The Israel Boycotters Who Threaten Us All
The BDS movement is the latest phase in the history of anti-Jewish prejudice but the backlash against its pernicious influence has begun
When, in the early 2000s, Arab activists called for a boycott of the Jewish state, it wasn’t especially high on the Israeli agenda. After all, Israel was busy subduing the second Intifada, constructing a security barrier to stop terrorists from getting into Israeli towns and cities, and preparing to pull civilians and the military out of the Gaza Strip. Fast-forward to today, however, and a significant proportion of Israeli diplomacy and pro-Israel advocacy around the world is dedicated to battling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS is a diffuse movement — mostly confined to Europe, North America and South Africa — that advocates boycotting Israelis and their nation’s institutions, urges states to sanction Israel, and pressures corporations to divest from the country. Meanwhile, opposition to BDS unites Jews and Zionists, regardless of differences of opinion over Israel’s foreign policy, more than most other issues. Whence, then, did BDS arise, and why? Has it been successful, and what does it say about its supporters? Does it justify the attention Israel and others afford it and, crucially, can it be defeated?
BDS is often dated back to July 2005, when more than a hundred Arab organisations, principally in the West Bank and Gaza, called for a boycott of Israel. But that declaration was in fact the culmination of several years of agitation. Omar Barghouti — widely considered to be the founder and face of BDS — was among several Arab activists to call for such a boycott a year earlier in Ramallah. Earlier still, in April 2002, a letter was published in the Guardian that called for an academic boycott of Israel. It garnered more than 700 signatures (although a counter-petition on the internet boasted more than a thousand), and by October 2002 divestment petitions were circulating on more than 50 campuses in the United States and elsewhere.
It was in 2001, however, that the idea of a broad boycott of Israel really took off, at the World Conference against Racism, held in Durban in September. That conference, then and since dismissed as a farce, attempted to equate Zionism and racism (echoing the infamous UN General Assembly resolution in force from 1975 to 1991), leading to the withdrawal of the Israeli and American delegations and ultimately to the collapse of the conference’s credibility. (The ground for the conference was laid at a preparatory gathering in February 2001 in Tehran.) Regardless, a “Durban strategy” emerged from the conference that recommended “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel” and “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, and the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel”. It was Durban I, as the conference came to be known, that also helped to popularise the portrayal of Israel as an apartheid state.
Throughout the early 2000s, boycott momentum was building with calls from European universities and American churches. Thus BDS was, in effect, well under way by the time of the 2005 statement, which was therefore known as the “final call”. That statement, a result of those early efforts, crystallised the movement’s goals vis-à-vis Israel as follows:
1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
The movement remains true to this platform, which calls for nothing short of the dismantling of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The “occupation . . . of all Arab lands” is crafted to sound to Western ears as a reference merely to the lands Israel captured in 1967 (which include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the eastern portion of Jerusalem). But to the supporters of BDS it encompasses all the land over which Israel is sovereign — even within those borders that are internationally-recognised.
The first demand is thus an emphatic repudiation of Jewish sovereignty in toto. The idea of the Arabs’ “fundamental rights” means, in the terminology of the conflict, opposition to the insistence that Israel be a Jewish state and a rejection of, among other things, the associated Israeli Law of Return, by which Jewish immigration to Israel is privileged. Finally, the “right of return” of Arab refugees to Israel, a category that (uniquely) includes their millions of descendants, is code for flooding the Jewish state with Arabs and assuring Arab demographic superiority. In other words, if BDS wins, there will be no Israel.
This ultimate aspiration of the BDS movement is actually no secret. Omar Barghouti routinely casts Israel as an apartheid state engaging in actions reminiscent of the Nazis, opposes a two-state solution to the conflict and insists that even a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would be insufficient. “A Jewish state in Palestine, in any shape or form, cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population,” he has argued, concluding that “most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” Moreover, among the first groups to sign on to the 2005 “final call” were terrorist organisations dedicated to Israel’s destruction, such as those within an umbrella group known as the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which comprises Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other terror groups proscribed by the West. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Council of National and Islamic Forces was formed with the authorisation of the architect of the second Intifada himself, Yasser Arafat, and led by Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah terrorist convicted and imprisoned by Israel for a series of attacks; he is also a distant cousin of Omar Barghouti.
