One of the shortcomings of this site has been its focus primarily on BDS activities in North America. Part of this is due to proximity and familiarity, but some of the reason also has to do with simple laziness.
Put simply, the lack of support for boycott and divestment in the US (exemplified by the decade-long record of BDS non-accomplishment) and preposterousness of its practitioners (most notably in their attempts to substitute pretend domestic victories for real ones) makes fighting BDS here at home a relatively easy task. Not so elsewhere in the world, notably in the Middle East itself and in Europe.
We’ll leave the former for another time to focus on the latter. For Europe has been the birthplace to some of history’s greatest ideas and political movements (democracy, the labor movement, Zionism) as well as all of its worst (notably the 20th century’s twin totalitarian movements of Fascism and Communism).
This history provides a framework in which BDS and other anti-Israel propaganda activities play out, and not simply because members of Europe’s totalitarian rump make up half of the so-called “Red-Green Alliance” (the partnership between militant Islam and far-Left radical organizations that drives the most militant anti-Israel agenda on the continent).
For Europe’s experience (notably during World War II) creates strange cross-currents that permeate how BDS plays out in different countries. Britain, for example, is one of the few European nations not stained by an embrace of or capitulation to Hitler and is thus free of some of the collective guilt that still plagues those on the other side of the Channel. But, in an ironic twist, the UK has emerged as incubator to some of the ugliest and most brutal tactics in the propaganda war against the Jewish state (from “lawfare,” which manipulates the UK legal system to harass Israelis, to campaigns built on violent intimidation).
This split between the UK and the continent also plays out on this side of the pond, where Mainline Protestant Churches with British origins (such as the Methodists and Presbyterians) fueled the BDS movement in the early part of the last decade, while continental churches (such as the Lutherans) were more reticent about joining a “movement” built around economic attacks on the Jewish state.
But countries with unclean hands from WWII such as France, the Netherlands and even Germany itself have their own confused relationship with Jews and Israel (best summarized by the ironic joke that “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for the Holocaust”). And the entire continent is struggling with a political dynamic quite different than the US (i.e., small and/or politically weak Jewish communities coupled with a politically ascendant, and increasingly unassimilated, Muslim minority).
Throw in Europe’s decisions to become a “moral power” without military strength to back it up (read Bosnia and Libya) and you end up with political dynamic that basically boils down to wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.
Thus the perpetual European abstention at UN votes concerning Israel, creating the best of all worlds for Europeans who don’t put their Middle East economic interests at risk, all the while knowing that the US will curb UN excesses via its Security Council veto. And thus the phenomena whereby Europeans are increasingly investing their own money into ventures in the Jewish state while also financing much of the propaganda war against it.
It is within this moral vacuum posing as moral resoluteness that decisions such as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railroad’s choice to pull out of a Tel Aviv to Jerusalem railway project get made. To a certain extent, this is a simple matter of gesture politics. But it also points to a larger issue regarding bad thinking on the continent creating a framework for equally bad thinking elsewhere.
For BDS activists (who are, needless to say, spewing notices around the world containing every accusation of illegality and criminality they can stuff into a press release), this is the latest “win” they’re hoping they can use as a hook for their next campaign. And, in this case, the might have a point.
For as broad-based BDS has continued to fail on both sides of the Atlantic, a new marketing angle for the “movement” has emerged, one that says that BDS is not targeting Jews or Israel (perish the thought), but only “the Occupation.” Within this messaging, the Deutsche Bahn decision has some resonance since it could be presented as crossing (literally) from Israel proper into territories that are disputed between Israel and the Palestinians.
And what is wrong with such “targeted” BDS (the latest phrase that crosses the lips of boycott and divestment activists during the “all smiles” phase when they are trying to lure a civic institution into their clutches)? Stay tuned for the answer to that question.