I have traveled to Israel 18 times since first being elected to Congress. As a former president of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and a commissioner of the United States Helsinki Commission, an independent US agency that promotes democracy, human rights, security, and economic cooperation among the OSCE’s 57 member nations, I have had the privilege to represent the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and throughout the Middle East, the Gulf, the Maghreb, and Europe. During my numerous meetings overseas and my visits to refugee camps throughout the region, the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, known as BDS, has been a frequent topic of discussion.
The boycott movement is a deeply flawed approach to advancing peace. BDS seeks to delegitimize Israel by branding it as illegitimate and immoral. The movement places the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solely on Israel, evoking comparisons to apartheid South Africa and calling on universities, companies, celebrities, and governments around the world to boycott all things Israeli.
The fundamental flaw of BDS is that it makes its case by ignoring facts, both current and historical. The movement dismisses thousands of years of Jewish ties to the land and makes no mention of Palestinian terrorism or the numerous proposals for peace offered by successive Israeli governments. In advocating for Palestinian refugees, BDS ignores the more than one million Jewish refugees forced from their homes in communities across the Middle East after the creation of the State of Israel.
The BDS movement also walks a very fine line between condemning Israel, its citizens, and Jews themselves. All too frequently, these protests cross into the realm of anti-Semitism, connecting global Jewry to Israel’s political policies. In the past, BDS protests have targeted American and European synagogues, as well as religious celebrations on college campuses. These are protests of the Jewish faith itself, and must never be tolerated.
I am also particularly mindful that BDS’ self-proclaimed “achievements” do little, if anything, to improve the lives of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip. Pushing musicians to call off performances in Israel or American universities to cancel lectures does not advance the peace process or address any of the priorities listed by the BDS movement. Rather, these campaigns encourage intransigence, further drawing out the political conflict. BDS aims to isolate Israeli companies and expel Israel from international organizations such as the United Nations and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Yet, Israel’s economy is thriving, and it remains an active global partner to nations around the world.
I share the view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed. The inability to achieve a two-state solution threatens the State of Israel’s security and identity as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, just as it impedes the well-being and self-determination of the Palestinian people. This can only happen when their leaders decide to end the conflict once and for all. When, in 2008, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected out-of-hand an unprecedented Israeli offer that would have placed Jerusalem’s Old City under international control, given the Palestinian Authority nearly 95 percent of the West Bank, plus additional land swaps, a secure link to the Gaza Strip, and a limited right of return for Palestinian refugees, it demonstrated that Israel had no partner to work with in the pursuit of peace. BDS ignores this reality.
Criminalizing every aspect of Israeli society accomplishes nothing. To support true progress in the search for peace, we must actively encourage dialogue. This year, I introduced H.Res.393, a resolution supporting the concurrent-track approach to the peace process, which encourages Arab and Muslim-majority states to improve bilateral relations with Israel as Israel and the Palestinian Authority concurrently work to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Although there are rarely, if ever, easy solutions to challenges as complex as bringing lasting peace to the Middle East, the US Congress should encourage and support those states willing to engage in that endeavor.
Alcee L. Hastings, a Florida Democrat, serves as a senior member of the House Rules Committee, ranking Democratic member of the US Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.