As a rabbi involved in interfaith work, I deeply appreciate Christian support for Israel. Yet I know that the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel is being presented to young evangelicals as theologically and morally correct. I believe it is neither: It is a corruption of the very Bible that Jews and Christians hold sacred and a political sham helping no one and harming many. In the end, it is just an exercise in narcissistic self-love and delusion.
The legal legitimacy of Israel stems from the right of all peoples to self-determination — and the Jewish people are no exception. Israel is not exclusively Jewish, but an imperfect pluralistic democracy (the only one in the Middle East), whose laws guarantee equality for over two million Christians and Muslims who are full citizens of the Jewish state. This not mere theory: Israel is by far the safest place for Christians in the Middle East. It is also the only place in the region where the Christian population has grown over the last 50 years, with the number of Israeli Christians rising steadily by 2 percent a year.
Nor does Israel preclude a sovereign state for the Palestinian people. There is no contradiction between a free and secure Israel and a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state alongside of it. Because most Israelis have always believed this, Israeli leaders offered statehood to the Palestinians in 1947, 1967, 1979, 2000 and 2005. Tragically for all sides, Arab and Palestinian leaders rejected every one of those offers.
BDS denies all this. Its stated objectives are to weaken Israel by deterring foreign investment, isolating it diplomatically, casting the Jewish state as a pariah-like apartheid South Africa and undermining Israel’s legitimacy in the family of nations. And all of this, allegedly, to aid the Palestinian people and to create a Palestinian state. In the last decade BDS has become the darling of hyper-liberals in Protestant churches, who want us to believe that BDS is the great moral cause of the day and that it possesses the same moral purity as the battle against racism.
Any honest evaluation of BDS indicates that it has been a failure. Not only has it failed to realize its goals, it has set them back massively. The torrent of venom and false witness that BDS has unleashed against Israel has not weakened or isolated the Jewish state one iota. Quite the opposite: Between 2005 and 2016, Israel has experienced unprecedented growth and become incomparably more secure economically, socially and diplomatically.
The BDS campaign to isolate Israel diplomatically has also failed: Israel maintains relations with 162 out of the 195 United Nations members, only one less than in 2004, when the BDS campaign began. BDS has not helped one Palestinian for one moment of one day. Today, Palestinians are further away from statehood than they were in 2004. BDS undermines the possibility of peace, since it demands the right of return of Palestinian refugees — code for the destruction of the Jewish state. By holding out for this unrealistic demand, BDS ideologues entrench the status quo, feed the fantasies of Palestinian extremists rejecting compromise and negate any possibility of achieving peace with Israelis, who will not agree to their own suicide.
BDS has boomeranged, not weakening Israel but the churches that champion its cause. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ have been in the forefront of BDS, while the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have flirted off and on with BDS. All of these churches are in precipitous decline (though surely not simply because of BDS).
Yet BDS continues to do a lot of damage around the world. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but some certainly is. Not all supporters of BDS are anti-Semites, but surely many of its architects and advocates are. Their anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism because it singles out the Jewish people using an egregious double standard: BDS anti-Zionists deny to Jews what they grant to all other people: the right of national self-determination. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that “when you mention those who call for the destruction of Israel that is a form of modern anti-Semitism.”
The poisonous BDS rhetoric against Israel has opened a Pandora’s Box of anti-Semitism and intimidation of Jews on campuses in America and Europe. This should not surprise us. Christian BDSers should look around and see who is campaigning with them: they include rabid anti-Semites like David Duke, terrorist groups like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and pan-Islamists like the Global Muslim Brotherhood.
The BDS name itself reveals its essential negative character: Its paltry attempts to help Palestinians are afterthoughts, as BDS warriors focus overwhelmingly on demonizing Israel. BDS is about coarse politics, and in the end its own negativity has doomed BDS to spiritual and political failure.
If mainline churches want to be taken seriously, they should get real about promoting peace. Rather than futilely blaspheming Israel, churches committed to helping Palestinians should adopt constructive goals. Here are some:
1. Invest in the Palestinian economy and ensure that the funds are used for the welfare of Palestinians, rather than disappearing to corruption and terrorism;
2. Help Palestinians build strong transparent democratic institutions;
3. Strengthen moderate Palestinian voices willing to engage constructively with Israelis;
4. Convince Palestinian leaders to prepare their people for the realistic compromises needed for a peace agreement;
5. Urge Palestinian leaders to drop their rigid policy of rejecting peace offers because they entail compromise and recognition of Israel.
Given this record of consistent failure, falsehood and frequent anti-Semitism, why do mainline churches allow their ideologues to pursue BDS so mindlessly at the cost of peace, fidelity to the Bible, the interests of the Palestinians, Christian-Jewish understanding and even the welfare of their own churches?
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is the academic director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Jerusalem, which he helped found.