A deeper look at BDS, antisemitism and reality





iven the large Jewish population in and around Riverdale, concerns about antisemitism is understandable. But the equation of antisemitism with groups opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in these pages — such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions program, does a great injustice to reality.   

Regarding the term “antisemitism,” for some, it has morphed far from its original meaning — hostility toward, or prejudice against, Jewish people — to include any criticism of Israel. That makes as much sense as claiming that criticism of China is proof of hostility to Chinese people.

Because many can’t mentally separate the two issues, I will henceforth call antisemitism what it truly is: anti-Jewish prejudice. 

The purpose of the BDS movement is to pressure Israel into ending the occupation, ending apartheid practices, ending unequal treatment of Arab citizens of Israel, and allowing Palestinian refugees driven from their homes to return. It takes no position on one state versus two state solutions.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both labeled Israel’s occupation as an example of apartheid. Granted, allowing all Palestinians to return to Israel proper is pragmatically impossible, but it takes chutzpah to say that I, a Jew, whose ancestors never lived in Israel, am welcome as a citizen — increasing the need for more territory — while Palestinians who lived there for ages, cannot return. 

BDS is primarily aspirational, having had little direct impact on Israel. According to Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, BDS is a failure in terms of the Israeli economy, and mainly served as a useful tool of the Israeli right. Like “critical race theory” for Republicans — more a boogeyman than a threat.

With some ambivalence, I support it, to put pressure on Israel to move toward a more “I-thou” position toward the Palestinians, rather its current “I-it” manner. 

But why this paranoia about BDS or other left leaning groups being anti-Jewish? Might there be some anti-Jewish members of BDS? Probably a few, but most likely way less than the right-/white-wing Christian nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and shooting up synagogues. 

And it gets crazy when people are attacked for not condemning colleges that allow campus BDS groups or sympathizers to function like they allow pro-Israel groups to function. Like Jeffrey Dinowitz attacking Gustavo Rivera for taking essentially a civil liberties position, not telling who should or shouldn’t be allowed to exist on campus. Or Miguelina Camilo, who faults BDS for being “a gateway to radicalization for mass shooters.” 

What? The mass shooters are on the other side of the political spectrum. I suspect much of this is pandering to Riverdale’s Jewish voters. 

Finally, there is another Jewish tradition, which doesn’t privilege the well-being of group X over group Y. Some of us Jews are not tribal. We don’t like states where one ethnicity or religion or one group of people dominates others, be that Israel or Saudi Arabia.  We look to see who is suffering the most, who is occupying whom, who is dominating and who is being dominated, who is and isn’t being treated as fully human.

No country gets a pass.

But when part of a group whose actions are harming or killing others in our name, we speak up. That’s why as an American college kid, I opposed the Vietnam War, and why as a Jew I oppose the Israeli occupation. Yes, sometimes Palestinians erupt in rage and kill Jews, just as those native to this country sometimes slaughtered men, women and children as we stole their land. 

The colonized erupt, when not afforded equal dignity, equal justice, equal worth. 

And while some Palestinian — and a few BDS supporters — may want Palestinian domination of all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, at least as many Israelis want that for Israel. (God promised, didn’t he?)

If you have a hard time understanding that rage, as a thought experiment, imagine how non-Jews in New York — which then had more Jews than Palestine — would have reacted had a Jewish state for Holocaust refugees been set up in New York instead of the Middle East against their will — in say Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

What would be refreshing to hear from diehard Israel supporters would be honesty: “We don’t care about Palestinians. Not our problem. We’re Jews. We care about the Jews. If they don’t cause trouble, and they move out of their homes when we order them to because we want the land, OK. If they object, we have the guns.”

As stated decades ago by the late historian, Tony Judt — who had been a hopeful, liberal Zionist in his youth — “The depressing truth is that Israel’s current behavior (much more so today) is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth today is that Israel is bad for the Jews.”

In a poll last year, 25 percent of U.S. Jews described Israel as an apartheid state. For Jews younger than 40, that rose to 38 percent. 

Are we all antisemites? It is Israel’s oppression — I don’t use that word lightly — that is increasingly alienating American Jews from Israel  — and often from Judaism — and driving non-Jews in this country, those with universal values, to oppose it. 

For us, our Jewish values require opposition to Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.  But we don’t plan on shooting you or painting swastikas if you disagree.


Peter Wolf, BDS, boycott, divestment, sanctions, Israel, Jews, Palestinians