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Myths & Facts
Delegitimization of Israel

by Mitchell Bard

Anti-Semitism is a result of Israeli policies.
Supporters of Israel only criticize Arabs and never Israelis.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism stifles criticism of Israel.
Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Academic freedom is a license for any faculty criticism of Israel.
The BDS movement originated with Palestinians seeking to promote peace and justice.
BDS proponents advocate a two-state solution.
The BDS campaign has succeeded in isolating Israel.
Selective boycotts advance prospects for peace.
Campus delegitimization campaigns are successful.
Academic boycotts help the Palestinians.
Labeling products manufactured in settlements promotes peace.
Talking about Israel’s favorable LBGT policies is pinkwashing.
Israel has no right to deny entry, detain, or expel BDS activists.
Anti-boycott legislation violates the First Amendment.


Anti-Semitism is a result of Israeli policies.


Anti-Semitism existed for centuries before the establishment of the State of Israel. Rather than Israel being the cause of anti-Semitism, it is more likely that dissatisfaction with Israeli behavior and the distorted media coverage of Israeli policies reinforce latent anti-Semitic views.

As writer Leon Wieseltier observed, “The notion that all Jews are responsible for whatever any Jews do is not a Zionist notion. It is an anti-Semitic notion.” Wieseltier adds that attacks on Jews in Europe have nothing to do with Israel. To blame Jews for anti-Semitism is similar to< saying blacks are responsible for racism.1

The view of Israel as a monolithic entity composed of racists and brutal oppressors is a caricature. Israel is a complex society struggling with itself. The forces of good and evil, and many in between, are locked in a daily battle on many different fronts.

—Uri Avnery2


Supporters of Israel only criticize Arabs and never Israelis.


Israel is not perfect. Even the most committed friends of Israel acknowledge that the government sometimes makes mistakes, that it has not solved all the problems in its society, and that it should do better. However, supporters of Israel may not emphasize these faults because there is no shortage of groups and individuals willing to do nothing but focus on Israel’s imperfections. The public usually has much less access to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict with the Palestinians or the positive aspects of its society; therefore, it is necessary to put events in context.

Israelis themselves are their own harshest critics. If you want to read criticism of Israeli behavior, you can pick up any Israeli newspaper and find no shortage of news and commentary critical of government policy. Outside Israel, friends of Israel frequently express concerns about policies they find objectionable. Many believe Israel should adopt different approaches toward the Palestinians and speak out against actions perceived as undermining the prospects for peace. Op-eds written by Jews regularly appear in the media advocating, for example, an end to Israel’s administration of the West Bank and a freeze on the construction of settlements.

Nations do not lose their right to exist, however, when they fall short of their ideals.

The openness of debate in Israel has led some to conclude that Americans should not feel constrained from expressing similarly critical views. America is not Israel; Israelis have a common narrative and shared experiences. Americans, even Jews, do not have the same knowledge or expertise about Israel, so critics should be aware that their opinions may be misinterpreted by those who do not know the history or context of the topic.

Israeli encouragement also does not justify criticism, as Israelis do not understand the American milieu and typically only bless critics who agree with them. Leftist Israelis are often happy to encourage American Jews to speak out against rightist governments but are furious with criticism of leftist governments. Similarly, right-wing Israelis may prompt criticism of left-wing governments and object to Americans disagreeing with right-of-center coalitions.

Israel is the only state in the world today, and the Jews the only people in the world today, that are the object of a standing set of threats from governmental, religious, and terrorist bodies seeking their destruction. And what is most disturbing is the silence, the indifference, and sometimes even the indulgence in the face of such genocidal anti-Semitism.

—Canadian minister of justice and attorney general Irwin Cotler3


The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism stifles criticism of Israel.


Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), accused Israel of “coordinating a global campaign” that was “designed to frame activism for Palestine as something hostile, something extremist, as something anti-Semitic.” He insisted that the internationally-recognized definition of anti-Jewish racism written by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “drains anti-Semitism of any meaning.”4

Jamal’s remark is one example of the increasingly common tendency for non-Jews to tell Jews what constitutes anti-Semitism.

Imagine if Blacks protested statements they considered racist, and the people who made the remarks said they were expressing legitimate criticism and Blacks had no right to say they were racist. No one would accept this argument. The same idea applies to sexist or homophobic remarks or policies.

Jews are treated differently. People making anti-Semitic statements tell Jews they are the arbiters of what defines anti-Semitism. In the case of the IHRA, it is not only Jews who agreed on the definition; it has been adopted or endorsed by 39 nations, 26 U.S. states, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Council of Europe.

