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Anti-BDS conference held at UN headquarters in New York

June 1, 2016 6:15 P.M. (Updated: June 2, 2016 12:01 P.M.)
Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem calling to boycott Israeli products coming from settlements, on June 5, 2015. (AFP, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli mission to the United Nations held a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, with more than 1,500 students, dignitaries, public officials, and representatives of Jewish organizations attending to discuss ways of combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The conference, organized by Israel’s mission to the United Nations in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and other organizations, hosted speeches and discussions covering what they deemed to be the anti-Semitic nature of the BDS movement -- which has seen increased involvement around the world -- and Israel’s diplomatic relationships and international image, according to a WJC press release.

Following a statement on the ways in which the BDS movement calls for the “destruction of the state of Israel,” WJC President Ronald Lauder addressed the opening plenary in the UN General Assembly Hall, stating, “Make no mistake. The BDS movement doesn’t support the Palestinian people. It is strictly a campaign to delegitimize Israel, which is simply the latest attempt to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”

“Every other people on earth have that right, but BDS wants to deny that basic right to Jews,” Lauder said, adding that the WJC would “commit all of our resources, and all of our abilities, to help fight BDS.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said that the BDS movement was “modern-day anti-Semitism."

"We must unite to reveal its true face and put an end to its ideology of hatred and lies," Danon said. "Here, from the parliament of nations, we commit to fighting BDS on campuses, in the courts and in the halls of the UN. We will not allow the forces of hate to demonize Israel. Together, we will defeat BDS.”

Speeches were also dedicated to students at universities around the world -- which represented the majority of those who attended the conference, according to Electronic Intifada editor Rania Khalek who reported from the conference -- with WJC CEO Robert Singer addressing the young people at the conference: “We cannot stand by -- and you must not stand by -- as the world shouts slogans against Israel, defaces Israel, and discriminates against the Jewish people in words and actions that are nothing short of anti-Semitism.”

A session was dedicated to the case of SodaStream, a company that shut down their factory in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim in the occupied West Bank after the BDS movement spearheaded a high-profile boycott campaign, culminating in retailers and investors around the world severing ties with the company -- with CEO Daniel Birnbaum urging students to “go to your campuses and fight back … there are a tremendous amount of facts to support us. We are not an apartheid state.”

“While we fight with all the ammunition we have, with the facts, let’s also build bridges. Let’s get to know the Palestinians. There are good Palestinians, they are not all terrorists, believe me. We all love Israel, but I think we can all do more to embrace coexistence and peace,” Birnbaum added.

The BDS movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.

The BDS movement follows in the footsteps of the South African anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s that contributed to the collapse of the apartheid government in South Africa through the economic alienation of the regime, wide-scale divestments from South African companies, boycotting of South African products and cultural institutions, and the promotion of sanctions against the apartheid government.

Palestinians, activists, and a number of intellectuals have increasingly conflated Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory with an apartheid system where civil law is applied to Israelis and Israeli military law is applied to Palestinians.

Responding to criticisms that the movement is "anti-Semitic," BDS proponents have said that it is focused on upholding the rights of Palestinians by boycotting Israeli products and divesting from the Israeli state, pointing out that its support base includes many anti-Zionist Jews from around the world.

The Israeli government has grown increasingly concerned about the growth of the BDS movement, as the movement’s support base has expanded to include companies, universities and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.

Israel's opposition to BDS was amplified following the European Union’s decision in November to label products originating from illegal Israeli settlements. However, the EU made clear that the new regulations were not aimed at a boycott of Israeli export.

In January, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat BDS, and dedicated 100 million shekels ($26 million) of the government’s 2016 budget to the issue.

Governments around the world have also implemented policies over recent years denouncing BDS and criminalizing its boycott activities in a move activists claim represents a concerted attack on freedom of speech and the right to participate in civil society movements.

However, the governments of Sweden, Netherlands, and Ireland have recently affirmed their citizens’ rights to participate and organize with the BDS movement, with activists claiming the announcements represent a blow to Israeli efforts to criminalize the movement overseas.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) submitted an appeal to the UN in May, signed by 23,000 people, to “ensure that individuals, groups, associations, public and private institutions and local governments participating in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement can freely express their opinion and act for Palestinian human rights without unlawful interference or repression.”

Israel recently issued a travel ban on BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a permanent resident in Israel, with Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BNC, stating at the time that the decision reflected “the lengths [Israel] will go in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality."

“Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement. After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large,” Nawajaa said.
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