Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.
Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Rumors floated by the Palestinians about such coordination between the U.S. and the EU are already making their way through the Middle East. But what Kerry left out of his warning is the plain fact that the impetus for such threats and the growing support for the boycott movement aren’t based on anything the Israelis are doing. While those warning Israel of the consequences of its settlement policy claim they are only responding to popular sentiment, the recent explosion of European anger over the settlements is, as it happens, strangely timed. Since Israel has just agreed to Kerry’s framework for negotiations—the ultimate goal of which is a peace deal with the Palestinians that will grant them a state in much of the West Bank—the existence of the settlements can’t logically be represented as an obstacle to peace. That’s a point that should have been made clear to the Europeans when the Palestinians rejected offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Nor need one support the existence of all the settlements to understand that most of them—located in blocs near the 1967 lines—will remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty.
So if the existence of the settlements doesn’t explain the recent upsurge in support for boycotting Israel, what does? The simple answer was supplied by the State Department when it described in its report on religious persecution a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” that was sweeping the continent. Since the publication of that report in 2012, evidence of even more violence against European Jews, widespread support in Europe for new laws that restrict Jewish religious practices, as well as efforts to smear Israel and its supporters have all increased and have grown ever more virulent. While Israel’s detractors have falsely attempted to blame Israel for the spread of Jew-hatred, that is a familiar tactic to anyone who knows the long and horrific history of European anti-Semitism, which has always found an aspect of alleged Jewish misbehavior to justify their own bigotry and crimes.
European anti-Semitism is currently being promoted by a noxious combination of traditional Jew-hatred at both ends of the social spectrum—from Muslim immigrant communities to elites, academics, and intellectuals who similarly delegitimize all Jews who speak up for Israel. That ought to make it all the more important that those who purport to oppose such hatred and profess friendship for Israel denounce the BDS movement. That Kerry missed an opportunity to do so and instead fed the simmering hatred on the continent was shameful. Whether his failure to speak out was deliberate or a negligent lost chance to put the U.S. clearly on record as adamantly against the BDS movement is not important. As long as the U.S. and the EU are working in tandem to taunt and threaten Israel in this fashion, they are both serving as the enablers of a highly dangerous and hate-driven movement.