BDS: How a non-violent movement has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian debate

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 Bethlehem, Jun 2015. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)
Israel sees the international boycott campaign as an existential threat; Palestinians regard it as their last resort.

By Nathan Thrall | The Guardian | Aug 14, 2018

Above all, [BDS] has underscored an awkward issue that cannot be indefinitely neglected: whether Israel, even if it were to cease its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, can be both a democracy and a Jewish state.

The movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel — known as BDS — has been driving the world a little bit mad. Since its founding 13 years ago, it has acquired nearly as many enemies as the Israelis and Palestinians combined. It has hindered the efforts of Arab states to fully break their own decades-old boycott in pursuit of increasingly overt cooperation with Israel. It has shamed the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah by denouncing its security and economic collaboration with Israel’s army and military administration. It has annoyed the Palestine Liberation Organization by encroaching on its position as the internationally recognized advocate and representative of Palestinians worldwide.

It has infuriated the Israeli government by trying to turn it into a leper among liberals and progressives. It has exasperated what is left of the Israeli peace camp by nudging the Palestinians away from an anti-occupation struggle and towards an anti-apartheid one. It has induced such an anti-democratic counter-campaign by the Israeli government that it has made Israeli liberals fear for the future of their country. And it has caused major headaches for the Palestinians’ donor governments in Europe, which are pressured by Israel not to work with BDS-supporting organizations in the Palestinian territories, an impossible request given that nearly all major civil society groups in Gaza and the West Bank support the movement. . . .

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BDS targets may differ, but the goal is the same

A protester holds a sign promoting BDS on Jun 9, 2018 in Berlin. (photo: AFP)
In the global quest to attain justice for Palestinians, we must coordinate and celebrate each other’s success, from Beirut to the US.

By Nada Elia | Middle East Eye | Aug 26, 2018

As a movement that exposes, challenges and organizes to dismantle racism, BDS can take many forms, so long as these steer clear of racism itself. . . . In the US, anti-Zionist Israelis play a critical role in the struggle against state-sanctioned disenfranchisement of Palestinians. This flexibility allows us to optimize our organizing, guided by a vision of justice and unshackled by rigid criteria that do not work in all contexts.

With Israel officially enshrining apartheid with its newly passed nation-state law, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was boosted once again as the most viable grassroots strategy to end Israel’s violation of international law. As Professor Richard Falk put it, “If BDS continues to gain momentum around the world, and especially in the West, it will strengthen the will of governments to do the right thing, and gain sufficient momentum to shake the foundations of the Zionist insistence on a Jewish state in what is still essentially a non-Jewish society.”

Meanwhile, there is renewed discussion in the West around whether it is still relevant to boycott only products from the settlements or all Israeli products. After all, the new law affirms that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

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Ireland may make the purchase of goods from Israeli settlements illegal

The “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” seeks to ban the sale in Ireland of goods originating in Israeli settlements. (photo: AP Photo)

An Irish bill on Israeli settlement goods could make history.

By Yara Hawari | Al Jazeera | Jul 7, 2018


This is not an “extreme” or “radical” measure, as some have claimed. It simply identifies settler-made products for what they are: illegal. These products are made on stolen land with stolen resources.


On July 11, the upper house of the Irish parliament, the Seanad, will vote on a landmark bill that, if passed, would ban the purchase of goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements. The “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” was put forward by Irish independent Senator Frances Black and co-signed by Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher, John G Dolan, Grace O’Sullivan and David Norrison on January 24 this year.

However, just six days later, the Seanad voted to delay the debate on it indefinitely after Israel protested. On January 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the Irish ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, who explained that the Irish government did not support the bill. Netanyahu had claimed the bill sought to “harm the state of Israel” and was an attempt to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Six months later, on June 27, Black announced that on Twitter that the proposed law is back on the schedule for a debate in the Seanad. And just a week later, Fianna Fail (Warriors of Fal), the second-largest party in the Irish parliament, declared that it was going to back the bill, raising hopes among Palestine supporters in Ireland that it would indeed pass.

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Cal State East Bay student government unanimously passes BDS resolution

California State University East Bay. (photo: BDS Movement)

The Student Government of CSU East Bay endorsed a resolution calling for divestment from corporations complicit in the illegal military occupation of Palestine.

