A group in Los Angeles mounts a billboard campaign to halt U.S. aid to Israel. A pension fund divests from Caterpillar Inc. because some of its tractors are sold to the U.S. government and then on to Israel for military use in the West Bank. And novelist Alice Walker refuses to authorize a new Hebrew translation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Color Purple.
Individually, each action illustrates the ignorance of those purportedly seeking to effect change in the Middle East. Collectively, they underscore the insidious and anti-Israel nature of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, which sponsored the billboards in the San Fernando Valley, said its contract was canceled by a subsidiary of the CBS Corp. because the coalition improperly used the subsidiary's name in its publicity. For whatever its reason, the CBS group took the right action. U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) got it right when he slammed the group that he said "would have us abandon our closest ally in the Middle East and allow its deterrent capability to wither on the vine. That is not the way to demonstrate international leadership."
In the case of Caterpillar, controversy over the Israeli army's use of Caterpillar Inc. tractors in the West Bank was apparently one — but not the only — factor in a corporate rating agency's decision to drop the American company from its list of socially responsible companies.
Although the downgrade by MSCI occurred in February, the public controversy erupted only after BDS supporters highlighted the decision by a major pension fund to expunge Caterpillar from its investment portfolios. The fund, TIAA-CREF, which serves 3.7 million active and retired employees in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields, sold a whopping $72 million of Caterpillar stock following the downgrade.
But the boycott act that has the least tangible harm is perhaps the most outrageous –Walker's effort to prevent her novel from being published in Hebrew. In a letter to Yediot Books, the author said she would not allow the Hebrew translation because "Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people."
While it's not clear there's much demand for a reissue of her novel in Hebrew, the action alone puts a stain on her name.
Indeed, if the energy expended by these misguided BDS efforts were directed to more constructive means of conflict resolution at home and abroad, we'd all be better off. Until that time, we must counter such ignorance with smart, pointed education about the real situation on the ground in Israel. It should be perfectly clear by now that such attacks on Israel are ineffective at changing policies, unfairly place blame on one side of the conflict and are, in fact, counterproductive to the cause of peace.