BOYCOTT, Divestment & Sanctions - BDS

An older white gentleman stands in the street holding a large white sign which says ' Boycott Israel' the man is part of a larger protest which we can see part of in the background
Flickr | Alisdare Hickson

BOYCOTT, DIVEST, and SANCTION ISRAEL - Arguments For and Against

In this comprehensive ➡️ platform on the BDS Movement discover over 600 resources which cover the pros and cons of boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning the state of Israel, as well as essential news sources, and key background information.

BDS is a tactic, not an organisation. The movement against Israel was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle and the U.S. civil rights movement - both of which were successful in their goals.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian land has been ongoing since the 1960s. The state of Israel is complicit in war crimes against Palestinian citizens, enforcing a blockade on Gaza and the West Bank severely restricting the movement of goods and people, and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.

This complex and historical conflict is explained further in our complete guide to Israel and Palestine including over 10,000 resources to key background information, essential news portals, previous deadly clashes, failed peace initiatives, and the human rights situation in both Israel and Palestine.

What is BDS?

The BDS movement began in 2005 and is a pro-Palestine campaign fighting for the freedom, justice, and equality of Palestinian people, and to shakeup Western support of the Israeli government. The idea is to place significant pressure on Israel until the government abides by international law and end discriminatory policies towards Palestinians.

To prevent further damage to the economy Israel passed the Anti-Boycott Act in 2011 which prohibits the promotion of all forms of boycott against Israel, the occupation, and the illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank. This law has been labelled anti-democratic and a violation of freedom of expression.

 

In 2014 about 2500 protesters from different organizations, communities and experiences in support for Gaza successfully blocked an Israeli owned cargo ship at the Port of Oakland.
Flickr | Daniel Arauz

One of the biggest successes of the BDS movement came in 2014 with the Block the Boat campaign. At three different ports in North America protesters prevented the docking and unloading of the largest shipping company in Israel. The campaign began during the weeks-long Israeli onslaught on Gaza and lasted 3 months. Its success was down to the solidarity of unionised dock workers, First Nation Indigenous protesters, and the Palestinian-led grassroots effort.

Shortly after, the Israeli government funnelled millions into anti-BDS campaigns which promoted the narrative that BDS activity was antisemitic and attempted to ban BDS activity in foreign countries.

The recent escalation of violence in Gaza after the brutal Hamas terror attack on Israel has put the BDS movement back into the spotlight. Israel responded to the attack by launching unrelenting and indiscriminatory airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza, as well as tightening the siege to an all-out blockade.

The Hamas attack resulted in the death of 1,400 Israeli’s, and the battering of Gaza has so far taken the lives of 10,000 Palestinians - 4,000 of which were children. Supporters of peace, nonviolence, and the end of human suffering are desperate for a ceasefire and are wondering whether BDS is the answer.

 

Five young Palestinian children stand in the destruction of Gaza surrounded by rubble and crumbling buildings
Flickr | Catholic Church England and Wales

Military and Arms Embargo – Ending Complicity of Death and Destruction

An arms embargo restricts the export of weapons and related technology into a conflict region so as to limit the suffering of civilian society, reduce humanitarian crises, and ultimately end violence. These types of sanctions are often political in nature and serve to show disapproval of violence and governmental conduct.

In 2011 BDS campaigners asked governments and institutions to end military aid and weapons exports to Israel, essentially putting an end to all arms trade in and out of the country. It is supported by human rights organizations, political parties, NGOs, unions, and advocacy groups across the world.

The idea is that any support to the Israeli military and their security industry enables attacks on Palestinians and allows Israel to continue with impunity. Regardless of the embargo, the U.S. is a well-known supporter of Israel. In the period 2009-2018 they provided $30 billion in military aid. The EU, the UK, Spain, and Italy have also directed military funds into the country.

As one of the largest arms producers in the world, Israel heavily depends on exports to the Global South. For example, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Azerbaijan purchased 69% of its weapons from Israel. Israel is also a key supplier of military equipment and spyware to authoritarian regimes in many Arab States. In 2022 Israel began marketing killer drones to 145 different countries, and recorded a 25% increase in the number of countries to which intelligence and cyber systems were sold.

Israels weapons exports have a serious morality issue. They are used by repressive regimes to promote autocracy, surveillance, racial profiling, police brutality, human rights violations, and even in cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

 

Black and white image of many female protesters behind a barrier holding signs fighting for the boycott of Israel
Alisdare Hickson | CC BY-SA 2.0

Divestment Campaigns

Divestment is another tool being used to put pressure on Israel to end their occupation of Palestinian territories. The campaign first gained global attention in 2002 due to the involvement of Harvard University and MIT. During the same year, the divestment tactic was endorsed by South Africa’s Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu who supported its use based on its controversial but successful implementation in South Africa.

Divestment campaigns focus on high-profile Israeli stocks and big financial portfolios such as universities, churches, banking institutions, and of course pension funds. The recent judicial crisis and proposed reforms have further prompted business leaders to pull their money out of the country as they pre-empt risk and the erosion of democracy. Due to strict anti-BDS legislations in the U.S. and the UK companies are unable to comment publically if the divestments were politically motivated or in support of Palestinian rights.

The boycott of Israel is split into economic, cultural, and academic. Essentially BDS is against all companies which participate in Israel's oppression of Palestinians, regardless of whether they are in the illegal settlements or Israel proper.

