Espanol / English

Middle East Near You

The fight ahead: 13 questions about the origins, objectives and war on BDS 

Image of a BDS rally [McGill Daily/Flickr]
BDS rally [McGill Daily/Flickr]

BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”. The BDS Movement was the outcome of several events that shaped the Palestinian national struggle and international solidarity with the Palestinian people following the Second Uprising (Intifada) in 2000.

Building on a decades-long tradition of civil disobedience and popular resistance, and invigorated by growing international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as exhibited in the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, Palestinians moved into action.

In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called for the boycott of Israeli government and academic institutions for their direct contributions to the military occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. This was followed in 2005 by a sweeping call for boycott made by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations.

What is the academic boycott?  

PACBI has served as a medium through which the Palestinian point of view is articulated and presented to international audiences through the use of media, academic and cultural platforms. Because of its continued efforts and mobilisation since 2004, many universities, teachers’ unions, student groups and artists around the world have endorsed BDS and spoken out in support of the movement.

Read: Timeline: International attempts to boycott BDS

Why is BDS important?  

In the absence of any international mechanism to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and the lack of international law being enforced, as expressed in dozens of un-implemented United Nations resolutions, BDS has grown to become a major platform to facilitate solidarity with the Palestinian people, apply pressure on and demand accountability from Israel and those who are funding, or in any way enabling, Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Is BDS a Palestinian or a global movement?  

The call for BDS is made by Palestinian society. This is important, for no one has the right to represent the Palestinian struggle but Palestinians themselves.

However, the BDS movement itself – although centred on Palestinian priorities – is an inclusive global platform. Grounded in humanistic values, BDS aims to court world public opinion and appeals to international and humanitarian law to bring peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.

What are some of the historic precedents to BDS?  

The boycott movement was at the heart of the South African struggle that ultimately defeated apartheid in the country. Roots of that movement in South Africa go back to the 1950s and 60s, and even before. However, it was accelerated during the 1980s, which, ultimately, led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1991.

There are many other precedents in history. Notable amongst them is the Boston Tea Party, protesting unfair taxation by the British Parliament; the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 (which ushered in the rise of the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.) and the Salt March led by Mohandas Gandhi in 1930 (which initiated the civil disobedience campaign that was a major factor leading to India’s independence in 1947).

All of these are stark examples of popular movements using economic pressure to end the subjugation of one group by another. BDS is no different.


What are BDS’ main demands?  

The BDS movement has three main demands. They are:

  • Ending Israel’s illegal occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall.
  • Recognising the fundamental rights, including that of full equality, of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  • Respecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

From where does BDS derive its support?  

The BDS movement is the collective expression of the will and aspirations of the Palestinian people who serve as the backbone of the popular, de-centralised movement.

Additionally, BDS is supported by conscientious people throughout the world, whether in their capacity as individuals, or as representatives of religious institutions, academic institutions, labour and professional unions, student groups and other organisations.

What is the main Israeli argument against BDS?  

By equating any criticism of Israel and its right-wing government with anti-Semitism, Israeli supporters readily accuse BDS of being an anti-Semitic movement.

For example, the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL) bases such an accusation on the premise that “many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state”.

Why does Israel and its supporters mischaracterise the movement and its goals?  

The above is one of many such claims aimed at mispresenting the BDS Movement. These claims are also meant to confuse and distract from the discussion at hand. Instead of engaging with internationally-supported Palestinian demands for justice and freedom, the anti-BDS campaigners disengage from the conversation altogether by levying the accusation of anti-Semitism against their detractors.

But is BDS anti-Semitic?  

Not in the least. In fact, quite the opposite. BDS opposes the supremacy of any racial group or the dominance of any religion over others. As such, BDS challenges the Israeli legal system that privileges Jewish citizens and discriminates against Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

Does BDS undermine the ‘peace process’?  

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli president Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [File photo]

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli president Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [File photo]

The “peace process”, which operated largely outside the framework of international law, has proven to be a splendid failure. Talks that began in Madrid in 1991, followed by the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, the Paris Protocol in 1994, Hebron Protocol in 1997, Wye River 1998, Camp David 2002, and other agreements and understandings only led to the cementing of Israeli occupation, tripling the number of illegal Jewish settlers and vastly expanding the illegal Israeli settlement network in the Occupied Territories.

Since then, several wars have been waged against Palestinians, especially in Gaza, killing thousands and maiming thousands more. With no serious pressure on Israel, thanks to US backing of Israel at the UN, not a single Israeli has ever been held accountable for what was repeatedly recognised by UN investigators as war crimes against Palestinians.

In the early months of his first term in office, former US President Barack Obama attempted to breathe life in the defunct “peace process”, only to be met with Israeli refusal to freeze the construction of illegal settlements. Eventually, talks ended and they are yet to resume.

The suffering of Palestinians is now at its worst since the Israeli occupation in 1967. Gaza is under a decade-long, suffocating siege; occupied East Jerusalem is completely cut off from the rest of Palestinian towns and the West Bank is divided into various zones – Area A, B and C – all under various forms of control by the Israeli army.

