Recently, anxiety sprang up in Israel over anti-Israel boycotts. Ministers met, sessions were held at the Knesset, and commentators pontificated. Yet the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel is a decade old. Moreover, the excitement was provoked mainly by two high-profile incidents, the FIFA and Orange affairs, which were resolved in Israel's favour.
Nothing, in fact, has greatly changed in the overall situation. As before, some petty boycotts have succeeded, major boycotts have failed, and Israel's relations with the rest of the world continue to expand -- for now.
Although boycotters forced an Israeli cosmetics firm to close its shop in London's West End, for instance, the value of mutual trade between Israel and the UK has doubled over the last four years. The retiring British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, published a farewell letter in the Israel press, listing the vast expansion of commercial and scientific relations during his five years in "the country he loves."
Sajid Javid, the British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, recently denounced boycotts of Israel and insisted: "My department will be working hard to boost Anglo-Israeli trade and investment, and I as Business Secretary will do anything I can to support and promote it." Stating that he had "long admired" Israel, he added that "the values that make Israel such a success are values that matter a great deal to me. I share Israel's love for freedom and democracy. I admire its tenacious determination when the odds are stacked against it."
Israelis are irritated by European bureaucratic busybodies who seek to label goods as "Made in the West Bank." The impact on Israel's trading figures, however, is minimal, as goods from the West Bank amount to under one percent of what Israel sends to Europe. Moreover, most of these goods are not whole products, which would require such labels, but components for use in European products, which require no labelling; they are invisible. Meanwhile, other European bureaucrats eagerly helped Israel to become members of CERN and the OECD, potentially far more important developments. The common Israeli perception that "Europe hates us" needs to be qualified: the vast European bureaucracy contains friends as well as enemies.
The political leadership of European Union countries is also mostly against boycotts of Israel. Among others, the UK's David Cameron, France's François Hollande and Germany's Angela Merkel have expressly rejected BDS against Israel. Likewise, the then and recently re-elected President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, emphatically declared in his speech to the Knesset: "Let me seize this opportunity to make a clarification: the EU has no intention to boycott Israel. I am of the conviction that what we need is more cooperation, not division." Unfortunately, this affirmation went unnoticed in Israel because of the hasty and ungrateful reaction of some lawmakers to a speech full of praise for and support of Israel.
Although efforts to boycott Israel have had some success in academia and in mainline Protestant churches, Western political leaders are mostly opposed. Martin Schulz (L), President of the European Parliament, says: "The EU has no intention to boycott Israel. I am of the conviction that what we need is more cooperation, not division." Sajid Javid (R), the British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, says: "My department will be working hard to boost Anglo-Israeli trade and investment, and I as Business Secretary will do anything I can to support and promote it."
Nevertheless, even if the BDS movement's successes have been limited and grossly exaggerated, the phenomenon needs to be combated, both because it is inherently unjust and lest it become a more substantial danger. Tim Marshall's recent summary puts it well: "...it is necessary to look at the BDS in two ways. It is a failure insofar as the Israeli economy has doubled in size in the period BDS has been in operation, but it is a success when you see the effect of the campaign on thousands of university students, many who will go on to become opinion formers. It is a decades-long strategy."
So far, official Israel has done little in this regard, although Prime Minister Netanyahu's personal intervention was significant in respect of both Orange and FIFA. Rather, the burden has been carried by a number of hard-working private initiatives, such as BDS in the Pews, CAMERA, Campus Watch, Creative Community for Peace, Divest This, MEMRI, NGO Monitor, Palestinian Media Watch, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and Shurat HaDin. (A longer list of organizations, many of which are partly concerned with fighting BDS, can be found here.)
While these organizations have done a magnificent job -- considering their limited means -- in identifying BDS threats, much more could be done in putting to good effect the information that they gather. Put simply, the usual strategy adopted is to complain loudly that "It's not fair!"
