The anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (“BDS”) campaign is hateful, anti-Semitic economic activity that is designed to delegitimize, economically destroy and culturally and academically isolate the Jewish state.
Pro-Israel groups need to work together to combat the BDS onslaught, using every tool at our disposal — including legal action and anti-BDS laws — to curtail discriminatory BDS economic activity. Our organization, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), frequently collaborates with other pro-Israel organizations.
It thus deeply saddens us that a major organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — with a $58 million annual budget — whose mission includes combating antisemitism, has repeatedly harmed anti-BDS efforts by publicly opposing and lobbying against needed federal and state anti-BDS laws.
For instance, ADL wrote to the chairman of the Maryland State Legislature’s Appropriations Committee stating that its anti-BDS bill would “interfere with academic freedom,” and submitted testimony to the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, asserting that a Maryland anti-BDS bill “suppresses academic freedom and chills speech.”
In the midst of efforts to pass state anti-BDS contracting and pension bills that had virtually nothing to do with free speech, the ADL published a statement opposing anti-BDS legislation on free speech grounds. And on July 28, 2015, the ADL opposed Federal anti-BDS legislation in an ADL letter to the Chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security. In addition, a February 29, 2016, Forward article noted, “Asked whether he was suggesting that BDS was a law enforcement matter, [ADL head Jonathan] Greenblatt said no.”
The ADL’s lobbying activities and statements opposing anti-BDS laws have had a wide impact. The Massachusetts anti-Israel “freedom to boycott” coalition’s supporters quoted and used the ADL’s condemnation of anti-BDS laws in order to oppose Massachusetts’ proposed anti-BDS law. Pro-Israel experts (and the ZOA) have had to waste time counteracting ADL’s articles with our own.
It is now rumored that BDS groups are planning to attack an anti-BDS executive order in court. BDS groups may very well use the ADL’s misguided statements to attempt to overturn recently enacted laws and an executive order aimed at protecting Israel from the scourge of BDS. The time has thus come for the ADL to publicly retract or revise its former statements opposing anti-BDS laws, and to acknowledge that many forms of anti-BDS laws are legal.
Many anti-BDS laws simply deal with discriminatory BDS economic activity, and are thus constitutional. Moreover, in Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991), the US Supreme Court held that the government may prohibit recipients of federal funds from using those funds to express speech with which the government disagrees, stating: “[A] legislature’s decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right.”
In instances when an anti-BDS law may be poorly drafted, the ADL should simply work together with pro-Israel groups on language that assures that the bill will be strong, effective and constitutional. “Throwing out the baby with the bath water,” or demanding that an effective bill be replaced with a non-binding resolution, is not the answer.
It is also disappointing that the ADL has thus far failed to oppose a major BDS “divide and conquer” tactic: so-called “targeted” BDS against Jews and Jewish businesses and cultural and academic institutions in Judea and Samaria. The Forward recently reported that when asked whether the ADL opposes BDS against Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria, an ADL spokesman responded: “We’re studying it.”
The time for sitting on the sidelines has long since passed. BDS against Jews in Judea/Samaria is clearly antisemitic discrimination, and has been ongoing for years already. An organization whose mission includes combating antisemitism should combat antisemitic discrimination wherever it is found — including in the historic Jewish areas of Judea/Samaria.
The ADL issued a press release last October praising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order protecting transgender people from discrimination. Would the ADL ever question or need to “study” whether transgender discrimination protections should depend on where a transgender person lives? Why is protecting Jews from discrimination any different?
“Targeted” BDS against Jews and Jewish businesses and cultural and academic institutions in Judea/Samaria harms Jews’ and Arabs’ employment opportunities, harms all of Israel, and leads to BDS efforts against all of Israel. For instance, in 2010, “Partners for Progressive Israel” (PPI) started promoting “targeted” boycotts against Jewish-owned businesses and arts centers and universities in Judea/Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. Then, in 2015, PPI expanded its boycott to all of Israel, stating that: “The economy of the settlements and of the West Bank is too intertwined with the Israeli economy as a whole for it to be possible to limit the boycott to products of the settlements.”
The “targets” of “targeted” BDS are real people — Jews and Arabs who are simply trying to study and earn an honest living, such as the more than 50,000 Jews living in Ma’ale Adumim (a suburb in Judea/Samaria that is directly adjacent to Jerusalem), and Ariel University’s 15,000 students (including its large Arab student population) and the surrounding university community.
The ZOA hopes and prays that the ADL will become a true partner in the efforts to protect the Jewish people — and everyone — harmed by BDS.
This op-ed was published by Algemeiner and may be found here.