Is Boycotting Israel anti-Semitic?

The video above was taken at the University of Rochester on February 27, 2009, by Adriano Contreras of The Sitch. It focuses on similarities and differences between Israeli and S. African apartheid. The article below, “Is Boycotting Israel Anti-Semitic?” also appears as my column today in Socialist Worker.

ISRAEL’S SUPPORTERS wield the accusation that Palestine solidarity activists who support a boycott of Israel are guilty of anti-Semitism.

Because this charge is so repugnant to progressives, as Zionists are all too aware, it can have the effect of shutting down any debate about Israel’s crimes. In particular, the charge is leveled at the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, which seeks a campaign until Israel “meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law,” as stated in the BDS call to action.

The outlandish charges by Israel’s defenders against pro-Palestine activists reach the heights of hysteria on Web sites like, which falsely poses as “The official boycott Israel site” and is headlined, “The real Palestine story is just anti-Semitism re-branded–instigated and supported by the storm troopers of our time.”

There you have it. According to them, support for a boycott of Israel, which acts in open defiance of international laws and any unbiased person’s moral code, is nouveau-Nazism.

This accusation is not simply an odious lie, it is an attempt to manipulate hatred of anti-Semitism to draw attention away from the ongoing Israeli crimes of dispossession, systematic racism, collective punishment and wholesale warfare on a population guilty of nothing other than their own existence.

It is an old debaters’ ruse that when you don’t have the facts on your side, change the subject. That’s what the charge of anti-Semitism is really all about.

When Zionists claim that acts of anti-Semitism, which are on the rise in some places, are the result of the BDS movement, activists must confidently confront them with reality. The BDS movement has always condemned anti-Semitism in all its forms, and none of its materials nor actions make appeals to anti-Jewish sentiment.

Omar Barghouti, a BDS movement leader, visited Rome last spring, and this is how journalist Max Blumenthal reported on his response to this mischaracterization of the boycott campaign:

Regarding the accusation of anti-Semitism frequently leveled at BDS, he replied that such an accusation is in itself anti-Semitic, inasmuch as it creates an equivalence between all Jews and Israeli policies, implying that Jews are monolithic, and that all Jews should be held responsible for Israel’s actions.

Such generalizations and the idea of collective Jewish responsibility are fundamentally anti-Semitic. He called upon Europeans to stop assuaging their Holocaust guilt by oppressing the victims of the victims of the Holocaust.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

KNOWING THE history of Palestinian oppression is indispensable in combating this myth.

The expulsion in 1948 of nearly 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland as part of a colonial-settler project undertaken by Zionists and supported by the United States is an uncontestable point of history, about which anyone is welcome to their own opinion, but not their own version of the facts. It happened.

As Israeli-born Jewish historian Ilan Pappé writes in A History of Modern Palestine:

Out of about 850,000 Palestinians living in the territories designated by the UN as a Jewish state, only 160,000 remained [by 1949] on or nearby their land and homes. Those who remained became the Palestinian minority in Israel. The rest were expelled or fled under the threat of expulsion, and a few thousand died in massacres.

Palestinians were driven from their land, some by the self-described terrorists of the Zionist Irgun and Stern Gang. Today, most of the world’s Palestinian population lives in exile outside of Israel and in the Palestine Occupied Territories, with no right to return to the land of their ancestors. This refusal of return is in stark contrast to the Law of Return that virtually guarantees citizenship to Jews from around the world–even if they have no family there, have never before visited, nor speak the Hebrew language.

The horrifying conditions of malnutrition, mass unemployment and wholesale deprivation in the Gaza Strip are often detailed by, as are the atrocious facts of life for those Arabs living in the West Bank, where hundreds of miles of separation walls with militarized checkpoints confine the daily lives of every Palestinian.

But less is written about Palestinian citizens of Israel–those who live outside of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, but inside the borders of Israel–who live under a separate set of laws. That is, they live under apartheid conditions. If not for the horrors of the Holocaust, most people would readily agree that a nation with privileges and rights for one ethnic group and not the others is racist. By any objective measure, Israel is, in fact, a racist state.

For example, all residents of Israel must register their ethnicity–Jewish, Arab, Druze–because different rights accrue to different peoples, and all must carry identity cards that have this information at all times. Non-Jews of Israel, of whom there are more than 1 million, are treated more like residents without a nationality or equal rights.

This became shockingly clear in July when a Palestinian Israeli man was convicted of raping a Jewish Israeli woman in Jerusalem even though the couple had consensual sex. Because the man had lied about his nationality and deceived her, he was convicted of rape.

As Jewish Israeli journalist Gideon Levy argued, “I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.”

Ninety-three percent of the land in Israel is nationalized and controlled by the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, which denies Arabs the right to buy or even rent land, while Jews can easily do so.

Facts are facts. Israel claims to be a Jewish state that aims to “transfer,” better known as cleanse, Palestinians in order to maintain its demographic Jewish majority. Therefore, it is trying to taint a global justice movement with charges of anti-Semitism so that Israel will not be turned into a pariah state for its apartheid laws and unconscionable war crimes.

That some people in the world might falsely conflate Judaism with Zionism is perhaps because the state of Israel does so itself. That is not a brush Zionists can paint the BDS movement with, however.

Jews such as Pappé, Levy, Blumenthal and a growing army of lesser-known pro-Palestinian Jews, including myself, are willing to call out Israel for its thwarting of international law and basic norms of humanity. And we especially, the children and grandchildren of the Holocaust generation, will not allow accusations of anti-Semitism to muddy the waters.

The BDS movement is a struggle for social, political and economic justice. Join it.

Sherry Wolf , a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on Palestine, Sexuality and Socialism, How Can We Unite and Fight the Right and other topics at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of theInternational Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation(Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

7 responses to “Is Boycotting Israel anti-Semitic?