Certainly, it is ridiculously unfair that Israel is singled out for boycotts while the world's monstrous violators of human rights can fill the shelves of shops worldwide (China), sell raw materials worth billions of dollars (the Gulf states) and dominate United Nations institutions (the Organization of Islamic Cooperation). But "It's not fair!" can have an impact only on those whose charters or professional standards require them to be fair, such as the major Western news media, and even these are often slow to admit errors.
Similarly, Palestinian Media Watch has had some success in lobbying European parliaments about the Palestinian Authority's use of donor money to pay salaries to convicted terrorists. It is because that misuse breaks rules that European institutions are obliged to observe.
Most boycotters have no commitment to fairness and regard the idea with derision. Against them, one has to use tactics that fall under the rubric "this is going to hurt you more than us." As we shall see, anti-boycott operations have used this approach sporadically with remarkable success. But the approach needs to be conceived more systematically and implemented far more widely.
Such strategies can be summarized under at least four headings: lawfare, counter-boycotts, digging up dirt and self-harming. On the other hand, some Israeli ministerial decisions inadvertently facilitate boycotts; this area, too, needs to be considered.
Although the term "lawfare" has existed since the 1970s, its current use follows the definitions offered by Charles Dunlap, the earliest and simplest of which (2001) was "the use of law as a weapon of war." For some, such as those behind The Lawfare Project, it has come to signify the abuse of law to that end.
The latter pejorative meaning of "lawfare" is the one adopted by NGO Monitor under its rubric NGO Lawfare:
"Lawfare is the exploitation of courts in democratic countries in order to harass Israeli officials with civil lawsuits and criminal investigations for 'war crimes,' 'crimes against humanity,' and other alleged violations of international law. While NGOs claim these cases are about obtaining 'justice' for Palestinian victims, they are actually part of the larger political war against Israel."
NGO Monitor adds that the US and the UK have also been assailed with lawfare of this kind, but the principal target has been Israel. It ascribes the initiation of lawfare against Israel to the infamous Durban Conference of 2001.
It is a conceptual mistake, however, to define "lawfare" in this narrower way. Instead, one should follow Dunlap, the acknowledged expert in this field, by defining "lawfare" in a morally neutral sense, then go on to distinguish between proper and improper uses of law in the pursuit of war. Just as in other areas, the law has uses and its abuses in the form of lawfare.
Dunlap's seminal paper (coincidentally published in 2001) began by noting the spread of lawfare in the pejorative sense, but it also considered the proper uses of lawyers by armies. During the recent hostilities initiated by the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, Israel employed experts in the laws of warfare and international law to approve or veto military actions. This precisely exemplifies the proper use of lawfare that Dunlap had in mind: his paper included a section on "how law and lawyers are integrated into the planning and execution of air operations conducted by the United States."
In any case, there are certainly proper uses of the law as a means of checking and deterring boycotters of Israel. The possibilities may be limited in the US on account of its broad interpretation of free speech, but anti-discrimination laws in Europe offer ample opportunities.
A key point here is to start from the apartheid lie, but to turn it on its head, as we shall now explain. The boycotters frequently claim, or tacitly presuppose, that Israel is an "apartheid state," such that boycotts can target Israeli Jews alone. Israel's defenders then typically respond by citing the thorough integration of Arabs into Israeli public life. That is, they limit themselves to rejecting the apartheid lie because "It's not fair!" Instead, they should use that integration of Arabs and Jews in order to pursue lawfare against the boycotters, telling them: "This is going to hurt you."
Consider the recent vote by the National Executive Committee of the UK's National Union of Students to recommend a boycott of Israeli educational institutions by its members. That committee consists of leaders of unions of individual universities and colleges. Thus the motion was proposed by the students' union of the School of Oriental and African Studies.
The lawfare approach should proceed in two stages. The first stage consists of a lawyers' letter sent to all those who proposed or voted for the resolution and asking them to answer whether the boycott applies only to Israeli Jews or also to all the many thousands of Israeli Arabs who teach at, study at or have graduated from Israeli universities. The letter could point out that even the University of Ariel in the West Bank has several hundred Arab students.
