Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondIn recent years the question of what can and cannot be defined as antisemitism, especially with regard to Israel, has been hotly debated in connection with the BDS movement. What is this movement, what are its goals and what characterizes its activity? BDS stands for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, and it is a movement that tries to isolate Israel from the international community by encouraging consumer boycotts of Israeli goods or boycotts of Israeli artists; or to try and persuade Western artists not to perform in Israel. Sanctions by governments and divestment by institutions in the West - basically pull our money out of Israel; not do business with Israel.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsAnd it's a model which is based on anti-apartheid campaigns that we used against apartheid South Africa, which really built a global structure of boycott and isolation of South Africa in 1970s and 1980s until the end of apartheid. Now, on the face of it, these tactics are a legitimate way to conduct nonviolent, legal, political campaigns and they have a long tradition in not just left-wing politics of using boycotts, to try and effect change in foreign governments.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsJust because a liberal-minded person who cares about humanitarian issues, worries about the condition of the Palestinians, feels they have a right to statehood, and decides as a result they're gonna buy a Spanish orange instead of an Israeli one in their supermarket, it doesn't make them an antisemite. It doesn't even necessarily mean that they want Israel to disappear. There is a whole range of motivations behind people who follow the BDS movement. So I don't think we can say BDS is antisemitic, but, as with everything in life, things are a little bit more complicated if you look beneath the surface. People often ask me whether BDS is antisemitic and I suppose that depends in what way do they mean it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 secondsIf they're asking me whether everyone who supports the BDS movement is an antisemite I have to say that there's no evidence of that. We do know from various psychological studies that people who strongly oppose Israel are more likely to have negative attitudes towards Jews. On the other hand, the correlation isn't 100%. There are some people - even if it's a minority - who hate Israel but don't have negative attitudes towards individual Jews. But BDS is considered antisemitic for other reasons. To begin with, we do know that some of the leaders of the BDS movement do have strong negative attitudes towards Jews that have come out in various ways through their writings and ListServes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 secondsSo it is clearly the case that some antisemites express their hatred of Jews through the BDS movement. Second, we know that much of the discourse or argumentation and support of BDS borrows from traditional, age-old, anti-Jewish stereotypes and defamations and that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone who uses this language is an antisemite. People sometimes don't understand the historical baggage surrounding the terms that they use. But it does mean that when BDS is advocated, sometimes antisemitism is fostered in that way.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 secondsFinally, whether individuals who support BDS have antisemitism and hatred in their heart or not, they are making common cause with those who do and, in doing so, they are effectively joining what is now the most prominent effort to harm the Jewish state and therefore to harm a significant portion of the Jewish people. Once you start to look at who are the organizations behind this BDS strategy, who are the leaders of the movement, what do they say about Israel, what do they actually want, what you find more often than not is that there is an overarching political vision that doesn't include Israel's existence in the future.

Skip to 4 minutes and 24 secondsBDS movements, BDS campaigns often keep their aims vague and ambiguous, precisely because it can draw in people from a whole range of political backgrounds and views. But the people running the campaigns quite often are from a much more hardline anti-Zionist position that they want Israel to go. Now, there's a second problem as well which is that here in Britain certainly, these campaigners have been trying boycott tactics for nearly fifteen years and they've struggled to turn it into a mass movement. You get an occasional Israeli event or meeting getting disrupted but there's no widespread, popular buy-in to this campaign and economic ties between Britain and Israel improve every year.

Skip to 5 minutes and 8 secondsSo rather than becoming a mass movement that's drawn in a huge consumer boycott, what you get is one of campaigns of really intimidation and bullying focused on particular Israeli owned shops or particular performers and performances or events, where you will get small but focused very angry, sometimes quite aggressive demonstrations. Quite often you get a local Jewish community responding with their own demonstrations. So you get an increase in community tension and you get just a bad atmosphere around those particular campaigns that doesn't have any broader impact. It certainly has no impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it has big impacts in that local area here in Britain, and it affects the Jewish community here, and it affects other communities too.

Skip to 5 minutes and 59 secondsSo that's … and that's where you start you do get antisemitic language being used sometimes. But you certainly get a very negative impact for British Jews. When BDS resolutions are argued among students, the atmosphere typically changes. The AMCHA Initiative has survey research showing that on those campuses where there is a BDS resolution argued, there is a disproportionate number of attacks targeting Jewish students. And that's what we at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) have found anecdotally as well. It's not just about the resolution. It's about changing the environment for Jewish students, so that individual Jews are seen as being somehow complicit in perpetrating supposed human rights violations against non-Jews within the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The BDS movement

Dr. Dave Rich, Prof. Kenneth L. Marcus

What is the BDS movement, what are its goals and what characterizes its activity?


  • Cardaun, Sarah K., Countering Contemporary Antisemitism in Britain (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

  • Cohen, Matthew S. and Chuck D. Freilich, “War by Other Means: The Delegitimisation Campaign Against Israel,” Israel Affairs, vol. 24, no. 1 (2017), pp. 1 - 25.

  • Hirsh, David, “The American Studies Association Boycott Resolution, Academic Freedom, and the Myth of the Institutional Boycott,” in Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, eds., The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Chicago: MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, 2014), pp. 119 - 127.

  • Kaplan, Edward H. and Charles A. Small, “Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 50, no. 2 (2006), pp. 548 - 561.

  • Marcus, L. Kenneth, “Is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement anti-Semitic?” in Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, eds., The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (Chicago: MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, 2014), pp. 243 - 258.

  • Marcus, L. Kenneth, The Definition of Anti-Semitism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  • Rich, Dave, “Campus War 1977: The Year that Jewish Societies Were Banned,” in Eunice G. Pollack, ed., Antisemitism On The Campus: Past & Present (Brighton: Academic Studies Press, 2011), pp. 255 - 276.

  • Staetsky, Daniel, JPR Report September 2017: Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain (London: Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 2017).

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