The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement operates under a thin guise of “freedom, justice and equality”. The movement does not support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict – the only just and practical solution to realise both parties’ legitimate national ambitions and the framework upon which all past negotiations have been based. It also fails to acknowledge several binding international resolutions and bodies which recognise the legitimacy of Jewish aspirations in Mandate Palestine. Omar Barghouti, the founder of the movement, has said that his organisation’s work will continue beyond the end of the occupation. So what are the aims of the BDS movement?
The BDS outlines three goals:
“Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; Recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.” The desire to end the occupation is shared by over 65 per cent of Israelis, but this must occur through negotiations ensuring Israel’s safety: immediate unilateral withdrawal would be irresponsible and would amount to bloodshed. The ‘wall’ the group identifies (over 90 per cent of it is a fence) was erected to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, and does so successfully. The Palestinians also have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court if they feel the wall’s route is problematic; in over 100 cases these appeals have been successful, though there are problems with access to lawyers for many Palestinians and thus not all grievances are expressed.
The second aim is indicative of the intellectual dishonesty which underpins the movement. Within the Green Line, Israel is a multi-ethnic democracy in which every citizen is guaranteed equal rights under the law (enshrined in the declaration of independence): there are active Israeli-Arabs in Parliament and in many leading walks of life. The discrimination they face is akin to the discrimination any minorities in the world face, and while discrepancies exist between Jews and Arabs, the government itself, triggered by the Or Commission in 2000, has taken and is taking dramatic steps to reduce inequality. In fact, Barghouti himself studied at Tel-Aviv University, with the university resisting widespread calls for his expulsion. In the occupied territories, in the words of Professor Alan Johnson: “Israel’s security policies are best understood as the tragic and temporary response to the failure of repeated peace negotiations and the terrible reality of terrorism, and not as an Israeli intent to rule over the Palestinians as superiors holding down inferior helots, apartheid style.” This is not difficult to substantiate considering how many times Israel has extended its arm for peace, something the BDS conveniently ignores.
Its position on the right of return is not only fantastical, but if it were to materialise, would also see the end of Israel as a Jewish state, thus ignoring any rights or aspirations of the Jewish people to self-determination. If such a ‘right of return’ was applied with consistency across the world in regards to displaced people in the twentieth century alone, the resulting tumult would make the current world unrecognisable. Even the PA tacitly acknowledges that this demand has to be abandoned, and only calls for the boycott of settlement products; its position therefore polarises the debate further. On its website, the BDS states that Israel’s “population transfer, apartheid and colonialism are prohibited and constitute internationally wrongful acts which render unlawful Israel’s entire legal and political regime.” Even if these allegations were true, it is a unique phenomenon to render a state illegitimate on the basis of its action: it didn’t even occur with Nazi Germany; yet, for some reason, it occurs with Israel.
Its website states: “The apartheid-character of Israel’s rule in the OPT is amplified by the fact that Israeli civil law is applied to the (de facto) annexed Jewish settler and colonies, whereas martial law is applied to the occupied Palestinian population.” This discrepancy is painted as a parallel to apartheid Bantustan, but this is far from the truth. The BDS fails to mention the Oslo II Accords, an interim measure carving the West Bank into three administrative divisions until a permanent solution is reached. Per contra, if “Israeli civil law” applied to the Palestinian population in the areas allocated to the Palestinian Authority, that would be imperialism because it would mean applying Israeli law to land under Palestinian administration; the differences in law merely reflect the international agreements which outline who governs which parts of the West Bank. Moreover, this would go against what the majority of Palestinians, Israelis and the international community desire.
The titular methods it promotes are also counter-productive in the extreme. At present, more than one quarter of all wage income in the West Bank comes from Palestinians working in Israel; economic strangulation hurts the Palestinians too. Netanyahu played on a culture of fear to win the most recent election, and the besiegement of boycotts on Israel, singling them out as a pariah state warranting boycott, only empowers the Israeli Right by convincing the majority of Israelis that the world is indeed against them. Boycotts also assume a monolithic ideology runs throughout the country, and therefore constitute collective punishment. It becomes irrelevant what you believe, even if you are Muslim, Christian or Jewish: if you have an Israeli citizenship, you will be indiscriminately punished. Rather than promote debate, they want supress the opposition narrative. This is why their calls for an academic boycott do not surprise me.
The movement singles out Israel as being culpable in this century-long conflict, and thus absolves the Palestinians of any of the necessary commitments or sacrifices that will be required for peace in the future. This is a dangerous culture to promote.
I understand people’s frustration at the stagnancy of this intractable peace process. If we do have the same goal – a two-state solution with safe and secure borders for both peoples – then there is no reason we cannot work together. The impetus is already moving in the direction of organisations (One Voice, for example) that recognise the responsibility and rights of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and fosters the conditions for peace to come about. There are signs of progress as we speak: Israeli industrialists are involved in the building of the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, Israeli café owners are offering half-price discounts for Arabs and Israelis who converse together when they eat, and one of my heroes, Mohammed Dajani, was leading Palestinian students to Auschwitz in order for them to understand the mental trauma and narrative of their counterparts. The firebombs and death-threats which he faced following this brave endeavour are a symptom of the BDS mentality: there is one correct narrative, and any attempts to build bridges are denounced as ‘normalisation’.
Attempting to remove nuances, reducing this multi-faceted conflict to simplistic binaries, is not only dishonest, but is ineffective too.