Media Watch

Letter to the New York Times Magazine Regarding BDS and Politics

The following letter was submitted to The New York Times Magazine in response to "How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism is Fracturing American Politics" (March 31).

To the Editor:

Re “How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism is Fracturing American Politics” by Nathan Thrall (March 31).

Nathan Thrall presents the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in stark and facile terms: power vs. powerlessness; conservative vs. progressive, monied elite vs. grassroots; white vs. people of color; restrictions vs. free speech. These deeply flawed comparisons are at the heart of this factually unsound and deeply offensive article. It’s an overly simplistic narrative that highlights exactly why BDS is so problematic.  

The seven-plus decade old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. BDS takes an easy way out, and, in its “us vs. them” approach, places the entire onus of the cause and solution to this complex conflict on Israel alone.  BDS makes no demands of the Palestinians – who for much of the past seven decades have opposed the existence of Israel and actively engaged in a mix of violence, terrorism, and intense delegitimization of the state and its people rather than investing in peace and reconciliation.

In championing Palestinian nationhood, BDS literally denies Jews the same right. It ignores Israel’s repeated initiatives for peace over the last two decades, and the real Israeli security concerns that cannot be dismissed.  Nor does BDS seek to create conditions for Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement – it does not support negotiations, reconciliation or a two-state solution. It bars Israeli-Palestinian engagement on the professional, academic or cultural level and prevents “normalization” activity with others of differing opinions (such as engaging in dialogue with supporters of Israel). Oftentimes, BDS campaigns give rise to tensions in communities – particularly on college campuses – that can result in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters, including overt anti-Semitic expression and acts. This isn't some abstraction. We consistently see this play out again and again across the country. 

There always have been political differences regarding U.S. policy towards Israel in the halls of Congress and in the grassroots -- and there always will be.  But support for campaigns that only serve to delegitimize Israel, and rhetoric that demonizes and dabbles in anti-Jewish tropes, is not the way forward.  It contributes to an environment that breeds hate not hope. Instead of BDS, we need constructive campaigns and policies that build bridges and ultimately create a pathway to peace that brings security and dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians.


Jonathan A. Greenblatt
CEO and National Director
Anti-Defamation League