The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a danger not only to Israel but to the entire free world, a senior Israeli minister told a group of foreign diplomats Tuesday.
“BDS should not be seen as a threat only to Israel — it is a threat to the international community, to your own countries, and to all who value human rights and freedoms,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said.
A member of the high-level security cabinet, Erdan is also minister for strategic affairs and public diplomacy (hasbara) and is responsible for the government’s efforts to fight the BDS movement.
Although he dedicated an entire address to the topic, Erdan acknowledged that Israel often exaggerates the impact of calls for a boycott, which ultimately helps the phenomenon grow. He also noted a “growing international consensus” opposing BDS.
Speaking at the annual Ambassadors’ Forum at Bar-Ilan University on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, attended by some 50 senior diplomats from various countries, including Egypt, Turkey and South Africa, Erdan (Likud) said the ultimate goal of BDS is nothing less than to “destroy Israel.” To achieve their objective, he said, activists bully international companies operating in Israel, attack stores selling Israeli goods, threaten universities hosting Israeli speakers, and intimidate artists planning to perform in Israel.
“These tactics are accompanied by anti-Israel propaganda so vicious it would make history’s greatest anti-Semites proud,” Erdan said, speaking in English. The Palestinian leadership “contributes to this assault by encouraging BDS campaigns and by promoting the lie that Israel is not interested in negotiations,” he continued.
Addressing the foreign ambassadors directly, he asked them to remember that as bad as the boycott movement is for Israel, BDS “is also a threat to each and every one of you. It is a threat to all who care about democracy, human rights and a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Erdan went on to list several reasons why the movement poses a global threat. For one, he argued, BDS seeks to destroy Israel’s scientific, academic and economic ties with the international community. “This would be bad for Israel, but it would also be very bad for the millions of people around the world who depend on Israeli innovations for their lives and well-being.”
Second, the boycott campaign “threatens the most fundamental values of democracies,” such as free speech,” Erdan said. He said the BDS activists seek to stifle open discussion, “try to force you to accept their views, and threaten you if you don’t.” They bully companies, harass consumers and blacklist artists. “Now criticism of Israeli government policies is certainly legitimate — of course it’s not recommended, but it’s legitimate,” he joked, “but the BDS extremists are not interested in criticism, but in forcing their views on others.”
If democracies allow proponents of BDS to take advantage of the freedom of expression to intimidate opponents and silence debate, similar methods will soon be used against other targets as well, he posited. “What starts with Israel will not end with Israel. Just as tactics perfected by Palestinian terrorists, such as airplane hijackings — and I don’t need to say more today — quickly spread to terror organizations around the world, BDS tactics will quickly spread to other groups.”
Furthermore, he said, BDS is a “direct threat to the idea of universal human rights,” and accused activists of singling out Israel while ignore massive human rights abuses in Iran, Syria and elsewhere. “This hypocrisy not only undermines the basic idea of universal rights and standards, but harms the effectiveness of the entire international system.”
The boycott movement also jeopardizes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, since it “puts up walls rather than building bridges,” said Erdan, who is on record opposing the two-state solution. “It signals to the Palestinian leadership that there is no need for them to engage in difficult negotiations or make painful compromises. They can just wait for the BDS movement to force Israel to give in to their demands.”
Such thinking is woefully mistaken, the minister insisted, since BDS “has not and will not influence the decisions of any Israeli government, right or left. A two-state solution will only come about through negotiations and compromises on both sides.”
After his presentation, during a brief Q&A session, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, asked whether Israel is not inflating BDS by talking so much about it, especially as Erdan had acknowledged it is a marginal phenomenon.
“I totally agree with you that we don’t have to respond to every BDS declaration or activity,” Erdan replied. “It’s a mistake, but as I used to say, one of the biggest advantages of Israel is that it is a democracy, and this is also one of our biggest disadvantages. Because everyone can say whatever they want. I can’t force them not to respond.” When Israeli officials or pro-Israel advocates speak out against efforts to boycott the Jewish state, it is a victory for supporters and funders of BDS, he added.