Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions This article is about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement specifically. It is not to be confused with Boycotts of Israel
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
(blue), the part of the West Bank
under full Israeli control, in 2011
Many authors trace BDS's origins to the NGO Forum at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism
in South Africa (Durban I).
At the forum, Palestinian activists met with anti-apartheid veterans who identified parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa
and recommended campaigns like those they had used to defeat apartheid.
The forum adopted a document that contained many ideas that would later reappear in the 2005 BDS Call; Israel was proclaimed an apartheid
state that engaged in human rights violations through the denial of the Palestinian refugees' right of return, the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. The declaration recommended comprehensive sanctions and embargoes against Israel as the remedy.
In March 2002, while the Israeli army reoccupied all major Palestinian cities and towns and imposed curfews, a group of prominent Palestinian scholars published a letter calling for help from the "global civil society." The letter asked activists to demand that their governments suspend economic relations with Israel in order to stop its campaign of apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing.
In April 2002, Steven and Hilary Rose, professors at the Open University and the University of Bradford, initiated a call for a moratorium on academic collaboration with Israeli institutions.
It quickly racked up over 700 signatories,
among them Colin Blakemore
and Richard Dawkins
, who said they could no longer "in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities."
Similar initiatives followed in the summer.
In August, Palestinian organizations in the occupied territories issued a call for a comprehensive boycott of Israel.
The majority of the statements recalled the declarations made at the NGO Forum the year before.
In October 2003, a group of Palestinian intellectuals called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
Attempts to coordinate the boycotts in a more structured way led to the formation of the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in April 2004.
argues that the Oslo peace process
's failure created a political void that allowed what had been a marginal rejectionist attitude to Israel to enter the European far-left mainstream in the form of proposals for a boycott. Rafeef Ziadah
also attributes BDS to the peace process's failure. She argues that BDS represents a rejection of the peace process paradigm of equalizing both sides in favor of seeing the situation as a colonial conflict between a native population and a settler-colonial state supported by Western powers.
Philosophy and goals
BDS demands that Israel end its "three forms of injustices that infringe international law and Palestinian rights" by:
These demands, enshrined in a declaration named the BDS Call, are non-negotiable to BDS.
Co-founder of the movement Omar Barghouti
, citing South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu
, has written: "I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights."
Barghouti has also written:
Ending the largely discernible aspects of Israeli occupation while maintaining effective control over most of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 "in return" for Palestinians' accepting Israel's annexation of the largest colonial blocks ... has become the basic formula for the so-called peaceful settlement endorsed by the world's hegemonic powers and acquiesced to by an unelected, unrepresentative, unprincipled, and visionless Palestinian 'leadership.' The entire spectrum of Zionist parties in Israel and their supporters in the West, with few exceptions, ostensibly accept this unjust and illegal formula as the "only offer" on the table for the Palestinians—or else the menacing Israeli bludgeon.
BDS sees itself as a movement for all Palestinians, whether they live in the diaspora or in historical Palestine.
BDS believes that negotiations with Israel should focus on "how Palestinian rights can be restored" and that they can only take place after Israel has recognized these rights. It frames the Israel-Palestinian conflict as between colonizer and colonized, between oppressor and oppressed, and rejects the notion that both parties are equally responsible for the conflict.
For those reasons, BDS opposes some forms of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, which it argues are counterproductive.
According to BDS, "all forms of international intervention and peace-making until now have failed" and so the international community should impose punitive measures, such as broad boycotts and divestment initiatives, against Israel, like those against South Africa during apartheid
BDS uses the framework of "freedom, justice, and equality," arguing that Palestinians are entitled to those rights like everyone else. It is therefore an antiracist movement and rejects all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
More generally, BDS frames itself as part of a global social movement that challenges neoliberal Western hegemony and struggles against racism, sexism, poverty and similar causes. Its struggle for Palestinian rights should be seen as a small but critical part of that struggle, BDS argues.
One of the main differences between South African and Israeli apartheid, BDS argues, is that in the former a white minority dominated a black minority, but in Israel, a Jewish majority discriminates against a Palestinian minority in Israel and also keeps Palestinians under military occupation. It further contends that South African apartheid depended on black labor while Israeli apartheid is grounded in efforts to expel Palestinians from "Greater Israel
BDS sees the Israeli legal definition of itself as a "Jewish and democratic state
" as contradictory.
According to BDS, Israel upholds a facade of democracy but is not and cannot be a democracy because it is, in Omar Barghouti's words, "a settler-colonial state."
Opponents have argued that comparing Israel to South Africa's apartheid regime "demonizes" Israel and is anti-Semitic.
Supporters argue that there is nothing anti-Semitic in calling Israel an apartheid state.
To support that view, they cite prominent anti-apartheid activists such as Desmond Tutu
and South African politician Ronnie Kasrils
, who both have said that the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is "worse" than apartheid.
Right of return
BDS demands that Israel allow the Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1948 war to return to what is now Israel.
The international community has repeatedly reaffirmed the refugees' right to return, but Israel has prevented them from returning.[irrelevant citation][irrelevant citation]
According to BDS's critics, calling for their right to return is an attempt to destroy Israel. If the refugees returned, Israel would become a Palestinian-majority state and Jewish dominance of Israel would be in jeopardy. They argue that this would undermine the Jewish people's right to self-determination and thus calling for it is a form of anti-Semitism.
Former Anti-Defamation League
director Abraham Foxman
has called it "the destruction of the Jewish state through demography."
Nadia Abu el-Haj
has written that, indeed, BDS supporters believe that "the Israeli state has no right to continue exist as a racial state that builds the distinction between Jew and non-Jew into its citizenship laws, its legal regimes, its education system, its economy, and its military and policing tactics."
BDS supporters further note that the Palestinian liberation movement has always rejected the idea that Israel has a right to exist as a racial state.
While BDS deliberately refrains from advocating any particular political outcome, such as the one-state or two-state solution,
Barghouti argues that a Jewish state in historical Palestine contravenes the Palestinians' rights:
A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically.
Just as we would oppose a 'Muslim state' or a 'Christian state' or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.
Accepting modern-day Jewish-Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous, rational offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. So don’t ask for more.
Norman Finkelstein has criticized BDS's position on the Palestinian refugees.
, a vocal supporter of the two-state solution
, offers scathing criticism of BDS on this issue. Like Foxman, Finkelstein believes that BDS seeks to end Israel through demography,
something he believes Israel will never acquiesce to.
He therefore calls BDS a "dishonest cult"
because it does not explicitly state that its goal is to end Israel and because, according to him, that goal is unrealistic and broad public support cannot be found for the return of the refugees.
Still, he believes that BDS's tactics, boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, are correct. Ali Abunimah
, in a reply to Finkelstein, insists that the two-state solution is compatible with BDS's demands and that the Good Friday Agreement
that settled the conflict in Northern Ireland
could serve as model for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Barghouti argues that Finkelstein's criticism ignores history: since international pressure brought about the downfall of apartheid in South Africa, the same kind of pressure will force Israel to abide by international law.[neutrality is disputed][disputed – discuss]
BDS criticizes liberal Zionists who oppose the occupation but also the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. According to liberal Zionists, both right-wing Zionists and BDS risk "destroying Israel," defined as turning Israel into a Palestinian-majority state,
BDS by demanding equal citizenship for Arab-Palestinians and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees,
and right-wing Zionists by insisting on building more settlements, eventually making a two-state solution impossible. With the two-state solution off the table, Israel would either have to grant citizenship to the Palestinians living under occupation, thus destroying Israel, or become an apartheid state.
Liberal Zionists find apartheid repugnant and oppose apartheid in Israel, so they propose a boycott limited to Israeli West Bank settlements to pressure the Israeli government to stop building settlements. Peter Beinart
in 2012 proposed a "Zionist BDS" that would advocate divestment from Israeli West Bank settlements but oppose divestment from Israeli companies.
This, Beinart argued, would legitimize Israel and delegitimize the occupation, thus challenging both the vision of BDS and that of the Israeli government.
BDS supporters contend that liberal Zionists are more concerned with preserving Israel as a "Jewish state" than with human rights.
