Defending activism and the power of boycotts

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Photojournalist and columnist Robert Azzi. (photo: Kimball Library)

Whether one is for or against a particular boycott, it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression.

By Robert Azzi | Concord (NH) Monitor | Feb 17, 2018


“A quarter-century ago I barnstormed around the United States encouraging Americans, particularly students, to press for divestment from South Africa. Today, regrettably, the time has come for similar action to force an end to Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens. . . . This harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organizations of conscience to divest from those companies . . . profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.”
— Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2012)


In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), together with the British Friends Service Council, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all Quakers. Chairman Gunnar Jahn, in awarding the prize, said, “The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to carry into action something which is deeply rooted in the minds of many; Sympathy with others; the desire to help others; that significant expression of sympathy between men, without regard to nationality or race; feelings which, when carried into deeds, must provide the foundation of a lasting peace. For this reason they are today worthy.”

Today, on the United States Holocaust Memorial website one reads that AFSC “became an important part of a rescue network helping refugees. The group worked in French internment camps, hid Jewish children, and assisted thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees with their immigration and resettlement to the United States.”

Today, to many supporters of Israel, AFSC seems less worthy.

Today, on Israeli government websites, one reads that the AFSC is one of 20 organizations banned from Israel because of their work in support of Palestinians living under occupation, because of their support of the non-violent, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). . . .

Last week, in Portsmouth, in response to comments I made in support of BDS as a viable non-violent response to Israeli occupation, it was suggested that BDS was illegitimate because within its ranks are some people who advocate for the dismantling of the State of Israel or who might be anti-Semitic.

That may be true, but the presence of “bad actors” in any movement doesn’t automatically delegitimize its actions and objectives.

The support of David Duke and the presence anti-Semites does not delegitimize the Republican Party, the presence of Antifa supporters does not delegitimize the Democratic Party, and extremists within BDS neither delegitimize its struggle for justice nor its moral authority.

Read the full article here →