If any of the addressees of the letter answer that the boycott does not apply to Arabs but only to Jews, then they can be prosecuted immediately under the UK's anti-discrimination legislation. It was on these grounds that teachers' unions in the UK were advised by their lawyers to rescind boycott resolutions.
If the addressees concede that the boycott must apply also to those Arabs, the lawyers can proceed to stage two. This is to send a letter claiming that the addressees wholly failed to make it clear to their constituencies that all the many Arab teachers, students and graduates at Israeli universities must henceforth be professionally boycotted. Consequently, the letter would continue, a legal challenge to the decision shall be mounted on the grounds that the addressees wilfully misled their constituencies or even tacitly expected those constituencies to practice discrimination on the basis of race and religion, targeting only Jews and nobody else.
There is still time to challenge the National Union of Students in this manner. It requires only as much imagination as has been outlined above, and mustering the necessary lawyers' fees. The latter should be no problem for Israel, if it truly wishes to stifle that boycott.
Clearly, the above approach can also be applied in all parallel cases, such as the medical sector in Israel, where Arabs and Jews are thoroughly integrated. The approach should have been applied when the UK's trade unions decided to boycott their Israeli counterparts.
As was said, the approach exploits the falsity of the apartheid lie as a weapon against its propagators. A boycott of segregated South African universities would not have fallen afoul of the UK's anti-discrimination legislation, but a boycott of integrated Israeli universities can.
A story that recently made headlines in Israel stemmed from the decision, at the urging of pro-Palestinian groups, of three supermarkets in Varberg, Sweden, to withdraw Israeli produce. The Ambassador of Israel to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, mobilized friends of Israel to lobby the leadership of the supermarket chain (655 branches in all) against the boycott on the grounds that "We didn't talk about the righteousness of Israel, rather we spoke in the name of fair trade and avoiding discrimination of any state." What proved decisive, however, was not this "It's not fair!" argument, but the fact that "Thousands of people heeded the call and threatened to boycott the supermarket chain if it continues its boycott against Israel." Result: "This led the chain's national management to reject the boycott and threaten that if the Varberg stores do not stop the boycott, they will no longer be a part of the chain, effectively putting an end to the boycott."
Let us be precise: we do not disparage the "It's not fair!" argument, nor do we claim that "This will hurt you" on its own is a cure-all. The secret is to use both in tandem. "It's not fair!" is needed to reassure friends of Israel that their cause is just and to motivate their mobilization. "This will hurt you" can then be used to deter whoever promotes boycotts or -- as with the Swedish supermarket chain's national management -- whoever complacently tolerates them.
The FIFA affair provides another example. Jibril Rajoub, whose terrorist credentials are impeccable, presides over the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestinian Olympic Committee. At the recent FIFA Congress, on May 25, 2015, he sought to have Israel expelled from FIFA on the basis of various petty excuses. In advance of the FIFA Congress, Prime Minister Netanyahu lobbied the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, who expressed strong opposition to Rajoub's initiative, which eventually failed.
It happens that Palestinian Media Watch has assembled vast amounts of information on how Palestinian sport, under Rajoub's leadership, is used to glorify terrorists who murdered many Israelis. This information, too, was reportedly cited by Netanyahu.
Though commendable, this does not go far enough. It would have been even more effective to mount an Israeli counter-initiative to have the Palestinian Football Association suspended from FIFA as long as it uses sport in the service of terrorism. In such cases, where two members try to expel each other from an umbrella organization, the standard reaction is to ask both sides to drop their mutual claims, thus ending the issue. As long as the claim comes from one side only, the issue remains on the agenda.
It has, in fact, been left to another Israeli initiative, Shurat HaDin, and not to official Israel, to take up this approach. Shortly after the FIFA Congress, Shurat HaDin wrote to FIFA giving "examples of PFA president Jibril Rajoub calling for terror against civilians while serving simultaneously in Fatah." The organization provided "a slew of examples of Rajoub's calls for violence and discrimination against Israelis" and demanded his expulsion as head of the Palestinian Football Association.
