The ultimate goal of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its leaders is to delegitimize the state of Israel, legislators, legal experts and business leaders agreed in a congressional hearing Tuesday. The hearing was held by the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform.
“[BDS] is a familiar playback for people who have worked in various sanctions,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation of Defense of Democracies, told the hearing. “It’s a very a familiar playback about delegitimization for political ends, about establishing a country as an international pariah, and about using a combination of state action and private action in an economic and financial warfare campaign against that country.”
Dubowitz suggested that boycotts of U.S. allies set a dangerous precedent for the future, saying, “America and its allies must prepare for an increasingly dangerous era of political, economic, and financial warfare targeting the United States. As always, Israel is a canary in the coal mine.”
Tuesday’s hearing came in the wake of increased calls in European capitals and on American college campuses for boycott and divestment campaigns targeting Israel, which have sparked a contentious debate within the US government over how to best deal with the issue. Dubowitz’s comments echoed the tenor of the hearing, as members of Congress and witnesses identified BDS as a tactic that seeks to demonize Israel and stunt the peace process, and which harms both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of the Israeli company SodaStream that is frequently targeted by the BDS movement for operating a facility in the West Bank, testified of experiencing years of international pressure, which included accusations of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, as well as an advertisement campaign that claimed, “one product bought equals one family massacred.” Birnbaum said that this assault precipitated the company’s decision to shutter its West Bank facility, jeopardizing the livelihoods of the hundreds of Palestinians it employed. Examples of the campaign against SodaStream were presented in his prepared testimony (pdf).
Birnbaum described SodaStream’s West Bank facility as offering equal benefits, equal opportunity, and high wages for its Palestinian employees. According to Birnbaum, the factory, which “was named the largest private employer in the West Bank,” could have served as the “seeds of a budding economy of the future Palestinian State.” Palestinians working in the factory were paid according to Israeli labor laws, with wages three to four times higher than they would likely have received under the Palestinian Authority. In addition, they were offered health benefits that included organ transplants with no out-of-pocket costs.
When BDS continued its smear campaign against SodaStream even after the company’s decision to relocate its West Bank factory, however, Birnbaum claims he realized that the movement’s opposition was not to the occupation but to “the existence of the Jewish State of Israel.”
Another witness, Northwestern University Law School Professor Eugene Kontorovich, further emphasized that BDS is a threat to the United States.
Kontorovich advocated for anti-BDS legislation to protect American businesses, saying that, “The laws being discussed are necessary to protect American companies from effectively being faced with, instead of a free trade zone as US laws guarantee, a no trade zone in the West Bank.”
The only dissenting voice was that of Matthew Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who opposed anti-BDS legislation and favored instead a conversation that gave credence to elements of BDS’s platform. Even he, however, admitted that “quite a few” BDS leaders “do not support the existence of Israel.”
While every congressperson serving on the Subcommittee expressed their disapproval of BDS efforts, Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), in particular, stressed the double standard often applied to Israel.
“Many activists for BDS have no qualms with trading with rogue regimes like Iran,” he said. “Indeed, these activists seem to apply a completely separate standard to the world’s only Jewish State.”