Boycott Campaigns

At the height of its campaign, BDS was a key factor in a 46% drop in direct investment between the period 2013 to 2014. If implemented on a global scale, reports have warned that boycotts could cost the Israeli economy billions of dollars. After a high-profile push from activists, major U.S. and European companies including Veolia, Orange, G4S, General Mills, and CRH all withdrew over their alleged complicity with Israeli rights abuses.

There are currently over 1,000 international businesses active in the illegal occupied territories, one of the most controversial profiteers of Palestinian repression is Caterpillar. They sold their equipment to Israel's military fully aware of their future use in the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes and danger to civilians.

 

A collage of all the brands which are apart of the boycott Israel campaign
Flickr | Dale Spencer

Regarding the boycott of Israeli goods and illegal settlements various successes have been achieved. An E.U. wide product labelling initiative allows customers to avoid products made in Israeli settlements and prohibits them from being labelled as ‘Made in Israel’. Another important advance for the movement was the creation of a complete list of all the company's conducting business in the settlements.

To counter these boycott attempts the Israeli government in 2018 published a so-called blacklist containing groups and individuals whose entry to the country was now banned. After decades of Arab boycotts and evolution of the economy, Israel has become hardened to boycotts. Most Israeli products are of a high quality and unique nature and so are more difficult to substitute. Trade is based mostly around high demand niche technology, making boycotting of these goods much harder.

Other forms of boycott include cultural, sport, tourist, and academic. The campaign has asked artists, authors, academics, and other cultural figures to refuse complicity with Israeli apartheid until the government acknowledges and upholds Palestinian rights.

Sports and entertainment venues, festivals, theatres, and cinemas have also been asked to reject funding and sponsorship from the Israeli government. Thousands of artists and cultural icons have endorsed the cultural boycott by either cancelling events or declining to work in the country. Supporters include Chuck D, Stéphane Hessel, Roger Waters, John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Iain Banks, Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Angela Davis, Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill, Faithless, U2, Bjork, and Snoop Dogg.

 

 A Jewish man with a Palestinian flag at  a protest over the ongoing Israeli crimes against the Palestinian population of Gaza and the West Bank
Flickr | Alisdare Hickson

Is a Boycott on Israel the Right Choice?

At Better World Info we choose the path of compassion, cooperation, and diplomacy. Despite the immense successes of previous boycotts, we still think it is important to demonstrate perspectives from both sides.

There are various issues to consider regarding the support of any boycott. In this situation we need to examine who is the boycott hurting the most? Some sources state that the BDS movement is actually worsening the economic crisis for Palestinians. In a place where employment rate is only 45%, further reduction of opportunities would be devastating.

It is important to also consider the effectiveness of BDS as a tactic. The movement began almost 2 decades ago, yet violent conflict is not only still present but is actually escalating. Palestinians are no closer to being granted their basic human rights.

It is hard to say how much of an impact the movement is having on the Israeli economy. Reports from 2015 estimated that there would be a loss of $15 billion, but that is only a tiny fraction when compared to a GDP of $500 billion. Foreign investment has fallen considerably in 2023, but it is unclear whether this is due to BDS or Israels internal political crises and the mass protests against Netanyahu’s increasingly right-wing government.

Some critics of the BDS movement note the double standard in boycotting Israel but not other states who equally have committed war crimes, atrocities, and suppress citizens' rights. This has prompted questions as to why the world's only Jewish nation is a target of this global campaign. The conclusion more often than not is that the boycott is a guise for antisemitic practices and the eradication of Israel. However, the motive of BDS is not to promote antisemitism, this idea is being used as a racket to silence legitimate criticism against the Israeli government.

Others have stated that the BDS movement is led by extreme militant and terror organisations such as Hamas, and thus advocates are also supporters of terrorist activities. So far these claims are unfounded.

Despite all of these concerns, many Jewish people and Jewish groups in Israel and around the world have shown their support for Palestinians and denounced the occupation of Palestinian territories, the siege of Gaza, and ongoing rights violations. Huge anti-government protests have been taking place in Israel calling for the resignation of Netanyahu and his ultra-right and extremist government.

Israel – Palestine Ceasefire for a Better World

Putting an end to the unnecessary death, destruction, and suffering that has surrounded this part of the world for decades must be a priority. With violence escalating and death tolls increasing by the day, the time to call for ceasefire is now!

The supporting a peaceful resolution and an immediate end to the violence is not the same as choosing sides. The uplifting of one does not have to mean the trampling of another.

Of concern to peace activists and voices for de-escalation is the growing U.S. support for Israel - most worryingly in the form of military aid. The U.S. House of Representatives has just approved some $14.5 billion to bolster the Israeli war efforts against Hamas. This is in addition to the billions in foreign assistance they provide to the state annually – 99% of which in 2022 went directly to the military.

We do not stand against boycotts or the state of Israel, but we do fight for human rights, social justice, equality, democracy, and peace. This is a crucial time to apply pressure on world leaders to demand a ceasefire. With two-thirds of U.S., UK, and European voters and taxpayers in favour of de-escalation, we must use our collective voice to say no to military first approaches.

Author: Rachael Mellor, 05.11.23 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

For further reading on BDS see below  ⬇️

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