The Academic Friends of Israel

                                                                                                      16 December 2010 


The view from Britain: Recent BDS developments


According to the Reut Institute the international Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is now trying to tie itself to the world of liberalprogressive values in Europe and North America, which they hope will allow them to enlist wider public support for their cause. They expect to achieve this by defining the goals of the BDS movement, using universally appealing language regarding international law, human rights, and universal justice. 


Their comments came to mind when I read ‘Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions - Winning justice for the Palestinian people’ a new report issued by War on Want, a long established British anti-poverty NGO and well known for being anti-Israel.  Their report which is written in the language of the liberal left ticks all the right boxes in order to reach a wider audience. Even so the report  follows the goals of the BDS movement and the Palestinian narrative so closely by frequently using the terms ‘apartheid’ and the ‘illegal’ occupation as well as promoting the Palestinian right of return, that one could be excused for thinking it was written in Ramallah rather than London –for example; 


 ‘War on Want supports the call from Palestinian civil society to build a global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and meets the following three demands: an end to the Occupation; the right of return for Palestinian refugees; and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel itself.’


War on Want also give clear guidance to their readers on which companies are to be boycotted or to withdraw their investments from Israel, because they are ‘supporting the occupation’. Targets include British telecommunications company, BT, French multinational, Veolia and Israeli companies, Eden Water and defence contractor Elbit Systems.  This is of course is nothing more than a reworking of the Arab boycott of companies who had interests in Israel. The report firmly places War on Want, which was established by the Left wing of the British Labour party in 1951, alongside the TUC as partners of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the BDS movement.


Earlier this month the international trade union movement (ITUC) released a strongly worded statement blaming Israeli settlement policy as a major barrier to advancing the peace process.  Like War on Want, the ITUC uses the language of international law, human rights, and universal justice in their message of support for the Palestinians. The implication in their statement is that if the current peace negotiations fail will be the Israel’s fault.This ITUC statement appears to be the outcome of the recent visit to Israel made by the TUC General Secretary and his colleagues from the ITUC to meet the Histadrut and the Palestinian unions, the PGFTU.


The TUC’s current pro-Palestinian and pro-boycott of Israel is a problem for the ITUC because the TUC is a well-respected and long standing member of the international trade union movement.  Although the TUC likes to give the impression of being deeply involved in international trade union politics the TUC has had very little direct input in recent years into the international trade union relief projects in the Middle East and this was the first visit by the TUC to Israel for many years. Avoiding a split within the ITUC has to be a priority but there is a very little room for maneuver as the British Unions and the TUC are committed to breaking links with the Histadrut and boycotting Israeli products whereas the American and German unions and the ITUC want to work for increased Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation.  Matters may come to a head after next May’s PGFTU Congress, if the PGFTU decide to pass a resolution supporting a full boycott of Israel. Even though the PGFTU has had regular contact with the Histadrut over the years this would not be a problem for them as they are already a signatory to the 2005 Palestinian boycott campaign and last year re-affirmed their support for a boycott of Israel. The Palestinian Authority who hope that their current strategy over peace negotiations will split American and European support for Israel, would look for a similar reaction from within the international trade union movement if a boycott motion was adopted. The British and Scandinavian unions would certainly welcome a PGFTU boycott motion as it would give a green light to their boycott campaigns and current ITUC policy of working for increased Israeli-Palestinian cooperation would definitely be affected.


But would a PGFTU boycott resolution make any real difference to the current insignificant TUC BDS campaign? The TUC has always talked a good game but the real work in any of their campaigns is carried out by grassroots activists and individual unions. Since the current TUC/PSC campaign has made little or no mainstream impact in Britain and unless something goes terribly wrong in the Middle East it seems likely that a PGFTU backed BDS campaign will be no more successful than the current failing one.

Ronnie Fraser 


The Academic Friends of Israel 


For more information: 


 War on Want report: Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions - Winning justice for the Palestinian people,%20Divestment,%20Sanctions.pdf

ITUC statement: IsraelPalestine-Now Is the Time for Serious Negotiation 

Two new resources for fighting BDS

Divest This: How to Stop the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ‘movement’s’ attack on Israel and ensure its second decade of defeat

This guide was created to show anyone dealing with BDS in their community that they are not alone, that the wheel does not need to be constantly re-invented, that others have learned lessons (and won victories) that can inform our choices. 


