Worldwide Campaign Seeks to 'Blacken Israel's Name'
JERUSALEM, Israel -- What does the Presbyterian Church USA and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters have in common? They both support boycotting Israel, a sweeping movement that's trying to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a great struggle and international campaign is being waged against his country to "blacken its name."
"It is not connected to our actions; it is connected to our very existence," Netanyahu said. "It does not matter what we do; it matters what we symbolize and what we are."
Just this week, the CEO of French mobile phone giant Orange said he'd cut ties with the Israeli operation company here, one of Israel's largest, as soon as possible.
Earlier this week, Britain's National Union of Students voted to boycott Israel and affiliate with the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. The same group voted against a resolution last year condemning the terrorist actions of ISIS.
It's all part of BDS, whose goal is to punish Israel by encouraging artists, companies, academia, countries and even churches to boycott its products, divest from its companies, and impose sanctions on the Jewish state.
Proponents of the movement claim it will help end what they perceive as injustices against the Palestinians. Critics believe BDS aims to much more.
BDS expert Eran Shayshon said the clear agenda is to tarnish Israel's reputation.
"The BDS movement doesn't say out loud that it is against Israel's right to exist; however, they do mention that they support the right of return, which everyone who understands something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict understands what it means and this is the annihilation of the State of Israel," Shayshon told CBN News.
"What the BDS is trying to do is to create an anti-Israeli spirit of the times -- namely to negatively brand Israel and so to associate it with the former regime of South Africa," he explained. "Clearly such equation is false."
Will Roth, an Austrian-born Jew and CEO of the Israel, Europe Freedom Center, said the campaign has gone beyond words.
"When you go to certain areas, unfortunately, especially in Belgium and in Sweden, if you'll just have a yarmulke, not to say have some good word about Israel, there will be slurs upon slurs and usually they will be violent at the end," he told CBN News.
Roth said it's a fight that awaits him every day.
"When I went to talk at Marseilles University in France and the pro-Palestinian spokesperson just walked inside, very easily cheerfully, safely and I had to be guarded when I entered and someone also tried to stab me during the way up to the stadium," he recalled.
But while BDS is sweeping Europe, it is slower to take hold in the United States. Roth said that's in part because Europeans become intoxicated by ideas while Americans tend to fight back.
The Presbyterian Church USA ended business connections in Israel, and the U.S. State Department boycotts cutting-edge cancer research at Israel's Ariel University because it's in Samaria -- or the West Bank.
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters openly criticizes artists who perform in Israel, but some like Eric Clapton, Dionne Warwick, and Alan Parsons performed in Israel anyway.
American actress Scarlett Johanson faced protests for her endorsement of SodaStream, an Israeli company with Jewish and Arab workers based in an Israeli settlement, and with Oxfam, a group fighting global poverty.
Her work with SodaStream was seen in a Super Bowl commercial.
"Like most actors, my real job is saving the world. Start with plain water, add bubbles, mix in the perfect flavor. Look soda that's better for you and all of us -- less sugar and less bottles," she says in the ad.
The commercial cost Johanson her relationship with Oxfam because its leaders felt her work with SodaStream furthered the poverty of the Palestinians.
According to Shayshon, Israel fights an uphill battle because the other side plays by different rules.
"While we try to explain our position and use facts, they do branding and this is a completely different field," he explained. "When they shoot from Gaza, we said, 'Well they started it ' and they shout, 'apartheid, apartheid.' There is a mismatch between our strategies and the responses and that's our problem. We don't understand the battlefield."
And in this battle, Roth said American Christians are among Israel's staunchest supporters.