Barghouti states that by denying the Palestinian refugees right of return simply because they are not Jewish, liberal Zionists adhere to the same Zionist racist principles that treat the Palestinians as a "demographic threat" to be dealt with in order to maintain Israel's character as a colonial, ethnocentric, apartheid state.
Sriram Ananth writes that the BDS Call asks people to uncompromisingly stand against oppression. In his view, liberal Zionists have failed to do so by not endorsing the BDS Call.
BDS describes "normalization" as a process by which Palestinians are compelled to stop resisting and to accept their subjugation. BDS analogizes it to a "colonization of the mind," whereby the oppressed comes to believe that the oppressor's reality is the only reality and that the oppression is a fact of life.
BDS opposes normalization as a means to resist oppression.
Normalization, BDS says, can arise when Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories meet without the Israeli side acknowledging the fundamental injustices Israel inflicts on the Palestinians, corresponding to the BDS's three demands. BDS calls it "co-existence" and argues that it feeds complacency and privileges the oppressor at the expense of the oppressed. Instead, BDS encourages "co-resistance," where "anti-colonial Jewish Israelis" and Palestinians come together to fight against the injustices afflicting the Palestinians.
BDS denounces dialogue projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together without addressing the struggle for Palestinian rights. Such projects, it asserts, "serve to privilege oppressive co-existence at the cost of co-resistance" regardless of their intentions.
It also denounces projects that portray the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians as symmetrical.
One example of a project BDS denounces is OneVoice
, a joint Palestinian-Israeli youth-oriented organization that brings Israelis and Palestinians together under the slogan of ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. Since OneVoice concerns itself with neither Israeli apartheid nor Palestinian refugees' rights, BDS concludes that it serves to normalize oppression and injustice.
Critics of "anti-normalization" rhetorically ask how BDS is supposed to win over the hearts and minds of unconvinced Jewish Israelis if a precondition for dialogue is that they first commit to BDS's principles. They believe that dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians can convince Jewish Israelis that BDS's demands are just.
Barghouti contends that the "peace industry," the many dialogue initiatives launched in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords
, has not helped the Palestinians at all because they are based on the idea that the conflict is between two equals, rather than about one group oppressing another. He believes that dialogue needs to be based on freedom, equality, democracy, and ending injustice, or else it is at best a form of negotiation between a stronger and weaker party.
Founding and organization
BDS was founded one year after the International Court of Justice had ruled the West Bank barrier illegal.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) was established at the first Palestinian BDS conference in Ramallah in November 2007
and in 2008 it became BDS's coordinating body.
All BNC members are Palestinian organizations. As of 2020, it has 29 members.
The BNC includes a general assembly with representatives from every BNC member,
and an 11-seat secretariat elected every two years that governs the BNC.
The general assembly meets about every third month while the secretariat handles day-to-day decision making.
Mahmoud Nawajaa serves as the BNC's General Coordinator
and Alys Samson Estapé as the Europe Coordinator.
A precursor to BDS is the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
(PACBI), which was founded in April 2004 in Ramallah with Barghouti as a founding committee member.
PACBI led the campaign for the academic and cultural boycotts of Israel. It has since been integrated into the larger BDS movement. The U.S. arm of PACBI, the United States Association for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), was founded in 2009.
The global BDS movement is by design highly decentralized and independent.
This has allowed thousands of organizations and groups to become part of it, some of which are the BNC's main partners.
In Israel, BDS is supported by a number of left-wing groups, such as Women in Black
, and New Profile
. Boycott from Within
often uses creative performances to display its support for the boycott and the research group Who Profits
supplies BDS with information about companies complicit in the Israeli occupation.
On campuses in the US, Canada and New Zealand, the student organization Students for Justice in Palestine
supports BDS. According to the American coordinating body National Students for Justice in Palestine, it had about 200 chapters in the US as of 2018.
The left-wing activist organization Jewish Voice for Peace
(JVP) advocates for BDS among American Jewry.
In addition to these, political parties, trade unions and other NGOs have endorsed the BDS Call.
BDS organizes campaigns for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Boycotts are facilitated by urging the public to avoid purchasing goods made by Israeli companies, divestment by urging banks, pension funds, international companies, etc. to stop doing business in Israel, and sanctions by pressuring governments to end military trade and free-trade agreements with Israel and to suspend Israel's membership in international forums.
Global targets for boycott are selected by the BNC, but supporters are free to choose targets that suit them.
The BNC encourages supporters to select targets based on their complicity in Israel's human rights violations, potential for cross-movement solidarity, media appeal, and likelihood of success.
It also emphasizes the importance of creating campaigns and events that connect with issues of concern in their own communities.
At the grassroots level, BDS uses social media, petitions, articles, on-campus events and organizes public demonstrations to apply pressure on individuals and corporations to cut ties with Israeli institutions.
In addition to the campaigns listed in this section, a number of local campaigns have been created by BDS-affiliated groups and endorsed by the movement, including Code Pink
's Stolen Beauty
campaign launched in 2009 against Israeli cosmetics
an Australian campaign against Max Brenner
, whose parent company, the Strauss Group
, sent care packages to Israeli soldiers,
and a campaign by the group Vermonters for Just Peace in Palestine against ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry
over its sales of ice cream in Israeli settlements.
Derail Veolia and Alstom (2008-)
Since November 2008, BDS has campaigned against the multinational French conglomerates Veolia
for their involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail
because it runs through the Israeli-occupied parts of East Jerusalem
According to BDS, the boycott had cost Veolia an estimated $20 billion as of 2015.
In 2015 Veolia sold off its final investment in Israel, a 5% stake in CityPass owned by its subsidiary Transdev
. BDS attributed the sell-off to its campaign, but Richard Dujardin, a member of Transdev's executive committee, said: "I will not say that it is pleasant to be chased by people saying we are not good guys all the time but really it was a business decision."
Stop G4S - Securing Israeli Apartheid (2012-)
Since 2012 BDS has campaigned against G4S
, the world's biggest security company, to get it to divest from Israel.
As a result, G4S has been targeted by many BDS supporting groups, including Who Profits?
, Jews for Justice in Palestine
, and Tadamon!
The campaign's first victory came in October 2011, when the student council of the Edinburgh University Students' Association
adopted a motion to ban G4S from campus.
In April 2012 the European Parliament declined to renew its contract with G4S, citing G4S's involvement in violations of international law.
In 2014 the Gates Foundation
sold its $170 million stake in G4S, a move BDS activists attributed to their campaign.
The same year activists thanked officials in Durham County, North Carolina
, for terminating its contract with G4S, though it wasn't clear that BDS's campaign was the cause.
In February 2016, the international restaurant chain Crepes & Waffles
terminated its security transport contracts with G4S.
G4S sold off its Israeli subsidiary G4S Israel in 2016, but BDS continues to campaign against G4S because it maintains a 50% stake in Policity, an Israeli police training center with presence inside Israeli prisons where thousands of Palestinians are detained.
BDS South Africa undertook a boycott campaign against the South African retail chain Woolworths
in 2014 over its trade relations with Israel.
It was the first comprehensive consumer boycott of a South African retailer since 1994.
The campaign used the Twitter hashtag #BoycottWoolworths which rapidly became one of the top trending hashtags on South African Twitter.
The campaign attracted international media attention and was covered by The New York Times
, Rolling Stone
, and Al-Jazeera
The activists organized flash mobs, die-ins
, and placed "Boycott Israeli Apartheid"-stickers on Woolworths' Israeli merchandise, all of which they published on social media.
Consumers were encouraged to write to the company's store managers questioning the stocking of Israeli goods.
The campaign ended in mid-2016 when Woolworth informed its annual general meeting
that it would no longer purchase Israeli products from the occupied territories.
Boycott HP (2016-)
In April 2019, Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging
, the Netherlands
' largest trade union, dropped HP in its offer to its members. According to a spokesperson for the boycott HP campaign, the union used to offer a 15% discount on HP products and this would no longer be the case.
In June 2019, Unite
, the UK's second-largest trade union, joined the boycott against HP.
In January 2016, French telecom operator Orange
dropped its licensing deal with its Israeli mobile operator, Partner Communications
According to BDS, the deal was the result of its six-year campaign by unions and activists in France, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
While BDS hailed the move as a significant victory, Orange said it was ending its relationship with Partner for purely commercial reasons.
