JERUSALEM, Israel – What's been billed as the largest anti-BDS conference ever was held Tuesday at the United Nations.
"BDS" refers to the anti-Israel movement that aims to get countries, businesses and even churches to boycott, divest and sanction Israel and Israeli Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) for its alleged abuses of Palestinians.
More than 2,000 people attended the event in the General Assembly hall, which included Jewish community leaders, students, diplomats, pro-Israel Christians and legal experts.
The day's activities began with Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, and remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via video-conferencing.
Organized by Israel's delegation to the United Nations, with the help of pro-Israel groups from around the world, the one-day conference under the banner, "Building Bridges, Not Boycotts," was hailed a success.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon called on participants to stand with Israel in its fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, calling unity "the most effective weapon" and saying it's nothing more than "modern anti-Semitism." It's an ongoing battle, he said, that Israel and its supporters would continue to fight.
"From this lectern in the parliament of nations, we must continue to work – we must change the reality on campuses, in courthouses, and here at the U.N.," Danon said. "We will not let the forces of hate to demonize Israel. Together, we will overcome the BDS movement."
Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said he understands the "power" of BDS.
"It's a political movement that makes you think you are standing against tyranny, especially when you are joined by celebrities, rock stars or your favorite professors, but I wonder if all those people who support BDS have the slightest understanding of what this movement really means. These activists are calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, make no mistake," Lauder said.
"Don't be mistaken – the BDS movement doesn't support the Palestinian people. This campaign is intended to de-legitimize Israel – it is an effort to deny the Jewish people the right of self-determination," he said.
Israeli Supreme Court Vice President and Justice Elyakim Rubinstein laid a biblical foundation for the modern-day anti-Israel movement.
"As we read every year in the Passover Haggadah during the Passover meal, 'in every generation they rise up against us,'" Rubinstein said. "The BDS movement is a part of those who wish to destroy us. Yet their mission will not be fulfilled. Just as we overcame the Arab boycott, so too will we overcome the BDS movement."
American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) chief counsel Jay Sekulow led a workshop that focused on the legal aspects of boycotts and attempts to delegitimize.
"The BDS [movement] uses 'lawfare.' They use the legal system to delegitimize," Sekulow explained. "Well we are using the law to fight them. The law is on our side," the Times of Israel reported.
BDS movements, he said, frequently violate non-discrimination laws and university policies in the U.S. Sekulow cited a number of universities where BDS was defeated in the courtroom.
One university student told the Times of Israel the conference did "a great job of showing what can be done to fight BDS beyond the campus."
Students also learned about how to counter "Israel Apartheid Week," which has become an annual event every spring on many U.S. campuses.
Israeli reggae star Matisyahu, who was banned and then reinstated from performing at a music festival in Spain last year, sang his anti-BDS song, "Jerusalem," to a delighted audience.
Meanwhile, P.A. representative to the U.N. Riyad Mansour pooh-poohed the gathering as inconsequential, calling it "an admission" by Israeli leaders of losing ground against the BDS movement on American campuses.
Mansour is likely well aware of the pro-Palestinian groups at U.S. colleges and universities, which have succeeded to some extent in turning student bodies against Israel.
Recent polls found one-third of Americans and 40 percent in the U.K. back a boycott of Israel.