Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions on Apartheid
Israel: Origins, Objectives, and Challenges
October 10, 2017
Palestinians at an apartheid Israeli check point
The Fight Ahead: 13 Questions about the Origins, Objectives
and War on BDS
BDS stands for ‘Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions’. The BDS Movement was the outcome of several events that
shaped the Palestinian national struggle and international solidarity
with the Palestinian people following the Second Uprising (Intifada) in
Building on a decades-long tradition of civil
disobedience and popular resistance, and invigorated by growing
international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as exhibited in
the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001,
Palestinians moved into action.
In 2004, the Palestinian
Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called
for the boycott of Israeli government and academic institutions for
their direct contributions to the military occupation and subjugation of
the Palestinian people. This was followed in 2005 by a sweeping call
for boycott made by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations.
What is the academic boycott?
PACBI has served
as a medium through which the Palestinian point of view is articulated
and presented to international audiences through the use of media,
academic and cultural platforms. Because of its continued efforts and
mobilization since 2004, many universities,
teachers’ unions, student groups and artists around
the world have endorsed
BDS and spoken
out in support of the movement.
Why is BDS important?
In the absence of any international mechanism to end the Israeli
occupation of Palestinian land, and the lack of international law being
enforced, as expressed in dozens of un-implemented United Nations
resolutions, BDS has grown to become a major platform to facilitate
solidarity with the Palestinian people, apply pressure on and demand
accountability from Israel and those who are funding, or in any way
enabling, Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Is BDS a
Palestinian or a global movement?
The call for BDS is made by
Palestinian society. This is important, for no one has the right to
represent the Palestinian struggle but Palestinians themselves.
However, the BDS movement itself - although centred on Palestinian
priorities - is an inclusive global platform. Grounded in humanistic
values, BDS aims to court world public opinion and appeals to
international and humanitarian law to bring peace and justice in
Palestine and Israel.
What are some of the historical
precedents to BDS?
The boycott movement was at the heart of
the South African struggle that ultimately defeated Apartheid in that
country. Roots of that movement in South Africa go back to the 1950s and
60s, and even before. However, it was accelerated during the 1980s,
which, ultimately, led to the collapse of the Apartheid regime in 1991.
There are many other precedents in history. Notable amongst
them is the Boston Tea Party, protesting unfair taxation by the British
Parliament; the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 (which ushered in the
rise of the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King. Jr.) and
the Salt March led by Mohandas Gandhi in 1930 (which initiated the civil
disobedience campaign that was a major factor leading to India's
independence in 1947.)
All of these are stark examples of
popular movements using economic pressure to end the subjugation of one
group by another. BDS is no different.
What are BDS' main
The BDS movement has three
main demands. They are:
- Ending Israel's illegal
occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the
- Recognizing the fundamental rights, including
that of full equality, of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Respecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to
their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
From where does BDS derive its support?
The BDS movement is
the collective expression of the will and aspirations of the Palestinian
people, who serve as the backbone of the popular, de-centralized
Additionally, BDS is supported by conscientious
people throughout the world, whether in their capacity as individuals,
or as representatives of religious
institutions, academic institutions, labour and professional unions,
student groups and other organizations.
What is the main Israeli
argument against BDS?
By equating any criticism of Israel and
its right-wing government with anti-Semitism, Israeli supporters
BDS of being an anti-Semitic movement.
For example, the
pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL) bases such an accusation on
the premise that "many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven
by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state."
Why do Israel and its supporters mischaracterize the Movement and its
The above is one of many such claims aimed at mispresenting the
BDS Movement. These claims are also meant to confuse and distract from
the discussion at hand. Instead of engaging with
internationally-supported Palestinian demands for justice and freedom,
the anti-BDS campaigners disengage from the conversation altogether by
levying the accusation of anti-Semitism against their detractors.
But is BDS anti-Semitic?
Not in the least. In fact, quite
the opposite. BDS opposes the supremacy of any racial group or the
dominance of any religion over others. As such, BDS challenges the
Israeli legal system that privileges Jewish citizens and discriminates
against Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Does BDS undermine
the ‘peace process’?
The ‘peace process’, which operated
largely outside the framework of international law has proven to be a splendid
failure. Talks that began in Madrid in 1991, followed by the Oslo
Peace Accords in 1993, the Paris Protocol in 1994, Hebron Protocol in
1997, Wye River 1998, Camp David 2002, and other agreements and
understandings only led to the cementing of Israeli occupation, tripling
the number of illegal Jewish settlers and vastly expanding the illegal
Israeli settlement network in the Occupied Territories.
then, several wars have been waged against Palestinians, especially in
Gaza, killing thousands and maiming thousands more. With no serious
pressure on Israel, thanks to US backing of Israel at the UN, not a
single Israeli was ever held accountable for what was repeatedly
recognized by UN investigators as war crimes against Palestinians.
In the early months of his first term in office, former US
President Barack Obama, attempted to breathe life in the defunct ‘peace
process’, only to be met with Israeli refusal to freeze the construction
of illegal settlements. Eventually, talks ended and they are yet to
The suffering of Palestinians is now at its worst
since the Israeli occupation in 1967. Gaza is under a decade-long,
suffocating siege; occupied East Jerusalem is completely cut off from
the rest of Palestinian towns and the West Bank is divided into various
zones – Area A, B and C - all under various forms of control by the
What are the Israeli and pro-Israeli efforts to
The Israeli government has sponsored several conferences aimed
at developing a strategy to discredit BDS and to slow down its growth.
It has also worked with its supporters across North America and Europe
to lobby governments to condemn and to outlaw BDS activities and the
boycott of Israel in general.
These efforts culminated on
March 23, 2017 with Senate
bill S720 which, if passed in its current form, will make the
boycott of Israel an illegal act punishable by imprisonment and a heavy
Meanwhile, Israel has already enacted laws that ban
foreign BDS supporters from entering the country. This also applies
to Jewish BDS supporters.
What has the BDS Movement achieved,
Top Israeli government officials perceive BDS as their
greatest threat. It is the first time in many years that this form of
non-violent civil rights action has registered so profoundly on the
agenda of Israel's political elite.
The massive campaign
underway to fight and discredit BDS is a testament to the power and
resolve of the civil-society centred Movement. Palestinians are
determined to, someday, achieve their own ‘South Africa moment’, when Apartheid was
vanquished under the dual pressure of resistance at home and the global
Moreover, BDS is successfully pushing
the conversation on Palestine away from the margins to the centre.
It seems that, the more Israel attempts to thwart boycott efforts, the
more opportunities BDS supporters have to engage the media and general
public. The accessibility of social media has proven fundamental to that
Why are so many joining BDS?
BDS is growing
because it is both a moral and legal obligation to support oppressed
people and pressure those who violate international law to end their
Writing from his cell in Birmingham
Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote "Injustice anywhere is a threat to
Guided by such moralistic principles, BDS
offers a platform for anyone who wants to demonstrate solidarity with
the Palestinian people in their 70-year-long struggle for freedom,
justice and human rights.
- Ramzy Baroud is a
journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming
book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press). Baroud has
a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a
Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International
Studies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.
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