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The ‘Murky’ History Behind Who Funds the BDS Movement

11-23-2021
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JERUSALEM, Israel - Ben & Jerry’s recently made a decision that put the BDS Movement back in the headlines. The ice cream makers stopped doing business in what they called the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” otherwise known as the West Bank.

The decision gave a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and raised questions about where it gets its funding.      

Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President of Research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies tells CBN News the source of the BDS Movement’s cash is “very murky.”

“You have a lot of groups operating on what appears to be shoestring budgets and yet we see the BDS movement flourish and thrive across college campuses. I think what it means is this is a very de-centralized funding network,” he said.

In 2016, Jonathan Schanzer testified before Congress and shared his research into the funding of the BDS Movement. 

“We finally stumbled on one group called American Muslims for Palestine and as it turns out, many of them worked for charities that were previously shut down by the US government for supporting Hamas,” says Schanzer. “This, of course, came as a surprise to us. The more we dug, the more we realized that there was a network, a relatively small one but apparently influential that was active on campus … I think ultimately that, even if this group is not engaging in anything illegal, and I think it’s important to stress that, their background is important. It’s not just simply a social justice movement motivated by very ideological reasons.”

Schanzer tells CBN News the network is doing now what it did in 2016. In a related development, Israel recently targeted six NGO’s for allegedly aiding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is designated as a terror organization by the US.

“The PFLP has a number of charities that have been active here, NGO’s rather, that have been active here in the United States and in Israel and in the Palestinian territories that have been pushing a very negative narrative in regards to Israel and been advocating for BDS,” says Schanzer.

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, says “a number of these so-called charities and NGOs are really a front for terror groups like the PFLP to funnel money that ultimately goes towards carrying out terrorist actions and promoting boycott activities.” 

Ostrovsky says boycott activities go back 20 years to the movement’s beginning at a UN conference in South Africa designed to fight racism.

“Instead of the international community coming together to fight racism, it ended up coming to promote racism and against one state and one state only, the Jewish state Israel,” says Ostrovsky.

Einat Wilf, co-author of the War of Return, says that helped propel BDS to become a key weapon against the Jewish State.

“Through repeated wars, invasions, terrorism, economic boycotts; they have failed. None of these violent efforts to undo the sovereign state of the Jewish people have succeeded. So, BDS, the right of return, the demand to settle in Israel, have come to the forefront as the only tools by which the Palestinians still hope to achieve their goals,” says Wilf.

Wilf points out the main tactic is to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

“The placard strategy is the equations that everyone who goes to an anti-Israel demonstration sees it on their placards. They're structured in this way. It says, ‘Zionism equals’ or ‘Israel equals’ or sometimes it just says, ‘The Star of David equals’ … These words are all chosen because in our collective consciousness, they denote evil. So, what happens through the placard strategy is basically people are exposed to an ongoing refrain that says, ‘Zionism, Israel, Star of David, equals evil,’” says Wilf.

That, according to Wilf, promotes the idea of Israel as the global villain.

“Now, there's no greater good in this world than the eradication of evil. So, if you create this mental mindset, you create a global mindset that there is an evil out there, and the evil is Israel and Zionism. And through the placard strategy, people have this refrain in their minds: ‘Israel, Zionism, Star of David is evil.’ Then, you're creating an invitation to violence. You're basically saying because Israel, Zionism and the Star of David are evil, whatever you do to rid the world of this evil, will be justified,” she says.

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Ostrovsky says this helps explain the growth of violence worldwide against Jews earlier this year during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.  

“Now this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a direct result of this pervasive discourse singling out and vilifying the Jewish State … and that goes to the very core, the very center of what the BDS movement is doing,” says Ostrovsky.

Since much of this discourse happens at colleges and universities, Wilf says BDS creates an unsafe place for young Jewish students.

“What we clearly see is in places where the BDS movement rises, especially on American campuses, you see greater violence of all sorts towards Jewish students and especially students who identify as Zionist or pro-Israel, to the point that today, more and more Jewish students are looking at whether their campus has a substantial BDS presence before choosing a college.”

The economic impact of BDS on Israel seems minimal, especially as the “Start-Up Nation” gets financially stronger through ties with its Arab neighbors and the Abraham accords. Schanzer warns, however, the battleground is not so much the economy, but the hearts and minds of the next generations.

“Particularly on college campuses teaching them I think a lot of falsehoods about Israel, about its history, about its politics, and this will certainly make things more difficult for Israel in the future as it battles future generations of what we would call ‘BDSers,’” he says.

Schanzer adds: “I think this represents the great challenge, not a well-funded movement as some people would suggest … And we also see it intersect with corporate trends such as social and governance. These are the sorts of trappings that we see around the BDS Movement, but the ideology is the same. It is the dedication to the destruction of the Jewish state and unfortunately, it’s been around for seven-plus decades and counting.”

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