Even some of Israel’s most vociferous critics, such as Norman Finkelstein, have chastised BDS for its ultimate goal. Finkelstein said:
They call it their three tiers . . . We want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return, and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever, because they know the result of implementing all three is what? What’s the result? You know and I know what’s the result: there’s no Israel.
Thus there can be no doubt that the vision of the BDS movement is to eradicate the state of Israel. Loud calls for a boycott were made during the second Intifada and certainly played a supportive role in that violent campaign. BDS itself, coming into its own in 2005 after the terrorist groups had been crushed, was a continuation of that violence and its goals by other means.
For various reasons, however — whether due to a misunderstanding of the terminology used by actors in this conflict, or as a result of deliberate obfuscation by supporters of BDS — many Western observers still believe that BDS has more modest objectives. In particular, the delusion that BDS is only interested in ending the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Gaza, rather than in all of Israel, persists. Even casting aside the profound moral and practical issues raised by the notion of cleansing the West Bank of Jews, the idea that BDS is only about those limited territories is entirely without foundation. But because the myth endures, it merits debunking.
To begin with, the “final call” came on the eve of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, immediately indicating that territorial withdrawals alone would never suffice for the boycotters. Had withdrawals truly been their aspiration, they would have sought to praise Israel rather than launch a movement to punish it. Even the EU ambassador to Israel (yes, there is such a person) has tried to distance the EU’s concerns with Israeli policies from the means and goals of BDS, which he acknowledges are singularly nefarious. When former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and other BDS activists try to dissuade musicians from performing in Israel — most recently Bon Jovi (who ignored them) — they have in mind not simply the West Bank but everywhere in the Jewish state. When students at Kings College London passed a BDS motion, they chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” In other words, the boycott will help “free” Palestine by destroying Israel. And when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who in the past has shown sympathy for boycotts of Israel, addressed the Labour Friends of Israel meeting at the party’s conference last autumn, he couldn’t even bring himself to utter the country’s name. These people cannot reasonably be classed, as their apologists sometimes insist, as friends of Israel who simply wish to see it take a different political course.
Furthermore, boycotts of Israel — whether they target Israeli universities, companies or other institutions — are rarely limited to those based or originating in the West Bank. Even when they target Jews in the West Bank specifically, they are ill-advised, because the economies of Israel and the Jewish communities of the West Bank are completely integrated: to boycott the latter but not the former is like trying to refuse business with anyone or anything operating in Yorkshire while readily engaging with the rest of the UK. Israeli companies and people who operate on the West Bank side of the green line almost invariably do so on the other side as well, rendering targeted boycotts farcical. For example, the Norwegian government announced in August 2010 that the government pension fund would not invest in two Israeli companies that were reportedly operating in the West Bank. In 2013, upon review, the ban was reversed. Then, in 2014, upon further review, the reversal was reversed.
Even when a boycott appears to be confined to the West Bank, it is not. For example, SodaStream, an Israeli company that produces water-carbonators and at one point hired the actress Scarlett Johansson as its brand ambassador, was boycotted worldwide because one of the factories it operated was located in the West Bank. However, the factory employees were local Arabs who generally enjoyed higher salaries and better working conditions than their peers working in the Arab economy and were an example of Jews and Arabs coexisting for their mutual betterment.
But that did nothing to mitigate the animus of BDS, which protested against the company at every opportunity. In the UK, for example, John Lewis removed SodaStream products after its Oxford Street shop was the target of constant demonstrations. The SodaStream shop in Brighton was also the scene of regular protests before it closed down. Johansson herself was forced to resign from her role at Oxfam for accepting the SodaStream position. For a combination of commercial and political reasons, SodaStream did eventually announce it would relocate its West Bank factory to the Negev, an area well within Israel’s internationally-recognised borders.
Some thought that that would be the end of BDS’s interest in the company. They were wrong. Advocates of BDS now complained that the factory was to be built on stolen Bedouin land. Obviously this ridiculous rationale or some derivation thereof could be applied to any part of the Jewish state, revealing BDS’s real ambition — to eliminate Israel entirely.
