As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.
The shift in tactics on the part of BDS is partially a sign of desperation. Not only has this campaign failed to win any real public backing, but even in those countries where the effort has been underway for some time now—such as Britain—business with Israel has continued to increase. Not only did the first part of 2014 see a 6.5 percent increase in trade between the two countries, but the import of Israeli goods into Britain has grown even more dramatically.
Nevertheless, as the boycott campaign continues to fail in its efforts to impact Israel’s overseas trade, its tactics have become gradually more aggressive. Attempts at persuasion are giving way to a strategy of sustained intimidation. Regardless of what one thinks of their cause, or whether boycotts are really an effective method for encouraging positive political change, anyone is free to try and persuade consumers not to purchase products made by specific companies if they so wish. That kind of action may at least be more defensible than the boycotts of academics and the arts that have been a more common target of the BDS war on all things Israeli.
Yet BDSers are not limiting themselves to simply advocating the boycott of Israeli products. Rather, just as they repeatedly disrupted performances by the Habima theater group and the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, they are applying the same mob behavior to their efforts to shut down stores selling Israeli goods. And disturbingly this tactic has been proving far more effective.
One of the first casualties of this brutish strategy was the Ahava cosmetics store in London’s trendy Covent Garden neighborhood. That store was subjected to relentless picketing and regular efforts by the protesters to storm the premises. A policeman was posted on the door, but this hardly did much to draw in customers. Despite this the Ahava store closed its doors not on account of having been forced out business, but rather complaints from other local boutiques regarding the constant noisy protests persuaded the owner of the building not to renew Ahava’s tenancy. The boycott had failed, but mob rule had won in the end.
It was these same tactics that, after two years of aggressive demonstrations, caused the Brighton based store Ecostream (which sold SodaStream products) to move out this year. Similarly, the prominent British department store John Lewis pulled SodaStream products from its shelves after being subjected to multiple stormings by protesters.
Now this war of attrition is being turned against Britain’s major supermarket chains, and shockingly a member of Parliament even boasted of her role in BDS’s unlawful tactics. Speaking at a recent rowdy anti-Israel rally, Shabana Mahmood delighted her audience by regaling them with an account of how she and some other BDS bullies had taken over the Sainsbury’s supermarket in central Birmingham, managing “to close down that store for five hours at peak time on a Saturday.” Apparently fearing a dose of the same BDS activism, the Sainsbury in London’s Holborn stripped its shelves of all kosher goods. Yes you read that correctly, not all Israeli goods, but rather it was the kosher section that was cleared. And on further inspection it turned out the store’s management may not have done this as a precaution against the protestors, but rather as an act of solidarity with them. For when a customer inquired about the fate of the kosher items he was informed by a staff member, “we support Free Gaza.”
Amidst all of this there has been one ray of hope. Kedem, An Israeli cosmetics store in Manchester has been targeted by daily protests. Worse still, staff members have received death threats, while one demonstrator was filmed outside the store voicing his love for Hitler. But now the police have finally stepped in and ruled that the BDSers have “exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act” and as such will be obliged to hold their demonstrations at a greater distance from the store front.
Actions such as this may now be the only way to confront a campaign group that has all but abandoned the legitimate channels of persuasion and is instead resorting to unlawful intimidation. Indeed, when MP Shabana Mahmood was assisting with the storming of a supermarket, did she not stop to question the legitimacy of a cause compelled to adopt such brute tactics for achieving its goals?
Supporters of Israel must realize that they can no longer beat BDS by the power of argument alone. The boycotters have stopped playing by the rules and the full force of the law must be brought down against them.