Aaron Steinberg-Madow asked this question in his February 29 article in Forward. He went on to say: “Last week President Obama made the strongest statement to date that Israeli settlement boycotts are a legitimate tactic for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS). Upon signing a trade bill that included punitive measures for companies that boycott Israel and its settlements, Obama said that his administration would only enforce the bill’s protections as they apply to Israel-proper, not to the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Fierce controversy surrounds the bill. Supporters of the bill’s provisions targeting boycotts of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) frame them as part of a bipartisan effort to halt the momentum of the BDS movement which they claim is a global effort to delegitimize Israel.

The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated ten years ago by the Palestinian civil society. As I explain in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides, BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice. The campaign took its inspiration from the successful South African anti-apartheid movement.

Boycotts target products and companies, Israeli and international, that profit from the violation Palestinian rights.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership in various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its actions. By calling for sanctions, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in such violations.

Israel claims the BDS movement is delegitimizing Israel, that it is threatening Israel’s authority and prestige. Global polls warrant their concerns. Israel’s daily Ha’aretz reported In May 2013 that of the more than 26,000 people surveyed by the BDS in twenty-five countries only 21 percent had a positive view of Israel while 52 percent viewed the country unfavorably.

The bill just signed by President Obama and similar bills being introduced in state legislatures by pro-Israeli groups is a reflection of Israel’s concern. If these bills are approved by state legislatures they will deny funding for academic institutions that pass BDS resolutions, create blacklists of nonprofits that boycott Israeli goods and restrict companies and institutions that support BDS from receiving state contracts. Such bills would infringe of First Amendment rights and would be fiercely contested in courts across the country.

In June 2014 the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three companies that it said supplied Israel with equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory. The three firms—Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard—profit from the Israeli occupation by selling bulldozers, surveillance technology and similar products.

Since then the BDS campaign has had hundreds of successes. On March 10, 2016, G4S one of the world’s largest security and imprisonment firms announced its plans to end all its business with Israel within the next 12 to 24 months. According to the BDS movement, “G4S is an accomplice in Israel’s use of mass incarceration as a way to dissuade Palestinians from resisting its apartheid system.”

G4S is complicit in Israel’s systematic policy of arresting, detaining and torturing Palestinian children. According to the Defense of Children International, Israeli soldiers take an average of two children (ages 10-12) from their beds every night. They are not allowed to see their family or a lawyer. They are violently interrogated and then tried in a military court.

A report in the Huffington Post, May 30, 2012 exposed the case of one such boy. “After being beaten with a chair, held in solitary confinement, taunted with knife, forced to stay awake and otherwise abused, he was released from prison. He now has trouble falling asleep and when he does he has nightmares which feature his interrogators. And his punishment continues: he is kept under house arrest, indefinitely, and is not allowed to go to school.”

According to Brad Parker, an attorney and international advocacy officer for Defense of the Children International-Palestine “Ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces is widespread, systematic and institutionalized in the Israeli military detention system which relies on G4S equipment and personnel to maintain a number of Israeli prisons and interrogations centers.”

Another BDS success on the same day was the announcement by Ahava, the Israeli cosmetics company, that they will relocate their manufacturing facility from the West Bank to inside the pre-1967 lines. The Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, which reported on the move under the headline ‘Ahava Moving Factory out of West Bank following BDS Pressure,’ said that “the move will help mitigate the difficulties the company has experienced because of the European boycott of goods produced in the West Bank.”In 2011, Ahava shut its flagship London store in Covent Garden following months of protests by BDS campaigners.

Ahava’s decision to leave the West Bank follows similar moves by SodaStream who relocated from a West Bank settlement to the Negev, as well as the Unilever-owned Beigel-Beigel, Barkan Winemaker and the Swedish-owned Mul-T-Lock lock manufacturer.

In light of the many pro-Israeli groups that influence/strong-arm members of Congress across both sides of the isle, as well as the executive branch, I applaud Obama’s brave stance on BDS. It isn’t a full-blown endorsement but it is close and it is causing shock waves. And if President Obama, in his last year in office, continues to take control of the discussion on Israeli goods produced in the Occupied Territories, and dares to stand up to the pressure from the Israel lobby and its ilk, and joins in any future resolution condemning Israel at the United Nations, as has been hinted, he will, in my humble opinion, have finally earned his Nobel Peace prize.   

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