Last Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed Executive Order No. 157, directing state entities to divest all public funds supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The governor’s message was clear: “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.” This great victory for U.S.-Israel relations comes amid other victories against BDS, including the American Anthropological Association’s vote to reject the academic boycott of Israel, but additional measures are necessary to crush the movement at its core.
Many prominent American and Israeli voices, including Gen. David Petraeus and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, have categorized BDS as a “strategic threat” to Israel. The BDS movement primarily targets college campuses. Although no university in the United States has ever divested from Israel, that’s not the battlefield where the movement is winning. It’s winning on the battlefield of ideas. BDS supporters infiltrate student governments, social justice groups and other student organizations. They are well organized and protest far more effectively than any pro-Israel group, gradually winning the hearts and minds of average, apathetic students who know little to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since these students are generally not exposed to a strong, pro-Israel movement, many will inevitably tend toward these anti-Israel views simply by default. Thus, when these students become the next generation of leaders in America, they will likely have more radical views on Israel than the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia which, unlike the BDS movement, supports a two-state solution.
A strategic threat to Israel inherently poses a national security threat to the United States. The U.S. and Israel share many common national interests. The two countries collaborate closely on intelligence-sharing and conduct major exercises together such as the biennial Juniper Cobra joint missile defense exercise. In a sea of dysfunctional governments and sometimes no governments at all, Israel is the cornerstone of stability in the region, and a model that many of its neighbors should follow. Most importantly, Israel allows the United States to project its power in the region. A weak, isolated Israel harms the security of the region and, consequently, that of the United States.
To protect this vital relationship, it is absolutely imperative that BDS supporters do not maintain positions in the U.S. government that allow them to influence our national security and foreign policy related to the Middle East. Although it’s perfectly acceptable and often appropriate to criticize Israeli policy, it is unacceptable to actively harm our national security. Furthermore, BDS is anti-Semitic based on the State Department’s own definition as it delegitimizes and applies double standards to Israel.
The idea that an anti-Semite who harms U.S. national security can have a position in U.S. foreign policy or national security may sound unfathomable, but it sadly happens all the time. As a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, I have witnessed students who support BDS obtain internships at the State Department and even obtain security clearances. This needs to be stopped immediately before real, irreparable damage is done. Thus, U.S. government agencies involved with foreign policy and national security should consider support of BDS to be a strong, negative factor in their hiring process.
Given our nation’s history, it’s critical that this does not become a witch hunt and resemble the “Red Scare.” The negative factor for BDS should be designed to look unfavorably upon only the individuals who are members of a group affiliated with the global BDS movement, such as Students for Justice in Palestine or Jewish Voice for Peace. Since BDS works against our national security and is inherently anti-Semitic, it would be only natural and expected of the U.S. government to prevent BDS supporters from obtaining government positions. This will help ensure BDS supporters will never have the kind of power in the country that they have currently on college campuses. We need to take Mr. Cuomo’s message one step further: If you boycott against Israel, America will boycott you.
• Blake Fleisher is a policy analyst at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs’ Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.