Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

More evidence of how BDS damages peace prospects and hurts the people it claims to be helping

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The hypocrisy of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is seen most acutely when it undermines peace-building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians and discriminates against Arab-Israelis.

A perfect example of this hypocrisy was showcased in Australia when last December a proposal by Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic from Hebrew University who specialises in peace studies - was boycotted by Associate Professor Jake Lynch at the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies because his centre had a policy of BDS against all Israeli academic institutions. Avnon has spent his career promoting coexistence between Jewish and Arab Israelis.  For example, in 2001 he created a high school program that enabled religious and secular Jews to study together with Arabs. In response to Lynch's action, Avnon wrote:

"I find it ironic that you promote a policy of boycott that does not distinguish one individual from another. It is ironic because, like myself, many (probably most) intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a ‘blind to the person' policy."

Peace building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians are also targeted by BDS, because they ‘normalise' ties with Israel. Even the Peres Centre for Peace is blacklisted.  According to its website, the Peres Centre seeks to "forge lasting partnerships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians and neighboring countries, based on mutual respect and understanding. Barriers are broken down, fears are overcome, dialogues are conducted and friendships are formed, paving the way to a real and lasting peace between peoples." For the BDS movement, it seems this must be avoided at all costs.

BDS also claims to be acting in the interests of Arabs living in Israel, however, many would disagree, including the recent valedictorian at Israel's top medical school, the Technion, Mais Ali-Saleh. Ali-Saleh is a 27 year-old Muslim woman from a village outside Nazareth who believes that the academic boycott of Israel is a "passive move" that "doesn't achieve any of its purported objectives." Diana Bletter in the Huffington Post explained:

"Rather than an academic boycott -- which targets researchers who want to disseminate knowledge rather than restrict it -- Ali-Selah suggests a more active stance: encouraging academic life within the Palestinian Authority and strengthening academic ties with Palestinian universities, planning joint research projects with Palestinian scientists, and admitting more Palestinian scholars to European and American universities for academic programs. Ali-Selah said that because she did medical research, the boycott did not negatively impact her work, but sooner or later, she said that it will impinge upon academic researchers she knows, both Jews and Arabs."

Some may be surprised to learn that another recent condemnation of BDS has come from an Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who became the first Iranian director to officially visit Israel as a guest of honour at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Makhmalbaf screened his latest film, "The Gardener", a documentary filmed in Israel in which he discusses religious issues, peace, and war with a gardener at the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa. At the press conference and in interviews with Israeli media, Makhmalbaf gave a poignant message against cultural boycotts, saying:

"I believe that we need to get to know each other through literature, cinema, and culture, and then there will be no more need for war between us."

In response to BDS activists who pressured Makhmalbaf not to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival, Makhmalbaf provided a stirring rebuff:

"Boycotting and writing statements does not solve anything. Why don't the intellectuals try to solve the problems by traveling and having dialogue? Why is there no effort to remove religious hatred?.. Not going to Israel has become fashionable. Why not start a peace movement? Why not start a movement to reduce religious hatred? In Israel, every year a thousand students graduate with a degree in cinema. Go and see how enchanted they are with Iranian cinema. How can it be that a people can be in love with their enemy's cinema? We have to stop this possible war that may provoke all of us."

Moreover, in support of Makhmalbaf, 80 Iranian academics and activists who describe themselves as "members of the opposition" sent an open letter to The Times of Israel, that stated:

"We believe that instead of criticizing Mohsen Makhmalbaf's trip to Israel, we should call him the ambassador of peace and friendship between the people of Iran and Israel... we are unafraid to stretch out our hands in friendship with the citizens of Israel and believe that art can be a tool that brings people together regardless of people's racial, linguistic and political differences..."

Even partial economic boycotts, which are different to BDS, can hurt Palestinians financially. For example, it is interesting to note that some Palestinians have been protesting the EU's recent decision to withhold funding, grants, scholarships or prizes to Israeli institutions outside of the pre-1967 lines. Israel Hayom reported:

"According to the Palestinian official, the European move will freeze joint projects, force employers to stop hiring Palestinians to work on joint projects with Israelis and lead to widespread layoffs of Palestinians laborers working in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] industrial zones. Sammer Darawsha, who works in a hothouse that is a part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian agricultural project funded by members of the EU and situated near the Halamish settlement, said the decision will ‘affect everyone, whether Jew or Palestinian. If they take away our livelihoods and food, exactly what kind of peace will be here?'"

Boycotts undermine the ability to build bridges between peoples and are generally completely indiscriminate. BDS cannot claim to be a peace movement if it targets those who seek to promote peace on the ground, and it cannot claim to fight discrimination if it discriminates against Arab-Israelis who are making advances in Israeli society. Perhaps someday, followers of BDS who genuinely care about the future of Israelis and Palestinians will see the gaping holes in the supposed arguments for BDS, heed Makhmalbaf's advice, and start a genuine peace movement instead.

Sharyn Mittelman


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