Jamal said it was necessary to “oppose the conflation of anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel that is contained within the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.”

This is a commonly used straw man used by the definition’s detractors, ignoring that it states explicitly: “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

There is a clear distinction, however, between criticism of the policies of Israel’s government, which you can read in any Israeli newspaper, and anti-Semitism. The IHRA gives examples of when the line is crossed:

  • Accusing the Jews as a people or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

When the Trump administration announced that the IHRA definition could be used to determine discriminatory intent in violation of the Civil Rights Act, critics echoed Jamal’s comments. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, for example, said, “This executive order is a clear instrument of oppression, targeting activism for freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people on campuses, and it is just disguised as anti-discrimination policy.”5

According to Alyza Lewin, president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, “there is nothing in either the IHRA Definition or the Executive Order that precludes anyone from criticizing the policies of the government of Israel.” She adds, “It is not unlawful in the United States to make racist or anti-Jewish comments. In America, the First Amendment protects your right to express yourself as a bigot.” However, she adds, “the First Amendment does not insulate and prevent those who make racist or anti-Semitic comments from being labeled as racists and anti-Semites.”6


Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.


To mask their anti-Semitism, many people claim they only hate “Zionists,” “Israelis,” “colonists,” or “settlers,” not Jews, but these are only euphemisms. Opposition to the Jewish state has become a socially acceptable way to express anti-Jewish attitudes. As British author Howard Jacobson observed, “Israel has become the pretext [for anti-Semitism]...All the unsayable things, all the things they know they can’t say about Jews in a post-Holocaust liberal society, they can say again now. Israel has desacralized the subject. It’s a space in which everything is allowed again.”7

The European Union issued a statement in 2022 that said, “Anti-Semitic hatred has no place in our world, and it makes no difference if it is disguised as anti-Zionism or whether it comes from far-right or far-left extremists or from Islamist and other religious fundamentalists. We Europeans cannot – and will not stay indifferent in the face of increasing anti-Semitism.8

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.

—Martin Luther King9

“Not all Jews are Zionists, just as not all Jews observe the Sabbath or adhere to kosher dietary rules,” explains Alyza Lewin, president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. “However, just as it is anti-Semitic to attack, harass or discriminate against Jews on the basis of their Sabbath or kashrut observance, so, too, is it anti-Semitic to attack, harass or marginalize Jews who advocate, express, or support the Zionist part of their Jewish identity.”10


Academic freedom is a license for any faculty criticism of Israel.


The one place in America where anti-Semitism is still tolerated is in the university, where “academic freedom” is often used as a cover to sanction anti-Israel teachings and forums that are anti-Semitic.

In an address \on the subject of academic freedom, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger quoted from a report that described a professor as someone whom “‘no fair-minded person would even suspect of speaking other than as ‘shaped or restricted by the judgment . . . of professional scholars.’”11 He also spoke about the need for faculty to “resist the allure of certitude, the temptation to use the podium as an ideological platform, to indoctrinate a captive audience, to play favorites with the like-minded, and silence the others.”12

Many faculty do not resist temptation and use their position as an ideological platform. Those who abuse their academic freedom, and insist they can say what they want, hypocritically denounce others who exercise their right to criticize them. To suggest that a professor’s views are inappropriate or their scholarship is faulty is to risk being tarred with the charge of McCarthyism.

Legality is not the issue in evaluating the anti-Israel, sometimes anti-Semitic speeches and teachings of faculty and speakers on campus. No one questions that freedom of speech allows individuals to express their views. The issue is whether this type of speech should be given the cover of “academic freedom” and granted legitimacy by the university through funding, publicity, or the use of campus facilities and social media platforms.

A related question is whether the presentations are academic. Few people would claim that a conference in which anti-Black, anti-gay, or anti-female sentiments were expressed would be protected by academic freedom. Yet, that is the shield used to permit attacks on the Jewish people who may euphemistically be referred to as “Zionists,” “Israelis,” “colonists,” or “settlers.”

There is a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, which you can read in any Israeli newspaper, and anti-Semitism, in which the attacks against Israel challenge its right to exist or single out Israel among all other nations for opprobrium. A guideline for recognizing the difference is offered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by 39 countries, including the United States, and 314 higher education institutions worldwide.13

The IHRA includes examples of when a line is crossed but explicitly says, “ criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” Author and educator Uri Pilichowski explained the distinction this way:

As in most cases of both accusations and criticism, the defining line of what makes the criticism fair or anti-Semitic is dependent on who is saying it, why they’re saying it, what they’re saying, and how they’re saying it.14

When it crosses the line into hate speech or anti-Semitism, it may create a hostile environment that violates the civil rights of Jews. The U.S. Department of Education issued policy guidance in October 2010 clarifying that Jews are protected from discrimination and harassment under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Office of Civil Rights specifies that school districts and institutions of higher education “may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.”15

Our position is based upon the belief that it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than through boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved. Bridging political gulfs—rather than widening them further apart—between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism. Our disaffection with, and condemnation of acts of academic boycotts and discrimination against scholars and institutions, is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals.

