BDS Movement Cannot Handle Even Watered-Down Definition of Antisemitism

With many Israel-haters getting their panties in a bunch over the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, a bunch of Israel critics (and some haters) have released an alternative, watered-down definition of antisemitism, which excludes efforts to boycott Israel and other manifestations of hatred towards the Jewish state.

BDSA group of over 200 scholars has released a definition of antisemitism that explicitly excludes efforts to boycott Israel — the latest pushback against a campaign by a number of establishment Jewish groups to label as antisemitic double standards applied to Israel.
The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism released Thursday comes just over a week after a separate statement by a liberal group of Jewish scholars said that double standards applied to Israel were not necessarily antisemitic.

The Jerusalem Declaration goes further than the earlier declaration by the Nexus Task Force in explicitly saying that the movement to boycott Israel is not in and of itself antisemitic.
“Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states,” according to the Jerusalem Declaration, which was signed by scholars in the fields of antisemitism, the Holocaust, Jewish thought, Israel and other disciplines. “In the Israeli case, they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.”

Both statements seek to push back a bid by a number of mainstream Jewish groups to have state and national governments adopt the 2016 definition crafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The most controversial component of the IHRA definition defines as anti-Semitic “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

The Jerusalem Declaration, so named because it is the initiative of a group of scholars who came together in 2020 under the auspices of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, makes clear that it was spurred in part by objections to the IHRA definition.

“Because the IHRA Definition is unclear in key respects and widely open to different interpretations, it has caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism,” the declaration says.

Among the signatories to the Jerusalem Declaration are well-known critics of current Israeli policies, including Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania, and the writer Peter Beinart, as well as others in the mainstream of modern Jewish scholarship, including Susannah Heschel, the chairwoman of the Jewish studies program at Dartmouth; A.B. Yehoshua, the Israeli novelist; and Dov Waxman, the chairman of Israel studies at UCLA.

You can view the entire Jerusalem Declaration here.

Given this definition exonerates the BDS movement of antisemitism, you’d expect they would be pretty happy with it. And for the most part they are. But they have some gripes with it – including the fact it has Jerusalem in the name, and no palestinian Arabs were consulted!

BDSWith the JDA’s unfortunate title and most of its guidelines, it is focused on Palestine/Israel and Zionism, unjustifiably reinforcing attempts to couple anti-Jewish racism with the struggle for Palestinian liberation, and therefore impacting our struggle. In spite of that impact, the JDA excludes representative Palestinian perspectives, an omission that is quite telling about asymmetric relations of power and domination and how some liberals still try to make decisions that deeply affect us, without us. Palestinians cannot allow any definition of antisemitism to be employed for policing or censoring advocacy of our inalienable rights or our narration of our lived experiences and evidence-based history of struggle against settler-colonialism and apartheid.

Note the chutzpah – on one hand they are whining how “some liberals still try to make decisions that deeply affect us, without us” – yet here we have a bunch of non-Jews (palestinian Arabs no less, so many of whom want no Jews in this land whatsoever) trying to make decisions (defining antisemitism) that deeply affect us.

As I keep saying, no non-Jew has any business telling Jews what is and what isn’t antisemitism, just like no White person has any business telling Black people what is and what isn’t anti-Black racism. Only those who live through the experience can illuminate such definitions.

The BDS movement also want the discussion on antisemitism to move away from the very real Jew-haters of the Left to the “low-hanging fruits” of the Right. Which is a reason why they posit:

Its ill-conceived omission of any mention of white supremacy and the far right, the main culprits behind antisemitic attacks, inadvertently lets the far right off the hook, despite a passing mention in the FAQ. Most far right groups, especially in Europe and North America, are deeply antisemitic yet love Israel and its regime of oppression.

Note how they claim these antisemites “love Israel and its regime of oppression.” That offensive statement is not only false, but is the kind of thing that can itself increase hatred towards the Jewish people.

Another gripe of theirs is:

Despite freedom of expression assurances in its FAQ, the JDA’s “guidelines” still try to police some speech critical of Israel’s policies and practices, failing to fully uphold the necessary distinction between hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate opposition to Israeli policies, ideology and system of injustice on the other. For instance, the JDA considers as antisemitic the following cases:

B.“Applying the symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism … to the State of Israel.” As the JDA itself admits elsewhere, such a sweeping generalization is false in all “evidence-based” cases. Consider, for instance, Palestinians condemning Israeli PM Netanyahu as a “child killer,” given that at least 526 Palestinian children were slaughtered in Israel’s 2014 massacre in Gaza, which the International Criminal Court has recently decided to investigate. Can this be considered antisemitic? Though the hard evidence is irreproachable, should Palestinians avoid using that term in this case simply because it is an antisemitic trope and Netanyahu happens to be Jewish?

I assume the BDS movement would not find the following infamous cartoon of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon to be antisemitic:


The idea of Jews killing gentile babies and consuming their blood is a medieval blood libel. It was untrue then and is untrue now. Neither Ariel Sharon or Binyamin Netanyahu are “child killers.” Any children killed by the IDF were killed accidentally, albeit when being in the vicinity of IDF operations (in many cases placed deliberately in harm’s way by the palestinian Arab terror groups).

Similarly, I assume the BDS movement does not consider this antisemitic either:

I mean sure, it’s a Nazi-era, antisemitic trope:

jewish octopus

But according to them it’s true!

Their final gripe is:

“Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.” The principle of equality is absolutely paramount in protecting individual rights in all spheres as well as in safeguarding collective cultural, religious, language, and social rights. But some may abuse this to imply equal political rights for the colonizers and the colonized collectives in a settler-colonial reality, or for the dominant and the dominated collectives in an apartheid reality, thus perpetuating oppression. Anchored in international law, after all, the fundamental principle of equality is not intended to, nor can it be used to, exonerate crimes or legitimize injustice.

They go on to explain further:

What about the supposed “right” of Jewish-Israeli settlers to replace Palestinians in the ethnically cleansed land of Kafr Bir’im in the Galilee or Umm al Hiran in the Naqab/Negev? What about the ostensible “right” to enforce racist admission committees in tens of Jewish-only settlements in present-day Israel that deny admission to Palestinian citizens of Israel on “cultural/social” grounds?

Moreover, should Palestinian refugees be denied their UN-stipulated right to return home in order not to disturb some assumed “collective Jewish right” to demographic supremacy? What about justice, repatriation and reparations in accordance with international law and how they may impact certain assumed “rights” of Jewish-Israelis occupying Palestinian homes or lands

So on one hand, they have an issue with Jewish-only “settlements”; yet in the next breath they promote the so-called palestinian “right of return” which would most certainly result in a Judenrein Palestinian state – just look at how many Jews are welcome to live in Gaza and the palestinian-controlled territories, not to mention all the statements about driving us into the sea. Note also the final sentence that dismisses the right of Jews to live in Israel.

The fact the BDS movement cannot accept even this watered-down definition of antisemitism speaks volumes. They would most certainly contravene any reasonable definition of Jew-hatred because – let’s face it – the entire movement was borne out of prejudice against the Jewish people and the idea that we – unlike other peoples – are not entitled to self-determination.


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media

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