Boycott Israel? divest from Israel? sanction Israel?

In 2005, some 170 Palestinian civil society organizations—labor unions, professional associations, women’s organizations, resistance committees and others—called upon the world to boycott Israel, divest from Israel and sanction Israel.

Their movement has given rise to a huge backlash.  The British government, some 32 U.S. states and the German cities of Bonn, Frankfurt and Munich refuse to do business with anyone who supports BDS.

The BDS movement has been condemned by the parliaments of Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, and the Czech Republic, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.  President Biden opposes BDS, although he says there is a First Amendment right to support it.

The United States is committed to giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, starting Oct. 1, 2018.  For decades, the U.S. has given more military aid to Israel than any other country.  In the past few years, it has been second only to Afghanistan. 

What does BDS call for?  And why is it considered so dangerous?  The BDS movement, in its own words, calls for:

1.  Ending Israel’s 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.  

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  

Until Israel accepts these demands, the BDS movement favors boycotts, divestment and sanctions:

BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support from Israel’s apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.

DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.

SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfill their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA (internatiional footfall)

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, does not support the BDS movement.  It instead favors boycotts of businesses that actually operate on the West Bank.  Its leaders hope for a two-state solution, in which Israel continues to exist, but Palestinians have genuine sovereignty in their own land.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, does not officially recognize Israel’s right to exist.


Israel’s barrier wall as of 2011. Click to enlarge.

Let me look into this in more detail

‘Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”

When Britain in 1948 decided to end its rule of Palestine, the United Nations proposed a partition plan between Jewish and Arab areas. 

The Arab League refused to accept the plan, and troops from Egypt, Jordan (then called Transjordan), Syria and Iraq invaded. 

When fighting ended, Israel controlled all the areas awarded by the UN and much of the Arab areas.  Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.  About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were driven out of Israel into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where most of them and their descendants have remained ever since.

In 1967, after several more wars, Israel wound up in control of these territories. There was talk of a “two-state” solution – that the Palestinians would give up fighting against Israel in return for a greater or lesser degree of self-government on the West Bank and Gaza.

“dismantling the Wall”

The Wall refers to some 300-plus miles of security fence through the West Bank, cutting off Palestinians from some of their land near the border and from access to other land occupied by Jewish settlers.  The International Court of Justice has ruled the fence illegal.

Over the years, some 400,000 Jewish settlers have moved into the West Bank.  They are mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe God has granted them the right to the land.

The settlers have taken possession of scarce water resources.  Even though a UN commission has determined that their settlements are illegal, they have received protection from Israeli forces.

Palestinians on the West Bank spend a lot of their time going through checkpoints controlled by the Israeli military.  Their experience is much like black South Africans back in the days when they had to show a “pass

The situation in Gaza is different.  The Israeli government in 2005 forced Jewish settlers to evacuate and withdrew military forces, but maintained control of entry and exit points (along with Egypt), air space and water supply. 

Terrorists from time to time fire rockets from Gaza, and Israel retaliates to devastating effect, and the whole area is being blockaded.

In the low-level conflict between the two peoples, Palestinian casualties greatly outnumber Israeli casualties.  B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reported 9,921 Palestinians killed by Israelis and 937 Israels killed by Palestinians since 2000.

(By the way, I think it is greatly to Israel’s credit that such an organization as B’Tselem exists.)

“the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel”

Israel’s 9.23 million citizens include 1.89 million Arabs, descendants of the 750,000 Arabs who found themselves within Israel after the 1948 War of Independence.

They have the right to vote and have representation in the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, and the right to travel freely in Israel.  But there are no civil rights laws protecting Palestinians from discrimination in employment or housing.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report complaints by Palestinian citizens of Israel similar to those made by black citizens of the United States.  Palestinian and Jewish citizens largely live separately. 

One big Palestinian grievance is discrimination in housing.  About 93 percent of the land is Israel is owned by the Israel Land Authority (a government agency) or the Jewish National Fund.  Palestinians complain that these agencies are only interested in developing Jewish villages and housing developments.

Although Palestinian Arabs are 20 percent of the population of Israel, their local councils get only 3 percent of Israeli government spending to local councils.

“the rights of Palestinians to return to their homes and properties”

Any Jewish person has the “right of return” to Israel, even though they have been separated from their ancient homeland for up to 2,000 years.

Why, ask Palestinians, do they not have a “right of return” they have been separated from for less than 80 years?

The boy Handala, a symbol of Palestinian exile.

There are about 7.25 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza.  If they all exercised their right of return and joined forces with the 1.89 million Arab Israelis, the 6.83 million Jewish citizens of Israel would be in the minority. 

Since the Palestinian birth rate is higher than the Israeli Jewish birth rate, Jews would be a permanent minority in their supposed homeland.

This would be an end to the dream of a Jewish national home, which would also be a refuge for persecuted Jews everyone.

It also is a rejection of the “two-state” solution—the solution favored by Palestinian moderates and Israeli liberals.  The two-state solution would be to grant Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza actual independence instead of a pretended self-government.

It would require restraint on the part of the Israeli government, and a willingness by Palestinians to accept what they regard as a terrible injustice in return for being able to live in peace.

Zionists say the BDS movement is antisemitic.  They say that denying the right of the Jewish state to exist is the same as denying the right of the Jewish people to exist, and so, by definition, is equivalent to what the Nazis tried to do.

The three tests of antisemitism are said to be demonization, delegitimization and double standards.  If you say Jews or Israelis are inherently evil, or you deny that Israel has a right to exist, or you judge Israel by different standards than you apply to other nations, then you are considered to be an antisemite.

But suppose you demonize Palestinian Arabs, deny that Palestinians are a nation or judge them by standards you do not apply to yourself.  What adjective describes you?

The BDS movement says Zionism is racist.  Basing citizenship on the race, nationality and lineage, they say, is by definition racist—no different from what the white people of South Africa did under apartheid.

The goal of the movement, as I see it, is not to change Israel, but to weaken it—to turn Israel into a global pariah, as the African National Congress did to the white government of South Africa.

I see the end game as a final bloody showdown, with a possibility of oppressor and oppressed changing places.  Speaking as one with no skin in this particular game, I hope for a compromise both sides can live with, rather than revenge for a historic wrong.


What Is BDS?  The official web site.

Country Profile: Palestine in New Internationalist.

BDS: how a controversial nonviolent movement has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian debate by Nathan Thrall for The Guardian.

What to Know About the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement by Sanya Mansoor for Time.

What BDS really wants: A one-state solution, minus the Jewish state by Philip Mendez and Nick Dyrenfurth for Haaretz.

Is B.D.S. Anti-Semitic? A Closer Look at the Boycott Israel Campaign by Daniel M. Halbfinger, Michael Wines and Steven Erlanger for The New York Times.

Why Free Speech on Israel-Palestine Matters So Much by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

How much does BDS threaten Israel’s economy? by Dany Bahar and Natan Sachs for the Brookings Institution.  Answer: So far, not much.

What do Americans think of the BDS mpvement? by Shibley Telhami for the Brookings Institution.

The Palestinian boy who remains 10 years old by Noreen Sadlik for New Internationalist.  About the Handala symbol.

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One Response to “Boycott Israel? divest from Israel? sanction Israel?”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Boycotting Israel isn’t terribly likely. OTOH, some Arab states seem to be abandoning the Palestinians. The Palestinians are often their own worst enemies in their methodology. Between the PLA, the PLO, the PLFP and Hezbolla, they are more disliked than Israel.

    Liked by 2 people

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