Joint Hebrew University/Al-Quds University Statement16


The BDS movement originated with Palestinians seeking to promote peace and justice.


The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a product of the NGO Forum that was held in parallel to the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism in DurbanSouth Africa. The Forum’s final declaration described Israel as a state guilty of “racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing” and created an action plan. The “Durban Strategy” called for promoting “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel . . . the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation, and training) between all states and Israel” (para. 424).17

The BDS movement deliberately draws a false parallel to South Africa. According to BDS proponents, if South Africa was worthy of a boycott and sanctions campaigns that eventually led to the downfall of that despicable system, “Israel should be subject to the same kind of attack, leading to the same kind of result.”18

In 2005, activists issued the “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS against Israel” to create the false impression that all Palestinians endorse BDS. The movement is primarily directed, however, by outsiders whose lives are unaffected by Israel and who do not have to live with the consequences of their actions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told South African journalists, “We do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself . . . We have relations with Israel; we have mutual recognition of Israel.”19

Palestinians and Israelis routinely engage in dialogue, cooperation, and trade. The Palestinian Authority signed cooperative agreements with Israel in nearly 40 spheres of activity, from joint security measures to environmental protection and conservation.

The Histadrut and the Palestine General Federation of Trades Unions (PGFTU) signed an agreement to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue, and joint initiatives to advance “fraternity and coexistence.” Palestinian Arab Universities—despite being hotbeds of anti-Israel activity—maintain links with their Israeli counterparts. Artists, doctors, and businesspeople have formed bonds of mutual benefit, cooperation, and friendship.

Boycotting Israel would devastate the Palestinian economy, which is almost totally dependent on trade with Israel. In 2021, nearly 90% of Palestinian exports went to Israel, and 54% of imports originated there.20

More than 100,000 Palestinians working in Israel inject roughly $5.5 billion into the Palestinian economy annually, the equivalent of about 35% of GDP.21 Most are paid significantly more than their peers receive from Palestinian employers.

Palestinians are voting with their feet and their pocketbooks against the boycott being pursued in their name.

Case Study

Boycotters targeted SodaStream because of its factory in Mishor Adumim, adjacent to the “settlement” of Ma’ale Adumim. The company was the largest employer of Palestinians in the territories, with nearly 600 workers who enjoyed the same salary, medical insurance, and conditions as the other workers. BDS activists protested outside stores, intimidated shoppers, and vandalized SodaStream products. Due to financial losses, partly due to the BDS attacks, the company closed the West Bank factory and replaced it with one in the Negev Desert, putting all the Palestinians out of work. Ali Jafar, a shift manager from a West Bank village who worked for SodaStream for two years, said, “All the people who wanted to close [SodaStream’s West Bank factory] are mistaken . . . They didn’t take into consideration the [Palestinian] families.”22

The good news is that the company later rehired many Palestinians to work in the Israeli factory.23


BDS proponents advocate a two-state solution.


Anyone genuinely interested in peace understands that the Palestinian issue is not one-sided and that any pressure must be directed at both parties. BDS proponents, however, are interested only in coercing Israel while holding the Palestinians blameless for the conflict.

Many injustices have resulted from the ongoing failure to resolve the dispute. However, presenting Palestinian grievances out of context without considering similar Israeli concerns is neither fair nor constructive. The advancement of Palestinian rights should not negate those of Israelis.

Moreover, Israel does not need to be bullied to seek peace. Israel has repeatedly offered compromises that would have allowed the Palestinians to establish an independent entity, if not a state. The Palestinians rejected every offer.

BDS advocates reject the peace process entirely. With their zero-sum approach to everything Israeli, they have no interest in coexistence. While some proponents try to conceal their agenda to win support from people concerned with human rights and social justice, others are explicit: “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel,” Professor As’ad AbuKhalil admitted. “That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”24

Since BDS activities are indiscriminate, they harm those Israelis who are most actively campaigning for peace and reinforce the views of those who do not believe that any compromise will satisfy the Palestinians. Rather than encourage negotiation, efforts to isolate Israel make its citizens feel more vulnerable.

