Los Angeles Conference Confronts BDS Financing and Tactics

03/14/2015 08:29 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2015

The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement is said to have ignited in earnest in 2005. It was propelled by significant funding from the Ford Foundation, which poured millions of dollars into anti-Israel NGOs working in Durban, and later by the New Israel Fund (NIF), which financially backed such pro-boycott groups as the Coalition for Women for Peace.

Experts say the BDS modus operendi wields systematic distortion of international law, history, and general fact about the Israel-Palestinian conflict to rally public support. While BDS advocates claim to seek political and economic justice, their actions are increasingly trailed by anti-Jewish actions such as swastika graffiti at Jewish locations, challenges to Jewish student based on their religion, and a general air of anti-Semitic hostility on campus. Today, the BDS Movement stands merely as the leading edge of growing anti-Semitic agitation and anti-Israel mobilization, attracting pure hate elements to their message.

BDS employs such guerrilla tactics as street actions, student harassment, campus disruption, physical assaults, and duplicitous coalition building in moves eerily resembling a Brownshirt playbook. Disarmed and dismayed by the swelling assault, fragmented attempts by Israeli and American Jewish leadership to counter the movement, mainly by assembling bone-dry fact sheets and lifeless statistical arguments, have proven ineffectual.

Now, a number of Jewish organizations are pooling resources and comparing notes to more cohesively combat BDS. To this end, several hundred individuals will gather March 21-23, 2015 in a Los Angeles hotel at the International anti-BDS Conference convened by the leading pro-Israel group, StandWithUs. The diverse list of speakers include famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, Bassem Eid of the pro-co-existence Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, Lana Melman of the Creative Community For Peace, Richard L. Cravatts of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, as well as this writer, bringing insights into financial investigations of BDS groups funded by tax-exempt charities.

Sporadic outbreaks of anti-Jewish boycotts arising from simple animus can be traced back to medieval times. Boycott, as an identified and organized financial weapon, only appeared on the world stage in 1880, when Irish farm tenants from County Mayo came together to economically isolate their oppressive landlord, Charles Boycott. The anti-Boycott movement became an international cause célèbre, covered extensively by such media giants as The New York Times and The Times of London, both which acknowledged that the successful campaign against landlord Charles Boycott had spawned a new noun and a verb.

In the last years of the 19th Century, economic pressure tactics were broadly employed by anti-Semite groups across Europe, many now actually using the term boycott. Ottoman Empire administrative restrictions against Jews in Palestine escalated into tough new laws in 1892, several years before the advent of Theodor Herzl and modern Zionism. After WWI, when international law and the 1922 Mandate designated Palestine for Jewish and Arab self-determination, an expanding Jewish presence in Palestine generated a vibrant Zionist economy. A prospering Jewish community in Palestine roiled Arab leaders led by the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini. From the moment the Mandate began in 1922, the Mufti's ad hoc boycott became more entrenched throughout British Palestine.

On April 1, 1933, when the Hitler regime formalized its pre-existing boycott Jewish-owned stores as German national policy, the Mufti and his followers saluted and then adopted the Nazi tactic of anti-Jewish boycott, both in name and spirit. Indeed, Hitler became a hero to the Arab community in Palestine and the wider Arab world. After Mohammad, "Hitler" and "Adolf" became the second most popular baby names. Ultimately, in the 1940s, the Mufti joined forces with Hitler, creating three Nazi-flagged divisions of Waffen SS to fight in central Europe. During WWII, the anti-Jewish boycott was coordinated throughout the Islamic world, from India to Iraq, through the Mufti's "Arab Higher Committee."

After 1948, when Israel became an independent nation, the Arab Higher Committee and the Mufti transferred their anti-Jewish and anti-Israel boycott to the Arab League's Central Boycott Office, headquartered in Damascus. This so-called "Arab Boycott" continued its global reach, even requiring American companies wishing to do business in the Mideast and North Africa to certify compliance.

But by 2002, as the world economy flourished and American legislation checked the Arab Boycott, the movement began to recede. By 2005 and thereafter, thanks to charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation and then the New Israel Fund fortifying groups such as the Coalition of Women for Peace and many others, the anti-Israel movement began to reconstitute under the banner of "political correctness" and "human rights," fed by a continuously stoked furnace of false narratives and reinvented history, bolstered by highly edited and garbled international law.

Today's BDS movement, which encompasses campuses, academic groups, and some unionists, flexes the unbroken connective tissue tied to the original anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist political organization of Hitler and the Mufti.

Many of the attendees at the forthcoming StandWithUs International anti-BDS Conference are starting to connect the dots of this lineage of hate. The Jewish community has been slow to react, uncommonly fragmented and disorganized. By coming together, Jewish and Israeli strategists hope to finally get the community on the same page. That page has been ripped from the history books and reprinted as a modern, false narrative; but the text is the same today as it was in the last century.

Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and his latest book, Financing the Flames.