Attempts to exterminate Israel through what we have come to call “kinetic warfare” began immediately following Arab rejection of the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 — the first offer of a “two-state solution.” Against all odds, the fledgling Jewish state prevailed in that conflict, as it did in other wars waged by coalitions of its Arab neighbors, including the Six Day War of 1967 (which ended with Israelis taking Gaza from Egypt, and East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan) and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Less well known: For more than six decades, economic warfare also has been waged against Israelis. “Efforts to boycott Israel and to force companies around the world to break off relations with it were centerpieces of the Arab League’s strategy against Israel since 1948,” Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich last week testified before a House subcommittee on national security led by Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.
And, he added, since the 1960s, “Congress has consistently opposed such ‘economic warfare’ against ‘countries friendly to the United States.’ Arguments that such boycotts were not fundamentally anti-Semitic but rather merely protesting Israeli injustices have never been taken seriously by Congress.” American laws passed in the 1970s made it a criminal offense for companies to participate.
Toward the turn of the century, most Arab countries relaxed or even abandoned the boycott effort. But in 2001, just days before the September 11 attacks on the United States, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization sponsored the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa — an Orwellian festival of anti-Semitism so egregious that the American delegation walked out. It was there, Mr. Kontorovich told the congressional panel, that a new strategy for economic warfare against Israel was devised: As kinetic warfare has come to be waged less by nation-states and more by non-state actors, so economic war against Israel thereafter would be waged less by governments and more by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Thus was born the so-called BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. It was not, as its advocates claim, “some grassroots effort initiated by ‘Palestinian civil society’ in 2005.” Rather, it has been “a well-organized campaign, backed by U.N. agencies and often funded by European governments, that picks up where the Arab League boycott left off.”
Mark Dubowitz, my colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and executive director of FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, also testified, noting that where economic warfare is concerned, Israel should be seen — not for the first time — as “the canary in the coal mine.” BDS, he said, should be viewed “within a broader problem set” and addressed “at a more strategic level.”
He recommended that America and its allies “prepare for an increasingly dangerous era of political, economic and financial warfare targeting the United States and our allies” while such states as Iran, Sudan, Russia and China — which routinely commit heinous crimes and human rights violations — get a pass from NGOs, the U.N. and other international institutions. In response, the United States “should create a defensive shield to protect us and our allies against economic and financial warfare. Congress is well placed to lead that effort.”
Often overlooked: While the intended victims of BDS are Israelis, it is actually Palestinians who have been hit hardest by the campaign. One example: SodaStream, the world’s leading manufacturer of sparkling water makers, had maintained its largest factory is in an industrial zone on the West Bank. “Until recently,” CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the hearing, “we employed a total of 1,200 people, including 500 Palestinians, 350 Israeli Arabs and 350 Israeli Jews” all of whom received “equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.” For the Palestinians, those wages and benefits were far in excess of what is generally available in the West Bank where unemployment runs about 30 percent.
But SodaStream, he said, became a “primary target” of the BDS campaign, accused by both Islamist organizations and such far-left groups as Oxfam and Code Pink of “profiting from the occupation.” European governments have funded BDS while European regulators have “provided encouragement, which was manipulated as apparent substantiation to the claims of our supposed ‘illegality.’”
As a result, the facility was closed last year, a decision taken with immense regret because, Mr. Birnbaum explained, he had considered it “a personal blessing” and a “privilege to provide work and sustenance to 500 Palestinian families in an employment-stricken region.”
On average, each Palestinian SodaStream worker supported 10 family members. Many of those breadwinners are now becoming destitute and desperate — in some cases, no doubt, so desperate that they will volunteer to sacrifice themselves or their children as suicide-bombers for Hamas or other terrorist organizations opposed to any solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is not a “final solution” for Israelis.
Some BDS advocates may be too naive or dense to grasp this. You can be sure, however, that the campaign’s leaders understand quite well how economic warfare can facilitate kinetic warfare. Brand Israel as a pariah state (even as Iran, the world’s leading terrorism sponsor, is given renewed legitimacy and the prospect of significant foreign investment) and, over time, Israel will be rendered more vulnerable to its openly exterminationist enemies (Iran emphatically included).
It’s a clever strategy. On the optimistic side, last week’s hearing demonstrates that there are members of Congress on both sides of the aisle smart enough to comprehend what BDS represents and principled enough to want to do something about it, building on the successful legislative responses to the Arab boycotts of the past and other economic wars from which we still have much to learn.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.