Israel, US urge EU to take action against boycott movement

Israeli and US officials are warning against the rise of attacks against Jews in western Europe and calling on European union leaders to take action against organizations supporting an international boycott movement of Israel

BRUSSELS -- Israeli and U.S. officials warned Wednesday of a rise in attacks on Jews in western Europe and urged European Union leaders to stop funding organizations that support an international boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, said before meeting with a group of European lawmakers that the EU should make sure its money does not go to groups that support the Palestinian-led boycott movement.

In Brussels, Erdan also released a report cataloguing alleged examples of BDS branches or activists using anti-Semitic content in their campaigns.

He accused movement activists of hiding their true agenda behind liberal values such as protecting human rights and freedom of expression.

The grassroots BDS campaign, founded in 2005, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.

The campaign compares itself to the anti-apartheid movement targeting South Africa in the second half of the 20th century and its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world.

"We have proven beyond a doubt that BDS is an anti-Semitic campaign led by supporters of terror with one purpose: the elimination of the Jewish state," Erdan said.

The report included a large number of examples the ministry of strategic affairs said were gathered from BDS activists' social media, for instance a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding a butcher's axe flanked by Orthodox Jews and confronting Palestinian stone throwers.

BDS leaders deny allegations of anti-Semitism, saying their campaign is against Israeli policies.

"With its alliances with fascist and anti-Semitic forces around the world, Israel's far-right regime is in no position to preach about fighting anti-Jewish bigotry," Omar Barghouti, a BDS founder, said. "Its propaganda claims against the anti-racist BDS movement for Palestinian rights are as credible as Trump's climate protection credentials."

Erdan spoke alongside U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr at a news conference to launch the report, titled "Behind The Mask: The Anti-Semitic Nature of BDS Exposed," that urges world leaders to stop funding groups linked to the movement.

"I am here to express the United States' position that this is anti-Semitism, and we stand unequivocally with the State of Israel in combatting this scourge," Carr said.

Israel called on the EU last year to stop funding more than a dozen European and Palestinian non-governmental organizations, alleging some of the NGOs had links to militant groups.

The European Union opposes the BDS movement and denies funding boycott activities, but has defended the movement's activities as falling under the right to free speech.

Erdan said he hopes the EU's departing foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, will cut ties with BDS-linked organizations before leaving her post. In July, she said the bloc was not funding work related to boycott activities.

In a statement released Wednesday, the EU said it has not changed its position regarding the BDS.

"While it upholds its policy of clearly distinguishing between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied by it since 1967, the EU rejects any attempts to isolate Israel and does not support calls for a boycott," it said.

According to numbers compiled by Tel Aviv University, anti-Semitic attacks worldwide rose 13% from 2017 to in 2018. The United States, France, Britain and Germany had the most attacks.

In a survey last year for the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, nearly 85 percent of the Jewish respondents said they considered hate crimes to be a serious problem.

Carr said anti-Semitism has become a major enough issue in Europe that many Jews are thinking about emigrating.

"These numbers should be disturbing to absolutely everybody," Carr said. "Not just to Jews. This isn't Right or Left, it's not Jews or non-Jews. Nobody, no normal person should think this is acceptable."


Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this story.