thoughtful, nuanced approach to BDS that declines to paint BDS supporters with the broad brush of anti-Semitism.

According to the JPPI assessment, Students for Justice in Palestine, the backbone of the BDS movement, has chapters on 300 U.S. campuses. And while “severe anti-Israel activity is limited to 20 campuses,” the report considers the threat of de-legitimization serious enough to recommend that Israel commence “an appropriately budgeted comprehensive strategy” to battle de-legitimization, led by a point person who reports to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who will embark “on an offensive-minded campaign.”

But in an interview, Eizenstat didn’t stop there. He went on to present a conventional but focused three-part strategy to battle BDS: better education about Israel (traditional hasbarah); greater Jewish unity; and support for anti-BDS legislation. He then became a little more creative by recommending that Israel take steps to change the dynamic that now feeds the BDS movement, including the suggested announcement that Israel will not build outside of the settlement blocs that, by agreement, will likely formally become part of Israel when a peace agreement with the Palestinians is reached.

We have no doubt that Netanyahu’s government will approach negotiations with the Palestinians on its own terms and according to its own timetable. And no matter how well-meaning and well-informed JPPI’s thinking is, it remains to be seen how much Israel has to gain from making concessions when the other side appears wholly unwilling to make difficult choices of its own. That said, there is real value in the JPPI report and the sobering reality it paints: For all of the full-throated and high-pitched cries of alarm coming from across the Jewish community, JPPI confirms that the BDS movement is not the omnipresent phenomenon that many think it to be. In that sense, there’s no need to panic.

Nonetheless, BDS activity on 300 U.S. campuses is 300 too many. And although severe anti-Israel activity is reportedly limited to 20 campuses, those vocal centers of student unrest are making a lot of noise. There seems to be a growing consensus that the time has come for a coherent strategy to battle those who wish to make a pariah out of Israel. The JPPI report is a step in the right direction.

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