Maybe it is more effective for official Israel to let others pursue such initiatives, but it can certainly do much to encourage them. Likewise, it would have been inappropriate for the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden personally to call for a counter-boycott of the supermarket chain, but he mobilized thousands of people who did just that.
Fresh evidence against Rajoub is a Palestinian football tournament in which the competing teams were named after terrorists mass-murderers. Since Rajoub also heads the Palestinian Olympic Committee, Palestinian participation in the Olympic Games can be challenged as well. The point is that the more Rajoub himself is put under pressure and forced to account for himself, the less chance he has to cause trouble for Israel. And -- who knows -- maybe one day he will be replaced and Palestinian sport will cease to glorify terrorists. But this will not end Israel's excuses for counter-harassment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel can switch, among other things, to citing the PA's naming of streets and squares after terrorist mass-murderers.
A third example starts with the Tricycle Theatre in London. In 2014, after eight years, it decided to stop hosting the UK Jewish Film Festival on the grounds that the Israeli Embassy was giving financial support. It changed its mind "after many of its own Jewish sponsors withdrew their funding in protest" and promised that in future the festival would be hosted "with no restrictions on funding."
Maybe that partly explains why a similar call in 2015 was ignored by participating cinemas, namely, when 40 figures in the British film industry sought to stop the London Israeli Film and Television Festival. They claimed that they were not seeking to prevent the showing of Israeli films in general but only when the shows were sponsored by the Israeli government. Their argument is specious, of course: national film festivals everywhere are sponsored by national governments, and the 40 people themselves have doubtless benefited from UK public money.
Most conveniently, the 40 supplied all their individual names in a published letter. As many films today are hardly profitable if they are not distributed internationally, this necessity provides opportunities to boycott anywhere any film in which the boycotters participate. The fact that only two of the 40 are well-known names is irrelevant. A professionally produced film always ends with several minutes of credits in which everyone who has contributed in the slightest regard is listed. So with a little effort and modest financing, one could build a database checking new films and tracking the presence of any of the 40.
In general, wherever a seemingly impressive list of names is published in support of a boycott, it provides truly impressive opportunities for counter-boycotts. These are particularly important regarding cultural boycotts, where the BDS movement has enjoyed some rare successes in contrast to its failures in most fields.
Another suitable area is academics who call for boycotts of Israeli academics and academic institutions. Even if, as in the US, the prospects of lawfare are limited, the prospects of a counter-boycott are not. Very helpfully, too, such people tend to publish lists of fellow-boycotters, as they realize that an individual voice carries little weight.
Likewise, the list of those institutions whose students' unions voted for the boycott adopted by the UK's National Union of Students is available. Commendably, some of those institutions responded that they would ignore the call of their own students. Any institutions that did not so respond should be asked to do so and, if they fail to affirm unambiguously their opposition to the boycott, they make themselves targets for a counter-boycott. Here too, the counter-boycott can be international, since foreign students are particularly lucrative for universities.
Digging up Dirt
The basic principle here is the following: anti-Israelism typically is not an isolated practice. Rather, anti-Israelism is a symptom of institutions in crisis. Consequently, if you find an institution that has become obsessed with hostility to Israel, look at other aspects of that institution's functioning and you are likely to find other things that are going wrong, even elements of corruption. Then start your counterattack from those other symptoms of decline by exposing them and demanding resignations. The same approach can be used to contend with individuals who are obsessed with hatred of Israel.
The present author pointed this out already in the 1990s, but the article ("Anti-israélisme, symptôme de crise des institutions") appeared in French and at a time when such articles did not automatically become available on internet. So it is worth going over the ground again.