The BDS Cookbook

A group of academics and students have put together “The BDS Cookbook” featuring a wealth of resources for students and others dealing with boycott and divestment activities in their communities.



Jerusalem Post: BDS 2010: Fighting back by John Haber EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=199028&R=R7

Jerusalem Post: Turning the tables on BDS by G. Steinberg and J. Edelstein 

Huffington Post: Another Israel Divestment Hoax by Ben Cohen

Read about yet another Israel divestment hoax as BDS advocates clumsily spin purely financial decisions as divestment. 

Other News: 

1.     The CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2009

2.     Statement of Nobel Laureates on Academic BDS Actions

3.     Essay: Watching the Pro-Israeli Academic Watchers

4.     Essay: Anti-Zionist Expression on the UK Campus: Free Speech or Hate Speech?

5.     International Framework Documents on Combating Anti-Semitism


 1.     The CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2009

Explicit antisemitism about Jews is rare in mainstream British discourse. It is, however, disturbingly common for older antisemitic conspiracy themes to be evoked by modern depictions of “Zionism” and “Zionist”.

• Rhetoric against “Zionism”, “Zionists” or “pro-Israelis” is fostering hostility against British Jews and their representative bodies.

• In 2009, the Gaza conflict caused Israel to be compared to Nazi Germany and its supporters to be compared to Nazis. Previously a fringe phenomenon, the Nazi comparison is now widespread and also appears in mainstream media. This causes significant upset to Jews and is an antisemitic abuse of the memory of the Holocaust.

• Two senior journalists at The Independent newspaper wrote separately about the supposed power of America’s “Jewish” lobby. It is quite common for The Independent and Guardian newspapers; in particular, to depict a dominant US “Zionist” lobby in America: which risks reflecting and encouraging antisemitic Jewish conspiracy allegations.

• The term “criticism of Israel” continued to be used as a catch-all defence against the raising of Jewish concerns about antisemitic manifestations, public speakers, groups, websites, agitprop and other phenomena…..

 Read the full report:



2.     Statement of Nobel Laureates on Academic BDS Actions against Israeli Academics, Israeli Academic Institutions and Academic Centers and Institutes of Research and Training with Affiliations in Israel

Believing that academic and cultural boycotts, divestments and sanctions in the academy are:

* antithetical to principles of academic and scientific freedom,
* antithetical to principles of freedom of expression and inquiry, and
* may well constitute discrimination by virtue of national origin,

We, the undersigned Nobel Laureates, appeal to students, faculty colleagues and university officials to defeat and denounce calls and campaigns for boycotting, divestment and sanctions against Israeli academics, academic institutions and university-based centers and institutes for training and research, affiliated with Israel. 


3.     Essay: Watching the Pro-Israeli Academic Watchers; by Professor Leslie Wagner 

To read the essay: .asp?DRIT=5&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111 &FID=625&PID=0&IID=4962&TTL=Watching_ the_Pro-Israeli_Academic_Watchers



4.      Essay: Anti-Zionist Expression on the UK Campus: Free Speech or Hate Speech? by Lesley Klaff

To read the essay: 

5.   International Framework Documents on Combating Anti-Semitism: Berlin Declaration, FRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, Ottawa and London Antiparliamentarian Statements and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Speech at Ottawa Conference 

 Several important texts have been adopted in recent years by international organizations and conferences to provide a framework for defining, monitoring, and combating anti-Semitism. Five of these texts are contained in this document. .asp?DRIT=3&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID =624&PID=0&IID=5288&TTL=International_Framework_ Documents_on_Combating_Anti-Semitism:_Berlin_Declaration,_FRA_Working_



The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks

Advisory Board: 

 Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld - Chairman of the Board of Fellows, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Vivian Wineman - President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Amir Lev

John D A Levy - Director of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East

Andrew R. Marks, M.D. - Columbia University, USA

Professor Leslie Wagner CBE

Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham

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