AXA Divest (2016-)
The French multinational insurance agent AXA
has since 2016 been the target of a campaign urging it to divest from Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems
and five major Israeli banks. AXA has, according to BDS, a responsible investment policy that forbids it from investing in, among other things, manufacturers of cluster bombs, and Elbit Systems makes cluster bombs.
According to a report by corporate responsibility watchdog SumOfUs
, AXA's involvement in Israel's occupation could expose it to criminal prosecution.
Red Card Israel (2016-)
Red Card Israel is BDS's campaign to get Israel expelled from FIFA
due to alleged violations against Palestinian football and because several Israeli teams from the Israeli-occupied West Bank are allowed to play in its national league, the Israel Football Association
In 2018, it scored a victory as Argentina's national football team canceled an upcoming friendly game in Jerusalem.
In July 2018, sportswear manufacturer Puma
signed a for-year sponsorship deal with the Israel Football Association
The IFA includes six football clubs based in Israeli settlements. BDS wrote an open letter signed by over 200 Palestinian sports clubs urging the brand to end its sponsorship of teams in the settlements.
The sportswear manufacturer didn't, and BDS therefore launched a boycott campaign under the slogan "Give Puma the Boot".
In October 2019, activists placed unauthorized posters in the London underground urging people to boycott Puma. Transport for London
said that it was flyposting
and that it would immediately take action against the posters.
In February 2020, Malaysia's largest university, Universiti Teknologi MARA
, announced that it would end its sponsorship deal with Puma due to its involvement in Israel.
Boycott Eurovision 2019 (2018-2019)
BDS attempted to get artists to boycott Eurovision Song Contest 2019
because it was held in Israel. BDS accused Israel of using Eurovision to whitewash and distract attention from alleged war crimes against Palestinians. It also accused Israel of pinkwashing
, due to Eurovision's popularity among LGBTQ fans.
Although none of the acts scheduled to appear pulled out, activists considered the efforts successful due to the media coverage generated.
American pop star Madonna
was one of the artists BDS urged to cancel her appearance at Eurovision. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd also tried to get her to cancel, saying that it "normalizes the occupation, the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, the incarceration of children, the slaughter of unarmed protesters."
Madonna refused, saying that she would neither "stop playing music to suit someone's political agenda" nor "stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be."
In September 2018, 140 artists (including six Israelis) signed an open letter in support of a boycott of Eurovision.
In response to the calls for boycott, over 100 celebrities, including English actor Stephen Fry
, signed a statement against boycotting Eurovision in Israel: "We believe the cultural boycott movement is an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition".
, the band representing Iceland
in the contest, held up Palestinian banners in front of the cameras at the event's finals, defying the EBU's rules against political gestures. BDS was not mollified: "Artists who insist on crossing the Palestinian boycott picket line, playing in Tel Aviv in defiance of our calls, cannot offset the harm they do to our human rights struggle by ‘balancing’ their complicit act with some project with Palestinians. Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects this fig-leafing," it said.
Divestment resolutions at U.S. universities
In North America, many public and private universities have large financial holdings. Campus BDS activists have therefore organized campaigns asking universities to divest from companies complicit in the occupation. These campaigns often revolve around attempts to pass divestment resolutions in the school's student government
. While few universities have heeded the call to divest, activists believe the resolutions are symbolically important.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library
, activists have fielded 135 divestment resolutions since 2005, of which 91, including those vetoed by the student government president or repealed, were defeated.
In 2010, the UC Berkeley
Student Senate passed a resolution calling for the university to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel. The resolution was vetoed by the Student Body president, who said it was "a symbolic attack on a specific community."
In 2013, another divestment bill passed but the university stated that it would not divest.
Many divestment campaigns began in the early 2000s, years before BDS was founded. In some cases, it has taken them over a decade to get resolutions passed. For example, at the University of Michigan
, a student group called Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) began campaigning for a divestment resolution in 2002. It was brought up for the eleventh time in 2017 and passed 23–17 with five abstentions. Reportedly, the hearing on the resolution was the longest in student government history.
In December, the Board of Regents at the university rejected the resolution, stating, "we strongly oppose any action involving the boycott, divestment or sanction of Israel."
Also in 2002, students at Columbia University
began promoting a divestment resolution,
which passed in 2020.
BDS opponents often focus on the supposed divisiveness debates about divestment resolutions cause.
According to Nelson, the primary effect divestment resolutions have is the promotion of anti-Israel (and sometimes antisemitic) sentiment within student bodies, faculty, and academic departments.
Some opponents argue that activists promoting divestment resolutions often cheat or operate clandestinely. They claim that resolutions are often sprung with minimal notice, giving the opposition no time to react, that activists bring outsiders to influence opinion or to vote on university resolutions even when this is unauthorized, and that activists change the text of resolutions once passed.
Judea Pearl believes that to BDS supporters it is irrelevant whether a particular resolution passes or not because the real goal is to keep the debate alive and influence future policymakers to find fault with Israel.
Israel Apartheid Week
Groups affiliated with BDS hold events known as Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) in February or March each year.
IAW began at the University of Toronto
in 2006,[fn 3]
but has since spread and in 2014 was held on 250 campuses worldwide.
IAW aims to increase public awareness of the Palestinians' history and the racial discrimination they experience and to build support for BDS.
IAW allows activists to frame the issue as one of racial oppression and discrimination rather than a "conflict" between two equal sides.
According to BDS's opponents, IAW intends to link Israel to evils such as apartheid and racism.
Universities have been primary targets of the BDS movement, according to English professor Cary Nelson
, "because faculty and students can become passionate about justice, sometimes without adequate knowledge about the facts and consequences. ... [U]niversities also offer the potential for small numbers of BDS activists to leverage institutional status and reputation for a more significant cultural and political impact."
BDS argues that there is a close connection between Israeli academic institutions and the Israeli state, including its military, and that an academic boycott is warranted. Modern weapon systems and military doctrines used by the Israeli military are developed at Israeli universities that also use a system of economic merit and scholarship to students who serve in the army.
Like the BDS-led cultural boycott, the academic boycott targets Israeli institutions and not individual academics.
The events and activities BDS encourages academics to avoid include academic events convened or co-sponsored by Israel, research and development activities that involve institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities, projects that receive funding from Israel or its lobby groups, addresses and talks by officials from Israeli academic institutions at international venues, study-abroad programmes in Israel for international students, and publishing in Israeli academic journals or serving on such journals' review boards.
In 2007, the American Jewish Committee
ran an ad in The Times
titled "Boycott Israeli universities? Boycott ours, too!" It was initially signed by 300 university presidents and denounced the academic boycott against Israel. It argued that an academic boycott would be "utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment."
Phil Gasper, writing for the International Socialist Review
, argued that the ad grossly misrepresented the argument proponents of the boycott make and that its characterization of it as "political disagreements of the moment" was trivializing.
In 2018, after previously agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for a student, associate professor John Cheney-Lippold at the University of Michigan declined to write it after discovering the student was planning to study in Israel. After critics called a letter to the student antisemitic, Cheney-Lippold said he supported BDS for human rights reasons and rejected antisemitism. Guidelines from PACBI say faculty "should not accept to write recommendations for students hoping to pursue studies in Israel".
58 civil rights, religious, and education advocacy organizations called on the university to sanction Cheney-Lippold.
University officials ended the controversy by disciplining him
and issuing a public statement that read in part, "Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students. Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences. Such actions interfere with our students' opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university's educational mission."
BDS believes that Israel uses culture as a form of propaganda
to whitewash and justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people. Therefore, it argues, Israel should be subjected to a cultural boycott like the one against apartheid-era South Africa. According to BDS, most, but not all, Israeli cultural institutions support "the hegemonic Zionist establishment" and are thus implicated in Israel's crimes and should be boycotted.
BDS distinguishes between individuals and institutions. Unlike the cultural boycott against South Africa, BDS's cultural boycott does not target individuals.
BDS supports the right to freedom of expression and rejects boycotts based on identity or opinion.
Thus, Israeli cultural products are not per se subject to boycott.
But if a person is representing Israel, aids its efforts to "rebrand" itself, or is commissioned by an official Israeli body, then their activities are subject to the institutional boycott BDS is calling for.
