Next time someone suggests divesting from Israel as a reaction to the current political landscape, I challenge you to champion investing in a positive vision of Israel as the best way toward bringing about a real and lasting change. That’s the approach we take at the New Israel Fund (NIF).
We’ve all experienced the divisiveness that BDS elicits, and many of us in the Jewish world are asking ourselves how best to engage in the conversation. As a partnership of Israelis and supporters of Israel worldwide, NIF focuses on what we can do to help Israel live up to the values of equality and democracy enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. That’s the standard that drives us to back ordinary Israelis advancing these values. And it is because of our commitment to these ideals that we refuse to fund global BDS activities against Israel or to support organizations that have global BDS programs.
NIF recognizes that boycotts, divestment actions, or sanctions can be legitimate tactics — but we believe that investing in Israelis who embody our values is the right path toward reform in Israel. In contrast, the global BDS movement risks drowning out pro-democracy voices. Far from deterring those responsible for Israel’s most destructive policies, the BDS movement marginalizes everyday Israelis and provides political cover for extreme ultra-nationalists. Moreover, we are concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
Just because NIF opposes the BDS movement doesn’t mean it should be open season on those who disagree with us. We believe in liberal democratic values, including free speech, which compels us to reject attempts to criminalize expression of support for a nonviolent strategy. So what can we all do to support the Israel that reflects our Jewish values? Those of us who really care about Israel and about ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians must stand with Israelis who are pressing for a better Israel. NIF invests in partners working to safeguard human rights and advance democratic values — including in the occupied territories.
There is no single silver bullet to defeat BDS. ADL believes those fighting BDS need to employ a multi-layered strategy with initiatives focused on different constituencies and goals, including advocacy, education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and encouraging opinion-shapers and thought leaders to take a public stand.
One recent strategy promoted as a means to defeat BDS involves legislation at state and federal levels, which would bar contracts with companies that engage in the boycott. The appeal of anti-BDS legislation is understandable, and it is critical to have our political leadership be patently clear that efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel are unacceptable. However, after exploring both the constitutionality and practical applicability of each of the proposed state and federal bills, ADL has concluded that the likelihood that anti-BDS bills can be used to effect change doesn’t outweigh the obstacles they pose. We have seen anti-BDS bills portrayed as “McCarthyistic” attacks on free speech and democratic values. Inadvertently, they give more attention to BDS supporters and turn them into First Amendment martyrs. This is not the outcome we seek.
ADL can’t ignore the fact that, here in the US, a decision by a private entity to boycott a country, as despicable as it may be in the case of Israel, is protected by our constitution. These bills are certain to be challenged in court and it is uncertain whether they would be upheld. To be clear, ADL is not opposing anti-BDS bills, and we will not campaign against those efforts. We appreciate officials who take action to push back against BDS and to stand with Israel. But we actually believe that resolutions are a better vehicle for demonstrating a comprehensive, hard-hitting public rejection of BDS and provide a more effective public education tool — two of ADL’s goals. ADL urges legislators to pass resolutions that condemn BDS and promote strong ties with Israel in arenas like trade, research and development, and academic cooperation.