What is BDS? Stirring controversy, it divides; but what is BDS?


What is BDS?

Stirring controversy, it divides; but what is BDS?

When I ask people what BDS is, the response too often is a blank stare or a question – is it a disease? Even many Jewish Americans don’t know. Neglected in mainline news, here’s a brief explanation.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, an umbrella campaign launched by Palestinians and run by pro-Palestinian activists from around the world. The BDS campaign aims to put economic pressure on Israel to push its government to end its military grip on Arab territories. International law recognizes it as occupation; Israel calls it “administrative control” of territories considered as threats to the Jewish state, which include the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan.

BDS campaigns have three demands: 1) End occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the separation Wall. 2) Grant Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel their right to full equality 3) promote the right of return to homes and property Palestinian refugees left when Palestine became Israel in 1948.

The non-violent BDS movement opposes Israel’s disregard of United Nations proposals to end the longest military occupation in modern history by using economic pressure.

Boycott calls upon people throughout the world to stop buying goods made in Israel until occupation ends. The tactic is not new. A story told to me by a feisty Palestinian woman describes her neighborhood boycott during the early days of Israel’s military occupation; and how ordinary people refused to buy Israeli goods even though they were the only ones available: their boycott success angered the occupiers and stirred harsh punitive measures; but it ignited citizen determination that continues today seventy years later.

Divestment calls for institutions such as banks, universities and corporations to exclude Israeli companies from their investments. American Caterpillar is among targeted companies because of complicity in human rights abuses. The company sells tractors to Israel, which uses them to demolish Palestinian homes. The story of Rachel Corrie, an American activist crushed to death by a Caterpillar tractor while she defended a Palestinian home introduces the story of a small farming village where houses are repeatedly demolished by tractors. The surprising reaction of villagers and Israel’s retaliation compel investment policy change by institutions, which are asked to look closer at how their invested funding is used.

Sanctions work on persuading state governments to impose market restrictions as punishment for United Nations infractions. Israel depends on trade with the outside world, especially with markets in the United States and Europe. In 2016, the high-profile United Nations resolution condemning Israel settlements did not impose financial sanctions or other punitive measures on Israel: U.S. sanctions on Israel are not imposed. BDS lobbies plea for imposing international trade restrictions for ignoring international law. Though ignored by Israel, the growing BDS movement serves to weaken Israel’s international reputation and boost involvement in BDS as force recognized as successful in helping to end apartheid in South Africa.

The biggest cost of economic punishment may be Israel’s reputation. The Jewish State has a strong economy fueled by a number of Western tech firms; thus far they have suffered little. The country’s greatest concern is the targeting of Israeli businesses as a result of failing reputation, seen as a cost more psychological than financial.  Israel’s leaders are deeply concerned that a successful BDS campaign and increased EU guidelines would isolate the Jewish state globally.

To counter the BDS affects, Israeli politicians describe the actions as attempts at “delegitimization.” AIPAC, America’s Pro-Israel lobby, opposes BDS and describes it as “an effort to stigmatize, delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.”

If restrictions on Israelis travel were to require visas and if Israel were to be denied preferential trade agreements, a change in the attitude of ordinary Israelis would be reflected in the Israeli government.

Sanctions are a way to hurt Israel for its actions against Palestinians. Jewish Israelis see the consequences of their government’s actions and some like Dr. Alon Liel, the former director general of foreign ministry of Israel and is also Israel’s ambassador to South Africa. He is one on the instigators of an Israeli campaign to advance recognition of a Palestinian state by European parliaments and governments. I met Dr. Liel at a demonstration in East Jerusalem.