BDS also argues for a boycott of "normalization projects", which it defines as
[c]ultural activities, projects, events and products involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other (whether bi- or multilateral) that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that assume that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the 'conflict' are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted.
The only Israeli-Palestinian projects that BDS favors are those in which the Israeli party recognizes the three rights enumerated in the "BDS Call" and that also emphasize resistance to oppression over coexistence.[fn 4]
BDS strongly discourages "fig-leafing" by international culture workers—attempts to "compensate" for participating in Israeli events using "balancing gestures" that promote Palestinian rights. BDS argues that fig-leafing contributes to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.[self-published source][better source needed]
The cultural boycott has been supported by thousands of artists around the world, such as musician Roger Waters
and American author Alice Walker
. In 2015, more than 1,000 British artists pledged their support for the boycott, drawing parallels to the one against South African apartheid:
Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank—and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of 'Brand Israel
'. During South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren’t going to 'play Sun City'. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.
Many artists are not heeding BDS's call not to perform in Israel, arguing that:
- Performing in a country is not the same as supporting that country's regime;
- By performing in Israel, artists have a chance to tell the Israelis what they feel about their regime and that can help bring peace;
- By not performing in Israel, artists sever contacts with Israel's strongly pro-Palestinian cultural community, which risks hardening opposition to the Palestinian struggle among Israelis;
- BDS supporters like Roger Waters and Brian Eno who urge fellow artists not to perform in Israel are engaging in a form of bullying.
The organizers of the weeklong Rototom Sunsplash
music festival held in Spain
in 2015 cancelled the scheduled appearance of Jewish American rapper Matisyahu
after he refused to sign a statement supporting a Palestinian state. Matisyahu said that it was "appalling and offensive" that he was singled out as the "one publicly Jewish-American artist".
After criticism from Spain's daily paper El País
and the Spanish government as well as Jewish organisations,
the organisers apologised to Matisyahu and reinvited him to perform, saying they "made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià."
BDS País Valencià denied that Matisyahu was targeted because he is Jewish, writing that they tried to get him cancelled because of his views on Israel. In particular, they noted that he had played at a fundraiser for the IDF and at a conference for AIPAC and had defended Israel's boarding of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla
in international waters. Mark LeVine
commented that it would hardly have been surprising if a festival had canceled a Palestinian-American rapper who professed support for Hamas.[importance?]
In 2017, a pro-Israel organisation brought charges against eight members of the BDS movement over their role in the 2015 action against Matisyahu. On January 11, 2021, the Valencia Appeals Court acquitted the BDS members of the charges. The court said that the action of the BDS members was "protected by freedom of expression and that their intention was not to discriminate against Matisyahu because he is Jewish but to protest Israel’s policies".
In July 2019, after the Open Source Festival in Düsseldorf disinvited the American rapper Talib Kweli
for refusing to denounce the BDS movement, 103 artists, including Peter Gabriel
, Naomi Klein
and Boots Riley
, signed an open letter condemning Germany's attempts to impose restrictions on artists who support Palestinian rights.
In 2019, the parliament of Germany issued a resolution that advocated against financing any project that called for a boycott of Israel on the grounds that the BDS movement was antisemitic. Twenty-five institutions, including the Goethe Institute
, the Federal Cultural Foundation, the Berlin Deutsches Theater
, the German Academic Exchange Service Artists Exchange
, the Berliner Festspiele
, and the Einstein Forum
issued a joint statement in 2019, after intensive internal debates, that "accusations of antisemitism are being misused to push aside important voices and to distort critical positions".
Writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, Andreas Kilb said the signatories did not provide evidence of such "misuse".
In June 2015, a RAND Corporation
study estimated that a successful BDS campaign against Israel, could cost the Israeli economy a cumulative $47 billion over ten years.
The figure was based on a model that examined previous international boycotts; the report noted that making an assessment of BDS's economic effects is difficult because evidence of the effectiveness of sanctions is mixed.
A leaked Israeli government report estimated a more modest $1.4 billion per year.
Pessin and Ben-Atar have argued that since Israel's gross domestic product
nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015 and foreign investment in Israel tripled during the same period, BDS has not had a significant impact on Israel's economy.
A 2015 Israeli Knesset report concluded that BDS had no impact on Israel's export-dependent economy and that exports to Europe were growing.
Adam Reuter of the Israeli Reuter Meydan Investment House has argued that boycotts of consumer goods are ineffective because 95% of Israel's exports are business-to-business.
Nevertheless, two organizations have divested from Israel in 2014: Luxembourg
's state pension fund, FDC, had excluded eight major Israeli firms, including Bank Hapoalim
, Bank Leumi
, AFI Group
and the American firm Motorola Solutions
as part of its socially responsible investments programme
and Norway's YMCA
announced that it would support "[a] broad economic boycott of goods and services from Israel and Israeli settlements."
According to Haaretz
columnist and Brown University
student Jared Samilow, BDS's most significant impact is the social cost it puts upon Jews living outside Israel.
Reviewing four lists of achievements published by the BDS movement between July 2017 and December 2018, analyst Amin Prager concluded that, with some exceptions, the impact was limited but that BDS's greatest potential effect arises from its long-term aim to influence discourse about Israel's legitimacy and international standing.
The Israel lobby considers BDS an "existential threat" to Israel and countering it is therefore highly prioritized.[fn 5]
It has organized a counter-campaign to oppose BDS, relying on strategies of defamation, intimidation, and lawfare.
Several groups have been created specifically to combat BDS. The Israel Action Network
(IAN) was set up in 2010 by the Jewish Federations of North America
and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
with a pledge of $6 million.
In June 2015, pro-Israel megadonors Sheldon Adelson
and Haim Saban
held a meeting with representatives of 50 Jewish organizations, raising $50 million to fight BDS on U.S. campuses.
The same year, the Maccabee Task Force was set up, led by David Brog
, with the mission "to ensure that those who seek to delegitimize Israel and demonize the Jewish people are confronted, combatted and defeated".
The Israel lobby considers academia an important battleground and has spent a lot of effort attempting to counter its growing support for BDS.
One tactic the Israel lobby uses to silence activists in academia is blacklisting
. This can cause students and untenured faculty, who worry about reprisals and negative publicity, to refrain from activism.
The best-known blacklist is the anonymous website Canary Mission
, which publishes photos and personal information about students and faculty who promote BDS. The website has threatened to send students' names to prospective employees.
According to the Intercept
, the website has made it harder for activists to organize activities because people worry that they will end up on it. Activists listed on the site have reported receiving death threats.
Another blacklist was the now defunct outlawbds.com, operated by the Israeli private intelligence agency Psy-Group
. It sent threatening emails to BDS activists in New York, warning them that they had been identified as "BDS promoter[s]."
Many activists have attempted to defuse blacklisting's chilling effect by treating inclusion on blacklists as a badge of honor or by attempting to get themselves blacklisted.
The operators of the blacklists often are anonymous. According to The Forward's
investigation, the blacklist "SJP Uncovered" was funded by the Israel on Campus Coalition
According to Haaretz
, the Canary Mission was funded by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco
and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, and operated by the Israeli nonprofit Megamot Shalom.
Anti-BDS laws and resolutions
In response to BDS, several legislatures have passed laws designed to hinder people and organizations from boycotting Israel
and goods from Israeli settlements. Proponents of such laws say that they are necessary because BDS is a form of antisemitism
Opponents say that Israel and its supporters are engaging in lawfare
and that anti-BDS laws infringe upon the right to free speech.
In the US, a large number of anti-BDS laws have been passed. As of 2020, 32 states have laws that prevent boycotts against Israel and a number of non-binding resolutions have been passed denouncing BDS. A majority of these have passed with strong bipartisan support.
Two federal acts have been introduced, the 2017 Israel Anti-Boycott Act
and the 2019 Combating BDS Act
, both intended to deprive entities participating in boycotts of Israel of government contract work. In several states, these laws have been challenged on First Amendment
grounds for violating citizens' freedom of speech
Supporters of anti-BDS statutes argue that boycotts are economic activity, not speech, and that laws prohibiting government contracts with groups that boycott Israel are similar to other anti-discrimination laws that have been upheld as constitutional under the Commerce Clause
Opponents, such as the ACLU
, contend that the laws are not analogous to anti-discrimination legislation because they target only boycotts of Israel.
