College campuses may be where the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is drawing attention, but the front line should be in Jerusalem.
That’s the thrust of a new report on the state of the Jewish people, presented last week to the Israeli government by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), a Jerusalem-based think tank. BDS was only one topic that the report covered, but it follows by three weeks billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s summit to raise up to $50 million to fight the de-legitimization campaign against Israel.
“The BDS campaign is very sophisticated,” said Stuart Eizenstat, who with another longtime former American diplomat, Dennis Ross, chairs JPPI. “Its approach is to equate Palestinian rights with human rights, with Hispanic rights.”
That approach is winning over students who support human rights in general and who are frustrated by the lack of progress toward Palestinian independence.
“Most BDS supporters are for a two-state solution,” Eizenstat said. “It’s the leadership that wants to de-legitimize Israel.”
That leadership is provided by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which has chapters on 300 U.S. campuses, the report states. Of these, 20 have “severe” anti-Israel activity.
Nevertheless, the report calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to appoint a lead person to combat BDS and de-legitimization to coordinate responses.” It recommends that Israel provide a budget to pay for “an offensive-minded campaign against the promulgators of Israel de-legitimization in the West.”
Speaking by phone from Brussels, Eizenstat offered a three-pronged approach to combating BDS: better education about Israel, how it was created and about past attempts at peacemaking with the Palestinians; Jewish unity (“We’re tearing ourselves apart,” he said); and support for counter-BDS legislation on the state and possibly federal levels.
“Israel needs to be on the offensive and make it clear” that it is not an obstacle to peace, said Eizenstat. It needs to “announce that there will be no new settlements outside the settlement blocs” that past negotiations have concluded would be retained by Israel as part of a peace treaty.
Such changes on the ground would “peel off” some BDS supporters from hard-core Israel opponents, Eizenstat said, adding that Israel could also take steps to improve the economic lives of Palestinians.
He wasn’t optimistic that Israel, with its hard-line government of supporters of settlement-building, will heed his suggestions.
“The current configuration of the government makes it more difficult to act flexibly.”
In Europe, support is growing for sanctioning Israeli goods produced in the territories, he said.
“Fourteen European foreign ministers — and they are not anti-Semitic — say they should be labeling products. It’s that sense of victimization of the Palestinians. Israel needs to take that away,” he said. “We’re concerned that the campus is becoming our Europe.”