Under the false premise of being “apolitical,” BDS proponents claim they are not advocating any solution. In reality, this is purposeful ambiguity, as their goal is the destruction of Israel.

“The problem with BDS,” Professor Ilan Troen has written, “is that it forecloses any possibility of respectful interchange and honorable negotiations between the contending parties for the land that all consider not only theirs, but most consider holy.”25


The BDS campaign has succeeded in isolating Israel.


The Arab League boycott, which has been in force since 1945, before the creation of the state, did nothing to help the Palestinians achieve independence, nor did it prevent Israel from becoming one of the world’s economic success stories. The BDS campaign has been equally ineffective in isolating Israel diplomatically, economically, and culturally.

Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with 161 countries, more than ever before. Most notable was the establishment of ties resulting from the Abraham Accords with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.

Economically, Israel is thriving. Israel’s largest single trade partner remains the United States. In 2021, U.S.-Israel trade exceeded $31 billion, and 24 states exported more than $100 million worth of goods to Israel, led by New York’s $3.5 billion.26 More than 10,000 U.S. companies do business in or with Israel, including all the major high-tech companies.

Israel’s political relations with the European Union have been strained; nevertheless, trade with the EU exceeds that of the United States. Roughly 30% of Israel’s imports and exports result from dealing with the EU, and Israel ranks 21st among its trading partners. Total trade with the EU reached $37 billion in 2021,27 and Israel is a part of the Euro-Mediterranean free trade area.

Even at “ground zero” for the BDS movement—the United Kingdom—relations and commercial exchange are flourishing. In 2021, total bilateral trade amounted to nearly $6 billion, and the two countries were negotiating to create a free trade area.28

Trade is growing exponentially with countries in Asia, where China has become Israel’s third-largest trading partner. Israel is also expanding ties with Latin America and has been granted observer status in the Pacific Alliance, an economic trade organization of several major Latin and Central American countries. Similarly, Israel was granted observer status in the Africa Union in 2022.

Kristin Lindow, senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service and Moody’s lead analyst for Israel, told Forbes, “The impact of BDS is more psychological than real so far and has had no discernible impact on Israeli trade or the broader economy.”29

The boycott movement produced a backlash in the United States as 35 states have adopted laws, executive orders, or resolutions to discourage boycotts against Israel.30 In 2022, the UK Parliament voted to ban public sector employees from boycotting Israeli investments within their pension funds.31

The cultural boycott has been an annoyance, especially when protestors disrupt Israeli cultural events abroad, but A-list celebrities and performers, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Madonna, Bon Jovi, Andrea Bocelli, Rihanna, Kanye West, Santana, and Alicia Keys, have ignored threats and intimidation to appear in concerts. Israel also hosted the Eurovision contest in 2019 and the Miss Universe pageant in 2021.

BDS proponents are also hypocrites. They do not advocate giving up all the medical, scientific, and other innovations they benefit from that were developed in Israel or have Israeli-designed components. These include Waze, laptop computers, memory sticks, antivirus programs, iPhones, electric cars, or generic medications made by Teva. The most egregious example may be Omar Barghouti, one of the most prominent activists, who advocated boycotting Israeli universities while attending graduate school at Tel Aviv University.32


Selective boycotts advance prospects for peace.


Some Israeli artists, academics, and authors called upon actors to avoid performing in a theater in the West Bank town of Ariel to protest the Israeli government’s settlement policy. While the Israelis boycotting Ariel are primarily Zionists who oppose the BDS goal of destroying Israel, their protest does nothing to advance the cause of peace. Instead, their actions punish innocent Jews uninvolved in the political conflict and gave legitimacy to the BDS movement. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Reform Judaism movement, and a frequent critic of Israeli policy, observed:

It is impossible to distinguish between different types of boycotts….Those who claim that they only support the boycott of Ariel but oppose the BDS movement are making distinctions that will not be clear to anyone but themselves. If an internal boycott in Israel is the way that Israelis deal with the question of settlement expansion, what is the basis for objecting when countries and groups hostile to Israel call for a boycott of Israel’s academic institutions?33

The distinction between Israeli businesses and communities in the territories and the rest of their compatriots cannot be applied in practice. Any steps to isolate and exclude Israelis in settlements also impact Israelis on both sides of the Green Line. Because the economies are interdependent, efforts to punish or damage the settlements injure the broader economy and all Israelis – Jews and non-Jews. Sweeping and targeted boycott campaigns are fundamentally unfair forms of collective punishment.

