- - Thursday, January 22, 2015

Symbols count. For many, what they want to believe determines what they consider true. Needless to say, many in the Middle East do not want to believe in Israel’s existence. As a consequence, Harper Collins one of the world’s largest publishing houses, sold English language atlases to schools in the Middle East that omit the state of Israel.

As a Harper Collins official noted, the inclusion of Israel in a map of the Middle East was “unacceptable” to customers in the Gulf and was resisted by “local preferences.” Some customs officers in an unnamed Gulf country only permitted the import of atlases when Israel had been deleted by hand.

There is little doubt about the motive of this deletion: An effort was made to delegitimize Israel using sales success as tactical ploy. Under pressure, Harper Collins apologized for the omissions and removed the doctored atlases from sale in the territories.

Yet even though the publisher ultimately made the right decision, there will be other attempts to delegitimize Israel. The BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) has been referred to as the latest form of anti-Zionism and, yes, even anti-Semitism. But while the strategy for demonizing Israel may be familiar, the tactics are different. The BDS movement is a triple threat embracing politics, culture and economics.

Boycotters have gone after Soda Stream, a company once housed in the West Bank. The BDS movement has attempted to exclude Israeli professors from international conferences. It has attacked Israeli tennis and soccer players at international tournaments. It has excoriated performers over their appearances on an Israeli stage. BDS acolytes have organized petitions and demonstrations at campuses across the globe.

This is, in essence, a systematic effort to undermine Israel as a nation, to isolate it as a pariah state. The often-hostile action of proponents appears as a form of anti-Semitism. While this contention is routinely denied, it is important to note that Israel is a sanctuary for Jews threatened and persecuted in other venues. It is not merely a home, but a retreat against bigotry. Israel was not founded on the ashes of the holocaust, but the slaughter of 6 million Jews is a reminder that Israel is the last line of defense against the growing horde of terrorists.

Moreover, the BDS movement is clever and shadowy. It claims to be an extension of human rights efforts. But whose rights are being violated? Those who have challenged BDS adherents like Scarlett Johansson and Lady Gaga are to be commended. Yet the risk for opposition is high since the proponents of the movement are relentless and new avenues are explored each day for the expression of hate and recrimination.

Alterations on a map seem innocent enough. And who cares whether a rocker can perform in Tel Aviv? The BDS adherents are merely expressing another point of view, say some supports. Alas, these matters aren’t trivial because the assumptions that undergird the BDS movement, particularly the arguments surrounding the founding of the state of Israel, are fraught with lies and deception and are designed to mobilize public opinion and action against the only genuinely democratic state in the Middle East.

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

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