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GAZA WAR AND BDS

Gaza war brings Israel boycotts and antisemitism to forefront. Active and possibly violent BDS season expected this fall

Introduction

July is typically a slow month for BDS. This year, however, the ongoing fallout from the Presbyterian Church-USA divestment vote was overshadowed by the Hamas-Israel war in Gaza. This conflict has prompted pro-Palestinian and antisemitic protests in Europe and the US, in which calls to boycott Israel have been heard. More ominously, the Federal Aviation Administration’s temporary ban on American air carrier to fly into Ben Gurion Airport has been interpreted as economic pressure on Israel. All these portend a vigorous fall season for BDS in which antisemitism is poorly disguised, if at all.

Analysis

The leading BDS news in July was the emerging connection between Israel boycotts and the continuing conflict in Gaza. On July 22 a rocket fired from Gaza impacted approximately one mile from Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv. That day the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “ Notice to Airmen ” prohibiting US airlines from landing at Ben-Gurion. Most European carriers quickly followed suit. The restriction was in place for 36 hours until late on July 23 .

The FAA’s effective closure of Israel’s primary commercial airport revealed a serious Israeli vulnerability and indirectly rewarded Hamas’ rocket strategy. The question remains whether the FAA was directed to issue its notice with especially severe and direct language by the State Department or others in the Executive branch as a means to pressure Israel into accepting a proposed ceasefire. US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) directly accused the administration of undertaking an “ economic boycott of Israel .”

Members of the Obama administration, including Secretary Kerry and President Obama himself, have repeatedly raised Israel boycotts as a possible negative outcome of the failed peace process. After several of these statements European entities, including states and corporations, have responded with their own boycott threats and divestment moves.

During the kidnapping crisis that escalating into the present Gaza war several European states issued warnings to European firms that “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognized as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”

These warning were followed by an informal statement from the EU Ambassador in Israel promising Israel “enhanced market access or even progressive market integration, security cooperation or institutionalized political dialogue,” in exchange for a peace agreement. But the Gaza conflict has redrawn the contours of European involvement and enhanced the probability of future boycott calls.

The Belgian Economics Ministry has now advised retailers to label products manufactured in Israeli communities across the “Green Line.” It denied the recommendation had any connection with the Gaza conflict. The British supermarket chain Tesco also announced that it will no longer carry “settlement goods” as of September. It too denied any connection with the conflict in Gaza. 

Prior to the conflict the UNITE trade union group, Britain’s largest, voted to support a boycott of Israeli companies. The resolution instructs the union to develop a plan opposing the “apartheid wall,” “illegal settlements,” and the “occupation.” The union is a leading supporter of the Labour Party. Growing support for BDS thus comes from European governments, corporations, and unions.

These moves, plus growing antisemitic protests and attacks t hroughout Europe , Canada , and the US, suggest that when the fighting in Gaza stops, Israel will be targeted for economic boycotts, in international forums, and in other contexts like colleges and universities. Violence is not unlikely.

The other major BDS development in July was continuing fallout from the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Israel divestment vote. A variety of Jewish leaders expressed anger and disappointment with the vote, noting that the church has made no effort from divesting in companies doing business in China or other countries that abuse human rights, and decrying the manner in which pro-BDS activists within the church stage-managed the vote at the General Assembly. Disapproval came from a variety of sources including several on the Jewish left .

Other commentators noted that while the Presbyterian Church (USA) had worked with Jewish groups in the past, it has a long history of Protestant supersessionist theology that it has declined to disavow. Future interfaith efforts between the church and Jewish organizations appear in jeopardy.

In a statement entitled “An Open Letter of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to our American Jewish Interfaith Partners” reiterated its purported distinction between divesting from companies that work in Israel and divesting from Israel itself. The statement went on to say “We recognize the hurt that these decisions have caused. We ask that you remain open to us as we participate with you in all our shared spheres of interfaith relationship: our houses of worship, our shared neighborhoods, our workplaces, and even our interfaith families. As Presbyterians on the local level reach out to you, we ask that you receive and engage them and in doing so perhaps we will begin to heal this rift, neighbor-to-neighbor.”

Perhaps in response to the criticism surrounding the divestment vote, the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist pamphlet “ Zionism Unsettled ” was no longer sold directly from the church’s main web site. It remains prominently featured on the church’s “ Israel/Palestine Mission network ,”

Along with churches, academia remains a focal point for BDS. Two minor academic organizations have announced their support for BDS. The Critical Ethnic Studies Association has endorsed a BDS policy that includes Israeli universities, and the African Literature Association passed a similar resolution . Both resolutions emphasized the alleged ‘settler-colonial’ nature of Israel. These point to the ever-growing association of Israel with ‘whiteness’ as well as ‘settler-colonialism.’

The much larger American Anthropological Association has also announced that it will be taking comments from its members regarding an “Israel/Palestine” policy. Organization leaders who have previously endorsed BDS proposed the solicitation of comments.

The Gaza war has also begun to have direct impact on academia. In response to the Gaza crisis and the incessant antisemitism from Turkish politicians , Turkish universities have announced their own boycotts of Israeli universities and products. An “ international scholars’ statement on Gaza ” condemning Israel was produced by leading BDS supporters in the US.

Finally, as a result of the rocket attacks on Israel, singer Neil Young canceled his performance in Tel Aviv and promised to reschedule them. In the interim he made a contribution to a music education charity that serves both Arabs and Israelis.

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