The BDS Movement: A Call for Human Rights or Anti-Semitism in the U.S.?

Created: 10 September, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
7 min read

BDS means Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. In 2005, the movement rose out of civil society in Palestine as a call to the world for solidarity against the illegal actions of Israel toward Palestinians, and the unequal treatment of Palestinians inside the state of Israel.

Recently, U.S. states started passing legislation and resolutions against the BDS movement and its supporters. The definition of BDS in the bills and resolutions is disparaging, contending that BDS is anti-Semitic and seeks the destruction of Israel. Civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, have warned that forceful complaints and legislation to curb echos of BDS are unconstitutional.

In a heated debate, the two sides -- pro- and anti-BDS -- accuse each other of similar offenses: racial or ethnic discrimination, stifling free speech, and even genocide.

BDS supporters have compared Israel's actions toward Palestinians to the Nazis, an especially sensitive trigger for Jewish Americans. However, even some within the Jewish community are making this claim.

In August 2014, 40 anti-Zionists, who are also Jewish survivors of Nazi Germany, labeled the continued war with Palestinians as genocide and called for BDS in a letter to the New York Times. They ended the letter saying, "Never again- for anyone."

Those against BDS often describe it as a violent movement that creates a hostile environment for Jewish people. Palestinian solidarity demonstrations have been said to illicit a sense of Nazi Germany. Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who is attributed with penning the original anti-BDS legislation, has vowed to protect Israel from the alleged "genocidal anti-Semitism" of BDS.

How will BDS and anti-Semitism be defined? Who will define them? These definitions will have lasting effects on laws, civil rights, and foreign policy.


Conflicting Definitions

BDS's stated goals are equality inside the state of Israel, return of land occupied in 1967, the right of return for refugees, and removal of 'the wall' that surrounds occupied Palestinians.

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Tennessee was the first state to pass anti-BDS legislation, introduced by state Representative Dolores Gresham (R-TN). Gresham defines BDS as, "one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating for the elimination of the Jewish state."

According to a statement Gresham's executive secretary made for IVN, the legislation originated with Laurie Cardoza-Moore, through her Christian-Zionist organization, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN). Cardoza-Moore is also an actress and filmmaker.

PJTN's mission is to "educate Christians about their Biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and Israel against the new anti-Semitism."

PJTN has a global mission to pass anti-BDS legislation in all 50 US states and 7 foreign countries. They provide educational materials and talking points to those who wish to start their own anti-BDS legislative campaigns.

In an "Explanation of BDS" in partnership with the student group, Stand With Us, anti-BDS advocates claim that "BDS is the new anti-Semitism" and a "propaganda campaign with the intent of the destruction of Israel." Cardoza-Moore has promised to "crush with a wave of legislation," according to United for Israel.

The PJTN also has a campaign against the geography book, that critical thinking is okay, as long as it is in line with Judeo-Christian values and that looking at the origins of conflicts may serve to legitimize threats to Western values. “If we apply the same logic articulated in the textbook...legitimizing terror attacks against Jews in Israel … then what should we deduce from 9/11 and the Moslems who murdered almost 3,000 Americans on that horrific day?”

A Cultural Landscape, accusing the textbook of being anti-Semitic and anti-Judeo-Christian. Laurie Cardoza-Moore is the president of the PJTN and is leading both of these fights. Regarding the textbook, Laurie posits

In an article on United for Israel's website, next to a picture of Pennsylvania state Representative Matt Baker, Cardoza-Moore is quoted saying:

“The Jew-hating BDS movement is about to be hit by a tidal wave of support for Israel and the Jewish People. As proud Christian Zionists that represent millions of believers worldwide, we will stand as a firewall around the Jewish People and will ensure that no form of genocidal anti-Semitism be tolerated.”

"Are you part of the PLO?" Baker asked before commencing a phone interview with the author of this article. (The PLO is a governing body of Palestinians and have only recently been taken off the U.S. terrorist list.) Baker is the co-sponsor of HR 370, a Pennsylvania resolution condemning the BDS movement, which passed unanimously.

