BDS and beyond

By Ruth Tenne

The Editorial of the liberal Israeli newspaper-Haaretz- had recently expressed growing concern over the economic boycott of Israel:
“Concern over a possible international economic boycott of Israel has been growing. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians. At the beginning of the month she warned that if there was no progress in diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the European boycott of Israeli products would not be limited to goods produced in West Bank settlements, but that it would be applied to Israel proper as well”. The Editorial goes on to say: “The magnitude of the danger this poses to the Israeli economy is hard to overstate. A European economic boycott of those with any connection to the occupied territories would be very broad. And Livni is warning that it would spread way beyond that. Even at this point, the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has chalked up a not-inconsiderable number of achievements….The need for new, courageous and steadfast policy does not stem solely from the threatened economic damage. The diplomatic and moral price that Israel is paying for the continued occupation is high enough, but now − with Europe talking about stiffening its economic stance − the price that Israel is due to pay becomes substantial and tangible. Israel has only one conclusion to draw from this: To exercise a genuine readiness to end the occupation and reach an agreement, before this major threat becomes a reality”.[1]Tzipi Livni’s pronouncement may indicate a growing anxiety of the Israeli Government which is due to the recent successes of the BDS movement. Yet, it may also be seen as a calculated tactic for convincing the Israeli public and the ultra right-wing parties in the coalition to respond favourably to John Kerry’s recent efforts of bringing the two sides onto the negotiation table. The crucial issue, however, is how far any progress made by the BDS movement may help achieve its declared aims. A paper represented by Lee Jones (Queen Marry College) at a recent research consortium in London argued that “first, without mass-based liberation struggle, Palestinians lack the main mechanism by which change was achieved in South Africa and which gave sanctions their force. Second, lacking coherent goals , leadership and strategy , the BDS campaign displays contradictions and confusions about exactly how BDS will bring about change, what the best targets are and what defines ‘success’ ”. [2] Being an old veteran of the BDS campaign, I tend to agree with the general arguments made by Lee Jones. Indeed, in a recent paper which was published by Palestine News Network I made some similar points. [3] I feel that a closer analysis of the “facts on the ground” ought to be made in order to appreciate the effectiveness of BDS. Essentially, the BDS campaign is a reactive rather than pro-active strategy – which by itself would not be able to achieve the declared following stated goals of the Palestine BDS movement (July 2005) :
“These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its 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; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194”. [4]


In reality BDS includes three tiers of action. The first one is Boycott which is, in essence, regarded a as non-violent protest undertaken by the members of civil society. It comprises the following three main throngs: consumer boycott, academic boycott, and cultural boycott. Those forms of boycott are guided by different leading bodies, such as, the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSC), the Boycott Israel Network (BIN), Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG) , the British Committee for Universities in Palestine (BRICUP), and Boycott From Within (an Israeli outfit) . All of those bodies are committed to the endorsed statements issued by the Palestinian BDS, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). However, in reality there is little coordination between those various outfits. They do not seem to have effective “central command” which would help define priority targets, assess achievements and decide on the next course of action, in line with progress made towards the declared goals. In reality, the BDS declared goals ought to be defined in terms of priority targets (e.g. halting land confiscation and settlement expansion , defying Israel’s blockade of Gaza , releasing Palestinians detainees and prisoners, removing the West Bank checkpoints, pushing for withdrawal of the Israeli military from occupied Palestinian land, etc). It follows that the success of BDS tactics have to be constantly re-assessed, and revised in terms of well-defined realistic targets. Otherwise , there is a danger that the BDS campaign would fall into the trap of a piecemeal boycott that is reinforced by self-gratifying partial victories which do not necessarily achieve the actual goals of the overall campaign.

In order to achieve BDS ultimate goals the boycott has to reach a “critical mass”. That means an active support of both the Western and the Muslim words – including Middle East and Muslim states and Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel ( where Palestinian citizens amount to 20% of the population). The boycott campaign has to be backed by an active support of leading organisations such as PLO and the Arab League . Indeed, on July 14 2012 a fresh campaign was launched by the Palestine National Initiative: “in previous campaigns, general-secretary of the PNI Dr Mustafa Barghouti has reiterated that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement should be taken up from within the occupied territories as a tactic to not only emphasize the atrocious Israeli occupation policies, but also to absolve the Palestinians from unwittingly perpetuating these same polices against. “It has been recorded that Israel sells nearly three billion dollars worth of goods in the occupied Palestinian territories,” Dr Barghouti once stated in a press release. This means Palestinians constitute the second largest market in the world for Israel. The Israeli profits that we contribute to inevitably are used to further suppress Palestinians and expand the illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem”.[5]

