The pro-Israel community needs to learn how to respond to supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as if they are swing voters whose minds can be changed, not as if they are dupes who can’t see through the effort to delegitimize and eliminate the state of Israel.
That was the core of the advice offered by Israel Action Network Deputy Director Max Chamovitz at a BDS discussion hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta on Monday morning, March 6.
The BDS movement, officially launched by Palestinian activists more than 10 years ago, has largely failed to compel businesses, governments or nonprofit organizations to sell their holdings in companies that operate in Israel. Many states, including Georgia, have passed laws barring companies that refuse to work with Israel from doing business with state agencies.
But the movement has persuaded some entertainers not to perform in Israel and some academic associations not to work with their Israeli peers.
More important, Chamovitz said, BDS is using more nuanced arguments that feature concepts no one would oppose — freedom, justice and equality — while trying to isolate Israel as the latest incarnation of apartheid South Africa.
Chamovitz said the intention of BDS is clear: Its three stated goals of forcing Israel to retreat to its pre-1967 borders, ending its “apartheid” system and enforcing the right of Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral homes within Israel would destroy Israel.
But it’s ineffective to tell people who believe Israel should exist but are drawn to the progressive BDS message that they’re being tricked, Chamovitz said, because that’s the same as telling them they’re stupid. And clever retorts — “If you support BDS, throw away your cellphone” — might make you feel good but won’t change minds.
Chamovitz suggested a positive message about the good Israel does and a response targeted to the BDS supporter’s interests.
For example, some people back BDS as a pathway to peace and a two-state solution. Chamovitz’s response: BDS drives apart people instead of bringing them together to find solutions.