Texas, Kansas, and Arizona have amended their anti-BDS laws in response to lawsuits.
Israel has enacted two anti-BDS laws: one in 2011
that criminalizes calls to boycott Israel,
and one in 2017
that prohibits foreigners who call for such boycotts from entering Israel or its settlements
In 2019, Israel caused some controversy by denying entry to two BDS-supporting U.S. Representatives, Rashida Tlaib
and Ilhan Omar
In 2016 Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon
, stated that Israel was in many countries "so that it will simply be illegal to boycott Israel."
In 2020 it was revealed that an Israeli state-funded lobby group had been instrumental in pushing for anti-BDS laws in many U.S. states.
In 2018 a new code of ethics was adopted for Israeli universities. The code prohibits faculty from calling for or participating in boycotts of Israel.
In 2010, the Israeli think tank Reut Institute[fn 6]
presented a paper, "The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall," at the influential Herzliya Conference
. It recommended enlisting intelligence agencies to attack and sabotage what it believed where international "hubs" of the movement in London, Madrid, Toronto, and other cities.
In a related paper, the think tank called for pro-Israel advocates to "out, name and shame" Israel's critics and to "frame them...as anti-peace, anti-Semitic, or dishonest purveyors of double standards."
In a leaked report from 2017, "The Assault On Israel's Legitimacy The Frustrating 20X Question: Why Is It Still Growing?", Reut recommended making a distinction between hardcore anti-Zionist "instigators" and the "long tail": people who are critical of Israel but do not seek its "elimination". The instigators should be "handled uncompromisingly, publicly or covertly", the report stated, but the long tail should be won over by persuasion, as a heavy-handed approach would risk driving them closer to the "anti-Israel camp."
Ministry of Strategic Affairs
In Israel, the counter-campaign is led by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs
In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
announced that the ministry would receive over 100 million shekels as well as ten employees to fight BDS.
Some of the funds have been used to buy space in the Israeli press to promote its anti-BDS message.
In June 2016, Haaretz
reported that the ministry was going to establish a "dirty tricks" unit to "establish, hire or tempt nonprofit organizations or groups not associated with Israel, in order to disseminate" negative information about BDS supporters.
The news came on the heels of a report that Israel's efforts to fight BDS had been ineffectual, in part because the responsibility had been transferred to the Strategic Affairs Ministry from the Foreign Ministry. "Despite receiving expanded authority in 2013 to run the government's campaign against the delegitimization and boycott efforts against Israel, the Strategic Affairs Ministry did not make full use of its budget and had no significant achievements in this area," Haaretz
quotes the report as saying. "In 2015, it still did not carry out its work plans."
In 2017, the cabinet allocated 128 million shekels over three years for a front company but it spent only 13 million with little to show by way of results.
On 21 March 2017, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan
announced a plan to set up a database of Israeli citizens who support BDS.
The database would be compiled using open sources such as Facebook and social media posts. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit
objected, saying that only the Israeli secret police, Shin Bet
, has the authority to monitor citizens in that way. Arab Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh
slammed the idea, saying the government was afraid of a nonviolent struggle against occupation.
In 2019, the ministry announced that its economic campaign against BDS had shut down 30 financial accounts of BDS-promoting groups.
In October 2020, +972 Magazine
reported that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs paid The Jerusalem Post
over NIS 100,000 in 2019 to publish a special supplement titled Unmasking BDS
in order to delegitimise the BDS movement.
Harassment of BDS activists
The Israeli government has threatened and harassed BDS activists.
In September 2009, Mohammed Othman was detained after returning from a trip to Norway where he discussed BDS with Norwegian officials. He was released after four months, after an international campaign in which Amnesty International
threatened to declare him a prisoner of conscience. BNC member Jamal Juma was also detained for several weeks in 2009. No charges were leveled against either of them.
In March 2016, Israeli minister Yisrael Katz
stated that Israel should employ "targeted civil eliminations" against BDS leaders. The term alluded to the policy of targeted assassinations
that Israel uses against members of Palestinian armed groups. Erdan called for BDS leaders to "pay the price" for their work.
In response, Amnesty International issued a statement expressing its concern about the safety and liberty of Barghouti and other BDS activists.
Barghouti has been the target of several travel bans and in 2019 the Israeli government announced that it was preparing to expel him.
In July 2020, Israeli soldiers arrested Mahmoud Nawajaa, General Coordinator of BNC, in his home near Ramallah and detained him for 19 days.
Israel has a terrible brand
due to its long-running conflict with the Palestinians which, in combination with BDS activities, has led to the state increasingly being associated with apartheid and war crimes
The Israeli government therefore initiated "Brand Israel", a campaign to improve Israel's image by showing its "prettier face", downplaying religion, and avoiding discussing the conflict with the Palestinians.
Brand Israel promotes Israeli culture abroad and also seeks to influence "opinion-formers" by inviting them on free trips to Israel.
BDS attempts to counter the campaign by urging people not to participate in its activities. For example, in 2016 the Israeli government offered 26 Oscars-nominated celebrities 10-day free trips to Israel worth at least $15,000 to $18,000 per person.
BDS activists took out an ad reading "#SkipTheTrip. Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid" and urged the celebrities not to go.
According to Catherine Rottenberg, they were successful and not a single celebrity went on the free trip.
BDS considers the Israeli government's designation of the movement as a "strategic threat" proof of its success.
Barghouti believes that the only effect Israel's heavy-handed measures will have is to speed the end of Israel's occupation and apartheid policies, and that its attempt to crush BDS will fail. He argues that BDS has dragged Israel into a "battlefield" over human rights, where its massive arsenal of intimidation, smears, threats, and bullying is rendered as ineffective as its nuclear weapons. Israel's extremism and its willingness to sacrifice its last masks of "democracy" will only help BDS grow, he argues.
Hitchcock speculates that many counter-measures might backfire, especially if they are seen as infringing on the right to free speech. As an example, she gives Trump's 2019 order to federal agencies to use a definition of anti-Semitism that includes speech critical of Israel when investigating certain types of discrimination complaints. Critics contended that the intent was to crack down on pro-BDS campus activism, and their critique found its way into mainstream periodicals like The New York Times
, The New Yorker
, and the Los Angeles Times
Liam Hoare argues that the countermeasures have already backfired, that BDS is unpalatable to the masses and that the Israeli government's heavy-handedness keeps it alive.
BDS enjoys overwhelming support among Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories. In a poll from 2015, 86% supported the boycott campaign, 64% believed that boycotting would help end the occupation, and 88% said they had stopped buying Israeli products.
The number of Palestinian civil society organizations that support BDS has been rising steadily since its inception in 2005.
Some of the Palestinian NGOs supporting BDS are umbrella organizations, such as the Palestinian NGOs Network
, which has 135 members as of 2020.
According to Melanie Meinzer, many Palestinian NGOs refrain from endorsing BDS because their dependence on donors constrain their politics.
According to Finkelstein, BDS is exaggerating its level of support and many Palestinian NGOs endorsing it are small, one-person NGOs.
Palestinian trade unions have been very supportive of BDS; the 290,000-member Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions
was one of the original signatories of the BDS Call. In 2011, the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS was created with the objective of promoting BDS among trade unions internally.
Mahmoud Abbas has not endorsed BDS.
The Palestinian leadership's position on BDS is ambivalent. President Mahmoud Abbas
does not support a general boycott against Israel and has said that the Palestinians don't either. Barghouti has disputed Abbas's statement, saying that "[t]here is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS.
Abbas does, however, support a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements, and the Palestinian Authority has at times used boycotts to gain leverage on Israel. For example, in 2015, it imposed a boycott on six major Israeli food manufacturers to retaliate against Israel withholding Palestinian tax funds.
The second-highest authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO), the Palestinian Central Council
, has meanwhile announced its intention to:
Adopt the BDS movement and call on states around the world to impose sanctions on Israel to put an end to its flagrant violations of international law, its continued aggression against the Palestinian people, and to the apartheid regime [Israel has] imposed on them.
A handful of Palestinian scholars have opposed the academic boycott of Israel. Examples include former Al-Quds University
president Sari Nusseibeh
, who acknowledges that his view is the minority viewpoint among his colleagues.
