ADL Letter to House Subcommittee on National Security on the “Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement”

July 28, 2015

The Honorable Ron DeSantis
Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Subcommittee on National Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Stephen F. Lynch
Ranking Member
Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Subcommittee on National Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman DeSantis and Ranking Member Lynch,

We write to provide the views of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for the Subcommittee on National Security’s July 28 hearing entitled “Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement” and ask that this statement be included as part of the official hearings record.
We would like to thank the Subcommittee for holding a hearing to assess the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which aims to isolate and demonize Israel and deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination and a homeland. The BDS campaign promotes a biased and simplistic approach to the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict and presents this dispute over territorial and nationalist claims as the fault of only one party – Israel. It advocates for unconstructive and divisive actions directed at blaming and pressuring Israel. In fact, the BDS campaign does not support Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and the movement rejects a two-state solution to the conflict.

The Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a 102 year old civil rights and human relations organization whose mission statement: “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all” endures today. ADL advocates for a strong relationship between the United States and Israel and promotes the security and well-being of the State of Israel. ADL works to support Israel’s fair and equal treatment in the community of nations and exposes where anti-Israel activity crosses the line into anti-Semitism, fostering a hostile environment for Jewish or pro-Israel activists.

ADL has also worked to provide support and information for those encountering BDS campaigns. In September 2014, ADL launch ed Words to Action: Empowering Jewish Students to Address Bias on Campus, which is an interactive education program for college and pre-college students that is designed to empower and equip them with constructive and effective responses to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on campus. To date, ADL has trained over 1,900 students, and workshops are taking place every week.

Further, ADL directly engages with students and administrators on college and university campuses throughout the country. ADL provides daily, hands-on assistance to students, administrators, and other campus groups on issues relating to anti-Semitism, anti-Israel activities, BDS campaigns, free speech issues and coalition building. ADL’s staff train student government bodies about anti-Semitism, and educate them on how to recognize when anti-Israel activism crosses the line into demonizing Jews. ADL provides resources and training to college and university administrators on how to respond to bigotry and intergroup strife on campus, as well as how to navigate the line between protected speech and harassment and intimidation.

The BDS Movement

The BDS movement emerged after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The campaign intensified following the July 2004 joint statement by The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and a July 2005 statement by Palestinian civil society organizations calling on the international community “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” Its supporters wrongly claim Israeli policies towards Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are akin to South Africa’s apartheid regime, and that the same tactics used to demand apartheid be dismantled in South Africa should be employed to ostracize, marginalize, and pressure Israel.

Proponents of BDS have also called for pressure on governments “to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel.” Campaigns have been launched demanding the "divestment" of university, municipal, church, union and other investment portfolios from companies that do business with Israel, as well as the banning of Israeli products, professionals, academics, academic institutions and artistic performances (in Israel and abroad). Student governments at 29 universities and colleges have voted on non-binding divestment resolutions against multinational companies that do business in Israel. In addition, a number of academic associations have endorsed an “academic boycott” of Israeli academic institutions.

The core element of the BDS campaign is the rejection of a two-state solution to the conflict. The BDS movement’s official platform, which includes a call for the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, would result in Jews being the minority and the ultimate end of Israel as a Jewish State. In calling out Zionism as the only unacceptable form of national identity and in placing inordinate attention on Israel at the expense of all other global concerns, the BDS movement invokes long-standing anti-Semitic tropes.

Impact of the BDS Campaign in the U.S.

The BDS campaign largely has failed to have more than a public relations impact, particularly in the U.S, despite some successful resolutions on college campuses and church groups. However, these campaigns are creating a negative impact on public perceptions of Israel. Increasingly, BDS campaigns have become an effective way for anti-Israel activists to attract attention to their message, particularly on college campuses where BDS initiatives draw students, faculty, campus organizations, and administrations into what generally becomes a highly politicized and publicized debate.

These campaigns isolate Jewish and non-Jewish students who are supportive of the state of Israel, often leading to prejudicial views against Jewish students based on notions of “dual loyalty.” Whether or not all the participants in these campaigns are taking part because of anti-Semitic intent, the outcome is often hostile to Jewish students nonetheless.

ADL research reveals that nineteen campuses held votes on resolutions or referenda to divest from Israel in the 2014-15 academic year. Although none of the resolutions or referenda is binding or are likely to alter university policy, support for these initiatives inevitably leads to a divisive atmosphere on campus. Moreover, social media campaigns amplify the effect of these campaigns, giving them additional lift through viral videos, hashtag campaigns and other techniques.

There was a significant increase in anti-Israel events overall on college campuses in the 2014-15 school year. ADL research and information from our twenty-eight regional offices documented that 520 explicitly anti-Israel events and programs took place nationwide on college campuses, representing a 30% increase from the previous academic year. Well over 50% of these events focused on various aspects of the BDS movement.

BDS campaigns are divisive wherever they are introduced; they needlessly agitate and divide communities. They are increasingly found on college campuses across the United States, pitting student groups against each other and, on occasion, making Jewish students a target of harassment and creating a hostile environment.

Efforts to Marginalize and Discredit BDS

The increase of anti-Israel activity on campuses has spurred increased efforts to counter it. For many, including ADL, this has meant educating students about the issues and urging university administration leadership to make clear, as former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers did in 2002, that a BDS program targeting Israel is inherently wrong and should never become policy on campus.

At the same time, there are multiple others strategies that can be employed. Some are proposing legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups. Others are encouraging resolutions that take a clear stance against BDS. Still others are encouraging “buycott” campaigns to defeat BDS through active efforts to support the state of Israel through increased trade and investment.

Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, raises some concerns about regulating First Amendment-protected free speech, and could be challenged in the courts and struck down. A decision by a private body to boycott Israel, as despicable as it may be, is protected by our Constitution. We also have some concern that efforts to legislate against BDS may divert effort away from waging the battle for hearts and minds that is necessary to marginalize the odious ideas inherent in the BDS campaign.

Indeed, there is no silver bullet. It will take a wide range of efforts to counter these initiatives. All such efforts demand time, persistence, stamina and commitment.

Strategies Moving Forward

ADL is deeply appreciative of the efforts of elected officials to recognize and reject the insidious and destructive nature of the BDS campaign. While those who seek to demonize and isolate Israel and promote BDS campaigns have a First Amendment right to express their biased views, America’s political leaders are also entitled to speak out against this bias and in support of free and fair trade with America’s democratic ally, Israel. Legislators can work to pass resolutions promoting the investment of mutually-beneficial business, academic, and cultural ties with Israel. Further, legislators can support legislative resolutions condemning the BDS movement’s attempts to de-legitimize the state of Israel, publically state their disapproval for the movement, and help to educate the public about the true goals of the movement. We urge legislators to find productive ways to promote strong U.S. Israel trade relations as well as a mutually-negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will help bring security and stability to both Israelis and Palestinians.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide our views on this issue of great concern. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can provide additional information or if we can be of assistance to you in any way.

Stacy Burdett, Director, Government and National Affairs
Michael Lieberman, Washington Counsel