The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian human rights, otherwise known as BDS, refers to a movement launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005. Modeled after the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, BDS represents a nonviolent and lawful set of tactics that include implementing boycotts, divestments and sanctions on Israel to put pressure on the state to respect the human rights and dignity of Palestinians. The BDS movement is wildly popular all over the world and is gaining traction in the United States. It has been endorsed by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Democratic Socialists of America and the Green Party, along with countless student councils from universities across the nation.
Despite the fact that BDS represents a nonviolent human rights movement, the opposition tries to smear the campaign by questioning the morality and efficacy of BDS. As an interfaith and diverse coalition of activists in support of Palestinian autonomy, we want to address and dispel some of the most widespread misunderstandings about BDS.
BDS is anti-Semitic.
Our Response: BDS targets the nation-state of Israel, not any religious or ethnic group. Additionally, the assumption that all Jewish people support Israel is itself anti-Semitic. The Jewish people are not a monolithic group and, like all other groups of people, do not have unified policy positions based on their identity. There is a long history of Jewish anti-Zionist movements that were popular before the State of Israel even came into being, such as the Jewish Labor Bund. Furthermore, there is a growing movement of young Jewish people across the world who are rejecting the conflation between Zionism and Judaism. The claim that BDS is anti-Semitic is not only offensive but is also unfounded and ahistorical. BDS is committed to ending all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism.
BDS is too extreme.
Our Response: BDS is often categorized as an extremist movement because it actively works against the hegemonic support for Israel that prevails in the United States. We know too well that any movement that questions the oppressive status quo will be brushed off as fringe and extremist. The truth is that BDS is a nonviolent and lawful response to Israeli human rights abuses. Calling a nonviolent movement extremist is just a convenient way to shut down all avenues of resistance.
The way forward is through dialogue, not boycotts.
Our Response: This is not an issue of communication, but of violent occupation. Ending the human rights abuses requires us to take action now. The opposition has used dialogue as a tool to normalize the situation in Palestine and present it as a conflict between two equals in order to obscure the violent settler colonialism and military occupation that is actively taking place.
BDS puts the blame on Israeli civilians and not the state.
Our Response: BDS is a targeted movement against certain companies that perpetuate violence against Palestinians. We recognize that people should not be blamed for where they are born nor should general citizens be held responsible for actions of the state. For this reason, BDS only puts blames on entities and actors that actively take part in the violation of Palestinian human rights by funding, providing equipment for or otherwise aiding the occupation.
Supporting BDS is supporting Hamas.
Our Response: Supporting BDS is supporting the Palestinians who have called for it. In addition to the 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks and other groups who initially called for BDS, the movement is supported by Palestinian society at large. Equating Hamas or any political party with all the people it governs is inaccurate. That line of thinking suggests that all Americans support Trump, which is clearly not the case.
The BDS campaign singles out Israel, and subjects it to a double standard not applied elsewhere.
Our Response: If you want to boycott other oppressive regimes in addition to Israel, by all means, go ahead. However, as stated, we are specifically focusing on Israel because the Palestinian civil society has asked us to do so. It is our job as people in solidarity with Palestinians to listen to their demands and answer their call for BDS.
BDS sounds good, but doesn’t work.
Our Response: BDS is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, which contributed substantially to the end of Apartheid. Furthermore, BDS was a key factor behind a 46 percent drop in foreign direct investment into Israel in 2014 compared to 2013.
The BDS movement takes jobs away from Palestinian workers.
Our Response: Many Palestinian trade unions support the BDS movement. In 2011, the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS was formed. Additionally, it is actually Israeli bosses who regularly mistreat and exploit their Palestinian workers because of the power imbalance that exists, which explains why Palestinian workers overwhelmingly support BDS.
The United States has its own issues which we should be focusing our energy on.
Our Response: As people living in the United States, we have a direct responsibility to support the Palestinian people given the fact that our government provides $10 million each day to the State of Israel in military aid. The oppressive institutions in the U.S. actively work with the oppressive institutions in Israel. For example, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. police forces and border patrol agents regularly meet with the Israeli army and police in a close partnership. What we learn from this is that systems of oppression are global and that no one will be free until everyone is free. And it’s pressing — the United Nations states that Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians, could be uninhabitable as early as 2020 due to isolation from resources in the region as a result of the Israeli occupation.
As an NYU student, there is nothing I can do about the Israeli occupation.
Our Response: But you can. For example, before you buy certain goods, check to make sure they are BDS-friendly. Here’s a tip to get started: download the “Buycott” app on your phone that scans barcodes to make sure they are BDS compliant, and instead of buying Sabra hummus, purchase other, more delicious brands that are also BDS-friendly. You can also join Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, which are two on-campus groups fighting for Palestinian rights.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 5 print edition.
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Email the NYU Students for Justice in Palestine at [email protected]