Some Palestinian academics have criticized Nusseibeh's collaboration with Hebrew University
, seeing it as a form of normalization. Matthew Kalman
speculated in The New York Times
that opposition to boycott is more widespread among Palestinian academics but that they are afraid to speak out.
South African support
Desmond Tutu supports BDS.
BDS has received support from South African organizations and public figures that were involved in the struggle against apartheid. Such support is symbolically important for BDS as it tries to position itself as the spiritual successor of the anti-apartheid movement. The South African archbishop Desmond Tutu
, known for his anti-apartheid and human rights activism, has endorsed BDS.
He came to this conclusion after visiting the Palestinian territories, comparing the conditions there to conditions in apartheid-era South Africa, and suggesting that Palestinian goals should be achieved by the same means used in South Africa.
Foxman has criticized Tutu's statements, claiming they convey "bigotry against the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people."
On 7 February 2019, Copenhagen mayor of technical and environmental affairs Ninna Hedeager Olsen of the Danish party Enhedslisten
gave three BDS activists known as the Humboldt 3
an award for their work "to reveal the Apartheid-like nature of the Israeli regime and its systematic violation of international law."
In December, 2014 UAW Local 2865, a local chapter of the United Auto Workers
union representing over 14,000 workers at the University of California
, adopted a resolution in support of BDS with 65 percent of the vote in favor.
It became the first major US labor union to endorse BDS.
A year after the vote, the UAW International Executive Board (IEB) informed UAW Local 2865 that it had nullified the vote. The opposition to the BDS resolution came from a small pro-Israel group known as the Informed Grads,
represented by the global law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
. IEB said that the endorsement of the boycott would interfere with the "flow of commerce to and from earmarked companies." UAW 2865's BDS Caucus repudiated the IEB's argument, saying that the IEB cared more about the "flow of commerce" than solidarity with Palestinian labor unions.
The IEB further alleged that the resolution was anti-Semitic; the BDS Caucus called the allegation "the same baseless accusations of anti-Semitism frequently attributed to anyone who is critical of Israel."
On 11 September 2019, the British Trades Union Congress
passed a motion titled "Palestine: supporting rights to self-determination", called for the prioritization of "Palestinians' rights to justice and equality, including by applying these principles based on international law to all UK trade with Israel", and declared its opposition to "any proposed solution for Palestinians, including Trump’s 'deal', not based on international law recognising their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes".
Artists, actors, and writers Holocaust
historian Deborah Lipstadt
has argued that if the boycott of Israel was the main goal, then we "would all have to give up our iPhones" because a lot of technology is created in Israel. According to Lipstadt, BDS's objective is to make anything coming out of Israel seem toxic but did not think that "any kid who supports B.D.S. is ipso facto an anti-Semite".
In May 2017, the Berlin branch of the Social Democratic Party of Germany passed a resolution condemning BDS as anti-Semitic.
In 2017 all 50 US state governors and the mayor of Washington, D.C., signed on to "Governors United Against BDS",
an initiative sponsored by the American Jewish Committee
that condemns BDS as "antithetical to our values and the values of our respective states" and emphasizes "our support for Israel as a vital U.S. ally, important economic partner and champion of freedom."
On 17 May 2017, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
encouraged Danish minister of foreign affairs Anders Samuelsen
to stop funding Palestinian organizations supporting the BDS movement.
Two days later, the Danish ministry of foreign affairs began an investigation of the 24 organizations in Israel and Palestine that Denmark supports. On 24 May Netanyahu called Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen
to complain about Denmark's funding activities in the area.
In December 2017, the Danish ministry of foreign affairs announced that Denmark would fund fewer organizations and that the conditions for obtaining Danish funds needed to be "stricter and clearer". Michael Aastrup Jensen
, spokesman of foreign affairs for Venstre
, said, "Israel has objected emphatically. And it is a problem that Israel sees it as a problem, so now we clear up the situation and change our support".
In 2016, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin
compared boycotts to violence and incitement. He asserted that boycotts only divide people, that BDS delegitimizes Israel, and that some parts of the movement seek Israel's destruction.
Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar
said that BDS applies a double standard to Israel and that it is therefore anti-Semitic. In his view, BDS wants to "empty" Israel of Jews.
The Arab Council for Regional Integration, a group of 32 Arab intellectuals, repudiated BDS at a London conference in November 2019.
It said that BDS has cost the Arab nations billions in trade, "undercut Palestinian efforts to build institutions for a future state, and torn at the Arab social fabric, as rival ethnic, religious and national leaders increasingly apply tactics that were first tested against Israel."
At the council, Kuwaiti information minister Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf spoke about the opportunity costs
to Palestinians, saying that outsize focus on BDS draws money and attention away from investment in Palestinian professionals such as doctors and engineers.
Jewish identity and BDS
Jewish activists have often played central roles in BDS campaigns,
something Barghouti argues refutes the anti-Semitism allegation against the movement.
Maia Hallward attributes BDS's Jewish support to two factors: the long history of social justice activism among Jews and the desire among activists to defuse allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sina Arnold calls it a "form of strategic essentialism," where Jewish activists make themselves visible or are made visible by others.
Philip Mendes distinguishes those Jews who recognize Palestinian rights and support Jewish-Arab dialogue from those "unrepresentative token Jews" whom BDS use as an alibi. David Hirsh
has written, "Jews too can make anti-Semitic claims ... and play an important, if unwitting, part in preparing the ground for the future emergence of anti-Semitic movement."
The ADL has written that Jewish Voice for Peace
"uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide a greater degree of credibility to the anti-Israel movement".
JVP replies that its activism is grounded in Jewish values and traditions. Judith Butler
sees her BDS activism as "affirming a different Jewishness than the one in whose name the Israeli state claims to speak."
Jewish BDS activists have had their Jewish credentials questioned by other Jews and some have reported being called "self-hating Jews
", "Nazis", or "traitors".
The influential rabbi David Wolpe
has said that Jewish BDS supporters should be shunned:
Those Jews who support BDS, or deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, have no place at the table. They should not be invited to speak at synagogues and churches, universities and other institutions that respect rational discourse. They should have the same intellectual status as Klansmen: purveyors of hate.
Arnold believes that the polarization signals a shift among young progressive American Jews who identify with Israel less strongly than older generations.
Almost one quarter of American Jews under 40 support boycotting Israeli products, according to a J Street
poll in 2020.
Criticism of the BDS
In 2007, The Economist
called the boycott "flimsy" and ineffective, noted that "blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair," and pointed out that the Palestinian leadership did not support the boycott.
By early 2014, however, they noted that the campaign, "[o]nce derided as the scheming of crackpots", was "turning mainstream" in the eyes of many Israelis.
According to Alan Dershowitz
, BDS disincentivizes Palestinians from negotiating with Israel.
The ADL similarly argues that BDS ignores the Israeli government's willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians and instead favors delegitimization tactics.
BDS hurts Palestinians economically
BDS's opponents argue that it is good for Palestinians in the West Bank that Israeli companies operate there. They say that they offer employment with higher wages than Palestinian employers and that the employees do not feel exploited. It is therefore counterproductive to boycott companies operating in the settlements, they argue.
BDS supporters say that many Palestinian workers in settlements earn less than the Israeli minimum wage, that their salaries are often withheld, their social rights denied, and that they are often exposed to danger in the workplace. To work in settlements, Palestinians must obtain work permits from the Israeli Civil Administration. The permits can be annulled at any time—for example, if the workers try to unionize or engage in any kind of political activity.[unreliable source?]
BDS supporters further argue that, regardless of the economic costs, the boycott against Israel enjoys overwhelming support among Palestinians.
Dershowitz and IAN point to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
's support of a boycott specific to Israeli businesses that operate in Israeli settlements
in the Palestinian Territories
over a general boycott of Israel as evidence that BDS is not in the Palestinians' favor.
Dershowitz added, "The BDS movement is immoral because it would hurt the wrong people", such as Palestinians employees of the firms affected by BDS or patients awaiting medicine made by those firms.
Similarly, Cary Nelson
wrote, "BDS actually offers nothing to the Palestinian people, whom it claims to champion. Perhaps that is the single most cruel and deceptive feature of the BDS movement. Its message of hate is a route to war, not peace."