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"I didn't even know there was a conflict," Baker said regarding the BDS movement and the bill.

Baker said a constituent brought the legislation, modeled off Tennessee's, to his attention. Baker also had support from the PA Jewish Coalition. According to Baker, in Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent, some of his colleagues did not know what BDS was.

“We had to explain who the BDS leaders were and that their goal is the elimination of the State of Israel,” he stated.

Baker concluded that his intent was to support Israel and make a statement against anti-Semitism.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), is a predominantly Jewish organization that advocates for BDS. JVP's media coordinator, Naomi Dann, said in an interview for IVN that she thinks "it is disturbing" to see well regarded groups like the Jewish Federation, of which PA Jewish Coalition is a part, working with far right groups like PJTN.

on the state House floor, she explained, "This is just stating support as an ally with Israel."

Anti-BDS legislation is passing through legislative chambers quickly and with little objection. When Tennessee  Representative Sheila Butt brought the legislation to vote

A single 'no' vote came from Representative G.A. Hardaway, who explained he did not have enough time to make an informed vote and that some of the historical information in the bill seemed incorrect.


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BDS Claims

As part of the BDS movement, Dann, who is Jewish, stated her purpose is "to use nonviolent tactics to help bring full freedom and dignity to the Palestinian people- freedom from militarism, occupation, and a state of privilege of Jews over non Jews."Diverse organizations have endorsed BDS in the U.S., including the American Studies Association, Association of Asian American Studies, Quaker groups, the United Church of Christ, and most recently the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union (UE). Presbyterian and Methodist churches, and even J Street, have supported divestment from occupied territories, but do not endorse the BDS movement.The common motivation for all these organizations is a commitment to human rights.The international community, including successive U.S. administrations, consider Israel's occupation of Palestine, settlements outside of the 1967 borders, and Israel's claim on Jerusalem as a capitol, as illegal. The UN has accused Israel of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, of which, by occupation, it is responsible. Israel has held its occupation for almost 50 years.Normally, long-term occupation leads to annexation and proper addition of the territory into the occupying state -- but that would effectively lead to a one-state solution. 'One-state solution' is a feared phrase and is often considered a statement of 'new anti-Semitism.'Considering Netanyahu's statement against a two-state solution last year, and creeping settlements across proper Israeli borders, the feasibility of a two-state solution is questionable.Minority rights and dissent are controversial issues inside Israel proper. These are all issues BDS defines itself by in its 2005 call for action -- alignment with international law regarding occupation, human rights, and minority rights.The conflict of BDS seems to shift focus between Palestinian rights and anti-Semitism. Central to the question of 'what is BDS?' has become, 'what is anti-Semitism?' Is criticism of Israel or Zionism anti-Semitic?[The next installation of this series will explore the definition of anti-Semitism and claims against BDS.]

Mounting Legal Actions

University rules, state and national laws, and international negotiations are all tied to the conflict with BDS, and defining anti-Semitism.In Pennsylvania, state Representative Steven Santarsiero has moved forward legislation to deny funding to educational institutions with ties to BDS. Civil rights groups warned in a letter that such legislation threatens free speech rights.Santarsiero said, in the Jewish Exponent, that he thinks his bill will "pass constitutional muster."“It was disappointing to see the ACLU sign on to the letter with Palestine Legal. I don’t know Palestine Legal well, but their very title suggests they’re advocates for the Palestinian position. And that’s all right. They have the right to do that,” he continued.It is just that -- the right to advocate for the Palestinian position -- that Palestinian Legal and other civil rights groups find themselves defending.Author's Note: In full disclosure, the author has supported BDS on social media and has been involved in petitioning to end Palestinian village demolition. This article is part one of a 4-part series.

Photo Credit: Mohamed Ouda / Flickr.com

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