Does Netanyahu's Attack on BDS Reveal Israeli 'Desperation'?
Israeli prime minister goes after boycott, divest, and sanctions, but supporters of nonviolent movement welcome conversation that may follow
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated attacks on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in his annual speech at the AIPAC convention on Tuesday has Palestinian rights advocates claiming a victory for their international and nonviolent movement against what they see as Israel's systematic injustice and lawlessness.
As Philip Weiss, founder and co-editor of the popular Mondoweiss website, points out, Netanyahu mentioned the BDS movement a full eighteen times in the speech.
Netanyahu told the audience that "one movement that’s definitely on the wrong side of the moral divide is the movement to boycott Israel, the so-called BDS." He promised the movement would fail and then added, “those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot."
According to an emailed statement in response to the speech from Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, what Netanyahu's speech really showed is just how effective the BDS movement has become in recent years. As Ziadah wrote:
Netanyahu’s desperate attack on the BDS movement comes as European pension funds are blacklisting Israeli companies and banks, as Israeli concert organizers find it increasingly difficult to persuade artists to perform in Israel and as governments begin to take action to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law.
Ziadah also took on the charge of anti-semitism directly:
At its core, the BDS movement is a movement against Israel’s systematic discrimination and apartheid policies. The BDS movement is opposed, as a matter of principle, to all forms of discrimination, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia. The world is growing increasingly weary of Israel’s attempts to conflate criticism of its violations of international law with anti-semitism.
Palestinian author and activist Ali Abunimah, who wrote about Netanyahu's speech in more depth on his blog at the Electronic Intifada, also tweeted out this response:
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) March 5, 2014
And Weiss—who noted that BDS was mentioned more times than the peace initiative now under construction by Secretary of State John Kerry—dismissed his characterizations of it, but welcomed the Prime Minister's focus on BDS.
"[Netanyahu's] extended comments on BDS took up the last five or six minutes of his speech," wrote Weiss. "By taking on BDS so directly and insistently, Netanyahu has elevated the movement to new heights of importance, and will force American media to discuss the movement’s goals openly."