BDS examined in StandWithUs talk

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PROVIDENCE – On May 7, StandWithUs Rhode Island presented “The Real History of the BDS Movement,” a talk that focused on one of the biggest threats facing Israel today: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Although the boycotting of Israel has a long history, BDS acclerated in 2005 with the goal of putting economic and political pressure on the Jewish state. Supporters of the movement disapprove of Israel’s actions toward Palestinians in what some call the occupied territories and often stage anti-Israel demonstrations. Many Jewish organizations, including StandWithUs, believe that the true motive of BDS is to delegitimize the State of Israel, calling into question its very existence.

The speaker, William A. Jacobson, a clinical professor of law and director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, broke down the BDS strategy into three categories for an audience of about 50 people gathered at Congregation Beth Sholom.

The first category is a boycott of Israeli goods, academia and culture. The second is boycotting those who do business with Israel.

“You will notice that the push on college campuses is the secondary boycott. They want to divest from companies that are doing business with Israel,” Jacobson explained.

The third is boycotting those who do business with blacklisted people or entities. One example of this is the boycott of Sabra Hummus, which is majority-owned by Pepsi but partially owned by the Strauss Group, which is Israeli. For this reason, supporters of BDS vehemently oppose the brand.

The boycott also reaches into the so-called occupied territories, Jacobson said.

“There is a blacklist currently being created of companies that do business with Israel, by a U.N. entity, with the help of Human Rights Watch. But they don’t call it a blacklist of companies that do business with Israel; they are blacklisting companies that do business in the West Bank as well,” he said.

According to Jacobson, BDS is far from the first boycott campaign against the Jewish people. As an example, he cited the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who, when speaking about his plans to drive the Jews out of Palestine, said, “We will win through an economic boycott.”

Jacobson believes pro-Israel students are often intimidated by their pro-BDS counterparts and says it is vitally important for organizations like StandWithUs to be on the ground helping students in this fight.

StandWithUs’ mission is to support Israel around the world through education and fighting anti-Semitism. The group works vigorously to combat BDS, including through social media campaigns and anti-BDS events held across the country. 

In 2016, Rhode Island became the first state in New England to pass anti-BDS legislation.

SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.