There are many examples of anti-Israelism as a symptom of institutions in crisis. In the 1970s, for instance, the countries most fervently engaged in anti-Israel agitation were not the Arab states but East Germany and the Soviet Union. Neither country exists any more. For that matter, the inability of the Arab states to come to terms with the existence of Israel is just one symptom of their internal crises, such as their dismal education systems, their grave violations of human rights and now their multiple civil wars. A Google search for "Arab states failure" brings up a host of lamentations, stretching over decades, such as "Self-doomed to failure" (The Economist, 2002), "The failure of governance in the Arab world" (The Guardian, 2011), "The era of failed Arab states" (Asharq Al Awsat, 2013), and "The tragedy of the Arabs" (The Economist, 2014).
Western politicians who for decades have desperately sought a solution to the Palestinian problem, thinking that this would heal the ills of the Middle East, mistakenly inverted the relationship of cause and effect. The insolubility of the Palestinian conflict is simply one symptom among many of the inability of Arab states to solve major problems of any kind; it is not the cause of that institutional deficiency.
The current effort of François Hollande and Laurent Fabius to promote a new UN Security Council resolution on the Palestinian problem, decreeing an 18-month deadline for its solution, is the latest example of this folly. It was France, remember, that initiated the assault on the Gaddafi regime in Libya, precipitating the current disintegration of the country. Even under Gaddafi's tyranny, no one was slaughtering Christians on the beaches and smashing up the Christian cemeteries that house the war-dead of World War II.
Among news media, the BBC has long been a subject of complaints that its reporting about Israel was biased. As early as 2004, he BBC was obliged to make an internal inquiry into the complaints, the Balen Report, which it kept secret; it spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees to defeat demands to make the report's findings known. Again, this was just a symptom of a wider failure within the organization. It coincided with the Hutton Inquiry (2004) into the events surrounding the death of David Kelly (2003), who committed suicide after being misquoted by a BBC journalist and after his name was revealed despite his request for confidentiality. Lord Hutton found that there had been mistakes all the way up from the journalist to the top of the BBC, especially in their refusing to admit that any mistake had been made. Eventually not just the journalist and his immediate superior resigned, but also the BBC's chairman and director-general.
Though not always justified, of course, criticism of the BBC has continued from many sides up to this day; it is a factor in the renewed debate over the BBC's future. A whole article in Wikipedia lists and discusses the BBC's critics; remarkable here are confessions of bias by various former senior figures in the BBC.
When we look at churches, we can see that the fastest growth in numbers, today as in the 1990s, is found among Evangelical Christians, who commonly have a positive attitude to Israel. The Roman Catholic Church, which has undergone a beneficial revolution of attitudes to Jews and Judaism in the decades since 1965, is maintaining its position worldwide. The churches that are undergoing an increasingly rapid decline in membership are precisely those long-established Protestant churches that have become obsessed with promoting the Palestinians.
This has been documented for US churches in an exemplary study by Dexter van Zile. In the UK, the British Methodists and the Church of Scotland provide similar examples of churches that have plunged into decline simultaneous with their embracement of the Palestinian cause. Thus the one danger to the spread of Evangelical Protestantism may come from the emergence of a small number of professed Evangelicals who are urging their fellows to identify with Palestinian demands. An example is Gary Burge, who is ensconced in Wheaton College, where he leads whole generations of young impressionable Evangelicals down the same broad path. Many of the Protestant churches now in decline used to be foremost -- when they still flourished -- in desiring the return of the Jews to their biblical home.
To take a specific case, when Edmond L. Browning became Presiding Bishop (1985-1997) of the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA), he led the way in pro-Palestinian solidarity. Out of the same misjudged liberalism, he failed to grasp the dangers inherent in demands to ordain practicing homosexuals and consecrate them as bishops, an issue that subsequently led to a split of the church and its alienation from other members of the Anglican Communion. The end of his tenure was marked by a major scandal in his office: the treasurer of the ECUSA, Ellen F. Cooke, was found to have embezzled over $2 million. It came to light only after Browning had dismissed her in 1995 on other grounds. Up to then, he had tolerated the thoroughly improper procedure whereby she was both treasurer and chief administrator, had absolute control over auditing, and had prevented any outside checking of accounts.