Like BDS advocates, the selective boycotters blame the conflict only on Israel. Rather than their stated goal of advancing peace, they further entrench maximalist Palestinian demands. No matter how good the intention may be, these boycott advocates only strengthen those who seek Israel’s demise.


Campus delegitimization campaigns are successful.


The campus divestment campaign was initiated in 2001 by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group at the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with the San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A year later, following the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s first conference in Berkeley, the delegitimization movement began spreading to other universities.

Student governments often spend hours debating measures, which are one-sided and accompanied by vitriolic attacks on Israel by BDS proponents. Votes are often scheduled to impede opponents’ ability to marshal support or participate, as in cases where they are held on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

Still, the campaign has been a total failure. Resolutions have been introduced in fewer than 2% of America’s four-year colleges. The resolutions are defeated nearly two-thirds of the time, and not one of the 47 schools that approved a call for a boycott or divestment from 2005 to Spring 2022 led to university action. On the contrary, administrators have condemned the BDS movement. Harvard University President Lawrence Summers said the divestment campaign was anti-Semitic.34 Soon after, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said he opposed divestment and considered the analogy to South Africa made by activists “both grotesque and offensive.”35

Even when they fail, BDS advocates often claim victory in the hope that the perception of winning will create momentum for their cause. What they do accomplish is to roil the campus and put Jewish and other pro-Israel students on the defensive.

Perhaps the more severe delegitimization efforts on campus escape public notice because they occur in classrooms where professors use their positions to advance political agendas biased toward Israel. Faculty detractors have also become more vocal, signing petitions, issuing condemnations of Israel in the name of whole departments, and using their university affiliations to imply that their employers endorse their views.

The boycott movement on campus has had no impact on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the mere discussion of BDS allows Israel’s detractors to propagate a negative image of Israel that many fear will take root while simultaneously shifting the tenor of debate from the merits of Israeli policies to its right to exist.

Divestment debates often make Jewish students feel persecuted and unsafe. Many are hurt when their peers become part of a movement that seeks to negate their identity.

Honest discussion about Israeli and Palestinian narratives is needed on college campuses. Divestment advocates seek to circumvent an open debate by promoting the Palestinian narrative and delegitimizing Israel’s history.

Israeli academics have never boycotted Palestinian professors, even in the worst days of terror. To the contrary: if you’re organizing a conference in Israel, it’s almost obligatory to have a Palestinian professor on the podium. Free exchange is what academic freedom means, and Israeli universities have done an admirable job of upholding it in trying times. In contrast, the academic boycott against Israel is itself a gross violation of academic freedom because it explicitly imposes a political litmus test on Israeli scholars. It’s radical-style McCarthyism.”

—Professor Martin Kramer36


Academic boycotts help the Palestinians.


In 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) passed a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel and demanded that American universities end all collaboration with Israeli institutions. Only 17% of the members voted for the resolution, which was the first time the association called for a boycott of any nation.37

Like most campus-related BDS “victories,” the ASA vote had no impact on Israel and did nothing to help the Palestinians, many of whom benefit from attending Israeli universities and the collaboration between colleges in the West Bank and Israel. Instead, it provoked a torrent of criticism from the academic community and beyond. Within a month, more than 100 universities rejected the idea of boycotting Israel.38 Another 50 institutions denounced the ASA’s decision and the association “lost nearly 20% of its affiliated universities.”39

Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, said, “the recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to academic freedoms and values, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend.”40 Ultimately, roughly 2,000 academic institutions representing tens of thousands of faculty disagreed with the minority within the ASA.41

The backlash did not stop BDS advocates from persuading other professional associations to follow the ASA’s example. While a handful of minor associations called for meaningless boycotts, larger and more prestigious organizations like the American Historical Association and American Anthropological Association rejected similar proposals.

One group with a history of animosity toward Israel unimpressed by the backlash against the ASA is the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which voted to boycott Israel in 2022. Only 27% of the members approved of the decision. Afterward, some members of MESA and the Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF), a group of more than 200 liberal and progressive scholars, condemned the decision saying it “decisively overturns the very guiding principle of academic freedom it previously sought to uphold.”42

Another egregious example of an academic boycott that does nothing for the Palestinians was the University of Michigan professor’s admission that he refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study in Israel because he supports BDS. More than 1,000 professors signed a petition supporting him and saying they would do the same.43 This suggests that many other professors may discriminate against students without acknowledging it.

If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals . . . If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.

—Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh on academic boycotts of Israel44

George Washington University Professor Walter Reich observed, “Boycotting Israeli academic institutions not only trashes the sacrosanct academic principle of the free exchange of ideas; it’s also hypocritical and wrong. Most egregiously, it targets Israel to the exclusion of countries with immeasurably worse human-rights records.”45

Professor Henry Reichman, first vice president of the American Association of University Professors, said the boycott is “at best misguided” and “is the wrong way to register opposition to the policies and practices it seeks to discredit.” He added, “it is itself a serious violation of the very academic freedom its supporters purport to defend.”46

The BDS movement may have thought the ASA action would act as a clarion call for academics to join their boycott campaign; however, it has primarily attracted extremists committed to demonizing Israel. It has also exposed professors whose research and teaching are ideologically driven.


Labeling products manufactured in settlements promotes peace.


The European Union has called for member states to require goods from the West Bank to be labeled separately from products from the rest of Israel.47 The EU mistakenly believed this would pressure Israel to evacuate the West Bank and capitulate to Palestinian demands. This cynical campaign does nothing to advance the cause of peace.

As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute noted, “Labeling goods made by Israeli businesses in disputed territories, but not goods made in other disputed territories like Kashmir, for example, is an example of blatant anti-Semitism.” It is only Israeli Jews who must be given special treatment while other peoples involved in conflicts are ignored.48 Though European leaders claim to oppose efforts to boycott and isolate Israel, the labeling campaign supports it.

Moreover, the tactic is counterproductive because it hardens the views of Israelis who believe they are being persecuted and that criticism of their policies is one-sided.


Talking about Israel’s favorable LBGT policies is pinkwashing.


Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the world in terms of recognizing differences based on sexual orientation. Gay pride parades are held every year, and in 2012 Tel Aviv was named the World’s Best Gay City by participants in an international competition.49 Israeli law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

By contrast, homosexuals are not protected in Arab and Muslim states and are often imprisoned and sometimes executed. In 2016, for example, a top Hamas commander was reportedly killed because he was gay.50 One gay West Bank Palestinian testified before the Knesset in 2022 that his family had tried to kill him after they learned of his sexual orientation.51

In the Palestinian Authority, sodomy carries a three-to-10-year jail term. In 2019, the PA banned Al-Qaws, a Palestinian queer rights group, from operating in the West Bank.

Gay Palestinians have been known to flee to Israel for safety. In one case, a gay Palestinian seeking asylum in Israel told an Israeli court that Palestinian police had arrested, tortured, and beaten him because he was gay, most of his family disowned him, and he was warned never to return home.52

Until 2022, Palestinians who sought refuge were allowed to stay in Israel but could not work legally and had no access to health care or welfare services. Israelis lobbied on their behalf, and the government granted LGBT Palestinians temporary asylum to eliminate these restrictions.53

When supporters of Israel point out these facts, critics sometimes accuse them of “pinkwashing”; that is, ignoring Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians by talking about its good treatment of gays. These issues are entirely separate, however, and no one who discusses gay rights does so to distract from issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The same is true for accusations of “greenwashing,” “purplewashing,” “sportwashing,” and similar smears.

In 2016, the Italian gay rights organization Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti condemned LGBT rights groups that use the term “pinkwashing.” The group said, “The alarming increase in political calls by LGBTI groups to boycott Israel diverts from the real battle these group should hold, i.e., the advocacy for the promotion of LGBTI rights among the Palestinian people.” The organization praised Israel for being the only state in the Middle East that protects LGBTI rights and condemned the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for not recognizing the rights of the LGTBI community.54

Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz has noted that this line of attack is a form of bigotry by people who “hate Israel more than they care about gay rights.” Anti-Semites, he says, believe “there must be something sinister at work if Jews do anything positive. The same is now true for the unthinking anti-Israel bigot.” He notes that Israelis most supportive of gay rights are typically also advocates of Palestinian rights. “Pinkwashing,” he concludes, “is an anti-Semitic canard.”55


Israel has no right to deny entry, detain, or expel BDS activists.


Israel’s legal and political position is consistent with the behavior of other countries, including the United States, which restricts who may cross their borders. For example, applicants for visas to the United States are asked several questions about their political views and activities.56 These include:

  • Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
  • Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the United States, or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?
  • Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?
  • Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?
  • Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in torture?
  • Have you committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence?
  • Have you, while serving as a government official, been responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom?

The USA Patriot Act allows the Secretary of State to bar admission to the United States to “any alien whose entry or proposed activities in the United States the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”

The U.S. government has banned individuals and members of groups convicted of crimes or viewed as potential security threats. The list of people barred or excluded from the United States in the past includes Irish politician Gerry Adams, British singers Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Boy George, Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, and Austrian diplomat Kurt Waldheim.

