BDS Suffers Humiliating Reversal in Iceland

The second victory for pro-Israel forces against hate in less than a month.

The last few weeks have gone rather badly for the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. First, there was the Matisyahu debacle where BDS activists tried to have Jewish reggae sensation Matisyahu banned from the Rototom Sunsplash music festival on account of his pro-Israel views. Event organizers initially folded to the BDS pressure and barred Matisyahu from performing, but following an international outcry over what was a blatantly anti-Semitic action, red-faced officials quickly reversed themselves. Matisyahu made his appearance and sang his hit song “Jerusalem,” which is laced with references strongly supportive of Israel. Score one for Israel, zero for BDS.

Over the weekend, BDS suffered another stinging reversal. On September 15, in a move largely characterized as symbolic, the city council in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik voted to boycott all Israeli products “for as long as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory continues.” The insidious motion was introduced by known radical leftist and Israel-hater Björk Vilhelmsdóttir and passed by a 9 to 5 majority. Iceland’s imports from Israel last year totaled just under $6,000,000, but the percentage earmarked for Reykjavik is unclear.

Vilhelmsdóttir’s husband, Sveinn Runar Hauksson, is a well-known anti-Israel and anti-American agitator and chairs the Iceland-Palestine Association, which advocates the boycott of Israeli products and supports the Hamas terror group. In 2010, Hauksson met with Hamas terror chieftain Ismail Haniyeh and was pictured presenting him with an award. Hauksson is apparently unperturbed by the Hamas charter, which calls for the annihilation of Jews globally.

The council’s move, reminiscent of actions taken by the Nazi Brown Shirts some 80 years ago, prompted immediate outrage. Local attorney Einar Gautur Steingrímsson stated that he would submit immediate challenge to the resolution alleging that it violated the Icelandic constitution. Eminent international law scholar Eugene Kontorovich noted that the council’s actions violated international treaties to which both Iceland and Israel are parties and Israel’s foreign ministry highlighted Reykjavik’s hypocrisy in singling out the only democracy in the Mideast for special treatment while ignoring gross inequity and tyranny prevalent in so many other countries.

Counter-pressure directed against Iceland’s government could no longer be ignored, prompting Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs to distance itself from the actions of Reykjavik’s municipality. On September 18, the IMFA released a statement noting that “the City of Reykjavik’s resolution is not in line with Iceland‘s foreign policy nor should it be seen to reflect on Iceland‘s relations with Israel.”

This rather mild-mannered rebuke was insufficient for most, who viewed the municipality’s actions as motivated by nothing short of base anti-Semitism and bigotry. President of the American Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder warned Iceland of the “negative repercussions” should its government fail to take forceful action against the city council’s actions. The Simon Wiesenthal Center went one step further issuing a travel advisory against Iceland.

In rather forceful terms, the SWC issued a statement noting that “Iceland is a major tourist destination, including for many Jews and Israeli tour groups. However, when the elected leaders of its main city pass an extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic law, we would caution any member of a Jewish community about traveling there.” The SWC further noted that the municipality failed to issue resolutions against countries with far more egregious human rights records like Syria, Iran, North Korea and Sudan.

Iceland has a rather poor record when it comes to relations with Israel. Its government has repeatedly issued grossly one-sided condemnations of Israel and it was the first Western government to recognize “Palestine” as an independent state, a unilateral move that clearly violated the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords. It also maintains a spotty record when it comes to relations with its Jewish community. During Israel’s counter insurgency campaign against Hamas, anti-Semitism grew to fever pitch with one Icelandic bicycle store owner hanging a sign stating “Jews Unwelcome.”

Though Iceland’s government distanced itself from the reprehensible actions taken by Reykjavik’s municipality, it bears at least some responsibility, for through its irresponsible foreign policies, it created an environment conducive to hate and bigotry. 

On September 19, just four days after the hateful resolution was introduced, Reykjavik’s mayor, Dagur Eggertsson, announced that he would scrap the resolution and acknowledged that the bill was “ill-prepared.” He also admitted that he did not expect such a strong negative international response.

The counter-pressure from Israel and elsewhere worked and once again uncovered the perniciousness of BDS. The resolution masqueraded itself as a human rights issue, but in reality was indistinguishable from boycotts instituted by the Nazis against Jewish-owned business in the 1930s.

Nevertheless, Reykaavik’s humiliating retraction just days after instituting a malevolent anti-Semitic edict represents a significant victory over BDS. It is the second time in less than a month that BDS was soundly defeated in humiliating fashion. Score two for Israel and democracy, zero for BDS.