The example shows how pro-Palestinian activism was not an isolated phenomenon but bound up with other grave errors of judgment that both facilitated corruption and threatened the very existence of the institution. From this we learn the way to deal with a resolutely anti-Israel institution, or policy of its leaders, is not to confine oneself to complaining about its unfairness, but to search for other things wrong with it and dig them up. Whatever discredits the institution will also discredit its attitude to Israel.
Another case is the unfairness of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR). The justified complaint is that Israel alone is a permanent object of condemnation in all its meetings, "Item 7" on the agenda, whereas there are other countries whose human rights record is manifestly far worse than that of Israel. That is, the focus on Israel is just a symptom of the total failure of UNHRC do its job.
The UNHRC's recent resolution on last year's hostilities in Gaza, which can be downloaded as a document from its website or read online, is full of typical absurdities. For instance, it bemoans the "unprecedented levels of destruction, death and human suffering caused." The representatives of 41 countries endorsed those words, although each of them knew that in the last four years a hundred times as many have died in Syria, the destruction there is also far greater, and the millions of Syrian refugees vastly outnumber the thousands of Gazans who lost their homes.
Merely complaining about this unfairness has achieved nothing. What might force a change would be to exploit that gross malfunction of the organization by organizing, whenever it meets, demonstrations on behalf of Iranians or Sudanese or Saudi Arabians or Chinese or whatever, demanding that each of these countries, too, should be permanent items on the agenda. If this went on for months and years, UNHRC would either be forced to accept those demands, diluting its focus on Israel, or become an object of general contempt.
Any UN Resolution, too, includes the list of its sponsors. Just mentioning.
A similar approach can be applied to individuals. Consider academics who are fanatically hostile to Israel. You can be sure that they indulge in other forms of incompetence. So do not just complain of imbalance with regard to Israel, look for all the other elements of that individual's defective teaching. Examine his or her publications for sloppy scholarship. (Manfred Gerstenfeld has informed us verbally that his new book, The War of a Million Cuts, contains examples of this kind.)
Today it is also easy to investigate plagiarism. Google provides a service called "Google Books," which lets you write whole sentences and search for where they have appeared in print. To protect copyright, Google deliberately omits random pages from the books or journals that turn up, so one still has to buy the source or find it in a library if one wants to read more. But this suffices to check, for instance, whether a student's term paper consists of passages copied from elsewhere -- and likewise to check whether a university teacher is doing the same.
So far we have been describing the use of what may be called the "lower principle" -- that anti-Israelism is a symptom of institutions in crisis. But there is also a "higher principle," which may prove even more effective in the long run. To explain it, let us recall two nostrums from the world of business.
Thomas Mann earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929 above all for his novel Buddenbrooks (1901), which describes the peak, decline and death of a family firm. In the meantime, the novel has given its name to the so-called "Buddenbrooks syndrome," the tendency of family firms to fail in the third generation of the family. But the novel also illustrates another nostrum: the so-called "corporate headquarters relocation challenge." It is widely known that one of the dangerous moments in the life of a firm is when it moves into grand new headquarters. In not a few cases, the firm drifts into a steady decline for reasons that can only be speculated. This, too, happens in Buddenbrooks. The firm was flourishing as long as it was run from its old ramshackle premises. But after the confident move to an elegant new building, relationships deteriorated and faulty decisions were made.
The "higher principle," then, is to spread awareness that anti-Israelism is a symptom of institutions in crisis; to spread it at every opportunity and so widely that it becomes a commonplace, like the Buddenbrooks syndrome and the corporate relocation challenge. Then institutions will be deterred from indulging in anti-Israelism in the first place, for fear of attracting suspicion and unpleasant attention. If there is any panacea against anti-Israelism, this might be it.
