You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream – 1927 popular song
The decision of Ben and Jerry’s to stop selling ice cream in Judea and Samaria has galvanized diverse pro- and anti-Israel groups and individuals. The best reaction came from the Israeli lawfare group Shurat HaDin, which says that it will begin using B&J’s copyrighted trademark to sell ice cream in the areas that B&J will boycott, and invites the company to challenge it in court. The stupidest statement was made by B&J Board Chair Anuradha Mittal, who said (in reference to a disagreement with the parent company about the precise wording of the boycott announcement), “I can’t stop thinking that this is what happens when you have a board with all women and people of color who have been pushing to do the right thing.” Of course.
If this boycott is actually carried out, it will have absolutely zero effect on Israel’s economy. The present manufacturer of B&J’s ice cream in Israel, Avi Singer, refused to honor the boycott and will have his license terminated in a year and a half; he will have to scramble to rebrand and reformulate his products, which are made a few miles down the road from here in Beer Tuvia, within the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel by Jewish and Arab employees. It will cost him something, but Israelis have responded by buying a lot of ice cream from him and the company will survive.
But the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement is not really an attempt to wage economic warfare. Rather, it is another weapon in the cognitive war that is being pressed against Israel by her enemies worldwide. And in the cognitive theater of operations it is having a great deal of success.
The function of the BDS movement is to frame the antisemitic worldwide Arab/Muslim/European/Leftist campaign to erase the Jewish state (and for some, the Jewish people) as a struggle for human rights for an endangered minority, the “Palestinians.” It is to change a large-scale ongoing pogrom into a cause that right-thinking, moral, caring people can get behind, with their money and their votes. The Palestinian Arabs, the point of the spear aimed at the Jewish state, are transformed by BDS into a plucky band of “natives” who are oppressed and even mass-murdered by technologically advanced (but morally deficient) Zionists.
The BDS movement takes the false Palestinian narrative as a given, muvan m’eilav, and moves on to motivating its adherents to take action on their behalf. The debates on college campuses and corporate boards do not deal with the question of who has aboriginal rights to Eretz Yisrael or whether Jewish communities east of the Green Line are legal under international law, or whether the land is actually “occupied” by Israel. Nobody asks about the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria from 1948-1967. Everybody knows, it is implied, the answers to these questions.
This is a trick known to every good car salesman, who wants his customer to argue over the size of the monthly payments rather than the total amount he will end up paying.
There is also what I call “the argument from South Africa:” apartheid South Africa was guilty of crimes against an oppressed group which were inseparable from the regime; only replacing the regime by one dominated by the oppressed group could fix it. This was accelerated by international pressure (combined with terrorism, but never mind). The boycotters are calling for the same kind of pressure against Israel, and so therefore Israel must be as evil as apartheid South Africa – and the same remedy applied. I don’t think I need to explain why this argument is fallacious!
Once it’s established that “Palestine” is a good cause, then the more that a person aspires to moral goodness, the more anti-Israel they become. It doesn’t hurt that preexisting antisemitic conditioning, subliminally present in both non-Jews and Jews, makes it easy to see Israel as evil.
Every time there is such a debate, the basic premises are restated, and never challenged. And that, in my opinion, is the raison d’être of the BDS movement: its actions themselves are of little consequence; it’s the injection of the false narrative into the collective consciousness that is significant.
This implies that the passage of various anti-BDS laws, with the debates and court fights that are entailed by them, is actually counterproductive. And there will be more legal battles coming. BDSnik Lara Friedman, of the misnamed Foundation for Middle East Peace, says that court tests of these laws so far have been resolved on technical issues, and their constitutionality hasn’t been decided.
This also implies that the proper strategy to fight BDS is not to challenge it on the enemy’s terms, that is, not to argue that boycotts are illegal, or that BDS hurts Arabs as much as Jews. Rather, we should attack the premises that it rests on: the supposed aboriginal rights of the Palestinian Arabs, the denial of Jewish sovereignty on either side of the Green Line (the Palestinian Narrative denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state of any size anywhere in Eretz Yisrael), and the allegations of oppression, apartheid, and other crimes.
Finally, we should expose the moral failings of the Palestinian culture, its misogyny, homophobia, and obsessive violence. We should draw attention to the viciousness of Palestinian terrorism. We should note that where Palestinian Arabs govern themselves, there is endemic corruption and oppression of the population. And of course we should point out that the accusations of Israeli atrocities and war crimes are mostly false, exaggerated, or lacking relevant context.
So, although I applaud the legal action of Shurat HaDin to create overwhelmingly negative consequences for the boycotters, this isn’t the solution to BDS. The real answer is for the State of Israel to very publicly make the case for the sovereign right of the Jewish state to all of Eretz Yisrael, including a direct refutation of the poisonous Palestinian Narrative.