Connections to terrorism
Some of BDS's opponents have stated that it has ties to militant organizations.
of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
has argued that there are links between BDS and American supporters of Hamas
. In a 2016 congressional hearing
he said that some leaders of organizations that had been "designated, shut down, or held civilly liable for providing material support to the terrorist organization Hamas" appeared to have "pivoted to leadership positions within the American BDS campaign."
A 2018 report by the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry
accused the EU of having given 5 million euros to organizations that "promote anti-Israel delegitimization and boycotts". The report was sharply rebuked by EU officials such as foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
, who called the accusations "vague and unsubstantiated" and said they conflated "terrorism with the boycott issue."
A February 2019 report by the Ministry, Terrorists in Suits
, claimed that BDS is a "complementary track to terrorism" and that Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) members had infiltrated organizations affiliated with BDS to advance "the elimination of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people".
As examples of such infiltration the report listed Rasmea Odeh
, a former member of PFLP who was involved in a bombing in Jerusalem in 1969 and had participated in meetings organized by JVP and SJP, and Leila Khaled
, also a former PFLP member who hijacked a plane in 1969 and attempted to hijack one in 1970 and is a well-known figure in BDS.
BDS dismissed the report as "wildly fabricated and recycled propaganda" from "the far-right Israeli government".
Both the Ministry's reports were cited by an Amnesty report from 2019 as examples of Israel's efforts to delegitimize Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders and organizations.
Other arguments include:
The AMCHA Initiative
stated that there is a "strong correlation" between BDS support and anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses.
In September 2019, European Jewish Association
founder Menachem Margolin asserted that BDS was "responsible for the vast majority of physical attacks and social media hatred against Jews in Europe."
The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism
was released by a group of over 200 scholars on 25 March 2021. It explicitly excludes efforts to boycott Israel. The lead drafters are anti-Semitism scholars in the United States, Israel, Germany and Britain. A separate statement a week earlier by a liberal group of Jewish scholars said that "double standards applied to Israel were not necessarily anti-Semitic."
Some opponents argue that there are similarities between BDS and historical boycotts against Jews.
For example, in May 2019, the German Bundestag
passed a resolution stating that BDS was "reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history" and that it triggered memories of the Nazi slogan "Don't buy from Jews."
Supporters argue that BDS does not target Jews because boycott targets are selected based on their complicity in Israel's human rights violations, potential for cross-movement solidarity, media appeal, and likelihood of success, not on their national origin or religious identity. According to Barghouti, the majority of companies targeted are non-Israeli foreign companies that operate in Israel and Palestine.
Israeli Holocaust historian Daniel Blatman
, though a BDS opponent, argues that BDS's calls for boycotts of Israel and historical boycotts against Jews have nothing in common.
Singling out Israel
Critics argue that BDS employs a "double standard" and "singles out" Israel. In their view, it is a form of anti-Semitism to campaign against Israeli human rights violations when other governments engage in similar or more repressive actions.
Marc Greendorfer believes that BDS "applies a unique standard [to Israel] not applied to any other country."
BDS supporters reply that by that logic any movement focusing on a single country's human rights violations would be racist; the Anti-Apartheid Movement
singled out South Africa while ignoring human rights violations in other African countries and the U.S. sanctions against Iran
affect only Iran and not other countries committing similar human rights violations.
Barghouti states that BDS focuses on Israeli oppression because it affects the Palestinians and BDS is a Palestinian movement. He rhetorically asks: "If you suffer from the flu and seek medication from it, is it misguided to do so when there are worse diseases out there? Well, the flu is the disease that is afflicting you!"
He and other BDS supporters argue that it is the Western world—not BDS—that has a double standard, by not holding Israel accountable for its human rights violations.
Jacobs and Soske state that boycotts, divestment, and sanctions is a strategy that doesn't make sense against all regimes worthy of opprobrium. Pol Pot
's regime, Boko Haram
, and ISIS
would be unlikely to respond to the strategy, but the Israeli regime might, they argue.
Conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism
BDS supporters frequently allege that accusations of anti-Semitism against them are deliberately or mistakenly conflating anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. In 2018, for example, 41 left-wing Jewish groups wrote that BDS was not anti-Semitic and that it was important to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel.
Jay Michaelson wrote that accusing BDS of anti-Semitism "cheapens the meaning of the term 'anti-Semitism' itself".
Butler argues that if BDS is anti-Semitic, then human rights, which she believes BDS advocates, are also anti-Semitic.
She argues that calling BDS anti-Semitic is a "lamentable stereotype" about Jews since it assumes that all Jews are politically committed to Israel.
Barghouti similarly argues that criticizing BDS as an attack on Jews is "a patently racist assumption" since it assumes that all Jews per se are somehow responsible for Israeli crimes.
Notes and references
- According to Hitchcock, occupied in 1967 wasn't in the original BDS Call. She writes: "It is not clear who decided to revise this phrase or exactly why, but it is likely that this phrase was added to clarify that the statement refers only to the West Bank and Gaza and not to the entirety of Palestine including Israel inside the internationally recognized 1967 Green Line... While I was unable to find any credible discussion of how this clarifying phrase came to be inserted into later versions of the BDS call, is seems fair to guess that it may have been added after criticism by those who thought it was too suggestive of a one-state solution. The fact that the original 2005 Call text and wording remains publicly available on the BDS movement website and in other locations may still elicit different readings from different audiences, though."
- According to Qumsiyeh, the lack of clarity was intentional on the part of the formulators to avoid creating a debate about the call's relation to either a one-state or two-state solution.
- ^ Barghouti writes "[m]ore than 170", Mazen "171 Palestinian civil society organizations", and Bueckert "a group of 170 organizations".
- ^ According to Morrison, IAW began in 2005.
- ^ See section Normalization for details
- ^ Whether or not BDS is actually an "existential threat" to Israel has been debated even within the pro-Israel community.
- ^ Later renamed to Reut Group.
- ^ "Palestinian civil society calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release activist Ramy Shaath".
- ^ Tripp 2013, p. 125: the BDS organized urged 'various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law'
- ^ a b Anti-Defamation League 2016: Many of the founding goals of the BDS movement, ... along with many of the strategies employed ... are anti-Semitic.; Arnold 2018, p. 228: for example, the “Simon Wiesenthal Center” entitled one of its information brochures “BDS: An Anti-Semitic, Anti-Israel Pill”; Arnold 2018, p. 228: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... stated that “[a]ttempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, [...], are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism. [...]”.; Fishman 2012, p. 412: the meaning of the BDS message is of intransigence. ... its message combines anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
- ^ a b Harawi 2020, p. 184: Alan Dershowitz argues that the BDS movement has its roots in the Nazi boycott of Jewish establishments in the 1930s; Nasr & Alkousaa 2019: The motion said a BDS campaign calling for Israeli products to be labeled with 'Don’t Buy' stickers was reminiscent of the Nazi-era boycott of Jewish businesses.; Mendes 2014, p. 89: Julius (2010) argues that the boycott campaign has a nasty historical resonance given the earlier Nazi boycott of Jews in Germany
- ^ Cardaun 2015, p. 70; Wistrich 2010, p. 582: Hilary and Steven Rose—who launched the British academic boycott of Israeli institutions in 2002
- ^ Suzanne Goldberg (8 July 2002). "Israeli boycott divides academics". The Guardian.
- ^ The Israeli anti-boycott law: Should artists be worried? Cardozo AELJ
- ^ Alex Joffe, "Palestinians and Internationalization: Means and Ends." Begin–Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. 26 November 2017. 28 November 2017.
- ^ "FAQs: BDS Movement". The BDS movement therefore opposes activities that create the false impression of symmetry between the colonizer and the colonized, that portray Israel as a ‘normal’ state like any other, or that hold Palestinians, the oppressed, and Israel, the oppressor, as both equally responsible for 'the conflict'. ... Negotiations will at some point be needed to discuss the details of how Palestinian rights can be restored. These negotiations can only take place when Palestinian rights are recognised.
- ^ a b c d e f PACBI (27 December 2011). "What is normalization?". +972 Magazine.
