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.
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.
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.
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.