BDS: An International Response to a Palestinian Request

From the June 2014 PNL #835

by Ann Tiffany and Carole Resnick

Beginning in the 1960s, an international economic boycott of apartheid South Africa helped sweep away the entrenched legalized racism of that oppressive regime. It was South Africa’s blacks and other people of color who sought that boycott. Today it is the Palestinian people who have called for a similar economic boycott of Israel in the form of a Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Present-Day Apartheid

Although unpopular in the US, the term apartheid has been used for years to describe the Israeli government’s structures for separating the Palestinian population from the Jewish Israeli population—geographically, economically, and politically. In 2007 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial addressing the issue: “The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime…One side—determined by national, not geographic association—includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future.”
The truth was spoken on April 25 of this year when US Secretary of State John Kerry commented at a closed door meeting of the trilateral commission in Washington DC, that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if US-sponsored efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement fail. Responding to the storm of objection following the unexpected public release of his remarks, Kerry said, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word. Israeli leaders had made similar points in the past but apartheid [is] a word best left out of the debate here at home.”
Eyes-open assessment of the reality indicates that the situation in Israel-Palestine is dire. BDS is an international nonviolent effort to effect change based on the model that eventually contributed to the dissolution of the South African apartheid state.

What is BDS?

According to the website of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (
“The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:
1.    Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Separation Wall;
2.    Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3.    Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 (December 1948).

The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

The BDS campaign is gaining momentum internationally, throughout the US, and right here in Syracuse. Central New York Working for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel/SPC is actively working to launch a local BDS campaign. BDS includes the following elements:

•    A consumer BOYCOTT of goods, targeting products and companies (both Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights (see box on page 10).  
•    Institutional DIVESTMENT of financial interests held in corporations which profit from the occupation. There has been some success at the level of divestment. For example, a Dutch pension plan divested from five Israeli banks, and the large US pension fund TIAA-CEFF responded to pressure from its membership and divested from SodaStream stock.  
•    SANCTIONS, which are governmental actions to penalize Israel economically for its policies in violation of human rights and international law. Turkey and Norway both suspended military relations with Israel after nine Turkish citizens were killed on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010. If the US withdrew military aid to Israel because of its ever-increasing building of illegal settlements, home demolitions, the separation wall, travel check points for Palestinians only, detention of Palestinian political prisoners, blockade of Gaza and control of all goods entering there including food and medicine, we would have some meaningful sanctions happening with good potential to affect Israeli policies!

The BDS movement is an effort to both educate the international community and to provide a response that will move Israel to end the occupation. It has potential to contribute to a nonviolent solution to what has become an intractable conflict between the US-backed Israeli government and the Palestinians whose lands and lives have been occupied. Just as the international boycott of apartheid South Africa was instrumental in changing that government, BDS can help work toward a just resolution that provides self-determination and security for all peoples in the region.

Please join us in this effort. Your boycott will be especially effective if you let the store manager know why you’re not buying particular products.

Ann and Carole are active members of Central New York Working for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel. They sincerely hope that you will add your voice and your actions to the growing BDS movement!