- ^ "Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS". BDS Movement, 9 July 2005. Archived on 31 January 2016
- ^ Hitchcock 2020, p. 49: Some supporters of Israel have even claimed that the apartheid analogy is inherently anti-Semitic because it “demonizes” Israel
- ^ "Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return in International Law". OHRH. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- ^ Hallward 2013, p. 34: Opponents also mobilize fear related to the call for Palestinian refugees’ “right of return,” suggesting that BDS activists seek to wipe Israel off the map and destroy the character of Israel as a Jewish majority state; Hitchcock 2020, p. 49: These critics also often present the call for the right of return as merely an attempt to “destroy” Israel; Chotiner 2019: But I do think that the B.D.S. movement, ... is intent on the destruction of the State of Israel. If you look at the founding documents of the groups that first proposed B.D.S., they called for a full right of return, and, essentially, in practical terms, they’re calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.
- ^ "Letters From the August 26-September 2, 2019". The Nation. 13 August 2019.
- ^ "Reasoned rejection of one-state position - Norman G. Finkelstein". normanfinkelstein.com. 10 December 2011. Archived from the original on 10 December 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2020. One-staters apparently believe that Israel will give up its reason for existence and at the same time expose itself not to the risk but to the certainty of being ‘swamped by Arabs’. This in turn would indicate a willingness to accede to anything an ‘Arab’ majority might enact, including a full right of return and dispossession of Zionist usurpers. Can anyone seriously imagine this?
- ^ Brenner, Lenni (24 March 2014). "Finkelstein's "Knowing Too Much"". CounterPunch.org. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- ^ "Norman Finkelstein on the Role of BDS & Why Obama Doesn't Believe His Own Words on Israel-Palestine". Democracy Now!. 23 September 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
- ^ "Norman Finkelstein on the Role of BDS & Why Obama Doesn't Believe His Own Words on Israel-Palestine". Democracy Now!. 23 September 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2020. The problem as I see it with the BDS movement is not the tactic. Who could not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions? Of course you should. And most of the human rights organizations, church organizations have moved in that direction.
- ^ Abunimah, Ali (28 February 2012). "Finkelstein, BDS and the destruction of Israel - Ireland". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- ^ "Interview With BDS Co-Founder: Banned by Israel From Traveling, Threatened With Worse". The Intercept. 13 May 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2020. Saying that it will never happen ignores history, ignores that major empires have collapsed in our lifetime that were thought to be invincible just years before collapsing. Who would have thought a country as powerful as the Soviet Union would collapse? Who would have thought in the 1980s that apartheid in South Africa would collapse? ... So it’s really quite dogmatic for people to say only when it comes to protecting Israeli apartheid you cannot question it – if you dare, Israel will bring down the house on everyone. Israel depends tremendously on public support from the outside, from complicity from Western governments. As that erodes, as BDS grows and public support for BDS grows, and Israel gets isolated in the academic, economic, cultural, and military sphere, eventually, it will have to abide by international law, and we will see dissent growing in Israel like any other colonial state.
- ^ Braunold, Joel (2 July 2015). "A bigger threat than BDS: anti-normalization - Jewish World". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
- ^ Ananth 2013, p. 129; Lim 2012, p. 221; Bueckert 2019, p. 194
- ^ Samson Estapé 2020.
- ^ "History", PACBI website, 21 December 2008. Archived 3 December 2014.
- ^ a b SodaStream controversy continues to bubble. Patrick Strickland, Al Jazeera, 11 February 2014
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- ^ JEWISH GROUPS WANT UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN TO SANCTION PROFESSOR, JPost, 25 September 2018
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- ^ a b Sánchez & Sellick 2016, p. 87.
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- Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (11 December 2018). "Nick Cave: cultural boycott of Israel is 'cowardly and shameful'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2019. Artists opposing him should “go to Israel and tell the press and the Israeli people how you feel about their current regime,” he said, “then do a concert on the understanding that the purpose of your music was to speak to the Israeli people’s better angels … Perhaps the Israelis would respond in a wholly different way than they would to just yet more age-old rejectionism.”
- Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (12 July 2017). "Radiohead's Thom Yorke responds as Ken Loach criticises Israel gig". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 July 2017. “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression. I hope that makes it clear Ken.”
- "Which celebs are pro/anti Israel: The complete guide". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 27 August 2018. J K Rowling, the author of the world-renowned Harry Potter books, has spoken out against the BDS movement.... “The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality. I want to see the Israeli government held to account for that injustice and brutality. Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure… What sits uncomfortably with me is that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government,” she says.
- Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (11 December 2018). "Nick Cave: cultural boycott of Israel is 'cowardly and shameful'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2019. the boycott “risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support”.
- ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (11 December 2018). "Nick Cave: cultural boycott of Israel is 'cowardly and shameful'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2019. He also said the boycott “is partly the reason I am playing Israel – not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians”
- ^ Matisyahu Kicked Off European Festival Over Palestinian Politics. Kory Grow, 17 August 2015
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- ^ Reed, John (12 June 2015). "Israel: A new kind of war". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
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- ^ "Knesset report: BDS movement has no impact on economy". Haaretz. 9 January 2015. Finds exports to Europe have doubled since launch of BDS movement
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- ^ Kane 2019: the Ministry revealed that an “undisclosed economic campaign” ... had resulted in the closure of 30 financial accounts belonging to organizations as varied as the BNC and Al-Haq,
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- ^ Crilley & Manor 2020, p. 143: For instance, a survey of the Nation Brand Index from 2006 found that 'Israel is the worst brand in the world ... Israel's brand is by a considerable margin the most negative we have ever measured ... If Israel's intention is to promote itself as a desirable place to live and invest in, the challenge appears to be a steep one.' ... Similarly, a global BBC survey from 2012 found that 52% of respondents believed that Israel had a negative influence on the world while a Gallup poll among EU citizens in 2003 found that Israel was perceived as number one threat to world security
- ^ Barghouti 2012, p. 34: The campaign, ... focused on a new plan to improve Israel's image abroad "by downplaying religion and avoiding any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians." ... Arye Mekel, the deputy director general for cultural affairs in the Israeli foreign ministry, ...: “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel’s prettier face, ...”
- ^ Reuters 2016: “These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting,” said Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
- ^ Reuters 2016: The Israeli government earlier this month confirmed it was funding $15,000 to $18,000 of each 10-day trip as a means of offsetting news coverage of the country’s troubles.
- ^ Reuters 2016: “#SkipTheTrip. Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” said the ad,
- ^ Sánchez & Sellick 2016, p. 88.
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- ^ Sheskin, Ira M.; Felson, Ethan (2016). "Is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement Tainted by Anti‐Semitism?". Geographical Review. 106 (2): 270–275. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2016.12163.x. S2CID 159835145. We contend that the BDS movement, born of an ideology hostile to Judaism and Jewish nationalism and still immersed in that ideology rather than the language of peace, is not, as its proponents assert, a focused campaign aimed to change Israeli policies. Instead, it is a movement that often lacks integrity and quite often traffics in anti-Semitism. We have demonstrated that these anti-Semitic underpinnings are exhibited in the cultural, academic, and commercial spheres. In all three cases, persons who happen to be Jewish are blamed for the supposed sins of other Jews.
- ^ Bandler. "UCI Student Senate Repeals BDS Resolution." Jewish Journal. 14 April 2020. 15 April 2020.
- ^ "Over 200 scholars say backing Israel boycotts is not anti-Semitic". Haaretz. 27 March 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
- ^ "Why is the BDS movement under fire in Germany?". Middle East Monitor. 3 August 2019. Retrieved 18 September 2020. The controversial motion has triggered a noisy debate in Germany and beyond which reads that the campaign to boycott Israeli goods, artists and athletes is “reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history” and triggers memories of the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews”. The resolution also imposed a ban on government support for organisations which back BDS.
- ^ Dershowitz 2013: Shame on those members ... for singling out the Jew among nations. Shame on them for applying a double standard to Jewish universities.; Krauthammer 2014: Israel is the world's only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, ... is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.; Reut Institute 2010: The BDS Movement singles Israel out
- ^ Harvard Law Review 2020: Such logic might have required the antiapartheid movement to address not just injustice by white South Africans, but also abuses by the black African National Congress leadership or by other African countries. ... Iran, ..., self-defines based on religion, yet current U.S. refusals to buy from Iran do not give rise to anti-Shia religious discrimination claims
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