The latest breathless announcement from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) "movement" regarding their alleged victory in getting the state of California to refuse to do business with a company on the BDS blacklist has something in common with dozens of other BDS announcements and press releases over the last several years, notably:
(1) It didn't include a single official statement by the institutions they claim had joined their cause; and;
(2) The announcement turned out to be totally fraudulent
Generally, these all-too-common BDS hoaxes follow the same pattern whereby an institution's decision to sell off shares or not do business with some company on the BDS blacklist (such as Caterpillar Tractor or the French transportation giant Veolia) is cast as a political choice resulting from pressure from anti-Israel activists. But a little digging (in the form of a few seconds of Googling or, at most, a brief phone conversation with the organization allegedly doing all this boycotting and divesting) is all that's required to expose that the BDSers were simply providing their own spin on someone else's apolitical decisions.
As much fun as it's been to shed light on these frauds (given that it helps provide perspective on the dishonesty of the anti-Israel agenda overall), there is always the risk that some unsuspecting journalist might base a story on a BDS announcement that later turns out to be fraudulent. So in the interest of maintaining an informed public, it's time to set a standard that can be used to evaluate when a major boycott or divestment milestone has actually been reached.
And the best and simplest standard I can think of would be as follows: an institutional boycott, divestment or sanctions decision has been made when the people who are allegedly making this decision stand up and say that they (1) are boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel and (2) are doing so specifically in protest of Israel or its policies (also specified).
This standard really shouldn’t be considered extraordinary in any way. After all, in every boycott and divestment campaign that has ever existed (from the Montgomery bus boycott to the protests against Apartheid South Africa), it was the people doing the boycotting or divesting that took center stage, announcing what they had done and why.
For example, in 1986 the state of New Jersey (following the lead of other states) pulled $4.3 billion of their pension fund out of companies that maintained ties with Apartheid South Africa. And this huge-dollar decision was accompanied by a proud and public statement by then Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean, in which he said: ''We will not countenance the brutality that is apartheid by nourishing it with our investments.''
Notice the total lack of need to have anyone interpret the political and financial decision of the State of New Jersey in this instance of genuine divestment. No single-issue partisan hacks were required to “explain” to us how we should interpret New Jersey’s action. And no spin doctors had to be on hand to read us the tea leaves regarding why the institution (in this case, the state) was doing what it was doing.
For when genuine, political divestment takes place, it is accompanies by a clear moral pronouncement by those actually doing the divesting which leaves no ambiguity whatsoever. In fact, since the type of divestment we’re talking about (selling stock for political vs. financial reasons) is a political act, the lack of such an unambiguous announcement means such a political divestment act has not taken place.
The anti-Israel BDS program seems to be the only example I can think of where people who did not make these decisions insist on the right to make claims regarding what someone else did and why they did it. Whether we’re talking about Students for Justice in Palestine pretending to speak for Hampshire College (while the real decision-makers at Hampshire were saying something completely different) or BDS leaders interpreting for us a series of unrelated decisions made by the Quaker Church, time and time again we’ve been faced with self-serving external groups telling us what we should believe another institution has done while the institution itself is remains mum on the subject or is saying something that completely contradicts what the boycotters are claiming.
So the next time you see a BDS press release announcing this or that retailer has kicked this or that hummus off their shelves, or this or that church or government council has cancelled a contract at the urging of boycott and divestment forces, everyone’s first response should be: Prove It. And in this case, proof can only come from one place: from an official spokesperson from the organization allegedly doing this boycotting (preferably the organization's actual leaders and/or financial decision-makers) saying in no uncertain terms that they have done so for the specific political reasons assigned to them by the boycotters.
This new standard is really in everyone’s interest. For Israel’s supporters, it provides an objective standard to ascertain the real progress (or lack thereof) of the BDS campaign so that resources can be applied appropriately. For institutions being targeted by the BDSers, it provides them a way to clearly state what they are doing and not doing (to avoid being criticized for something they didn’t do, for instance). And for the public, it ensures they are getting honest and accurate information.
Even BDS advocates will benefit from such a standard since it would help them avoid another decade of being exposed as liars and frauds attempting to pass off one BDS hoax after another or trying to flummox the public through manipulative, self-serving and inaccurate descriptions of other people’s choices.
Jon Haber is a writer and activist who maintains the anti-BDS web site www.divestthis.com