Press Release | SJP West | May 24, 2018


Under international law, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, is illegal and inhumane. The occupation restricts the movement and freedom of Palestinians in these territories, and monitors and controls Palestinian lives and livelihoods as well as removing them from the lands they live on through the use of the separation barrier, checkpoints, and Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank which are also considered illegal under international law, as well as a military blockade surrounding the Gaza Strip.


Hawyard, May 23, 2018: Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) Board of Directors of California State University, East Bay voted unanimously in favor of a resolution in support of divestment from corporations that profit from the occupation of Palestine.

The resolution, which was authored and introduced by a coalition of diverse student organizations and individuals at CSU East Bay, spearheaded by the Muslim Student Association, calls upon the university’s trustees to review their investments and divest from any companies found to be complicit in the violation of international law.

Some corporations were specifically mentioned, such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions, for being directly involved in allowing the Israeli government to maintain and enforce the occupation and construct Jewish-only settlements, walls and barriers, and checkpoints.

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Boycott is best response to illegal Israeli killings

A sign at a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris on May 12, 2018. (photo: Etienne Laurent / The Irish Times

The EU is complicit in the enabling of Israel’s violation of Palestinians’ rights.

By Omar Barghouti | The Irish Times | May 15, 2018


Despite Israel’s descent into unmasked, right-wing extremism and its decades-old military occupation and oppression of Palestinians, the EU continues to treat it as if it were above international law.


Today, Palestinians everywhere will commemorate the 1947–1949 Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) — the ethnic cleansing of the majority of indigenous Palestinians from our homeland and the systematic destruction of hundreds of our villages and towns to establish Israel as an exclusionary state.

In 1948, when Zionist paramilitaries forced the family of my late grandmother, Rasmiyyah, out of their spacious home in the picturesque city of Safad at gunpoint, the seminal process of settler-colonialism that was enabled by the Balfour Declaration became personal to my family. The Nakba has shaped my identity and the identity of millions of other Palestinian descendants of refugees.

To suppress the massive peaceful demonstrations in Gaza, where the majority are Nakba refugees and their descendants, demanding an end to the 12-year-old siege and refugees’ rights, Israel has enacted a shoot-to-kill-or-maim policy, killing dozens and injuring thousands, many with live ammunition. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has condemned these crimes, while Amnesty International has called on world governments “to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel” as an effective measure of accountability.

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Israeli court halts immediate expulsion of Human Rights Watch head

Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9. (photo: Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)

The European Union and a consortium of 15 human rights organizations have petitioned the Israeli government on Shakir’s behalf.

By Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | May 23, 2018


“Denying entry to or, worse, deporting people from a country because they are or were in their past critical of its governmental policies is a classic feature of authoritarian regimes. Israel contends to be a liberal democracy, but Omar’s case clearly shows that the government is persecuting people on political grounds.”
— Michael Sfard, Shakir’s attorney.


An Israeli court issued an interim injunction on Wednesday temporarily preventing Israel’s Interior Ministry from deporting Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

Shakir, a U.S. citizen, had his work permit revoked this month based on a recent amendment to the country’s immigration laws aimed at fighting supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

This is the first time that Israel is applying the law against a person already inside the country; in previous instances, BDS activists seeking to enter the country have been blocked. If Shakir is expelled, critics say, it places Israel in a highly undesirable group of nations that have banned human rights activists.

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Human Rights Watch director says Israel booting him to “muzzle dissent”

Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir. (photo: Human Rights Watch)

The human rights organization has written several reports critical of the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

By AFP via CBS | May 9, 2018


“Human Rights Watch is a credible human rights organization. Even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do.”
— Mark Toner, US State Department spokesman


Israel has given a Human Rights Watch director two weeks to leave the country, accusing him of promoting a boycott, in a move the rights group said sought to muzzle criticism. The interior ministry said Tuesday it had terminated the residency permit of HRW’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, over accusations that he supported a boycott of Israel.

“Following the recommendations of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, containing information that Shakir has been a BDS activist for years supporting the boycott of Israel in an active way, the ministry has decided to terminate (his) residence permit,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

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As Israel turns 70, young American Jews turn away

A member of Jewish Voice for Peace wears “another Jew supporting divestment” shirt. (photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

For many, the problem with Israel is not just its prime minister, its policies, or its occupation of the West Bank — it is also its identity as a Jewish state.

