The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is winning, a top anti-BDS strategist has conceded.
At the “Ambassadors Against BDS” conference in New York last month, former Israeli government advisor Gidi Grinstein said that “in 2016 our community probably invested 20 times … more resources in dealing with this problem compared to what we invested in 2010.”
Yet despite these tens of millions of dollars spent combating BDS, Grinstein asked: “why are we not winning?”
Other speakers throughout the day assured those gathered that BDS was losing. “Operation Fightback is underway, and we are winning,” claimed World Jewish Congress chief executive Robert Singer.
But Danon conceded that, “the BDS movement is still active and still strong. Every day, academic and religious groups, student unions and investment firms are all falling prey to boycott calls.”
Meant to show unity in the pro-Israel community, the event ended up highlighting deep divisions.
Attack and sabotage
In 2010, the Reut Institute published a strategy which outlined the ways it said the Israeli government should “sabotage” and “attack” the BDS movement and other expressions of solidarity with Palestinians.
Reut advocated for this campaign to be led by Israeli spy agencies and Israel lobby groups.
Since then, as Grinstein highlighted in New York, the amount of money and resources the Israeli government and its supporters have put into the anti-BDS campaign has skyrocketed.
Liberal Zionist newspaper Haaretz reported from New York that, “The event clearly cost a tidy sum; nine Israeli journalists were flown in to cover the summit, and there was a fancy VIP luncheon for speakers and the media. The organizers claimed ignorance when asked about the budget.”
In answer to his own question as to why BDS was winning, Grinstein said, “we are in a learning competition here, and it’s a very very challenging environment”.
But he did suggest a way forward. Grinstein said that the number of BDS activists was growing “among progressive circles” more than in any other area, and so it is only “through progressive groups we can win.”
“Who can win the fight in the progressive circles for us? Only progressive groups,” he argued. “Our diversity must be made into our asset. Unless we have a broad tent we cannot win. We need Democrats and Republicans.”
Reut has long advocated appealing to “progressive” groups to make the pro-Israel case.
The 2010 Reut strategy called for “driving [a] wedge between soft and hard critics” of Israel. In this way, Reut aims to isolate the Palestine solidarity activists whom it terms “delegitimizers” – those who support BDS.
Earlier this year Reut put a renewed emphasis on this tactic, with a strategy document advocating “a big tent approach that accepts progressive critics of Israel,” The Jewish Daily Forward reported in February.
This manifested itself again earlier this month. The Jewish Labour Movement – a pro-Israel group within the UK’s main opposition party – presented a lecture on “left anti-Semitism, the Middle East and the Labour Party,” by left-wing Guardian columnist Owen Jones.
Jones went ahead with the lecture on 2 April, despite strong criticism.
At the talk, Jones attacked Jewish anti-Zionist Jackie Walker and said she should be expelled from the Labour Party.
The Jewish Labour Movement was last year at the forefront of a manufactured campaign to falsely portray the Labour Party under Corbyn as a cesspit of anti-Semitism.
The group’s director Ella Rose was caught on camera in an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera fantasizing about assaulting Walker.
The footage led the Labour Party to carry out a cursory investigation into her conduct, before exonerating her in what complainants dubbed a “whitewash.”
The Electronic Intifada’s reporting on the investigation led to a lawyer acting for the Jewish Labour Movement sending a threat warning the publication to “desist from behavior that it considers to be bullying of its director, a young Jewish woman.”
Rose was a former officer at the Israeli embassy, as The Electronic Intifada revealed in September.
As shown in the undercover footage, that report led to Rose expressing a wish that its author would “die in a hole.”
The new strategy, jointly developed by Reut and the Anti-Defamation League, a major American Israel lobby group, demands “an all-out assault on leading critics of Israel, sometimes using covert means” while embracing “soft critics” of Israel on the left such as Jones.
The anti-BDS summit in New York highlighted some of the inherent contradictions within Zionism.
Grinstein spoke of the “achievements of Zionism” and of the need to be respectful of a diversity of pro-Israel opinions, or there is a “zero chance of victory.”
“What we really need in our community is much more mutual respect,” Grinstein said, while both left- and right-wing Zionism should emphasize a “unity of cause.”
Grinstein was the final speaker of the day, making his point after others had taken a more belligerent tone against liberal Zionism.
At one panel, two young J Street student activists spoke out against both BDS and the occupation of the West Bank, claiming there was no contradiction in such a position.
Republican panelist Alan Clemmons, a South Carolina state representative and leading local anti-BDS activist, claimed there was “no illegal occupation” in the West Bank.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
Clemmons – a self-described Christian Zionist – also told one of the students, a young man wearing a Jewish skullcap, that he represented an “anti-Semitic organization.”
Clemmons was loudly clapped and cheered by an audience that appeared to be mostly college and high school students attending with teachers.
Clemmons repeated his accusation in the Wall Street Journal a few days later.
Not included in his Journal article was Clemmons’ fundamentalist religious rationale for supporting Israeli colonization of the West Bank: that the land is an “eternal inheritance” given by God to Jews alone.
Afterwards, J Street said that “the approach to Israel advocacy that we saw on display at the summit is leading to a disastrous dead end.”
This disharmony was a fitting conclusion to an event sponsored by an Israeli government and a Zionist movement that are not only increasingly extreme and belligerent towards Palestinians, but also towards the mildest dissent from within.