Indeed, this has been fully recognised by a recent BDS conference which took place in Bethlehem in June 2013. As reported by Electronic Intifada “The “ubiquity” of Israeli products in Palestinian stores in the West Bank was also a major talking point from both speakers and participants. From the platform, Mazen al-Azzah said that Palestinians are the first market for Israeli goods. He said this was largely down to the greed of Palestinian capital. But he cautioned that emptying Palestine of Israeli products would not be enough to pressure Israel, and that international successes would still be needed. However, he said local initiatives like the relatively new Bader initiative to boycott Israeli products could be a model for the international community…. local “Olive Convention” was formed which called on stores to boycott all Israeli products, with certificates being issued to those agreed”. [6]

I believe that, crucially, the Arab league and PLO ought to support the newly launched boycott from within the Occupied Territories by endorsing and demonstrating their solidarity with the campaign. It may not be easy for Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Israel to avoid Israeli products altogether, but they undoubtedly could make a conscious choice of boycotting products and produce which are sourced from the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank , or from Israeli companies which exploits Palestinian resources. Moreover, the Palestinian idea of offering certificates to stores which pledge not to sell products from the illegal Jewish settlements in the West bank, or from Israel (see above) could be adopted by the BDS campaign by awarding such a “human rights” certificate to conscientious stores outside Palestine (e.g. the Cooperative store in Britain) and publically placing the model certificate on the campaign’s website(s).

The Academic and Cultural boycott could also be greatly reinforced by achieving a greater co-operation between supporters of the boycott inside and outside Israel. For instance, a protest undertaken by BRICUP against academics and artists who take up an invitation to officially visit, or perform in Israel could be effectively backed up by Israeli supporters of BDS (e.g. Boycott from Within, and Women Coalition for Peace) who may be able to organise a public protest/picketing in Israel against the boycotted performance/ event.


The second tier of BDS extends the campaign to a commercial and financial level whereby public organisations have to be made aware of Israel’s constant violation of human rights and be put under pressure to divest from, or disinvest in companies which exploit and profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. the divestment campaign may require some careful planning, such as, identifying the relevant governing bodies , or individuals, who are in charge of the targeted company/financial institution along with the date and location of the company’s annual general meeting of shareholders . The campaign had some notable successes. As result of intensive divestment campaign, the Central Committee of the World Churches encouraged the Council’s member- churches “to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent” as a new way to work for peace , looking at ways to not participate economically in illegal activities related to the Israeli occupation. In that sense, the committee affirmed “economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied,” as a “means of action”…. The Central Committee takes note of the current action by the Presbyterian Church (USA) which has initiated a process of phased, selective divestment from multinational corporations involved in the occupation”.[7]

More recently student unions in the US and Britain have been putting pressure on the governing bodies of their own university to divest from companies that profit from the Occupation .[8] Yet, there is a need for a coordinated campaign which would run by a central body, or Co-ordinator, on the lines of the successful pan-European campaign against Veolia. [9] The co-ordinating body may be responsible for identifying and issuing a “black list” of major companies against which divestment, exclusion from commercial contracts, and arms embargo campaign should be undertaken. The Israeli website Who Profits- which is run by the Coalition of Women for Peace [10]-could be used as a tool for identifying and prioritising companies against which intensive campaign should be undertaken. Websites of other campaigning bodies such as the Coalition Against Arms Trade (CAAT) [10] and War on Want may also be of help. Divestment from arms companies such as BAE Systems, or G4S that supply Israel with security equipment which are employed in checkpoints and in Israeli prisons that jail Palestinians, should be high on the agenda of the BDS campaign. The BDS campaign ought to take some lessons from the global Occupy movement by organising “name and shame” rallies/picketing in financial centres /stock exchanges around the world. This will inevitably attract much-needed media attention and affect the financial standing of those companies (e.g. significant drop in share values). It is vital for The BDS movement to have a fresh look at its present tactics and learn from recent effective campaigns across the world. That calls for achieving active cooperation with human rights and campaigning bodies – such as trade unions, charities, church and faith organisations, the ecological and Greenpeace movement, Stop the War Coalition , and the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament( CND).

