What is BDS (Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions) as it applies to Israel?

The BDS movement has been in the news of late following the ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s decision to withdraw the sale of its product from settlements in the West Bank (but continue selling in Israel itself – a pro-Israel position) and of Irish author Sally Rooney’s decision not to translate her most recent novel into Hebrew (probably an anti-Israel position if she believes in a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or that Israel does not have a right to exist).

The official global Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions movement (BDS) was founded in 2005 by pro-Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti who is anti-Israel and a strong opponent of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the latter of which was established during the Oslo Peace Process to represent the official government of the Palestinian people. The PA recognizes the two-state solution (at least formally) as the final and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The following explains well what BDS is. It is an excerpt of an article written by David Abraham, Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Miami, who wrote about the nature of the BDS movement and its challenge to Progressive Zionists (Israel Horizon’s Magazine, December 2017):

 “Many leaders and core thinkers in the BDS movement, Jews and non-Jews alike, do see BDS as a tool to delegitimate Israel’s very existence, to mark it as an immoral state, one founded on an original and perhaps irreversible sin—namely, the dispossession of the native Palestinian population. For some of these true-believers the Occupation began not in 1967 but in 1948. All of Israel is thus illegitimate, and though it may not be possible to return the U.S. to the Native Americans, Canada to the First Nations, or Australia to the Aboriginals, at least as an aspiration, Palestine ‘from the River to the Sea’ should be returned to the Palestinians. Even the leaders of BDS do not expect that boycotts, divestment actions, or international sanctions would materially harm Israel’s economy or turn the tide of its domestic politics (though some adherents point to the success of just such measures in turning around South African politics), but they do believe that delegitimation would demoralize and weaken an aggressive state while building support for the Palestinian cause.

Viewed this way, BDS looks like the mirror image of the Israeli Right: the conflict is a zero-sum game, 1948 and 1967 are the same, it’s all ours, this is a Jewish land or no land, etc.  

But most members or supporters of BDS, especially on campuses but also in the broader public arena, are not advocates of Israel’s destruction. They are simply beside themselves with frustration and grief over the relentless and uncompromising takeover of Israeli politics by the Right. They also see how Israel has both become embedded in a growing international right-wing nexus and, in recent years, exercised a deleterious impact on liberal Jewish life in the US, France, and numerous other lands, not to mention Israel itself.

For the majority of its supporters, BDS is more a cri de coeur than a political agenda. One might object that such politics are ineffective (if not counter-productive) and merely reflect a penchant for moral righteousness. But the politics of emotions are important, and American politics in particular are notoriously driven by ideological commitments, and nowhere more so than among conservative American Jews who consistently create and mobilize fear and insecurity in order to justify Israel’s extreme positions.

Prudential calculations are not enough, however. The BDS movement is gaining in prominence and support not because it offers efficacious solutions: it is advancing because of the weakness of progressive politics in Jewish America and in Israel itself. The only real answer, then, for those who do not share the maximal BDS vision but who see the dead end of current Israeli policies, is to fight those policies ourselves, tooth and nail, in the US and in Israel. That means rebuilding the Left. We may be seeing the start of something like that in the US; we need to help make it happen in Israel as well.”

For the full article – see – https://www.progressiveisrael.org/newsletters/Israel_Horizons_December_2017.pdf