In Defense of BDS

A letter to the European Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism about her recent conflation of the BDS movement and antisemitism.

EU and Palestinian flags hang together during a joint press conference in 2012. (Al Araby)

Dear Ms. von Schnurbein,

We wish to record our dismay at the smear campaign directed against Ana Gomes MEP following the event she held in the European Parliament on the 28th of February entitled “The Israeli settlements in Palestine and the European Union”.

It took great courage to invite the co-founder of the BDS Campaign, Omar Barghouti, especially since the European Parliament passed a resolution in May 2017 adopting guidelines which equate criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism.

Ana Gomes stood firm through these attacks, even as pro-Israel groups – the Brussels representation of the American Jewish Committee and the European Jewish Congress, to name but a few – used pressure tactics to corner her into cancelling the event. Their goal was clear: hindering at all costs a public appearance by Omar Barghouti which would have undermined the false accusations of anti-semitism they have levelled at the BDS campaign for years.

Not only has Ana Gomes not given in, but she used this situation to highlight their methods and deeds. She was right to call them “vile”, as well as to denounce their lies and intimidation tactics. It is unacceptable that pressure groups of any kind attempt to prevent the holding of a symposium on the colonization of Palestine and the complicity of the European Union. Democracy and freedom of expression are at stake.

The fact that you, the European coordinator on combating anti-semitism, relayed these defamations – above all, accusations of anti-semitism – is a disgrace, and we want to state this loud and clear as Jewish organizations. Equating criticism of Israel’s racist and colonial policies with anti-semitism is deceitful and dangerous. Deceitful, because criticism of a state cannot be interpreted as a form of racism. Dangerous, because it makes the denunciation of Israel’s numerous violations of human rights impossible, therefore silencing the legitimate struggle of the Palestinians for justice and dignity. Dangerous as well for non-Israeli Jews (the vast majority of the Jewish population worldwide) who are involuntarily more and more associated with Israel, and thus alienated from their own countries. It is also improper, since you broke the core principles of objectivity and impartiality which are to be respected by EU civil servants.

We urge you to pay close attention to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini when she says that “the EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association (…) which is applicable on EU Member States’ territory, including with regard to BDS actions carried out on this territory.”


French Jewish Union for Peace (Union Juive Française pour la Paix), France, member of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP)

Union of Progressive Jews of Belgium (Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique), Belgium, member of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP)

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Near East (Jüdische Stimme für einen gerechten Frieden in Nahost), Germany, member of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP)

Jewish Network Against the Occupation (Rete Ebrei contro l’Occupazione), Italy, member of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP)

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace between Israel and Palestine (Jüdische Stimme für einen gerechten Frieden zwischen Israel und Palästina), Switzerland, member of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP)