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by Emily Newman

Oftentimes I receive the following question:  “What is BDS?”

I always tend to respond the same way – it is the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that was originally started many years ago with the mission to bring down the State of Israel as we know it.  I say that it is commonly found on today’s college campuses, and often crosses the line into anti-Semitism by targeting Jewish students.  It can take the form of anti-Israel groups on campus that voice illegitimate, manipulated, and false complaints and accusations towards the state of Israel.  BDS can appear as protestors, Holocaust denial, boycott events, anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel professors, and more.  Yet what BDS does is much more important than what it looks like – it creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for Jewish students and their allies, it encourages universities to impose academic boycotts towards an entire nation, and it distributes a false narrative about what is actually happening between Israelis, Jews, and Palestinians.  Although those who support BDS claim to be advocates for peace, they are not – for there is nothing peaceful about encouraging such political, societal, and economic actions, and there is certainly nothing peaceful about targeting innocent Jewish students.

However, BDS is not only something that  our Jewish youth face on college campuses- and this is something that I, as I have gotten older and have progressed through two college degrees and have found myself in varying work environments, have learned the hard way.  BDS does not go away when you turn off the national news of the day or when a student finally leaves their college campus for the next chapter of their life.

BDS can be experienced anywhere, and this is often lost in the discussions and debates regarding it.  It is not something that is only experienced on campus.  It can follow Jewish students, children, and adults throughout their lives – in the work place, in their social circles, and apparently even on the roads.

For just mere moments before I came into work in part to write this very article, I experienced what I would consider BDS, anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and even sexism, all in one.  All within the 5 minute drive from my apartment to the Omaha Jewish Community Center.

I was stopped for a red light on 132nd and Pacific when a woman rolled down the window of her black Prius, flipped me off, and screamed… before she frantically turned and drove away…

“Zionist Slut!”

At first, I laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement.  I knew they were reacting to the bumper sticker stating my support of Israel on the back of my truck.  But then came the anger.

How dare they?

First of all – how dare they feel that they have the power and the right to treat me in such a way?  (I feel the need here to insert that I assume the driver to be a “staunch” advocate for human rights… isn’t it ironic that they feel the entitlement to treat another person in such a way?)

Having driven behind the back of my truck, they will have known very little about me.  They will see a sticker of the American flag – so I must be a proud American.  They will have seen my Nebraska license plate that reads “NT H1S” (meaning “not his”…) – so they must know that this awesome truck belongs to a (awesome…) Nebraska girl.  And thirdly, they will see the bumper sticker with the Israeli flag on it, with the words “I stand with Israel” on it – so they know that I support Israel.

She does not know me – she does not know my story – she does not even know my religion for sure.  She does not know my political affiliation, she does now know my level of education, she does not even know that it is my own truck that I am driving.  She does not know where I have been, what I have seen, what I have learned.  She only knows those three things about the mysterious driver of the random truck she encountered driving down 132nd street.

And yet, she still felt the arrogance and the elated confidence that she knew exactly what vile creature must be behind the wheel of that random truck, to pull up alongside it, role down her window, and use such vile words – the words of “Zionist Slut.”

How dare she?

Yet that is what BDS is, is it not?

Unwillingness to learn more about the people they are screaming at, unwillingness to perceive that maybe there is another side to the highly complicated issue they seem to think that they are experts in.  Unwillingness to actually learn about the multi-faceted issue and to have a fair discussion and debate – unwillingness to see those who support Israel as something other than “baby killers” (a statement that I have heard directed at those within the Omaha Jewish Community on other occasions.)

Because that is what BDS is – it is not open discussion.  It is not education.  It is not even for the true empowerment of Palestinians – for if it were, would BDS supporters desire conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, conflict that always causes way more casualties for Palestinians due to their own leaderships lack of value in their own people’s lives?

BDS is someone rolling down the window of their car, screaming at a random person that they know very little about, and driving away as quickly as possible.

BDS is someone who, instead of desiring a true political debate, desires to inflict emotional pain and manipulation to incite fear into those who do not see the world in the same way that they do.

BDS should be renamed – it is not only about boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning – it is about no freedom of discussion, no freedom of opinion, not even the freedom to retaliate with information either because the driver of a car runs away like a coward or because the screams of those who follow blindly drown out any voices who might wish to actually have a discussion.

BDS is not about supporting Palestinians.

It’s about bringing down Israel.

It’s about constricting true academic debate, true intellectual discussion over the legitimate concerns that are appropriate to debate regarding the legitimate state of Israel.

BDS is all about oppression, BDS is all about hatred.

And, in all honesty, let’s just throw in good old anti-Semitism while we are at it.


Emily Newman is one of two interns currently working at the Jewish Press. The Jewish Press Summer Internship is made possible through the generous support of the Murray H. and Sharee C. Newman Supporting Foundation