Israel’s decision to deny entry to the country is based on several criteria:

  1. Individuals with senior positions or significant roles in organizations calling for a boycott of Israel, such as board chairman or board members.
  2. Key activists who take a consistent and continuous role in promoting boycotts within the framework of prominent delegitimization organizations or independently.
  3. Institutional officials, such as mayors, who promote such activities in an active and ongoing way.
  4. People who arrive in Israel as ‘representatives of one of the prominent delegitimizing organizations. For example, an activist who arrives as a participant in a delegation from a prominent delegitimization organization.’”57

The government also allows for exceptions based on whether “the extent of damage by denying entry to an individual is greater than the usefulness of denying entry.”


Anti-boycott legislation violates the First Amendment.


In response to the BDS campaign, bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress to expand the 1977 anti-boycott law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others falsely claimed the legislation violates the First Amendment and will criminalize criticism of Israel. Legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich disputed this view, noting that “the ACLU’s position would make many U.S. sanctions against foreign countries (Iran, Russia, Cuba, etc.) unconstitutional.”58

Congress never approved the legislation, mainly because of First Amendment concerns. Meanwhile, 35 states have adopted laws, executive orders, or resolutions to discourage boycotts against Israel.59 Most are similar to the first one adopted in Tennessee that decreed that state contracts must include “a written certification that the company is not currently engaged in, and will not for the duration of the contract engage in a boycott of Israel.”60

Some of the laws have been challenged by the ACLU. As a result of court decisions, some were modified; however, none have been invalidated. A federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of Arizona’s law in 2022, denying the claim that it infringed on free speech. Judge Jonathan Kobe said the law did not prevent criticism of Israel or the law. “It only prohibits economic decisions that discriminate against Israel. Because those commercial decisions are invisible to observers unless explained, they are not inherently expressive and do not implicate the First Amendment.”61

1 Leon Wieseltier, “Israel, Palestine, and the Return of the Binational Fantasy,” New Republic, (October 24, 2003).

2 Uri Avnery, “The Boycott Revisited,”, (September 6, 2009).

3 Steve Linde, “Cotler’s Call to Action,” Jerusalem Post, (June 2, 2015).

4 Lee Harpin, “Palestine Solidarity Campaign director says IHRA definition ‘drains antisemitism of any meaning,’” The JC, (March 3, 2020).

5 Jihan Abdalla, “Rights groups slam Trump’s anti-Semitism executive order,” Al Jazeera, (December 11, 2019).

6 Alyza Lewin, “The executive order that defines and combats anti-Semitism without stifling speech,” JNS, (December 18, 2019).

7 Ben Judah And Josh Glancy, “The Jewish Jane Austen, or England’s Jeremiah?” Tablet, (February 25, 2015).

8 Ariel Kahana, “EU condemns antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism,” Israel Hayom, (April 27, 2022).

9 Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews, and Israel,” Encounter (December 1969).

10 Alyza Lewin, “The executive order that defines and combats anti-Semitism without stifling speech,” JNS, (December 18, 2019).

11 “President Bollinger Delivers Cardozo Lecture on Academic Freedom,” Columbia News, (March 24, 2005).

12 Karen W. Arenson, “Columbia Chief Tackles Dispute over Professors,” New York Times, (March 24, 2005).

14 Uri Pilichowski, “Is there a difference between accusation against Israel and criticism of Israeli policy?” Jerusalem Post, (August 7, 2022).

15 “Dear Colleague Letter,” Russlyn Ali—Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, (October 26, 2010).

16 Joint Hebrew University/Al-Quds University Statement on Academic Cooperation, (May 22, 2005).

17 NGO Forum, “World Conference against Racism—Durban, South Africa,” NGO Monitor, (August 27–September 1, 2001).

18 “NGO ‘Apartheid State’ Campaign: Deliberately Immoral or Intellectually Lazy,” NGO Monitor, (March 22, 2010).

19 Yoel Goldman, “Abbas: Don’t Boycott Israel,” Times of Israel, (December 13, 2013).

20 “West Bank and Gaza - Country Commercial Guide,” International Trade Administration, (August 9, 2022).

21 Anas Iqtait, “The Palestinian Authority’s economic “disengagement” looks a lot like the status quo,” Middle East Institute, (May 24, 2022).

22 “SodaStream Leaves West Bank as CEO Says Boycott anti-Semitic and Pointless,” The Guardian, (September 2, 2015).

23 “SodaStream’s Negev Plant Rehires Palestinians Laid Off Due To BDS Pressure,” JTA, (May 23, 2017).