Insofar as BDS’s goal is to destroy Israel, it has obviously not been a success. Boycotts have not had the commercial impact those in the BDS movement hoped for. Trade between Israel and the UK in 2014, for instance — a year that saw Israel’s extended military engagement against Hamas in Gaza — soared to £3.9 billion, a record high. Despite calls for a boycott, a White Paper on Trade and Investment for Growth issued by the British government in 2011 highlighted Israel as a pivotal strategic partner for Britain’s future, and British imports from Israel continue to grow. British exports to Israel are growing even faster, giving Israel important economic leverage against any future British boycott. Meanwhile, trade between Israel and the EU in 2014 was valued by the European Commission at more than €30 billion and is growing too. Trade between Israel and the United States is around $36 billion a year, and Israel’s trade with China is accelerating rapidly, exceededing $10 billion in the first months of 2015.
These trends notwithstanding, BDS has not been entirely without success. In addition to the SodaStream affair and similar intimidation of Israeli companies, some international corporations have reportedly reduced their footprint in Israel. The French utilities company Veolia, after being targeted by the BDS movement for six years (including a boycott of the company by Tower Hamlets Borough Council in London), announced last year that it was ending its activities in Israel.
One cannot discount the possibility of further concealed boycotts, whereby companies quietly decline to do business in Israel, ostensibly under commercial pretexts but in reality to avoid adverse publicity. But in general BDS victories have been fleeting. In 2015, the CEO of French telecoms giant Orange declared in Egypt that his company should be boycotting Israel — even though Orange itself does not operate there, instead enfranchising a local company to use its name. Nevertheless, his announcement generated a great deal of publicity and applause from the BDS crowd. It also brought significant opposition, prompting him to visit Israel the following week to apologise. Soon afterwards, his company quietly made a sizeable investment there.
This sort of noise over action has also been true of the numerous boycotts of Israel by trade unions, including, in Britain, the Trade Union Congress, the Fire Brigade Union, Unite, Unison, the GMB and the National Union of Journalists. Elsewhere, unions in Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, California and Australia have endorsed or carried out boycotts in some form. Religious institutions, such as the Church of England synod, the British Methodist Church and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted in favour of boycotts or divestment, and local councils in the UK, including Leicester City Council in England, Swansea and Gwynedd Councils in Wales, and several in Scotland, have passed boycott motions. In Iceland, the Reykjavik city council voted to boycott all of Israel, before reversing itself to limit the boycott to the West Bank.
These boycotts have minimal direct economic effect. In the case of local council procurement, for instance, the boycotting councils did not generally make purchases from Israel or Israeli companies in the first place, so the impact of their resolutions tended to be merely symbolic. Also more symbolically than commercially damaging are cultural boycotts, which have seen various performers and others in the arts, including Lauryn Hill, Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello and Danny Glover, not go to Israel.
The success of these cultural boycotts should certainly not be overstated, though: few celebrities have heeded the call, and some have actively opposed it. For example, in response to a pro-boycott petition last February, in a letter to the Guardian in October J.K. Rowling, Simon Schama, Hilary Mantel, Melvyn Bragg and others declared their opposition to a cultural boycott of Israel.
It is, however, in terms of symbolism that BDS’s record has been most successful. The more unions and councils vote to boycott Israel, the more isolation and exclusion of the Jewish state becomes the norm (that these institutions do not actually procure anything from Israel indicates that the symbolic effect is indeed their actual objective). And it is on university campuses that BDS has made its greatest symbolic strides. Several academic unions have voted to boycott Israel, including the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (although that boycott has now expired) and the Association of University Teachers (although this boycott was reversed in an emergency meeting a few weeks later). Those two unions merged to form the University and College Union, which has itself taken steps towards a boycott.
In America, several academic unions have resolved to boycott Israel, but they have encountered pushback, often in the form of college administrators trying to distance their institutions from declarations made by faculty. Vital though those mitigations are, they do not undo the toxic atmosphere that continuous calls for boycotts create.