Over the last decade, the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) has seen a massive attempt by its leadership to impose a pro-Palestinian policy against the wishes of half or more of its membership. The conflict plays itself out at the meetings of the General Assembly, held every two years. In advance of the meetings, both sides mobilize funds and advocates on a massive scale. When the matter comes to a vote, victory goes sometimes to the one side, sometimes to the other, but only until next time.
In the meantime, other issues are neglected in yet another church that is steadily losing membership. A root problem is alienation between the local churches and the national headquarters in Louisville, of which the battle over Israel is just one example among others. Hence, this battle is both a symptom of internal crisis and accentuates the crisis.
On the other hand, there is no evidence that the Palestinians have benefited one whit from all this agitation or that it has affected Israel in any way. The leadership of the church is engaged in an exercise of pure self-harming.
The motions at the General Assembly focus on boycotting certain US firms, above all Caterpillar, which allegedly help Israel to maintain its presence in the West Bank. Among other things, this infuriates the many members of the PCUSA who work for Caterpillar in Peoria (four congregations in the city and five more nearby). But they need not be worried: Caterpillar's profits are holding up and their jobs are unaffected by the follies of their church leaders. Even the Palestinian Authority itself uses Caterpillar products, and there is a Palestinian firm that has the local franchise to sell them.
In such cases, this provides a further strategy for dismaying boycotters. You simply tell them, while trying not to gloat excessively, that they are doing nothing to help the Palestinians, that they have no impact whatever on Israel, for better or for worse, but they are just harming themselves and maybe accelerating a decline toward their own extinction.
Another such church is the United Church of Christ (UCC). Its own statistics show that its membership has declined from 2,123,792 in 1955 to 943,521 in 2014. Moreover, the decline has accelerated since the year 2000, precisely when it began its obsession with Palestinians. At its latest General Synod, a motion to divest from companies "profiting from the occupation" passed overwhelmingly and a truly loony resolution, equating Israel with apartheid, also gained a small majority.
The new UCC General Minister and President, John Dorhauer, appears to be wiser than those who elected him. His comment: "I will be obligated as the officer of this denomination and by mandate of General Synod to speak publicly the action taken here. But I will do so with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply. And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places." He is sadly correct: this is another self-harming decision.
What these churches have not internalized is that nobody, whether in business or in government, is influenced by their solemn declarations, not even leading politicians who may be among their members. Even the Roman Catholic Church today has negligible influence in what used to be considered Catholic countries in Europe.
In the academic sphere, the unfinished saga of Steven Salaita, who harmed himself via Twitter, shows that social media are also a useful pitfall for boycotters. (He advocates BDS against Israeli academics, but demands immunity from it for himself.) Another, though sadder, example of self-harming is Norman Finkelstein. If, instead of intemperate denunciations of other authors, he had devoted the same energy to self-criticism, his native talents might have achieved something of worth. He is unique as a sympathizer with BDS who accuses the official BDS movement of pretending to work for peace while pursuing the destruction of Israel.
Self-harming is not confined to churches and academics; its impact can be discerned upon most kinds of boycotters. At least some Arabs have understood it: a considerable amount of Israeli-produced goods are marketed in Arab states after the labels have been changed on the way in some other country. Indeed, it has frequently been pointed out that the contributions of Israelis to contemporary technology and medicine are such that a systematic boycott of Israel "would mean significant lifestyle changes for some consumers," such as abandoning their computers and smartphones and choosing nobly to suffer and die from certain ailments.
The process of self-harming is autonomous. It can be enhanced, of course, by implementation of the other strategies mentioned above.
In the US, legislatures have adopted significant measures to combat BDS. Besides Congress itself, the legislatures of Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York State have taken such steps. More initiatives are underway. Some of these resolutions are the inverse of those adopted by churches and promise to have greater impact: they mandate divestment from companies that refuse to sell to Israel.
