Hate Campaigns During the Time of Corona:
The Grand Pivot of the Pro-Israel Network

By Eran Shayshon

With classical anti-Semitism on the rise, the current crisis allows the pro-Israel network to turn the table on the BDS movement. Israel’s partial annexation of the West Bank could thwart this opportunity.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to change the map of threats and challenges facing the Jewish People, requiring Jewish communal organizations to reassess its tools and capabilities. It may also create some opportunities.

As in previous historical pandemics, corona is being used as yet another opportunity for anti-Semites to promote their agenda with the spread of conspiracy theories regarding the involvement of Jews in the virus. The high rates of infection among ultra-Orthodox communities has brought about a particular wave of hatred and prejudice against this group. Anti-Semitism in its current form is often violent and threatens the personal security of Jews worldwide. At the same time, it is still largely acknowledged and condemned within western political and social discourse.

Meanwhile, current geostrategic global shifts emanating from the coronvirus provide an opportunity to reframe the rules of the game in the struggle against anti-ZIonist groups and the BDS movement. On the eve of the coronavirus, BDS campaigns were gaining steady momentum, marked by a number of unprecedented successes. But social distancing has halted this wave; moving the hate campaign online has not produced the same impact, and the mainstream media is distracted by other matters. The logic of the boycott campaign is to negatively brand Israel. As such, a failed attempt to boycott Israel that receives mainstream media exposure is better for anti-Israel groups than a successful effort that doesn’t receive exposure.

Geostrategic shifts may provide the opportunity to turn the table on the BDS movement for the long term. It is difficult to assess the makeup of globalization following the pandemic, but there is potential that the universal norms and individualistic worldviews championed under globalization will be challenged by a rise in national, local and communal focus. We are seeing this now in Europe, wheres the anti-Zionist’s current delegitimization campaign was born and largely shaped. Europe’s rejuvenated inward focus, largely due to corona’s harsh impact on the region, will challenge the boycott movement’s European foothold. In other words, the ability of anti-ZIonist European groups to garner support from European liberals based on an imagined global solidarity would be compromised in such a reality. The US is also likely to increasingly focus inward, strengthening the ‘America First’ mentality, which will decrease available interest for a global campaign against Israel.

Corona is likely to bring a new world order in regards to how society, economy and politics function. All these developments create excellent conditions for pro-Israel network to change the rules of the game and reconstruct the discourse on Israel. Among others, this crisis creates an opportunity to reframe the way Israel is perceived by many western intellectuals through an intellectual effort. The pro-Israel network could be further strengthened through its championing of joint Tikkun Olam projects during a time where there are a significantly increased need for humanitarian aid.

However, this opportunity will be potentially squashed if Israel chooses to partially annex the West Bank. In the scenario where such a move is seen and framed as an aggressive ‘land grab’ resulting in a wave of violence, such an act could generate a new wave of delegitimization and further polarize the Jewish community. The pro-Israel network may be further divided by an inability to distinguish between legitimate criticism of the move and actions which undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Moreover, many in the community have lost interest in combatting the BDS movement, perceiving concern around its impact to be propagated by Israel’s government in order to avoid criticism. This approach is likely to grow in the case of annexation. Without a united Jewish front against delegitimization campaigns, the opportunity to crush the BDS movement will be lost.

Eran Shayshon is the Executive Director of the Reut Group.

The Reut Group together with ‘Concert Together for Israel’ will be hosting towards the end of May 2020 a collective learning session with selected organizations from the pro-Israel community, to discuss the potential impact of corona on anti-Semitism and the delegitimization campaign, and on the required adaptation of the pro-Israel community.