That atmosphere is fed by student politics as well. Student unions are a constant BDS battleground. In the UK, student unions at Birkbeck, Brunel, Essex, Exeter, Goldsmiths, Kings College London, Kingston, Liverpool, SOAS, Strathclyde, Sussex, Swansea and University of Arts London, as well as the University of London student union, have backed boycotts of Israel. Several other unions have also endorsed divestment from G4S and other companies for their dealings with Israel. Last June, the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students (NUS) endorsed BDS, joining the NUS Women Conference, Postgraduate Conference and Black Students Campaign. On other campuses, heated debates and (unsuccessful) votes on BDS motions have taken place, such that the idea of boycotting Israel is now par for the course at universities around the country, whether or not they actually do so.
An important contribution to the popularity of BDS on campuses is “Israel Apartheid Week”. Inspired by Durban I, this grotesque festival was first held in Toronto in 2005, the same year as the “final call” and launch of BDS. Now an annual feature on campuses around the world, this series of lectures and rallies equates Israel with the erstwhile South African regime and implies that the same activism — predominantly boycotts — is appropriate.
The symbolic effect of BDS, Israel Apartheid Week and other associated campaigns is that they put a spotlight on Israel that is not cast on any other country. This is part of a threefold double standard that is routinely applied to Israel. The first is that Israel alone is judged according to one metric while other countries are given a pass. This is quite obviously anti-Semitic. Not only is Israel not guilty of the many imagined sins attributed to it, but many states are guilty of far greater iniquities. And yet only Israel is subject to the boycotters’ wrath. Even the linguist and political radical Noam Chomsky, himself generally a supporter of boycotting Israel, has said that the BDS movement’s “hypocrisy is so transparent . . . why not boycott the United States?” And that is to say nothing of the world’s real rogue states.
This double standard is not the only type of hypocrisy of which BDS is guilty. BDS founder Omar Barghouti is a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. Furthermore, contrary to the conceit that BDS is a mass movement with the support of the Arab “street”, many of the original signatories of BDS’s “final call” were in fact one-man NGOs or non-existent organisations of which no trace can be found beyond their endorsements of that statement. Meanwhile, in the West, academics who loudly announce their support for boycotting Israeli universities are in doing so trampling over the free exchange of ideas, eschewing collaboration with their peers and depriving students of a particular nationality a full education, thereby abandoning the foundational principles of their profession. Other BDS activists readily use Israeli technology — for example when building their websites — to promote boycotts of Israel.
The NUS, which refused to condemn the Islamic State out of fear that it might be “Islamophobic”, was happy to resolve to boycott the Jewish state without any concern for the impact of that decision on Jewish students. While Norway, Sweden and Finland boycotted SodaStream’s products made in its West Bank factory, those countries, as the company’s CEO observed, nevertheless had no issue selling its products manufactured in China, the “mother of human rights”, as he sardonically put it.
The second double standard is more elemental — and is rarely noted by observers. It is that, regardless of the substance of opinions on Israel, people have opinions on Israel at all. For while nobody takes much notice of the behaviour of other states of Israel’s size, only Israel receives such a huge amount of attention. That is also thanks in part to BDS, which helps to keep Israel at the forefront of people’s minds. It is inevitable that such attention will be negative.
The third double standard that BDS has helped to cultivate is to encourage questions in the West about Israel’s legitimacy: in the language of pro-Israel advocates, BDS “delegitimises” the Jewish state. Israel is so odious, the logic goes, that it really ought not to exist at all. This ghastly notion is becoming one of the central planks of discussion about Israel on campuses, within trade unions and in some religious denominations. Yet not only is active opposition to the sole expression of Jewish self-determination — the state of Israel — undoubtedly anti-Semitic, but no other country in the world is undermined in this way. Of no other country is it asked whether it has “a right to exist” (an absurd and meaningless question in international relations, in any case).
BDS’s anti-Semitism problem runs even deeper than double standards, however. The idea of boycotting Israel did not in fact begin with BDS or its precursors during the second Intifada. There were earlier iterations, including the Arab boycott of Israel, launched in 1945 against the Jewish communities in the area and sustained for decades after Israel’s establishment in 1948; and local boycotts by Arabs of Jewish shops in the 1920s. BDS is, in this respect, simply the latest manifestation of Near Eastern opposition to the very idea of Jewish sovereignty through boycott.
