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By Ari Ingel & Karys R. Oschin

On social media, Emiratis, Bahrainis and Israelis are reaching out to one another in celebration of the historic Abraham Accord, which has normalized informal relations between Israel and the two countries. State leaders, cultural figures, and private citizens are already extending invitations to visit each other and discussing possible ways to collaborate. The overwhelming majority of countries in the world have welcomed this breakthrough, which offers optimistic hope for peace and prosperity in the region.

Predictably, the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate Israel economically, culturally, and geopolitically, is singing a different tune.

The movement’s core principle of “anti-normalization” works to restrict any interaction between Israelis and Arabs, and considers any form of cooperation treasonous.  “Strongly condemning” the Abraham Accord, the BDS movement is now calling for a full boycott of UAE sponsored activities, festivals, and projects.

The official BDS movement website defines normalization as “the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation.”

The BDS charter explicitly rejects “co-existence” between Arabs and Israeli Jews and instead preaches  “co-resistance,” an ideology that even excludes “cooperating with the leftist Zionists who take part in demonstrations or call themselves peace activists.” “Dialogue,” “healing,” and “reconciliation” are all considered forms of normalization, and thus censured by the BDS movement.

Consequently, Arabs and Israelis who choose to enjoy a cup of coffee together, or attend a sporting event or a concert, are fair game to be targeted and publicly shamed by BDS proponents. They harass, bully, intimidate, silence, and violently threaten ordinary citizens and public figures who dare interact with Israeli Jews.

Sadly, the greatest victims of anti-normalization are Palestinians themselves, who are prevented from exercising free speech, artistic freedom, and earning a livelihood.

The movement’s current target is the hugely popular Palestinian Arab-Israeli video blogger, Nuseir Yassin, who runs the social media site Nas Daily.

Yassin recently launched “The Next Nas Daily“, an initiative to mentor 80 Arabs in filmmaking, including providing full educational and financial support to all programs participants. A promotional video for the program states that its purpose is to cultivate Arab content creators and give more young Arabs a public voice.

Instead of supporting such a fantastic initiative, the BDS movement has called for a boycott of Nas Daily because Yassin is “steeped in normalization,” the program promotes coexistence, includes an Israeli-Jew as one of the program’s teachers, and is partially funded by the Emirati “New Media” academy.

Unfortunately, this episode is not unique.

This past month, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy posted a video of himself rapping, which went viral on social media. In a subsequent interview, the boy declared that he “would like to spread love between us [Palestinians] and Israel.”

The child’s innocent aspirations towards peace engendered severe criticism. He was subjected to a vicious bullying campaign from BDS activists, amongst others, who denounced him for promoting “normalization” with Israel. The interview was taken down under pressure, and the boy’s father disavowed his son’s comments.

Last April, BDS activist and former Amnesty International researcher, Hind Khoundary, alerted Hamas officials in Gaza to a Zoom meeting between Palestinian peace activist Rami Aman and Israeli peace activists. The Zoom event was designed for the two sides to share experiences of living through a pandemic. Mr. Aman was arrested shortly thereafter and has not been heard from since.

Ms. Khoundary justified her actions based on her opposition to normalization: “No form of joint activity, cooperation, or dialogue with Israelis is acceptable, even engaging with Israeli ‘Peace Activists,” she wrote on Twitter.

Ironically, the BDS movement is engaged in the very type of oppressive measures that they accuse Israelis of, fundamentally opposed to pluralism and the free exchange of ideas.

When two prominent Palestinian software companies were invited to Bir Zeit University near Ramallah to help secure jobs for Palestinian students, they were forced off campus amidst BDS rioters chanting “normalization is treason.” The reason? These software firms had previously worked with Israeli tech companies.

Similarly, Palestinian teenage girls who attended a co-existence summer camp with Israeli girls in the U.S. were victims of verbal abuse from the BDS community. Vilified as “traitors” and “prostitutes,” many Palestinians left the camp out of fear. The BDS movement also demanded that the European Union cancel a co-existence event in Belgium with young Israelis and Palestinians, prompting many participants to withdraw.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which serves as the boycott movement’s leading cultural arm, targets artists and athletes who intend to visit or play in Israel. Over the years, several artists, including Lauryn Hill and Lana Del Rey, have attempted to perform in venues in both Israel and the West Bank and have been rebuffed by Palestinian venues due to pressure from BDS anti-normalization activists. When recording artist Aurora recently announced her intention of performing in the West Bank after two sold-out shows in Israel, PACBI explicitly rejected this possibility on Twitter, arguing that any performance in Israel normalizes it as a legitimate country.

Last year, when Jordanian singer Aziz Marka performed in the Israeli Arab town of Kafr Yasif to nearly 5,000 fans, he was the victim of a demonization campaign by BDS proponents, who ignored the outpouring of support and gratitude from his fans, most of whom were Arab.

“BDS people,” said Marka at that time, “have an interest in keeping me – and us, the artists – paralyzed and intimidated…I’m not willing to be dictated to about what to believe and who to talk against.”

Instead of sowing the seeds of division, those interested in securing  peace between Israel and the Palestinians would do well to support coexistence organizations, such as those who use the arts and culture to bring the two sides together, including the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Polyphony Foundation, and the Jerusalem Youth Chorus.

As more and more Arab states abandon their decades long policy of anti-normalization with Israel, the Bahrain and Emirati normalization deals are laying bare what many of us who have monitored the BDS movement have always known: their goal is the elimination of the State of Israel, not coexistence between the region’s Jews and Arabs.

Those seeking a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would best be served by casting BDS from the mainstream into the radical fringe where it belongs, and instead support coexistence organizations, such Creative Community For Peace (and others such as West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Polyphony Foundation, and the Jerusalem Youth Chorus)  who are dedicated to promoting the arts as a bridge to peace.

Perhaps now the world will finally see the leaders of the BDS movement for what they are: extremist idealogues who have always been anti-peace.

You can also read this article here on JPost.