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Do not equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism

Dozens of diverse voices from Belgium have come together to reject the inappropriate and misleading claim that BDS is antisemitic
An Israeli flag in front of the Old City of Jerusalem in 2017 (AFP)

On 25 September, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs presented a report to the European parliament that equated the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement with antisemitism. It urged European governments to end any kind of cooperation with organisations that support BDS. 

This is not the first time the Israeli government has played such a role. In recent years, the ministry has repeatedly attempted to discredit Palestinian, Israeli and European civil society groups.

The former EU high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, has described such allegations as “unfounded and unacceptable” attacks that feed into “disinformation campaigns”.  

Undermining the fight 

The positions of the signatories to this letter are diverse. Some support BDS, while others reject it for various reasons. But we are unanimous in rejecting the false, inappropriate and misleading claim that BDS equals antisemitism. 

Regardless of where one might stand on BDS, it should be clear that this is a legitimate and peaceful form of protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and supporting BDS is protected by freedom of expression. This is something that has been confirmed by Mogherini and by three UN special rapporteurs. 

The equation of legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism is undermining the fight against real antisemitism

As engaged citizens, scientific researchers and experts in the fight against antisemitism - Jewish and non-Jewish alike - we reject unequivocally the findings, tactics and recommendations of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. 

Antisemitism and other forms of racism are an urgent danger and should be actively fought. But the recommendations of the ministry and its network of closely affiliated groups, such as NGO Monitor, are helping nobody in this important fight. To the contrary, the equation of legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism is undermining the fight against real antisemitism. 

Rapidly shrinking space

The attempts to defame the BDS movement and criticism of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories as antisemitic are also politically motivated.

The outgoing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has labelled any opposition to Israeli occupation and annexation policies as “antisemitism”. The space for local civil society organisations to operate is rapidly shrinking as this pressure mounts. 

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The Israeli government does not distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories, labelling every form of boycott - or even mere attempts to differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories - as antisemitism. 

For all these reasons, we call upon the Belgian government and parliament to make explicitly clear that BDS is a legitimate and peaceful form of criticism of Israeli policy, and should not be equated with antisemitism. 

We also urge Belgian decision-makers to ensure continued financial and political support to Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations - including those that support BDS - that peacefully resist the Israeli occupation and document violations of international law.

Such groups are our allies in the fight against the occupation and annexation of Palestinian territory. Now more than ever, they deserve our full support, instead of unfounded allegations of antisemitism.

List of signatories:

  • Ludo Abicht, University of Antwerp 
  • Anya Topolski, Another Jewish Voice 
  • Itamar Shachar, Another Jewish Voice 
  • Lior Volinz, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 
  • Serge Gutwirth, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 
  • Brigitte Herremans, Ghent University
  • Eva Brems, Ghent University
  • Jean-Jacques Amy, emeritus professor, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 
  • Karin Verelst, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 
  • Madeline Lutjeharms, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 
  • Marc De Meyere, emeritus professor, Ghent University 
  • Herman De Ley, Ghent University 
  • Tom Sauer, University of Antwerp
  • Dirk De Bievre, University of Antwerp 
  • Henri Goldman, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Michel Staszewski, Movement against Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia
  • Anne Grauwels, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium
  • Heinz Hurvitz, Institute for Judaism Studies (Martin Buber, Free University of Brussels) 
  • Henri Wajnblum, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Therese Liebmann, committed Jewish citizen 
  • Irene Kaufer, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium
  • Julie Ringelheim, Catholic University of Louvain 
  • Jacques Aron, essayist 
  • Nicole Gere, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Sabine Ringelheim, journalist 
  • Alain Lapiower, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Jacques Bude, emeritus professor, Free University of Brussels, lost both parents in Auschwitz 
  • Maroussia Toungouz Nevessingnsky, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Adele Moulard, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium - youth
  • Alice Desmedt, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Adeline Liebman, psychotherapist 
  • Adrien Mora, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium - youth
  • Jacques Ravedovitz, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Tessa Parzenczewski, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Alban de Kerchove, Scientific Research Fund
  • Eric David, emeritus professor, Free University of Brussels 
  • Amelie Caillon, Belgian-Palestinian Association
  • Victor Ginsburgh, ere-professor, Free University of Brussels 
  • Mateo Alaluf, ere-professor, Free University of Brussels 
  • Andre Lacroix, Syndicat de l’enseignement libre (SEL-Setca-FGBB) 
  • Perrine Humblet, Free University of Brussels 
  • Anne Staquet, University of Mons
  • Marc Abramowicz, psychologist 
  • Antonin Moriau, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Vincent Engel, Catholic University of Louvain
  • Aude Corbeel, student 
  • Ava Silovy, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Claudine Van O, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Daniel Apelbaum, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Suzanne Mousset, National Fund for Scientific Research
  • Rebecca Nabulsi, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium  - youth
  • Daniel Dekkers, retired engineer 
  • Deborah Rouach, actor
  • Didier de Neck, actor
  • Elie Vamos, committed Jewish-secular citizen
  • Sharon Geczynski, sociologist 
  • Elsa Schiffmann, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Esther Vamos, Free University of Brussels 
  • Serge Deruette, University of Mons 
  • Fanny Filosof, committed Jewish citizen 
  • Florian Gillard, student Free University of Brussels 
  • Georges Bauherz, Free University of Brussels 
  • Hans Rosenblatt, alias Henri Roanne, former journalist, child in hiding in 1942-44 
  • Jacques Koplowicz, retired professor 
  • Jacques Schiffmann, Free University of Brussels 
  • Jean Vogel, Marcel Liebman Institute
  • Jerome Peraya, Agir Pour la Paix
  • Jose Gotovitch, Free University of Brussels
  • Julien Staszewski, committed citizen 
  • Ketura le Roij, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Lara Szyper, psychotherapist 
  • Laurent Vogel, Free University of Brussels 
  • Leopold Darcheville, journalist
  • Lila Bel Mamoune, student, Free University of Brussels 
  • Mady Wajnblum, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Marc Jacquemain, University of Liege
  • Mathieu Staszewski, committed citizen
  • Maysan Qasem, student, Free University of Brussels 
  • Miguel Schelck, student, Free University of Brussels
  • Nassera Bousbaine, committed citizen 
  • Nicole Mayer, Movement against Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia
  • Pablo Van den Bulcke, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Patricia Geller, psychoanalyst 
  • Patrick Italiano, University of Liege
  • Paul Tellier, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Hugo Corten, committed citizen 
  • Pierre Marage, emeritus professor, Free University of Brussels
  • Sabine Kahn, Free University of Brussels
  • Sacha Schiffman, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Simon Chabrillat, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Stephanie Koplowicz, member of Brussels parliament
  • Valentine Joukovsky, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Valerie Alaluf, committed citizen
  • Willy Estersohn, former journalist 
  • Youri Mora, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium 
  • Zoe Georgoutsos, Union of Jewish Progressives of Belgium

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.