Many Palestinians have come to the realization that they can only destroy Israel via soft asymmetrical conflict rather than waging war or committing terrorist acts. Who is funding the BDS Movement that stands at the forefront of Palestinian soft asymmetrical conflict attempts?

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Many Palestinians have come to the realization that waging wars and implementing terrorist attacks won’t lead to the destruction of the State of Israel.   Therefore, they have implemented a new method of warfare known as soft asymmetrical conflict.   According to Professor Ofira Seliktar, “It’s an asymmetrical war of ideas which is used to delegitimize a target country and in this case, Israel.  Since the Oslo peace process and the terror attacks that followed, they created a new type of war, which is fought in the academia and the media but especially in the academia.”

Manfred Gerstenfeld, the former chair of the Steering Committee at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JerusalemOnline: “The BDS Movement started really as a concept in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. There, the UN World Conference against Racism took place. At the same time also in Durban, a NGO forum was held. This conference, instead of promoting anti-racism, transformed into an anti-Israel hate movement. There, the idea of systematically promoting boycotting Israel was raised in many fields including the academic world, culture, sports, politics, etc. These people understood that the real impact would not be on Israel on itself but is that it would draw attention. It was a public relations idea that would bring the Palestinian issue into the public domain People were shocked by the incredible hate that burst out from that conference. This was a major explosion of pro-hate activities against Israel.”

Seliktar noted that the BDS Movement and other anti-Israel activities seek to paint Israel as an apartheid state or colonial construct that needs to be boycotted. Although they have not had much solid cases of success, the BDS Movement is more about creating public awareness than anything else and on this, they have been very successful: “Even if the initiatives do not pass, there is an opportunity for students and faculty to have a debate. During these debates, so-called evidence is produced stating that Israel is an apartheid state. Many don’t know much about Israel. This is an educational opportunity to educate students and faculty about the occupation regime in the West Bank and other problems. That is the core of delegitimization, creating an image of Israel that is negative and thus needs to be boycotted. It is a long term process and we don’t even know what the end will be as we have new generations of academics and students that are being taught and when they assume positions of influence, they may be influenced by that negative view.”

This situation creates a very hostile environment for Jewish students on campus. Dana Barnett, the head of the Israel Academia Monitor organization, told JerusalemOnline: “It’s not just the anti-Israel professors but definitely the Students for Justice in Palestine and all of the pro-Palestinian people. It’s difficult for Jewish people because they are intimidating them. That’s how it is in both America and Europe. Whenever you have the pro-Palestine groups, there is a lot of intimidation towards Jews and that is very unfortunate.” However, Jews are not the only targets: “For example, last month, the British Colonel Richard Kemp went to Australia to speak about the Iraq war in a university. He was disturbed by pro-Palestinians with megaphones and could not deliver his talk. So, not only Jewish students are intimidated, but everyone who does not officially support the Palestinian goal.”

Seliktar noted that the academic material that is used by the BDS Movement is being created in Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs that are being funded by Arab states like Saudi Arabia via Aramco World and Iran via the Alevi Foundation: “This creates jobs for faculty, which don’t view Israel in a positive light. Saudi Arabia creates think tanks and mega-research centers at respective universities including Ivy League schools. The money for endowed chairs comes from Saudi Arabia at Harvard.” In regards to the anti-Israel activities of groups like the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, no one knows how they get their funding: “They do fund pro-boycott activities. MSA gets money from an umbrella group of 52 Muslim countries but also like Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is not the government but different groups.”

Barnett concurred, stressing that she discovered that Saudi Arabia contributes money to the delegitimization of Israel via various foundations: “It’s not direct funding from the government but semi-governmental foundation. Qatar has been a big player in the academia. They purchased the press that publishes Elsevier, a publication company that publishes Lancet. Lancet recently had very anti-Israel editorials and Qatar is behind it. The Alevi Foundation is an Iranian foundation. It’s not directly governmental but semi, created by Ayatollah Khomeini. They are sponsoring various things. Don’t forget that Iran has media outlets such as Press TV and they interview a lot of people, including some Israeli academics like Shlomo Sand who speaks for Press TV. I found that Neve Gordon thanked in the intro to his book a Saudi linked professor for providing him with resources. His book on the occupation was paid for by the Saudis.”

The effect of these Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies centers funded by Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can be felt across the globe. “Islamic Studies in Germany, for example, is a small field but it is very influential in terms of providing advice to NGOs, governmental sources and the public for they speak Arabic and pretend to be experts on the Arab and Muslim world,” Dr. Clemens Heni of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-semitism stated. “Therefore, I think it’s rather disturbing that they promote Youssef Al Qaradawi, who is portrayed as a moderate because he is allowing females to commit suicide bombings against Jews without asking their husbands and fathers for permission. It’s not moderate. It’s another way of committing jihad.”

Unfortunately, Heni noted that anti-Israel academic literature can be found not just in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies centers but also in the field of Jewish Studies: “In a 50 years since the death of Martin Buber Conference, German scholar Christian Wiese spoke. A few years ago, he was endorsing a book by British anti-Israel scholar Jacqueline Rose. He quoted her Question of Zion, which includes a story claiming Hitler got inspired to write Mein Kampf during a concert that never existed. Publishing a book that claimed Hitler was in a concert with Herzl in May 1895 is a tool to say that Zionism is as evil as Nazism. She claims Zionism is as bad as Nazism and this is a lie. Hitler was 6-years-old at that time and not in France. It is troubling that a scholar is quoting and referring to books like this. This is the kind of delegitimization of Israel we are dealing with. People are referring to unscholarly books that have no basis in reality.”

Israeli academics are also involved in the delegitimization of Israel. “It’s not a very large group,” Barnett stressed. “It’s a minority that exists but they are still powerful. The people I am researching are five people. It’s not only BDS. I look at how they get funding from foreign organizations. Since the boycott law has been passed by the Knesset, Israeli academics no longer actively call for BDS. They are however delegitimizing Israel and their work is being used by the BDS Movement. Before the boycott law, there were several that called for BDS, among them Kobi Snitz, Anat Matar, Rachel Giora, and Neve Gordon. In the last couple of years, they are no longer calling for it out loud, but I have seen petitions that delegitimize Israel. Oren Yiftachel is a good example. He does not call for a boycott, but his work is used immensely by the BDS Movement that seeks a connection between Israel and South African apartheid.”

The influence that these Israeli scholars have had upon the BDS Movement can be felt across the globe. Nevertheless, Heni stressed that the situation in Germany is actually better than it is in a lot of countries when it comes to the academic BDS: “In Germany, the BDS Movement is a failure. They have almost no groups. You cannot publicly promote BDS in this political culture. Scholars don’t publicly endorse the BDS Movement, even if they are anti-Israel for it is not ok in a German framework like it is in other countries. Independent small groups promote it and there were big conferences. There was a pro-Hamas conference in Berlin with 3,000 people that called for the right of return, but there were no scholars. It was an activist event. We have these kinds of events, but not from schools.”

The situation in Canada is quite different from Germany. “In Ontario, the BDS Movement is very strong,” Seliktar stressed. “Who funds them? You have different groups. We found out that there is a private group that is in Ontario that funds some of these activities and as a private group; they don’t have to disclose their funding. At least NGOs have to provide an account. US law does not require foundations to disclose names of donors.”

This reality creates issues for finding out everyone who is behind the delegitimization of Israel and Seliktar emphasized that only if the Israeli government decides to take action will it be possible to disclose everyone who stands behind the BDS Movement. Gerstenfeld concurred with Seliktar, noting that it is very difficult to fight against the BDS Movement and other Palestinian groups waging soft asymmetrical conflict without the Israeli government having a solid structure in place to deal with such groups: “If you don’t have that structure, it is very difficult to fight it for our enemies are professors that have a free anti-semitic lunch. So we don’t do anything. If they knew they could run into trouble, they will be more careful, but we have no structure to fight any propaganda in any significant way. It is a failure of the Israeli government that should have been dealt with 30 years ago at least. Look, if you are attacked by an army, you set up an army. If you are attacked by an intelligence service, you have counter-terrorism. We are attacked by propaganda for decades and the Israeli government does very little or nothing.”

Barnett added that the Israeli government should definitely do something, stressing they are not doing enough: “I can see that the problem lies here. Israel cannot compete with the money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Still, the Israeli government should do the same by creating chairmanships for Israel Studies and Jewish studies in Ivy League universities. The boycott law should be implemented. I don’t know of any case of anyone being sued for the delegitimization of Israel and BDS, but now they should look for cases and bring them to court. Recently, Anat Matar of Tel Aviv University was invited by Palestinian groups to defame Israel in Prague. Why should the Israeli taxpayers pay a salary to a woman who gives a hand to those wishing to destroy Israel? It doesn’t make sense. If she wants to support the Palestinians, fine, let her be a Palestinian, leave Israel, go to live in Palestine, and teach philosophy in a Palestinian university. Stop being a hypocrite!”