The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005. According to its co-founder, Omar Barghouti, the movement calls for an end to Israel’s 1967 occupation of Arab lands, including East Jerusalem, an end to what even the US Dept. of State has called Israel’s system of institutional, legal and social discrimination against its Palestinian citizens which meets the UN definition of apartheid, and to respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
As I state in the recently released third edition of Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides the BDS movement, now in its tenth year, has redefined the battle for Palestine in the simple, straightforward terms of human rights. BDS has also created a global outpouring of support for Palestinian rights. In the US the issue of Palestinian rights has gone from the margins of the Left into mainstream discourse and debate. From the corporate media to academic institutions the discussion has veered away from obscure territorial claims and competing historical narratives to focus on the three simple demands of the BDS movement.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle, BDS has succeeded in exposing the toxicity of the “brand” Israel and in isolating it academically, culturally and economically. Israeli authorities claims the BDS movement is delegitimizing Israel, that it is threatening its authority and prestige. Palestinians claim a more accurate explanation in the shift in international opinion is Israel’s flagrant violation of international law which shines a light on Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians, and more and more people are repelled by what they see. The BDS movement merely acts to display, amplify and oppose Israel’s behavior.
The impact of BDS, now 10 years old, is acknowledged by top Israeli political, security and business leaders. A UN report shows that direct foreign investment in Israel dropped by 40% in 2014 as compared to the previous year. An Israeli co-author of this report attributed this sharp decrease in part to the BDS campaign. A recent Rand study estimated Israel’s economic losses in the coming ten years if BDS continues will be around $47 billion.
Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the BDS movement a strategic threat and has turned to Israel’s last and toughest line of defense—the US Congress—for help. No surprises there since many members of Congress are bought and paid for by the Israel lobby and as such are expected to do its dirty work.
Having failed to stand up to BDS at the grassroots and civil society levels, Israel recently adopted a new strategy for fighting BDS by getting anti-BDS legislation passed in several state legislatures and, they hope, soon in the US Congress. In essence Israel is trying to delegitimize the boycott, a time-honored tactic of resisting injustice in the US and a form of protected speech, as decided by the Supreme Court.
On January 20, 2016, the New York State Senate passed a law that would make boycotting countries allied with the U.S. illegal. The bill requires the state to create a blacklist of “persons” (individuals or companies) that boycott or encourage others to boycott U.S. allies. The bill’s supporters have made it clear that their main motivation is to protect Israel from censure of any kind. This bill comes in the wake of similar legislative efforts in Congress and in state legislatures in Illinois, Florida, California and Pennsylvania.
Legislative proscriptions like the New York law cannot obscure the reality of injustice and oppression that the BDS campaign addresses. Ultimately BDS will turn Israel into a pariah state as South Africa once was.
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