Pugnacious former New Zealand prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon proudly defined himself as a “counterpuncher”.
In Sir Robert’s official biography, author Barry Gustafson expands on the term by writing, “He developed a deserved reputation as a counterpuncher who saw attack as the best means of defence, and who believed that he should always retaliate if anyone attacked him.”
Described that way, the pugilistic moniker must surely be bestowed with justice upon Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he wages an official worldwide campaign against the civilian protest movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
On its website, BDS sums itself up succinctly: “In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
“A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call.”
BDS is increasingly successful in causing Israel to be internationally shunned and ostracised at multiple levels for occupation of Palestinian lands and the way its treats the Arab population living thereon.
This year has seen marked intensification of the conflict between the protest actions of BDS and the counterpunching efforts of Israel under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership.
In Israel’s general election of March, 2015, Mr Netanyahu made hostile remarks about Israeli Arab voters that could be construed as racist and revealed that for so long as he was Israel’s prime minister, there would be no Palestinian state.
In the run up to the election, Mr Netanyahu told his audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference held in Washington D.C. that, “One movement that’s definitely on the wrong side of the moral divide is the movement to boycott Israel, the so-called BDS … Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.”
Mr Netanyahu’s electioneering position involving apparent hate speech only strengthened that of BDS in relation to those who sympathise with the Palestinian national cause.
At the beginning of June Mr Netanyahu went on to demand the opening of a “wide front” against BDS, which Israeli newspaper Haaretz analysed as, “From a nuisance, perhaps even a danger, they [BDS activists] have been elevated the status of existential threat, on a par, almost, with Iran and Hezbollah.”
Mr Netanyahu has sent government agents abroad to lobby for aggressive anti-BDS actions led by Jewish communities outside of Israel, particularly at universities.
Britain and America have been targeted particularly for this treatment, although it’s not always had the desired effect.
At the same time as Mr Netanyahu launched his wide front campaign, the British National Union of Students voted to affiliate with BDS.
In response, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon undertook counterpunching in stating, “Instead of voicing hatred toward Israel it would be better for British students to study a little history and understand that the distance is not that great between verbal hatred and stereotypes and horrible crimes.”
Israel’s government is evidently deeply disturbed by BDS if it stoops to smearing the movement’s membership with implications that it’s made up of anti-Semitic mass murderers in waiting who need to be nipped in the bud, all the better to legitimise attack as the best form of defence.
The BDS problem has intensified for Israel since the Palestinian Authority was accepted into the International Criminal Court on April 1 and lodged formal complaints about alleged Israeli war crimes on June 25.
Compounding the matter, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion on June 19 that Israel’s wall building project in occupied Palestinian territories is illegal under international law.
It’s not so much BDS and its sympathisers who seem to be on the wrong side of the moral divide, but an expansionist Israel bent on occupying and exploiting Palestinian lands.
Issues are raised for New Zealand as Israel fights its global anti-BDS war.
At a foreign policy level, there needs to be clarity around where New Zealand stands with respect to the existence and borders of a Palestinian state.
New Zealanders affiliated with or sympathetic to BDS must have their rights to freedom of speech and association, and protection from hate speech, defended just as much as the rights of the local advocates of Israel’s position.
Our country’s security agencies must be alert to possibilities that Israeli agents are operating inside New Zealand in the assault on BDS in ways that may violate our laws.
Israel may undertake unilateral actions in service of what it perceives to be its overriding national interest that entail crimes committed in New Zealand such as spying, harassment, identity theft, cybercrimes and worse.
Our government must maintain due vigilance over implications of Israel’s global counterpunching of BDS.
On the web: http://www.bdsmovement.net/
Michael Coote is a freelance writer and financial journalist based in Auckland.