In late December, with just weeks left in his administration, former U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a shot in the arm to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, or BDS. Obama instructed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, to abstain instead of vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution rebuking Israeli settlement activity.
Resolution 2334 deems Israel’s presence in disputed territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illicit. Combined five days later with a didactic anti-Israel speech from Secretary of State John Kerry, the resolution administered a body blow to Israel’s brand.
The BDS movement, which also has an anti-American agenda, thrives on de-branding Israel as the Middle East’s only free state and democracy. In short, BDS uses economic warfare in its effort to label Israel as a pariah state and to end its existence as the Jewish homeland.
There are several policies that a Trump administration can pursue to retard the growth of BDS. First, the U.S. Congress should submit the Combating BDS Act of 2016 for President Trump’s signature. The bipartisan legislation would permit state and local governments to penalize companies participating in BDS by pulling taxpayer money from those businesses.
Second, Trump can join other world leaders, especially those from BDS ground-zero countries in Western Europe, and declare BDS an anti-Semitic movement that runs counter to all peace efforts. Moreover, lawmakers should push through Congress The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA). This legislation would give the U.S. Department of Education the statutory tools to examine anti-Semitic incidents in the broadest and most effective way possible. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act mirror’s the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism definition of anti-Semitism that includes the critical language covering where anti-Israel conduct crosses the line into prejudice and discrimination.
The act will enhance the Department of Education’s ability to identify, investigate, and punish all forms of anti-Semitism, including anti-Zionism and anti-Israel harassment.
Third, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, can help to move the United States out of the den of the jackals and state that Resolution 2334 boosts BDS and should be discarded and disdained. Already, Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, was asked during his Senate nomination hearings how he would respond to BDS: He replied that he would change the relationship with countries that cooperated with the boycott movement, and that “those countries need to understand that it does shape our view of them.”
Finally, U.S. ambassadors in countries where BDS is flourishing -- countries such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Belgium -- should deliver speeches in those countries condemning the movement. Moreover, the ambassadors should advocate that the European Union replicate anti-BDS legislation. France’s anti-discrimination statute -- the Lellouche Law -- has been invoked to stop BDS activism based on its discrimination against national origin. The Lellouche Law can serve as a model for Brussels.
The BDS movement has been incorrectly viewed as exclusively anti-Israel. Take one telling example, Code Pink, an allegedly pro-peace U.S. group that is a main actor in the BDS network. Code Pink supports many of America's principal enemies -- the Islamic Republic of Iran and communist North Korea, just to name a couple.
There are clearly many unknowns regarding what the Trump administration will do. However, Donald Trump, speaking at last year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, underscored that BDS is a real strategic threat.
Understanding the architecture of BDS and navigating universities where so such much of the BDS work is happening is not a simple task. Administrators and trustees are self-interested stakeholders devoted to seeing that peace and quiet prevail at their institutions. But faculty and students are the heart of the university. Only a small minority of both implacably opposes the existence of Israel. But this minority successfully shapes the larger university environment by playing to politically correct views on violence and supposed racism, hijacking other issues such as minority rights and fossil fuels, and cowing opponents with harassment and intimidation, false claims of persecution, and undertones of threatened violence.
The actions proposed above can help in providing concrete long-term solutions. Winning the war against BDS will require a playbook that understands the opposing players and their strengths and weaknesses.