Pro-Palestinian BDS Movement: Noble Or Hypocritical?

Pro-Palestinian BDS Movement: Noble Or Hypocritical?


The BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions from the international community and governments against Israel, is, in its essence, a movement first and foremost directed at protecting and promoting equal human rights.

BDS’ aims are threefold: realizing the Palestinian demands of an end to the 1967 occupation, eradicating racial discrimination of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and effecting a just solution to the refugee question. It is not, or at least should not be, centered around demonizing Israel, but instead on empowering Palestinians.

The world, however, is now looking at a colossal period of near impunity. We are looking at 67 years of Israel’s existence, 48 years of occupation and over 20 years of failed ‘peace process’ negotiations. But what we are not doing is staring Israel straight in the eye and saying, “enough is enough.” This is what BDS attempts to do. While the majority sit and watch as the situation for Palestinians worsens, some of us shaking our heads, BDS favors action.

The global boycott movement has experienced a recent surge of support worldwide
The global boycott movement has experienced a recent surge of support worldwide

As a nonviolent grassroots Palestinian resistance tactic, the movement is worthy of global backing. In reality, it is accused of singling Israel out for punishment and of being inherently anti-Semitic, with some BDS supporters appearing to conflate the entire world Jewry with Zionism. The real and perceived existence of anti-Semitism within the BDS movement threatens to undermine its cause, taking away one of the few valid Palestinian defense methods against Israeli policy.

The charges don’t just come from Benjamin Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who would all be expected to oppose the boycotting of Israel. The Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has also joined in, as well as an “unnamed diplomat”, calling boycotts of Israel “stupid” and “nonsense.” Less predictably, the Left is also accusing BDS of bias, prematurity and ineffectuality.

Don Futterman, programme director for Israel of the Moriah Fund, is a self-professed leftist. He wrote in a recent Haaretz op-ed that BDS unfairly singles Israel out, when terrible events are also unraveling across Russia and Syria, to name a couple. Noam Chomsky also seems to view the BDS movement as hypocritical, asking why US institutions shouldn’t also be boycotted for American human rights violations.

Liberal Zionist Peter Beinart has also been vocal in his denouncement of the movement, calling for the movement to recognize the inalienable right to Jewish self-determination and nationalism, in addition to the Palestinian versions.


In further commentary on the movement, Noam Chomsky has highlighted the danger in wrongly comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to South African apartheid when they are not so similar after all. “If tactics are to be effective,” he wrote in an article last year, “they must be based on a realistic assessment of actual circumstances.” While boycotts were successful in eliciting change in South Africa, the path the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taking is much worse.

Additionally, the “necessary educational work” has not been done and the world is still ‘bought in’ to Israel; US investment is still flowing into Israel.


Perhaps the most famous BDS campaign recently is that against Orange and its Egyptian subsidiary Mobinil. Orange has been accused of profiting from Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as sponsoring Israeli military units involved in attacking Gaza last summer, and is therefore a prime target for the BDS movement. It may well now be ducking out of Israel and the occupied territories, which might look like a BDS victory. However, some claim this is more for business reasons rather than moral ones.

Unfortunately for the BDS movement, there is anecdotal evidence behind the cries of anti-Semitism. At UCLA, pro-BDS students questioned a Jewish student about her possible bias and conflict of interests if she was to sit on the Student Council’s Judicial Board. Another incident at the University of Chicago saw a forum discussing BDS descend into anti-Semitic slurs about individual students. Unfortunately, instances as such discredit the movement, and pose as obstacles in the way of increased support and success for BDS for as long as anti-Semitism runs through its veins.

Israeli reporter Ari Shavit has reportedly seen young liberal Jews left “in such a state” due to BDS supporters’ anti-Semitism. But BDS is racist by default, because it expects far too much of Israelis and far too little of Palestinian Arabs, writes one JPost contributor.

A call for boycotting Israeli products
A call for boycotting Israeli products

The sole focus on boycotting Israel by shops in Ireland, which simultaneously ignore North Korean, Iranian and Sudanese wrongs, has also been pointed out and has attracted strong criticism.

There will always be some truth to the accusations that BDS singles Israel out. After all, it is a campaign directed at Israel, just as sanctions against Syria, Russia and Iran single those places out. But as far as anti-Semitism goes, it is an unnecessary stain on a movement that otherwise focuses on a legitimate cause: the fair and equal treatment of Palestinians.

Man holds boycott Israel sign. Credit: Francois Lenoir/ Reurters
Man holds boycott Israel sign. Credit: Francois Lenoir/ Reurters

At present, BDS is seen all too often as a means to demonise Israel by Israel’s supporters and friends, and not as a reasonable response to real grievances.