  1. No one of any intelligence suggests that the BDS movement is fundamentally anti-semitic. Nevertheless there are people involved with the campaign who are far more interested in punishing Israel than they have ever been in condemning China, North Korea or Zimbabwe. Of course, Israel doesn’t need to be compared to these places. How about something closer to home. I do not hear representatives of the BDS movement condemning Hamas for its war crimes, its discrimination against women and homosexuals and its self-acknowledged targeting and murder of civilians including a pregnant woman in her car.

    As an Israeli I can stand up proudly and call on my government to end the occupation, shut down all the illegal settlements and move swiftly to a fair negotiated two-state solution. Where are the dissenters on the other side calling on Hamas to cease its oppression of women and persecution of Homosexuals and non-Muslims?

    I feel that the BDS unfairly singles Israel out for condemnation. I believe that the international community should be putting pressure on my government to end the occupation but the BDS movement suggests that Hamas are doing everything right and just waiting for Israel to come to its senses. We both know that is not the case.

    Sherry, I applaud your standing up for the rights of Gazans especially given the fact that were you to be living in Gaza, you would not be allowed to speak in public or smoke or drink or drive because of your gender. (let’s not even consider what the Hamas government would have to say if you ever tried to practice your religion). How do you feel about that? What does the BDS movement have to say about life under Hamas?

  2. Hi Sherry I am pretty sure I have seen you hating israel in other web pages,About anti semitism, well I didn’t mention it but if you insist so here think about it.. all real anti semtics boycott israel but not all israel boycotters are anti semtic though some of them are bound to be cause all the anti semits hate jews and israel and therefore most of them(supposedly) also boycott israel, saying that is absolutely unrelated with anti semtism cannot possibly be correct anti semtis are in the group of people who boycott israel, you essentially support them but are you an anti semic? I will not dare to use this term against you but you know you don’t make it easy for me…

    And Gideon Levy is a self hating jew, of course you will deny this but it doesn’t change they facts, a jew who is a against israel and wish to see it gone, israel the jewish state gone, is a self hating jew it cannot possibly be denied can it ?

    I’ll also bring the point that if you or anybody wishes to boycott israel you should also boycott Intel,windows xp or higher,almost every air craft in US air force,advanced medical services like cam-pill,computer anti-virus among a long list of important world advancing Israeli influenced products.

  3. “all real anti semtics boycott israel”

    Richard Nixon didn’t, and Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t.

  4. It’s a tactical consideration to boycott Israel.
    Effective boycotts are not employed simply because one disagrees with the actions of a company or government; a) they must contain the possibility for forcing real changes (such a boycott targeting China would be absurdly massive in scope to work!) and b) they must use pre-existing organized outrage to gain some inertia, in order to be effective.

    Again, in the case of China, there are plenty of folks who are upset about Chinese trade practices. But in order for that to be organized at all, you would have to create a movement first. There is an existing resist-Israel movement that can be tapped into for a BDS campaign, one that is significant enough in size to make a real difference. Boycotting cannot be employed merely out of a sense of moralism; it has to be used strategically, collectively, and effectively if the boycott is going to serve any purpose or have any meaning.

    Oh, and guiltyfeat: Nevertheless there are people involved with the campaign who are far more interested in punishing Israel than they have ever been in condemning China, North Korea or Zimbabwe. This is a strawman argument. Taking action against one regime does not mean that one has chosen to NOT take action against any other. Given that your purpose is to attack the BDS movement, and not to suggest additional objectives for it, I simply can’t take your argument as valid until you concede the absurdity of this claim you’re making.

  5. My point is that regardless of the noble aims of the founders of the BDS movement it has become a umbrella movement for people who have an irrational hatred of Israel. You know this to be true but you refuse to admit it because you are as concerned as I am that sharing a platform with racists delegitimizes your goals.

    I believe the BDS movement could easily dispel this association by declaring a formal position on Hamas war crimes (as defined by the Goldstone report and others) and the discrimination against women and homosexuals perpetrated by the Palestinian government in Gaza.

    I don’t think the BDS will make these reasonable statements because it can’t afford to lose the backing of the out and out racists that support it.

    But Zac, I wonder if you as an individual will join me in condemning my government of Israel for its brutal occupation of the West Bank and its closure of Gaza together with the elected Hamas government for its decision to target civilians (shooting pregnant women in cars) and its institutionalized disregard for the basic human rights of women and men to express their individuality, sexuality and religion as they please.

    Can we at least agree on that?

  6. I’ve kept the haters’ comments posted because to me they expose the utter bankruptcy of their arguments. I put forward an argument about why boycotting Israel is not anti-Semitic, all they can do is change the subject, attack me as self-hating or—my personal fave—accuse me of being a follower of Hamas.

    Understand this well, these vacuous and unsubstantiated claims are falling on more and more deaf ears. If your last line of defense is to call solidarity activists self-hating and dupes of fundamentalism, you’re well on your way to pariah status. Bon voyage!

  7. We can agree on condemning Israel.
    But what is irrational about hating what it’s done to the world, and thus, the country itself?
    And you have to be careful – by asking obvious questions (I’m a socialist – I stand against racism, sexism, and so on), you’re trying to deflect, to equivocate. Israel is the bigger problem here, period. Silencing women pales in comparison to murdering thousands of humans, be they killed quickly by US-made bombs or killed slowly by bizarrely cruel sanctions and blockades.

    I know what you’re thinking, but I am not going to equivocate the actions of the two governments. They are not the same, because one is powerful and the other is not. Does that give a pass to the actions of the weaker of the two? Not really. But the bigger problem here is Israeli imperialism.

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