Yet the targets of BDS propaganda are in the West, and here the leaders of BDS have found even more fertile ground, as boycotts of Jews in Europe date back at least as far as the Middle Ages, and include Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses and academics in the 1930s. BDS is precisely a continuation of this sort of anti-Semitism as well. BDS boycotts, while ostensibly geared toward all Israelis in a given field (such as academics), encompass in reality only the Jewish Israelis in those areas (excluding, for example, Arab-Israeli scholars).
At home, BDS protesters routinely praise Hitler, deliver Nazi salutes, paint swastika graffiti and openly declare themselves to be haters of Jews. The notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been on sale at BDS events. Academics who support boycotts have alluded to infamous conspiracy theories about Jewish power. Pro-BDS unions show no regard for their Jewish members who complain of discomfort during debates and lobbying over BDS, nor universities or student unions for Jewish students who feel too intimidated at pro-BDS campuses to attend lectures.
In 2012, BDS activists targeted the Hebrew production of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre, part of an initiative to perform Shakespeare in multiple languages. In 2014, the Tricycle Theatre in north London sought to boycott the Jewish Film Festival — which caters to the Anglo-Jewish community — because it was partly funded by (unconditional) grants from the Israeli embassy. Supermarkets that were targeted by BDS campaigners were briefly forced in that year to remove all kosher food from their shelves.
Last year in South Africa, pro-BDS students tried to have their Jewish peers expelled from university because of their ties to Israel. In California, Jewish students running for office or seeking to vote on BDS motions have been opposed by Israel-boycotters on the basis that their being Jewish renders them untrustworthy or biased. BDS activists disrupted a vote commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz at a New York City Council meeting, purportedly in protest against visits to Israel made by councillors. And last summer, BDS agitators managed to have Matisyahu, a Jewish American rap star who is not Israeli, briefly banned from a Spanish music festival because he refused to denounce Israel — an absurd demand not made of any other performer. (All this dovetails with the well-known pattern of flare-ups in the Arab-Israeli conflict being accompanied by attacks on Jews elsewhere.)
Clearly, BDS makes no effort to distinguish between Israel and Jews, an omission that perturbs and offends a great many of its opponents. But this concern obscures a more profound and inconvenient truth, which is that any attempts to separate Israel and the Jews are futile because Israel is part of the identity of almost all diaspora Jews in some form or other. Opposition to one is intrinsically tied to opposition to the other. Jews will inevitably be connected to Israel in religious, economic, cultural and familial ways that displease BDS campaigners, and Israel is naturally tied to Jewish life in the diaspora, be it through kosher food (much of which comes from Israel), funding for Jewish cultural activities, and so on. The Jewish community in the UK has thus become a target for Israel-haters. Judaism and Israel are to all intents and purposes simply indivisible, and this is the nub. It is why BDS, even if it tried, cannot be anything but the newest manifestation of the oldest hatred.
The fact that there are Jewish supporters of BDS is commonly taken to prove that these boycotts are unconnected to anti-Semitism. To the contrary, however, this is further evidence that they are. In every generation there are individual Jews who abandon the norms of the Jewish community or turn against it and become its tormentors. Indeed, some were among the worst purveyors of and apologists for anti-Semitism, such as Pablo Christiani, Karl Marx and Bruno Kreisky. That a small minority of Jews yet again stands against the overwhelming majority of their people is entirely to be expected.
In the past, those individuals turned on the majority partly to avoid the persecution to which they, as Jews, were subject. It is not all that different today: the Jewish state and Jewish Israelis — and increasingly diaspora Jewry by extension — are being persecuted out of the same anti-Semitic animus witnessed before, and the Jews who support the boycott are effectively trying to shield themselves from that persecution by joining in.
What sets these previous and contemporary anti-Jewish Jews apart, though, is that whereas the hatred that confronted the former threatened their very lives, what principally concerns the latter is, pitifully, the embarrassment they feel at being associated with Israel by their liberal friends who so despise it, but whose validation these Jews so desperately crave.
What, then, of the fight against BDS? In most cases when a BDS demonstration takes place or a motion is introduced, there will be a counter-protest or effort to defeat the motion. Jews and supporters of Israel in many different settings — whether at a university or within a trade union or at a synod — find themselves confronting a common enemy, and this has had a welcome uniting effect.