The third tier of BDS takes the campaign to a political sphere which is to be achieved on national, pan-European, or global level. Sanction is a well-used tool by powerful western states. Indeed USA administration holds a law-enforced sanctions programme against a number of regimes. The sanctions can be either comprehensive or selective, using means such as blocking of assets and trade restrictions to accomplish foreign policy and national security goals.[11] Yet, the USA grants $3.2 billions p.a. in aid to the State of Israel which contravenes international law and UN resolutions, with impunity. The American administration seems reluctant to suspend aid to Israel as a mean of enforcing its government to comply with international law and halt further expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. That stands in a stark contrast to US policy of the past when President Eisenhower had successfully forced Israel to return the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip to Egypt in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez war. [12] Ironically, and regrettably, Egypt is currently regarded by US as the main ally of Israel in the region. Its hard-line military regime is being granted $1.3 Billions p.a. in order to sustain US’s interests in the region and help maintain Egypt-Israel’s volatile alliance and help strengthening Israel’s iron-grip on Gaza and Hamas.

In contrast, the EU is taking a tougher stance on the illegal settlements in the West Bank by recently issuing a directive which insists that “all future agreements between the EU and Israel must explicitly exclude Jewish colonies in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. The EU guidelines will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included. Israeli institutions and bodies situated across the pre-1967 Green Line – including the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed — will be automatically ineligible”. [13] The Arab league, however, seems to take less stringent approach. ”In 1945, a year after it was founded, the Arab League started boycotting Zionist goods and services in Palestine. Then in 1948, the boycott was formalized to include three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary boycotts.
· Primary Boycott: No Arab country should import Israeli goods or export goods to the Israeli market, either directly or indirectly.
· Secondary Boycott: No Arab country should conduct business with any company already doing business with Israel.
· Tertiary Boycott: No foreign company should do business with another foreign company that has links to Israel.
Not all Arab countries implemented the boycott against Israel because the Arab League did not enforce it on its members. Therefore, some members did not apply the boycott at all; others ended it and established a trade relation with Israel; and the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced in 1994 that they would end the secondary and tertiary boycott but still enforce the primary boycott”. [14]

The BDS movement ought to call on both the Arab League and the EU to enforce their initial guidelines to member-states by imposing sanctions on companies which profit and consolidate Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.


BDS, as it stands, is a reactive campaign of non- violent protest against an entrenched oppressor – the State of Israel. It could not, in itself, achieve the declared goals of sovereignty and self-determination as declared by the PLO charter. Therefore, it has to be recognised as a mean of serving pro-active strategies which lead to the creation of independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Such a state should be established in the pre-1957 borders – being totally free of Jewish settlements and Israel’s military presence with its capital as East Jerusalem.

I believe that the crucial element in preparing the way for an internationally recognised Palestinian state, which will realise the aspirations of the Palestinian people for self-determination, is a full political representation of Hamas in the PLO and the Palestine Legislative Council, (Hamas does not recognise the PLO and although it won an absolute majority in the 2006 election to the PLC it carries very little political clout in it). The division between Hamas and Fatah is seen as a major obstacle to achieving significant political progress. The current split between Fatah and Hamas is quite fundamental since it is not only expressed in political terms but, more importantly, in ideological terms, namely, a secular versus a religion-based state. An official document in the form of an interim constitution/bill of rights, signed by both Fatah and Hamas is a key element for the foundation of an independent Palestinian state recognised by UN member-states. Such a document has to be issued in line with modern democratic principals which call for equal opportunities to all regardless gender, faith, or creed. (The human rights body of Lawyers for Palestine may have an important role to play in this respect). [10] Libya’s interim constitution, which was drafted soon after the ousting of Gaddafi [15], could be seen as a vital step that helped awarding international credibility to the new Libyan government.
Similarly, a ceremonial Declaration of Independence could inaugurate the newly-formed Unity Government in Palestine and help cement its political status globally.

The recent turmoil in Syria and Egypt may encourage re-conciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The sudden removal of president Morsi from office by the Egyptian military and the consequent clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood are bound to increase Hamas isolation. [16] This may stir Hamas towards forging political links with Fatah under the PLO umbrella, leading to a Unity Government in Palestine which will be based on endorsed constitution/bill of rights (that will also include the rights of Palestinian refugees). Such a step would help create the foundations of a Palestinian state that would be able to achieve full sovereignty and effectively fight for justice through International laws as enshrined by UN Charter and resolutions, the International Court of Justice, human rights conventions/treaties and UN associated bodies. [17]. The new independent Palestinian state will, then, gain the ability to form regional links with neighbouring countries from a secured position of power which will enhance its political sovereignty.





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