The widespread criticism of BDS from across the political spectrum should be sending its co-founder Omar Barghouti a clear message: BDS’ goals may be noble, but his movement is not currently capable of achieving them.

Before BDS can elicit any real positive change, the international community must be educated on why there is little hope for peace for Israelis and Palestinians without such grassroots, nonviolent tactics. Omar must loudly condemn anti-Semitism so BDS can be seen for what it is: a way of signalling international discontent on behalf of the Palestinians. Being associated with anti-Semitism, and even racism, has demonstrably hindered support from the individuals, communities and institutions who might otherwise be behind it.

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  • chickenroo

    There are basic qualitative differences between South Africa and Israel that create a clear argument against BDS. South Africa under apartheid was structured to privilege whites over black Africans under the simple logic of racial superiority. No civilization ever systematically tried to exterminate “whites”. Israel and the Occupied Territories are structured to protect jews and their homeland, the only place on earth in which they can feel safe. Many civilizations have systematically tried to exterminate jews.

  • Ariel

    The real problem is not the 1967 “occupation” but the arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority, considered by some to be moderate does not show Israel on the maps in their schools and children are taught hatred towards Israel and Jews in general. One must understand the extremism in the area, the atrocities commited by Arab groups one against the other from Iraq through Syria, Lebanon to northern Africa – Egypt’s Sinai, Lybia and Tunisia. Israel cannot afford to go back to the pre 67 boundries in such a turbulant region. The country is very small and would be less than 10 miles wide at its center according to the pre 67 boundaries. One must take into account that extreme Hamas or even ISIS might take control of any area Israel  leaves as Hamas took over Gaza Israel left several years ago. In fact, Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai area ith the peace treaty sighned ith Egypt, has also withdrawn from Gaza, let the Palestinian Authority take control of most of the west bank area but has received little credit fot its concessions. The Palestinian side remains extreme in its demands. BDS unfairly puts all the blame on Israel as most of its followers do not really care for Israel’s security and wellfare.

    • Hayley

      Where are you getting your “facts” from?

      Israel has not “let the PA take control of most of the West Bank”. The PA officially controls just 11%, and even this is subject to Israeli incursions.

      Israel has only “withdrawn” from Gaza in the sense that there are no settlers there. The army still control it with border checkpoints, a buffer zone, airstrikes and attacks on fishing boats.

      The threat of terror and fear of it does not justify the dishing out of terror and fear as a means to prevent it, I’m afraid. Unlawful collective punishment of Palestinians, whether they live in the West Bank, Gaza or anywhere else, cannot be excused whatever the reasons.

  • Essloyd

    The author has issues with Jews having sovereignty in their own historic lands.

  • Commander_Chico

    Nothing will happen there until the Palestinian Authority stops feeding off of the teat of western aid and Israeli-collected taxes and dissolves itself, to place the full burden of the occupation on the Israeli government.

    Then the Palestinians must passively resist and demand the vote – for the Knesset. No taxation without representation.

  • Pepper Wingate

    The only democracy in the Middle East is the bad guy? Seriously, you would support Hamas and the PA against Israel? Israel is the country where Jews and Druze and Bahai and Christian Arabs live together. Arabs vote in Israel. The workers in Judea and Samaria asked the courts to rule that Israeli labour law applied there also. The courts could not do so because of International law. What occupation? Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria until 1967 when Israel took the land back in a defensive war. They haven’t driven the people out, they just want them to cease engaging in acts of terrorism. Every time a Jew is accused of engaging in an act of terrorism, they are charged and tried and if convicted in a court of law. For Arabs, the process is similar but if convicted, they get a pension from the PA. Really? one can support the BDS for Noble reasons? BDS is hypocritical!

    • Commander_Chico

      Yes, let the Arabs in Judea and Samaria vote for the Knesset. Then Israel will really be a democracy.

      • Judy

        95% of thr Arabs in Yehouda and Shomron are under the jurisdiction of the PA per the Oslo Accords. You need to discuss that issue with Abbas.

  • Dilbert

    The whole basis of BDS is based on a false belief that stereotypical jews will do anything (including national suicide) if given sufficient financial incentive. Jews are used to playing a heavy price for simply being Jews (torture, expulsion, extermination…), so don’t expect this generation to be any different. Instead of trying to influence jews via their wallets, why not try influencing them by convincing them that that their balestinian neighbors are really willing to live in peace with them.

    • chickenroo

      so true. thank you.


Hayley is an independent journalist covering Middle East culture and politics. An English Language and Sociology graduate from University of Manchester, she now lives in Berlin and blogs at

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