Back in Jerusalem, a recent investigation suggests that official Israel has so far been much more active in debating what to do about BDS than in actually doing anything about it. Moreover, the scope of the debate was narrow: Should left-wing organizations, like J-Street and B'Tselem, be mobilized to promote (guess what!) the "It's not fair!" argument? What we have seen above shows that however and whenever this debate ends, the result will make little difference. J-Street, by the way, was opposed to the decision of Congress to combat BDS.
So with some exceptions, like Ambassador Bachman, official Israel's contribution to combating BDS has been ineffective. To make things worse, there are official decisions that unwittingly facilitate it.
While many Christian churches freely operate in Israel, only ten have an official autonomous status. Nine of them acquired that status before the establishment of the State of Israel; the tenth, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church was granted that status in 1970. Recently, there has been constant lobbying of Israeli officials by churches abroad to add one more church to the list. The church concerned has a few hundred members, almost none of whom live in Israel. It does have a congregation in the Old City of Jerusalem, but the church itself refuses to recognize the Old City as part of the State of Israel.
What makes the request most problematic, however, is that although some of the pastors are sincere Christians who stick to their pastoral concerns, the most likely replacement for the current bishop, who is close to retirement age, is one of the most prominent advocates of BDS and an author of the notorious Kairos Palestine Document. He is a regular lobbyist at the General Assembly of the PCUSA, among other churches in North America and Europe. His so-called "sermon" at the recent General Synod of the UCC earned him a standing ovation and swayed minds; without it, at least the "apartheid" motion might not have passed. Granting his church the coveted official status would strengthen his position in the case of him becoming bishop, but attempts to explain this to Israelis are met with incomprehension.
More serious than that is the current narrow-minded debate over the massive natural gas fields discovered in Israeli territorial waters. As was pointed out two years ago, this elevates Israel to the status of a Gulf state: namely, a state whose natural resources are so much in demand that attempts to boycott it are unthinkable. Specifically, Israel has the opportunity to achieve the status of Qatar, which is invulnerable to criticism despite its disregard of the human rights of its foreign workers and fomenting Islamic extremism worldwide.
What makes Qatar unusual is that whereas other Gulf states have oil, of which there are many alternative suppliers, Qatar has a rich supply of natural gas. When it comes to natural gas, Western Europe is faced with the awkward choice between terrorist supporter Qatar and Russia, with which it is embroiled over the Ukraine and which could threaten to turn off the taps. So an alternative supply from Israel and Cyprus, which have agreed to cooperate, would be highly welcome and confer Qatar's invulnerability on Israel.
All well and good, until Israeli politicians became resentful of the amazing success of Noble Energy in discovering the gas fields, after British Gas had withdrawn in despair at ever finding worthwhile quantities of gas. Their agitation led to a law in 2011 that retroactively imposed large new taxes on top of the contracts signed by Israel with Noble. As Caroline Glick has pointed out in an accurate analysis, the decision caused dismay in the international business world, and is at least a factor in the halving of foreign direct investment in Israel from $11.8 billion in 2013 to $6.4 billion in 2014. If so, Israelis have succeeded in harming themselves to an extent that boycotters could only dream of.
Noble and its fellow investors, including the Israeli firm Delek, reluctantly agreed and signed new contracts with Israel. Then, last December, the Israeli official charged with investigating monopolies used his statutory powers to tear up all those contracts, claiming that ownership of the gas fields must be split up to encourage competition. Despite Netanyahu's best efforts, Israeli institutions have not yet removed this obstacle. An attempt to do so in the Knesset has just failed, since Netanyahu could not muster a majority, thanks to the usual attempts of minor politicians to gain traction.
Other necessary requirements, such as the construction of pipelines and gas liquefaction plants, cannot even be discussed until this issue is dealt with. Note that while Noble and its partners already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in finding the gas fields, exploiting the gas will require billions more. But any investor will be deterred by Israel's record of revoking signed contracts. The exploitation of the biggest discoveries may be years away.
What nobody involved has noticed is that to get Israel's natural gas flowing to Europe may contribute more to combating BDS than everything else put together. But that prospect has been deferred to the indefinite future.