This Israeli government’s fear that BDS is a serious threat is well founded. The UN’s World Investment Report states the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement caused a 50% drop in foreign investment in Israel last year.
Palestinian civil society launched the global BDS movement against Israel a decade ago , based on the successful BDS campaign against apartheid South Africa. Independent Jewish Voices-Canada was the first national Jewish organization to adopt BDS, in 2009.
BDS pursues non-violent punitive measures until Israel meets BDS’s goals to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
- 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
- 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Tactically, BDS has challenged individuals, grassroots organizations, unions, religious organizations, corporations, artists, and governments to pursue these goals in their own ways.
BDS actions can be simple or complex:
- individuals refusing to buy an Israeli product such as Keter plastics or SodaStream,
- individuals refusing to buy a product complicity in human rights violations against Palestinians, such as Sabra hummus,
- launching a campaign to pressure stores to stop carrying Israeli products like Ahava cosmetics,
- the United Church of Canada voting to boycott Israeli settlement products,
- Concordia University students voting for, or academics in the major American Studies Association voting for BDS,
- provoking the Canadian government to threaten “zero tolerance” of BDS activism, which incited a strong response from all of Quebec’s major unions and some of Canada’s major unions to sign a statement supporting the right to do BDS,
- demanding artists like Lauryn Hill, Carlos Santana or Neil Young not perform in Israel,
- mounting a public campaign to influence the Canadian government to end the tax-exempt status of the racially discriminatory Jewish National Fund,
- urging McGill University to end collaboration with the Israeli Technion Institute doing military and pacification work,
- pressuring a non-Israeli company like France’s Veolia to stop doing business with Israel,
- Jewish Voice for Peace forced a major US pension fund —TIAA-CREF– to drop Catapillar—which sells Israel heavy equipment to destroy Palestinian homes—from its portfolio,
- getting European banks to boycott Israel,
- and most difficult, forcing major government sanctions by ending business as usual with Israel.
Because BDS is dispersed and global, the results are varied. Smart BDS campaigns plan their work to educate, mobilize and publicize the egregious issues of Israel’s occupation and repression of Palestine – with the actual boycott being a complementary goal.
Israel’s blow-back against BDS has also been mixed – certainly they have persuaded or pressured institutions to resist BDS motions, artists to play Israel, billionaires to fund anti-BDS summits, anti-BDS trolls to spam comments, and governments to clamp down on BDS activism.
The New York Times writes about Israel’s losing battle: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his subordinates have denounced the B.D.S. movement, describing it as a new form of terrorism to delegitimize Israel. B.D.S. supporters, including a growing number of American Jews, have called such criticism a scaremongering and divisive tactic meant to thwart legitimate debate about the Israeli occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war.”
However, Israel’s grand efforts to stamp out BDS have also given tremendous publicity to BDS and its targets – far beyond our extremely limited resources. Coupled with Israel’s escalating settlement activity, mounting brutal violence against Palestinians and refusal to recognize a Palestinian state, Israel is giving the BDS movement all the fuel it needs to grow and succeed.
BDS proves again that sometimes grassroots activism to do the right thing is more powerful than the mighty institutional opposition it faces.