Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
By now everyone knows that the three letters BDS stand for an economic boycott of Israel. Some have encountered BDS protesters howling and raging outside Jewish stores and synagogues. The tactic of an anti-Jewish boycott, originally developed by Nazi Germany and then deployed by the Arab League, is controversial outside the grimier corners of the anti-Israel left. And so BDS can never go mainstream.
The next stage of BDS is a stealth boycott. Stealth BDS is BDS without the nasty label and the negative associations that go with it. It’s BDS without the stigma, the three bad letters or the bad aftertaste.
Stealth BDS is targeted at the Jewish community because that is where BDS is most controversial. Its organizations operate by appropriating Jewish names, such as If Not Now, T’ruah or J Street U in order to Jew-wash their tactics by making their hatred appear to be Jewish. They avoid openly endorsing BDS, occasionally they will even claim to oppose it while arguing that their opposition to Israel is the best way to beat BDS.
Their way however is just BDS without the label.
Rather than talking about BDS, Stealth BDS groups will claim that they are just “fighting the occupation”. They recruit young left-wing activists with Jewish last names and claim that they are the “voice of a new generation” being marginalized by the Jewish establishment who would otherwise leave the community and go full BDS. They will insist that by meeting their demands, the Jewish community will defang BDS.
But their demands, when they actually get around to them, usually sound a whole lot like BDS. And these groups, even when they claim to be anti-BDS, have a history of providing platforms to BDS supporters, endorsing them, signing on to their demands and fighting their battles for them.
A typical problem of Stealth BDS (SBDS) came up when Bernie Sanders hired Simone Zimmerman, a radical anti-Israel activist, to conduct Jewish outreach for his campaign. Zimmerman was with If Not Now, a group that protests outside the offices of Jewish organizations. Simone Zimmerman had defended BDS supporters, signed on to a letter by the BDS group JVP and spoken positively about BDS.
If Not Now doesn’t want to discuss BDS. And yet its aims are hard to tell apart from BDS.
When If Not Now's Yonah Lieberman talked to Tom Pessah, the author of a BDS resolution, he told him, "We don’t talk about BDS." But then told Pessah that the goal was to pressure Jewish organizations so that, "If we stop giving them money this will stop happening." This is what SBDS looks like.
SBDS claims to have tactical issues with BDS, but pursues the same basic aims of financial pressure with the same basic tactics. It demands that “the organizations and institutions that claim to speak for us end their support of the occupation.” It also cloaks its harassment of Jewish groups in appropriated Jewish culture. So when If Not Now harasses Jewish charities, it adds warped elements of a Passover seder to its street theater. But Jew-washing BDS or refusing to say those three letters doesn’t change what it is.
The only people SBDS fools are some of the gullible college students recruited into its culture of hate disguised as empowerment.
T’ruah is more open about its BDS aims pressuring Jewish charities not to do charitable work in ’67 Israel territory claimed by the PLO, Hamas and other terrorist groups. Like other SBDS groups though it Jew-washes its boycott by calling this the Moses Standard, even though it’s hard to think of a less appropriate poster figure for BDS than the man who gave his life to lead the Jews back into Israel.
Like If Not Now and T’ruah, J Street U also pushes SBDS against Jewish organizations while claiming to fight BDS. J Street U also warns that its “moderate” form of BDS in ’67 Israel is the alternative to full BDS. Under its new anti-Israel Muslim boss Amna Farooqi, J Street U is committed, in her words, to “anti-occupation work.”
“We are not here to talk about the pro-Israel conversation on campus,” Farooqi declared. “We are here to talk about the occupation.”
What does “anti-occupation” activity involve? Pressuring Jewish communal organizations not to do charity work in ’67 Israel while claiming that the best weapon against BDS is SBDS in ’67 Israel.
SBDS is even worse than BDS because it’s fundamentally dishonest. It consists of astroturf organizations funded by anti-Israel billionaires, like J Street which was secretly backed by George Soros and Bill Benter, who routed his $811,697donation through his secretary, Consolacion Esdicul. The SBDS activists are not the “voice of a new generation”. They’re the voice of old bitter leftists with money who pay the bills.
SBDS is not the alternative to BDS. It mainstreams BDS by doing most of the same things in a more socially acceptable way. It’s BDS on training wheels. Young activists of Jewish ethnic origin are taught to boycott part of Israel instead of all of Israel while mainstreaming the toolbox of BDS tactics.
And once you boycott part of Israel with SBDS, it’s easy to switch to full BDS when the time is right.
As one BDS site wrote of Simone Zimmerman’s If Not Now, it’s “bringing mainstream Jews into the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement on their own terms.” A more accurate description would be that it’s sugarcoating and Jew-washing BDS in order to make it more acceptable to Jews on the left.
That’s why JVP, a hard BDS group, celebrated If Not Now’s anti-Israel protests. And If Not Now’s protests look a lot like JVP’s protests.
BDS already suffers from a crippling dishonesty about its agenda in which harassment of Israeli academics and the firing of Muslim workers is somehow supposed to lead to a better world. But SBDS is even more dishonest because its activists cloak their agenda in even vaguer rhetoric. Both BDS and SBDS ignore the fact that the Muslim terrorists they are fighting for have repeatedly refused any kind of peaceful settlements. Instead both sets of groups insist the solution can only come from pressuring Israel. But neither want a serious discussion of how any of this is supposed to happen.
As a practical matter SBDS is just a pipeline between the Israel-skeptical left, such as J Street, to full anti-Israel BDS movements such as JVP. The practical distinction between J Street U or Students for Justice in Palestine is limited. Both groups share a common cause. They differ on tactics. Or at least they pretend to differ on tactics within the context of the Jewish community for cosmetic reasons.
Both BDS and anti-BDS are anti-Israel. But if BDS is Max Blumenthal then SBDS is Peter Beinart. BDS simply opposes Israel. SBDS claims to oppose Israel in the name of Jewish values. BDS is increasingly open about calling for the destruction of Israel. SBDS claims that it wants to promote a two-state solution. BDS is anti-Semitic. SBDS claims that BDS is misguided, but not actually anti-Semitic.
Think of SBDS as the lobby and a gateway for BDS inside the Jewish community. Because that’s what it is.
SBDS insists that the Jewish community must provide a platform for BDS or it will alienate SBDSers. It demands that the Jewish community oppose Israel or it will turn off SBDSers. It demands that Jewish charities boycott parts of Israel claimed by Islamic terrorist groups and the Jews living inside them. It dedicates its efforts to harassing Jewish organizations until they join their SBDS boycott.
The Jewish community can either try to pander to Stealth BDS. Or it can show this even more dishonest version of BDS and its dirty anti-Israel donors the door.