Several grassroots organisations have also been established across the country to advocate for Israel and combat BDS on the streets, on campus, in the courts and politically. Among them is a new organisation, founded a year ago, called Jewish Human Rights Watch (of which I am a director). JHRW has filed a complaint with the Charity Commission against War on Want for its support of BDS, and the charity is now under scrutiny. It has also requested judicial review of BDS motions by Leicester, Swansea and Gwynedd councils, threatened several in Scotland and lobbied the government for change. Thanks to these efforts, the Conservatives announced at their party conference their intention to pass legislation banning boycotts by local councils against foreign countries and the UK defence industry that are not in line with national policy, a move intended and interpreted as a ban on BDS.
In declaring its disgust with boycotts of Israel, the UK government is joining others that have taken similar action: in France, the “Lellouche law”, passed in 2003, extends anti-racism laws to those who target specific nationalities for discrimination. Consequently, last October the country’s highest court of appeals upheld earlier rulings punishing a dozen BDS protestors for calling for a boycott of Israel. In the United States, state legislatures in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee have all passed motions in recent months condemning or restricting BDS activity or banning state pension funds or public bodies from investing in boycotters.
Congress has also taken steps against BDS, legislating last year that in its trade negotiations with the European Union the federal government must discourage boycotts of Israel or Jews in the West Bank (although the Obama administration has declared that it will ignore the part about the West Bank). Although there is much still to be done, especially on campuses worldwide, the tide is turning against BDS.
The effect on the BDS movement of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader remains to be seen. Corbyn has in the past backed certain boycotts of Israel, is himself an ally of the sworn enemies of the country, is supported by precisely the radical constituency of British politics that populates the BDS movement, and has appointed the Guardian writer Seumas Milne, who has argued that Israel has no right to defend itself, as Labour’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. Last November, Labour’s national executive decided to boycott G4S over the company’s connections to Israel.
On the one hand, an explicit endorsement of BDS by the Leader of the Opposition will surely give the movement a boost; on the other hand, if Corbyn fails to shake the perception that he adheres to, in David Cameron’s words, a “terrorist-sympathising and Britain-hating” ideology, any support he lends to BDS may do little more than underscore just how extreme and peripheral the movement is. Moreover, with the West’s newest liberal leader, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, having declared his opposition to boycotts of Israel, any endorsement of BDS by Corbyn would place him at the extreme radical end of the liberal spectrum on this issue as well as on so many others.
The concern over BDS should be widely shared, because the threat it poses is not just to the Jewish community and to Anglo-Israeli relations but to all Britons, to the security of the UK and to the Western world in general. Last autumn, Cameron named and shamed four universities as hotbeds of radicalisation and Islamic State recruitment. It is no coincidence that student bodies at each had endorsed BDS; anti-Semitism and the boycott of Israel are animated by the same hatred as Islamist extremism. The IS attack on Paris in November is another example. The Bataclan Theatre, where the terrorists murdered most of their victims, had for years been a target of BDS protests because the venue’s longtime owners – two Jewish brothers – had hosted many pro-Israel and Jewish events there. The ire of the boycotters was expressed not just in protests but also in threats of violence and at least two abortive terrorist attacks, including one by al-Qaeda. (The band performing on the night of the attack had also recently played in Israel, ignoring BDS demands not to do so.) The Bataclan’s Jewish owners had, as it happens, sold the theatre in September, as one of the brothers was moving to Israel, part of a wave of French-Jewish emigrants fleeing the country. France is a byword for anti-Semitism in Europe, and now it has also become practically a warzone, with armed soldiers visible across its capital as a desperate measure to salvage the security and comfort on which the West is built. BDS may begin with the Jews, but the radicalisation that fuels it has bigger ambitions.
The campaign to boycott Israel is just part of the anti-British, anti-Western and anti-Semitic ideology that pervades many of our colleges, religious institutions and charities and even some trade unions, and the government has recognised this. In announcing the BDS ban at the Conservative party conference, at the same time as he was condemning Corbyn and his allies as radical, terrorist-sympathising and Britain-hating, the Prime Minister was signalling that he understood the context in which BDS thrives and the threat it poses to us all. His intention is to consign it to oblivion, where it belongs.