THE pro-Palestinian BDS movement against Israel was established in 2005. Based avowedly on the campaign against apartheid South Africa, it advocates boycotts of Israeli goods and services and of firms that trade with Israel; divestment from Israeli funds and from the funds of those with commercial interests in Israel; and for sanctions to be imposed on Israel until it withdraws from the Occupied Territories in the West Bank.

Its website claims that the campaign is having “a major impact”. The activities in Britain and Ireland of the BDS movement are certainly widespread. Most recently, they have resurfaced owing to the media interest whipped up by the Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s apparent decision not to allow her work to be translated into Hebrew.

Yet the effectiveness of the BDS campaign must surely be questioned given the facts that, for example, in the six years between 2012 and 2018, British trade with Israel increased by some 72%, or that in December 2020 a new military cooperation agreement was signed between the UK and Israel, or that foreign direct investment in Israel stands now at an all-time high.

For all the noise that the BDS movement makes, Britain’s trade with Israel is now worth more than £4 billion annually, and it’s growing. Israel is a key ally of the United Kingdom in the Middle East – and there is no prospect of that changing any time soon.

READ MORE: Hugh MacDiarmid — the poet, Communist and nationalist who breathed life into Scots leid

Where the BDS movement does have “a major impact”, however, is on our Jewish community. For the targeting of Israel is perceived, whether we like it or not, as but the latest manifestation of Europe’s oldest hatred – anti-Semitism. A number of commentators have pointed out that the Chinese translations of Rooney’s novels are published by a Chinese state-owned publishing house. It seems that her books are also available in Syria.

Why should readers of Hebrew be singled out when, for example, book buyers in the state which is brutally suppressing its Uighur population have no trouble accessing Sally Rooney’s fiction?

It is this singling-out of Israel that is so troubling. What explanation is there for holding Israel to an altogether different and higher standard than China, Syria, Iran, or Cuba?

Anti-Semitism is mercifully lower in the United Kingdom than it is elsewhere in Europe, but it is widely perceived in our Jewish communities to be growing in Britain. A report in 2017 found that half of Britain’s Jews believe anti-Semitism to be a problem, and that two-thirds consider it to be rising. More than one fifth of Britain’s Jews report being subjected to anti-Semitic abuse on an annual basis. In the spring of this year, during Israel’s aerial bombardment of Gaza, the Community Security Trust recorded a 500% increase in anti-Semitic hate incidents in the United Kingdom.

READ MORE: The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen. Review by Alan Taylor

There is a deep connection between Jewish identity in Britain and attachment to Israel: “Most British Jews consider Israel to be a central part of their identity”, according to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research. This emotional and religious attachment runs deep – some 90% of British Jews see Israel as the Jewish ancestral homeland.

None of this means that there can be no legitimate criticism of Israel, or of the policies pursued in the West Bank or anywhere else by its government. But it does mean that we should call that criticism out for the racism it is when, for example, Israeli policy is compared with Nazi Germany, when Palestinian refugee camps are compared with Auschwitz, or when demands are made that Israel should not even be allowed to exist.

These tropes are neither rare nor extreme – they appear routinely. They aren’t criticisms of Israel: they are attempts to demonise it, portraying the world’s only Jewish state as pariah. The same goes for the singling-out of Israel.

This was recognised some years ago when the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) offered its “working definition” of anti-Semitism, a definition which the UK Government was one of the first in the world to adopt. Criticism of Israel “similar to that levelled against any other country” cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic, say the IHRA. But “targeting the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” is. We shouldn’t need the IHRA to tell us that – we should need simply to understand the ordinary, everyday lived experience of anti-Semitism endured by our own Jewish population.

A number of countries in the West are now starting to take legal action against BDS activists who target Israel, singling it out in this way. France has used its criminal law to prosecute BDS campaigners. In the US, several states have passed anti-BDS laws which, typically, prohibit public bodies from contracting with firms that refuse to do business in Israel.

Closer to home, the Conservative party manifesto for the 2019 general election included the following pledge: “We will ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”. The reason given? They “undermine community cohesion”.

Damn right they do. To date, no legislation has been brought forward in fulfilment of this manifesto commitment, and quite what scope it would have remains unclear.

Targeting Israel harms not only our all-too-fragile community cohesion. It also harms the national interest. At the heart of Britain’s trade with Israel lie not weapons, nor security, nor intelligence, but healthcare services. When Prince Charles visited Israel in 2020 he said, without exaggeration, that “Israeli geniuses” maintain “the entire structure of the NHS”. Some 100 million prescription items for medicines used annually in the UK are estimated to come from companies in Israel.

Boycott that? Divest from that? Impose sanctions on that? No thanks. The BDS movement against Israel will make a lot of noise from time to time, but it will fail. It will fail because it deserves to. It is failing already.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.