JVL Introduction

A new heavy-duty Israeli government offensive is underway to undermine BDS activity in Europe .

A forthcoming conference in Brussels is to push for all European political parties to sign up to “red lines” that declare boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) tactics to be “fundamentally antisemitic”.

Arthur Neslen reports


Convention backed by Israeli government to propose red lines for prospective MEPs

A conference in Brussels backed by the Israeli government is to push for all European political parties to sign up to “red lines” that declare boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) tactics to be “fundamentally antisemitic”.

The two-day convention, attended by Israel’s minister of Jerusalem affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, will propose a text for prospective MEPs and political parties to sign up to before European elections in May next year.

The text urges EU member states to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition of antisemitism” and exclude from government any politicians or parties that breach it.

Most controversially, one of the red lines – based on a resolution adopted by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Germany in 2016 – calls on “all political parties to pass a binding resolution rejecting BDS activities as fundamentally antisemitic”.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the founder of the European Jewish Association, an umbrella group of organisations that is co-organising the conference with the Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) group, said: “These ‘red lines’ when passed will represent not our line in the sand but our line in the concrete, and serve as a wake-up call to politicians that the very future of Jewish Europe is on the line here.

The EJA says in its promotional material for the 6-7 November conference that invitations are being co-ordinated with Israel’s ministries for Jerusalem affairs and foreign affairs, the logos of both of which are displayed.

Neither ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

The Israeli government has changed tack in recent years, from ignoring the BDS movement against Israel in the years after it was founded in 2005, to launching an international campaign against it, arguing the campaign aims to delegitimise the Jewish state. Israel passed a law barring the entry of foreigners who publicly support a boycott of Israel, and has set up groups in other countries to counter BDS activities and arguments.

Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, which has reportedly set aside a $72m (£56m) budget to counter the global BDS movement, says it is not involved in the conference. However, its civil servants and others from Israel’s foreign ministry have been in regular contact with at least one figure involved in organising the event, the Guardian understands.

Last year, the strategic affairs minister, Gilad Erdan, visited EIPA to give advocacy and briefing sessions that partly dealt with “countering the BDS narrative”, according to the group’s website. “As an official stance, the ministry does view BDS as antisemitic for its double standards and demonisation of Israel,” said a source close to Erdan’s office.

Margrete Auken, the vice-chair of the European parliament’s delegation for relations with Palestine, said she did not support BDS. Nonetheless, “I reject the unceasing attempts to amalgamate this Palestinian-led movement with antisemitism”, she said.

“There is an evident wish to silence BDS advocates in order to protect the illegal policies of annexation and dispossession of the Netanyahu government. Criminalising and repressing the legitimate expression of free speech cannot be accepted in our societies.”

Issues around the conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism divided the UK Labour party over the summer. One conference organiser said the red lines “could make it difficult for the Labour party’s fellow travellers in the European elections who hold up Jeremy Corbyn as somehow the saviour of social democracy”.

He added: “We need to lay down these lines and get people to sign up to them before these elections, so we can hold them to account afterwards.”

In another sign that a renewed battle over the issue may be brewing, the Israeli ambassador to the EU, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, accused the vice-chair of the Socialist group in the European parliament, Elena Valenciano, of having “an odd obsession with the Jewish state”, after she criticised Israeli policies.

“I’m alarmed by the growing number of antisemitic incidents in Europe recently,” Yaar said, citing reports of Iranian spying on Jewish centres. “Your silence on these matters is deafening. You are adopting a narrative that has only one aim – to smear the democratic state of the Jewish people.”

Claims by Erdan’s ministry that the EU was funding NGOs that backed BDS and terror backfired this year, when the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, described the charge as “disinformation”.