By Dov Waxman | Mint Press News | May 4, 2018


If, in their eyes, a Jewish state is discriminatory and no longer really necessary, then many younger American Jews struggle with supporting it. They feel ambivalent about Israel, if not altogether alienated from it. This is particularly true for the children of interfaith marriages — now almost half the population of young American Jews — whose Jewish identities tend to be less ethnic and more cultural.


Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress, recently kicked off a massive storm of controversy when she pulled out of a prestigious award ceremony in Israel because, she said, she “did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The response to Portman’s refusal to appear alongside Israel’s prime minister was intense. She was denounced by right-wing Israeli politicians. One labeled Portman’s decision as borderline anti-Semitic. Another suggested that her Israeli citizenship should be stripped. Born in Israel, Portman is a dual American-Israeli citizen.

The reaction within the American Jewish community was more divided. Some assailed her for being disloyal, deluded, or, at best, misguided. Others hailed her as a hero for publicly voicing her opposition to Netanyahu and his government’s hard-line policies.

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The end of Palestinian “exclusivity”

Students for Justice in Palestine and the African Students’ Association at John Jay College in collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine at Hunter and City Colleges and CUNY RSCC hold a Die-In/Vigil to protest injustice against people of color. (photo: John Jay / SJP)

Israel has been distancing itself from democracy, a credit to the awareness brought about by BDS, which is asking for nothing more “radical” than human rights.

By Nadia Elia | Mondoweiss | Apr 30, 2018


It is worthwhile to recall the objectives of BDS, so as to grasp how basic they are:

  1. Equal rights for all citizens, something Israel does not currently grant;
  2. Ending the occupation, and dismantling the wall, both of which are illegal according to international law;
  3. Granting Palestinian refugees the Right of Return, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If BDS is indeed a “threat” to Israel, if it “delegitimizes” it in in any way, it is because Israel is in violation of international law. Justice is only a threat to injustice.


When a majority of Palestinian civil society organizations picked BDS as the strategy for their liberation struggle, modeling it upon the South African anti-apartheid struggle, they were sending a clear message to the world that our circumstances are not unique, they are comparable to those experienced by the indigenous black Africans under the official segregation rules of the white South African government. Apartheid is officially designated a “crime against humanity,” and the comparison with apartheid, indeed the mere use of that term to describe the country that had long claimed to be a democracy, set into motion a series of seismic shocks that forever changed the discourse around Israel.

Many Palestinians and their allies had long maintained that the Palestine predicament was absolutely unique. Some will still passionately argue that no other people has suffered so long, been so vilified, so dispossessed, so misrepresented. And even though nobody truly wins at Oppression Olympics, they would claim first prize.

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Philadelphia Orchestra support threatened over planned Israel tour

Activists in downtown Philadelphia protesting the Philadelphia Orchestra’s upcoming Israel tour. (photo: Adalah-NY / Twitter)

Opposition to the tour has spawned the “Philly, Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid” campaign, whose protests are now in their fifth week.

By Susan Landau | Mondoweiss | May 1, 2018


“We are longtime subscribers and donors to The Philadelphia Orchestra. We are human rights advocates, and we support a just peace in Israel-Palestine. We urge the Philadelphia Orchestra to cancel their tour in Israel, scheduled for June 2018, and to refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid. We strongly oppose this trip, knowing it is used to mask egregious Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.”
— Letter to the Philadelphia Orchestra from supporters and patrons


The Philadelphia Orchestra’s announcement of a Israel trip in June 2018 sparked a tsunami of letters and protests by human rights advocates demanding the cancellation of the trip. Touted as a cultural mission, the trip was immediately clear as a “Brand Israel” propaganda tour — celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary, while whitewashing the Israel’s expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes between 1947 and 1949.

Culture is inseparable from politics. Artists performing in Israel obscure the reality of the lived Palestinian experience of occupation and apartheid. The itinerary, prominently featuring the orchestra’s name and logo, lists visits to notables responsible for the implementation of Israeli policies which violate Palestinian human rights on a daily basis. For example, the Orchestra will have a “VIP visit” to an Israeli army base, plus a June 4 performance with Israeli army musicians. The orchestra also feted the tour at a gala event, led by Israeli Consul Dani Dayan, a longtime leader of Israel’s right-wing settlement movement.

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