This week, the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Sinai.
The entire Jewish nation, having left Egypt en masse weeks earlier, stands together to receive this simultaneous revelation, a remarkable moment of Jewish unity. The astounding response of the Jewish people, na’aseh v’nishma, begins with a call to action: Na’aseh. We will do.
This week marked the anniversary of another historic call to action that our people bravely answered – defending our reborn nation of Israel and reuniting our historic capital of Jerusalem. Seeing a re-creation of the famous 1967 photo of three young paratroopers at the Kotel, now with civilian clothes and gray hair, brought both smiles and tears. How miraculous that our 2000 year yearning has been fulfilled! And how tragic that there are still those who would divide our beloved city once again, negating the achievement for which so many risked, and lost, their lives.
We must work to recapture our sense of unity. The threats that face our people have only grown in recent years, and all our strength as a nation will be needed to fight back. In recent years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, echoing the rise seen in Europe. This is especially true on college campuses, where students are threatened not just with words, but with ongoing harassment and physical threats.
There has been a great deal of communal hand-wringing in response, as well as some excellent directed action both on the part of students on individual campuses and by various dedicated organizations within the Jewish communal world. What there has not been, however, is united recognition of what underlies the uptick in these disturbing incidents: an extravagantly funded, sophisticated campaign to undermine Israel as a Jewish nation and ultimately destroy it.
The BDS movement is founded and funded not by peace lovers seeking to encourage compromise, but by uncompromising anti-Semites who want to force the Jews into the sea. They do not accept the legitimacy of Israel in any place, in any borders. In Europe they are aided largely by descendants of those who only two generations ago forced Jews not into the sea rather into ovens. Today these “human rights” activists chant “Jews to the Gas” not only at specifically anti-Israel demonstrations, but outside synagogues and even at soccer matches. At American universities, pro-BDS efforts become overtly anti-Semitic with alarming frequency, and the goal of eliminating Israel is clear in the “from the river to the sea” chant.
Of course not everyone who supports BDS is so coarse. But we cannot remain naive about the motives of the movement’s driving forces, and those who align themselves with BDS cannot escape the taint even if their personal motives ï¿¼differ. The BDS movement is morally indistinct from previous efforts to economically isolate Jews, including by the Arab boycott of pre-1967 Israel and the Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses. Like those predecessors, the object of BDS is to harm Jews, and to force them from where they live.
In both Israel and the United States, the threat of BDS is being addressed through legislation and lawsuits. A recent Israel Supreme Court decision upholds a law that allows those harmed by BDS to sue for damages, and describes calls to boycott as “political terrorism” from which the state must defend itself. Proposed amendments to the pending federal trade bill aim to discourage BDS among U.S. trade partners, especially in Europe. Some states, including Tennessee and Indiana, have passed declarative resolutions condemning BDS, while others, notably Illinois, have proposed legislation with more teeth, such as barring state pension funds from investing in companies that support BDS, or requiring state contractors to certify their anti-boycott practices. These and similar legislative and legal efforts must be vigorously supported by the Jewish community.
Jewish communal organizations must take a firm stance against BDS in all its forms, including efforts that distinguish between Israeli companies operating on either side of the 1967 armistice lines. As a community we have been far too tolerant of those who want to harm Israel and, ultimately, Jews, by exploiting the Jewish community’s genuine tolerance and commitment to “big tent” inclusiveness. The Jewish community must be careful not to legitimize any boycotts of Israeli companies and products, as that strengthens the BDS movement and directly harms Israel and Jews, supports a movement proven to be anti-Semitic, reinforces Israel’s isolation on the world stage, and ultimately undermines the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation.
We must come together as we have in the past, and affirm our commitment to take action against this common enemy. When we unite there is no limit to what we will do.