24 As’ad AbuKhalil, “A Critique of Norman Finkelstein on BDS,” Al-Akhbar, (February 17, 2012).

25 S. Ilan Troen, “Countering the BDS Colonial Settler Narrative,” Academic Engagement Network, (April 2018).

27 “European Union, Trade in goods with Israel,” European Commission, (February 8, 2022).

28 “UK launches Israel talks to boost trade between services superpowers,” UK Department of International Trade, (July 20, 2022).

29 Carrie Sheffield, “Boycott Israel Movement Stunts the Palestinian Economy,” Forbes, (February 22, 2015).

30 “State Anti-BDS Legislation,” Jewish Virtual Library.

31 Rayhan Uddin, “UK Parliament votes to ban boycott of Israel in public pension funds,” Middle East Eye, (February 23, 2022).

32 David Hirsh, “Omar Barghouti: “Do as I say, not as I do,” Engage, (April 25, 2009).

33 Eric H. Yoffie, “The Idiocy of the Ariel Boycott,” Jerusalem Post, (November 15, 2010).

34 Lawrence Summers, “Address at morning prayers,” Harvard University, (September 17, 2002).

35 Kim Kirschenbaum, “Israel, Gaza Student Groups Clash on Issues of Divestment, Apartheid,” Columbia Spectator, (March 4, 2009).

36 Martin Kramer, “Boycotting Israel at NYU,” Sandbox, (March 31, 2004).

37 Andrew Lapin, “Middle East scholars pass resolution endorsing boycott of Israel,” JTA, (March 23, 2022).

38 William A. Jacobson, “List of Universities Rejecting Academic Boycott of Israel (Update—Over 150),” Legal Insurrection, (December 22, 2013).

39 American Studies Association, “ASA Turpie Award Winners in Opposition to Israeli Boycott Resolution,” ASA, (January 5, 2014); Yair Rosenberg, “American Historical Association Decisively Rejects Anti-Israel Resolution, 111–51,” Tablet, (January 11, 2016).

40 President of Harvard University, “Statement on ASA Resolution,” Harvard University, Office of the President, (December 20, 2013).

41 Thomas Doherty, “The Israel Boycott That Backfired,” Los Angeles Times, (November 5, 2014).

42 Alliance for Academic Freedom, “In Defense Of Academic Freedom And Against The Mesa Resolution,” The Third Narrative, (December 20, 2021).

43 “Stand With John Cheney-Lippold,” [Undated].

44 “Palestinian University President Comes Out against Boycott of Israeli Academics,” AP, (June 18, 2006).

45 Walter Reich, “Reject Boycott of Israel,”, (January 7, 2014).

46 Henry Reichman, “Against Academic Boycotts,” Inside Higher Ed, (December 12, 2013).

47 Steven J Rosen. “The EU's Israel Problem Goes Far Beyond Labels,” The Tower, (January 2016).

48 Jennifer Rubin, “Why It’s Correct to Label the Obama Administration ‘Anti-Israel,’” Washington Post, (January 20, 2016); Danielle Pletka, “The EU Leads Boldly on Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” American Enterprise Institute, (November 12, 2015).

49 “Tel Aviv named world’s best gay city,” Ynet, (November 1, 2012).

50 Stuart Weiner, “Executed Hamas commander may have been accused of gay sex,” Times of Israel, (March 2, 2016).

51 Aaron Boxerman, “Israel to allow LGBT Palestinians granted temporary asylum to work,” Times of Israel, (June 20, 2022).

52 Philip Podoksly, “Gay Palestinian to court: Deport me and I’ll be killed,” Times of Israel, (May 25, 2012).

53 Boxerman.

54 “Italian gay rights group rejects anti-Israel ‘pinkwashing’ accusation,” Times of Israel, (November 22, 2016).

55 Alan Dershowitz, “Berkeley’s student newspaper refuses to publish my response to an anti-Semitic op-ed, so here it is,” Washington Examiner, (November 7, 2017).

56 “Sample DS-160,” U.S. Department of State.

57 Noa Landau, “Israel’s BDS Blacklist, the Fine Print: Who Will Actually Be Denied Entry,” Haaretz, (January 8, 2018).

58 Eugene Kontorovich, “Israel anti-boycott bill does not violate free speech,” Washington Post, (July 27, 2017).

59 “State Anti-BDS Legislation,” Jewish Virtual Library.

60 Sean Savage, “Tennessee General Assembly becomes first state legislature to condemn BDS,” JNS, (April 21, 2015).

61 Sharon Wrobel, “US Federal Appeals Court Upholds Arkansas Law Against Israel Boycotts,” Algemeiner, (June 22, 2022).