Some thoughts on the BDS Movement

Illustrative image - BDS activists protesting against Israel (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel was in the news this week when the internet hospitality site Airbnb announced that it would de-list the 200 or so apartments in Jewish/Israeli communities (known to the popular media as “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria (known to the popular media as the “West Bank”) following years of demands by BDS advocates. On the same day, the tiny Quakers in Britain Church (Wikipedia estimates their numbers at around 22,600) made an announcement that they were taking steps to ensure that they didn’t have any investments in companies which operate in Judea and Samaria.

BDS activists crowed about these “victories” on social media and Israeli officials, including cabinet Ministers, made what I would call severely overwrought statements condemning these decisions along with impotent demands that they be rescinded. In the meantime, my Facebook feed was flooded with announcements that people would be boycotting Airbnb and asking that everyone else do the same.

All of this highlighted the BDS movement, which gets a lot of media attention in Israel. Several politicians and Jewish community leaders have identified it as a major threat to the existence of this country. Articles, videos, etc. about this topic regularly appear in Israeli newspapers, TV channels and websites. The Foreign Ministry  granted a fairly large budget to push back against it and every major Pro-Israel organization, Jewish Christian or otherwise, has done the same.

Here’s what I think.

My job requires me to read the newspaper every morning and I can tell you that hardly a day goes by (that’s a literal truth, not just a figure of speech) when there is not a story about a major international mega-corporation buying an Israeli Start-Up. Or it might be a major university in the US, Europe or China signing a cooperation agreement with an Israeli university. Or it’s a hi-tech firm setting up a lab here. Or it’s a billionaire announcing a grant to build a new facility at one of Israel’s research hospitals or universities. Or it’s an Israeli medical breakthrough that all the large pharmaceutical corporations in the world will compete with each other to see who develops and markets it. Or it might be the Agriculture Minister from yet another country landing in Israel to discuss how farmers in his or her country can learn how to produce food and manage water resources the way Israeli farmers do.

In Tel Aviv’s HaShalom Interchange on the Ayalon Highway is the Azraeli Center, a complex of three massive buildings with a large shopping mall on the first three floors. Years ago I’d go there on my days off from work to see a movie or whatever and I was always a little in awe of the size of the Center, which dominated the skyline in the north side of Tel Aviv.

These days if you go to that neighborhood, you’d hardly notice the Azraeli Center because there are over a dozen buildings of comparable size (some even larger) there, with more under construction. They’re building office and commercial space as fast as they can because of all the local and international corporations and organizations that want to set up shop in Tel Aviv.

But it’s not just in Tel Aviv’s business district. All over the country it’s the same story.

New shopping malls are being built and old ones are expanding as fast as they can, in large cities and small towns, because so many retailers want to get into the Israeli market. The ports in Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat have been expanded to accommodate increased imports and exports. The Ministry of Tourism announced last week that 2018 has already broken the all-time record for incoming tourists that was set in 2017, which beat the record set in 2016.

In fact, Ben Gurion airport is on track to handle 25 million human transits in 2019, placing it among the busiest airports in the world. Another new international airport recently opened up just north of Eilat. Cargo terminals at both airports are expected to be very busy as well and Amazon, which recently started offering delivery to Israel, almost immediately announced that it would build extra capacity in order to handle all the packages Israelis are ordering.

Tens of thousands of new jobs have been created by all this activity in recent years with more of the same on the horizon. GDP has doubled and tripled in the last decades while the government’s tax revenues from all this economic activity have increased enormously.

So, with all that in mind, it can safely be said that the economic aspect of the BDS movement has been a colossal failure. The moral impact has also, from where I’m sitting, been a failure. Despite the high-visibility of the BDS movement on university campuses in North America and Europe and the attendant oft-repeated mantra that “the leaders of tomorrow will all be against Israel” I beg to point out that there are literally billions of people all over the world who couldn’t care less what North American and European university students think about Israel or anything else. I also beg to point out that minds can be changed. It happens all the time.

So, to sum up, I don’t think the BDS movement can be dismissed, but I do think people worry about it too much. Although we must all do what we can to push back against the BDS movement and all other efforts to damage Israel, we must also resist the temptation to hate or fear the people who engage in it, because the people who curse Israel are really only cursing themselves, as Genesis 12:3 plainly says.

So pray for them that God will turn their hearts away from such self-destructive attitudes.

As for Churches who join the BDS movement, well, that’s a topic for another blog, but suffice it to say that when a Church or denomination takes a public stand against Israel it’s usually a symptom of much deeper spiritual problems.