WARNING: This will be incendiary and unquestionably littered with social democratic and possibly Marxist or even anarchistic sentiment. Please don’t read if you don’t want to think about BDS.
After much discussion and rumination and explication, I think I am finally able to explain and possibly even support the full call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.
There is a LOT of information out there about it. It’s dense, seemingly contradictory at times, and very difficult to parse through. Having people to talk about it with is immensely helpful. For your own purposes, some good resources are PACBI, BNC, and IMEU.
To be completely honest, though so many people speak in favor of BDS, they only do so in the context of the real and physical occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But even among so many leftist Jews, it is very difficult to acknowledge or talk about the State of Israel as its own form of occupation, but to fully support BDS, which is critical for complete justice throughout all of historic Palestine, we must talk about the harder aspects.
The BNC has laid out three goals for the movement, and all of them are rights-based:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
We have to talk about occupation and colonization, we have to talk about the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and we have to talk about the Right of Return.
I’ll start with the last one: Right of Return. Counter: Demographic Threat. But think about it – its a right, not a mandate. It is a right, not an implementation. As a post-statist (ha), I have to think about this in the same terms as it is my human right to live wherever I want. As a young, female, American, Jewish, brunette, what-have-you, it is unjust to discriminate against me by telling me where I can and cannot live based on those criteria. Similarly, it is unjust to tell a Palestinian or an Arab that they cannot live in Israel or have equal rights or access to, say, housing, or land, in that state, based on factors of ethnicity or, in my opinion, national identity.
Continuing in this vein, the BNC cites the discrimination and apartheid in ’48 Israel when it asks for instatement of full rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. I don’t think a Jewish state, or any other religiously or ethnically superior state, is a morally or ethically defensible one. But even if you do, “a state for all its citizens,” to use NIF terminology, still requires equal rights be granted to ALL citizens of Israel; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of European descent, of African descent, of Middle Eastern descent, of Asian descent. Palestinian citizens of Israel ought not be discriminated against in border crossing, in education, in the labor market, or in the healthcare system. Palestinian politicians, such as Knesset members, should not be subject to libel from their Jewish Israeli counterparts, and should not be punished, as was Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, for protesting the policies of her country of citizenship by taking part in the May 2010 Gaza flotilla.
Speaking of Gaza: As I’ve stated, boycotting and divesting from the Occupation of the Territories is an easily morally defensible position, and very few mainstream, moderate, and even right-wingers will question criticism of violent occupation. Dismantling the wall somewhat less so, as it is still soaked in security propaganda, and the idea of occupation and colonization is for many people so ideologically reprehensible to consider as a possibility that it is difficult to talk about without being subject to anti-Israel smears. But it must be talked about and considered, because they are all connected. 1948 becomes 1967 becomes the 2000s and now, almost the entirety of what was supposed to have been a Palestinian state is under total Israeli control. This aspect of the BNC call is fundamentally about decolonization, which frankly, as Americans, feels a little hypocritical. It’s also about recognition of the Nakba, and about recognizing and decrying Israel’s psychological warfare against the Palestinian people.
When these three broad rights are achieved, all of them, completely, the BDS call will end. BDS’s universality is critical; it doesn’t matter what your solution politics are, it only matters if you believe in supporting human, civil, and democratic rights.
So BDS. Boycott. Divest. Sanction.
Personally, I just don’t really think sanctions work all that well generally speaking, but I do think that if the United States government ceased all of its billions of dollars of military aid to Israel, the power dynamics between the river and the sea would be drastically different. There is a strong argument (like, immensely strong) that the United States is the de facto and near-entire enabler of the occupation.
Divestment is a complicated tactic, I think intended to produce a scare-motivated change than to actually cause any true economic harm. If companies withdraw their financing or capital or products from the mechanism of the occupation (e.g. Caterpillar’s settlement-building bulldozers or American weaponry firms that are contracted by Israel to perpetrate war-mongering), the hope is that Israel sees that as a lack of faith from its investors which, in our global capitalist system, theoretically encourages them to rethink their politics and tactics (if, I suppose, they’ve ever actually thought about them at all).
Boycott is simultaneously the easiest and the most difficult. In the BDS call issued by the BNC, the boycott is multi-pronged. It addresses sports teams (sort of self-explanatory and irrelevant in the US because we don’t play soccer), consumer goods, and the cultural and academic boycotts.
The consumer goods boycott is primarily targeted (at least as described to American leftists) at settlement products. Like I said before, occupation is easy to protest because it is so clearly wrong and in liberalism-lite it maintains the farce of a two-state mytho-solution. So it is morally and ideologically easy to boycott goods produced in West Bank settlements because it is both preserving of the diplomatic ideal of status quo as well as satisfying our innate need to be actors on behalf of social justice. Killing two birds with one stone while somehow killing none at all.
The cultural and academic boycotts are incredibly nuanced and widely misunderstood. Neither advocates for the boycott of individuals – ever – but rather the boycott of institutions who either benefit from or lend services or power to the Occupation.
“We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:
1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.
The idea is to boycott institutions or organizations who benefit or benefit from Israeli Occupation and Apartheid. Critically, and I repeat this because it is often interpolated, notice it does NOT say collaboration or projects with Israeli individuals. In my opinion, individual collaboration is critical to the success of the movement. While this must be constantly revisited, questioned in every situation, and is complex and so easily misunderstood, the five guidelines set forth by PACBI are fairly clear and provide a good jumping-off point from which to distinguish radical sensationalism, e.g. BOYCOTT ISRAELI ARTISTS, which it is not advocating, and effectively targeted boycotts of institutions which behave as tools of the occupation and which hinder the achievement of the rights set forth as the over-all goals of the BDS call.
Keep in mind, BDS is not about political solutions. It is about achieving a basic set of rights for the Palestinian people, rights which have been denied them for going on three generations. The idea of and beauty inherent in BDS as I see it is that all people who fight against injustice, discrimination, forced separation, occupation, oppression, and so on and so forth can, with enough information, participate in BDS to whatever level is comfortable for them. The call asks for support and solidarity in pursuit of the common goals of, if I may quote our own founding fathers, “liberty and justice for all.”
On a more personal note, I am constantly exploring my own relationship with BDS, how I feel about its expanse, and how I think it can be effectively and marketably implemented among various segments of society. I welcome any and all engagement and discussion on the Call, as my own views are fluid, ever-changing, and very much confused. Be in touch!