NEW YORK (JTA) — The hostile intentions of the international boycott, divestment and
sanctions movement toward Israel are clear. But some believe it is possible to be pro-Israel while
supporting just a little BDS — boycotting Israeli businesses located on the West Bank but not
those within pre-1967 Israel.
While such a strategy may make people feel good about themselves, it is a distinction without a
difference — like being just a little pregnant. More important, by adding to the boycott pressure,
it will make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute harder to achieve.
The issue has attracted international attention because actress Scarlett Johansson, the telegenic
public face of SodaStream, refused to bow to pressure from the BDS establishment and sever
ties with the West Bank-headquartered Israeli soda company. Its main factory is in Maale
Adumim, a community very likely to be allotted to Israel in any potential peace agreement.
SodaStream’s owner disclaims any political motivation and says he would gladly keep the place
going under Palestinian rule, and the Palestinian workers tell reporters they are treated well and
make three and four times the average salary in the region. But no matter — Oxfam, the well-
regarded organization dedicated to fighting poverty around the world, strongly criticized
Johansson for her SodaStream connection, leading the award-winning actress to end her role as
an international Oxfam “ambassador.”
Oxfam and like-minded groups — some of them Jewish — sincerely but naively believe that
boycotting only across the Green Line enables them to issue a moral protest against Israeli
settlement policy without being against Israel itself. Some consider their boycott as being in the
best interests of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, they seem unaware of whom they are getting
into bed with or the consequences of the association.
The BDS movement was founded in 2005 to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the State of
Israel by falsely charging it with racism and apartheid, and orchestrating an international
economic and cultural boycott against it. BDS finds its model in the campaign that managed to
bring down white-supremacist South Africa, where apartheid was real enough.
The official Palestinian call for BDS states that the movement’s goals are ending Israeli
“occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” — a formulation that tellingly leaves open the
possibility that it refers not just to the West Bank but to pre-1967 Israel as well — and “promoting
the rights of Palestinian refugees” (including their descendants now numbering in the millions)
“to return to their homes and properties.” If carried out, this agenda would mean not just the end
of the Jewish state but also an unimaginable bloodbath.
The BDS double standard never lets the facts get in the way of the cause. When the head of the
American Studies Association explained the organization’s decision to boycott only Israel’s
universities even though other countries have far worse human rights records, he said: “You have
to start somewhere.” But why does “somewhere” have to be Israel, unless the aim of BDS is not
to protect human rights but to specifically target the Jewish state?
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has for some time been engaged in difficult negotiations to get
Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for a two-state solution that would see Jewish
and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace. In poll after poll, some two-thirds of Israelis
say they favor a pullback from parts of the West Bank and land swaps for those parts that
become part of Israel if that would produce an agreement, so long as their security interests are
safeguarded and the so-called Palestinian “right of return” does not bring the demise of the
These concerns are exactly what Kerry is now trying to get the Palestinian side to address. On
three previous occasions — in 2000 at Camp David, in 2001 at Taba and in 2008 when Ehud
Olmert was prime minister of Israel — similar negotiations came very close to success, only to
have the Palestinian side walk away from the table.
According to recent reports from Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership, buoyed by the rising BDS
tide, is sorely tempted to back out of a deal yet again. An end-run around the negotiation track
and an appeal to the United Nations for recognition as a state — and to the international courts in
The Hague to put Israel in the dock — would eliminate the need for the Palestinians to make any
concessions at all. They would have all their work done for them by the international community,
leaving Israel isolated.
That is exactly the kind of international isolation that the BDS movement has advocated from
the start — the worldwide demonization of Israel as the new South Africa. And those morally
fastidious boycotters of SodaStream and other West Bank companies who consider their version
of BDS to be pro-Israel will realize too late that they have been used.
Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.