What are the Israeli and pro-Israeli efforts to challenge BDS?  

The Israeli government has sponsored several conferences aimed at developing a strategy to discredit BDS and to slow down its growth. It has also worked with its supporters across North America and Europe to lobby governments to condemn and to outlaw BDS activities and the boycott of Israel in general.

These efforts culminated on 23 March 2017 with Senate bill S720 which, if passed in its current form, will make the boycott of Israel an illegal act punishable by imprisonment and a heavy fine.

Meanwhile, Israel has already enacted laws that ban foreign BDS supporters from entering the country. This also applies to Jewish BDS supporters.

What has the BDS Movement achieved, so far?  

Top Israeli government officials perceive BDS as their greatest threat. It is the first time in many years that this form of non-violent civil rights action has registered so profoundly on the agenda of Israel’s political elite.

The massive campaign underway to fight and discredit BDS is a testament to the power and resolve of the civil-society centred movement. Palestinians are determined to, someday, achieve their own “South Africa moment”, when apartheid was vanquished under the dual pressure of resistance at home and the global boycott campaign.

Moreover, BDS is successfully pushing the conversation on Palestine away from the margins to the centre. It seems that, the more Israel attempts to thwart boycott efforts, the more opportunities BDS supporters have to engage the media and general public. The accessibility of social media has proven fundamental to that strategy.

Why are so many joining BDS? 

BDS is growing because it is both a moral and legal obligation to support oppressed people and pressure those who violate international law to end their unwarranted practices.

Writing from his cell in Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Guided by such moralistic principles, BDS offers a platform for anyone who wants to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people in their 70-year-long struggle for freedom, justice and human rights.

ArticleBDSInternational OrganisationsIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestine
  • Fasdunkle

    “the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001”

    An utterly discredited conference

  • charliematerne

    The question they failed to ask: How has BDS helped the “Palestinian” people economically?

    • Vinegar Hill

      Why should they have helped “economically” when that is not one of the aims of BDS ? Furthermore, if BDS succeeds in their aims against the racist, discriminatory Israeli state, then you will see economic fruits of their struggle benefitting the indigenous Palestinians.

      • charliematerne

        “Why should they have helped “economically” when that is not one of the aims of BDS ?”
        My point exactly, and you just approved of economically disadvantaging “Palestinians” by putting them out of well paying jobs. Your support for hungry children is awe inspiring.

        • Robert Skinner

          Charliematerne, I have a great paying job for you, Bulldoze down your house and build one for me on your land. I’ll pay you enough to feed your family with the money I made on the factory I built where your farm was. Of course ill still keep you under open air prison conditions.

          • charliematerne

            You are under a mistaken delusion, My house is on land I purchased, not on land that was given to me by an illegal occupying power such as Jordan where most “Palestinian” deeds came from

        • Vinegar Hill

          BDS is not to blame for the poverty of the West Bank or Gaza. It is obvious to all and sundry that the depraved, economic tactics and control by the Israeli authorities is at the heart of the problem.

          The productive capicity of the Palestinian economy is eroding and its economic performance is way below potential. Unemployment level are hitting rock bottom with figures rarely seen since the Great Depression.

          The root cause of this deplorable situation lies with Israel and its policies. The indigenous Palestinians are constantly faced with loss of land and natural resources due to the illegal settlements and the annexation of land by Israel. As well as this, the Israeli policy of fragmentation of the economy which produces disconnected markets and regions to which Israel has imposed restrictions on the importation of essential products such as suitable fertislers etc. escalates costs and creates rampant unemployment and widespread poverty.

          Yet again you have demonstrated your immorality regarding the brutal and depraved approach Israel takes when dealing with indigenous Palestinians and you stoop so low as to blame the BDS. You are despicable.

          • charliematerne

            We have Partial agreement on one thing “Unemployment level are hitting rock bottom with figures rarely seen since the Great Depression.” but more probably before the Depression to when the European Jews started returning to their Homeland and raised the standard of living for the FEW indigenous and MANY immigrant Arabs. Back then, there was economic cooperation (and mutual benefit) between the two population. You forget that “Palestinians” are more likely to turn ” suitable fertislers [sic]” into explosives to Murder Jews than to fertilize their crops. The mindset of good for you/good for me has been replaced by the Arabs with “screw you”/ even if it screws me.

          • Vinegar Hill

            Your infantile response clearly demonstrates your void regarding the perverted economic policy implemented by Israel against the indigenous Palestinians.
            Your feeble attempt to avoid recognition of your ineptitude by reference to fertilisers demonstrates your decrepid and immoral mind.

          • si91

            The root cause of this deplorable situation lies with the PA and its corruption and autocracy. Arafat died a billionaire flush with stolen aid money. Why didn’t he use this to help “his people”? Why has Abbas also stolen plenty?

    • Robert Skinner

      Fact is the Supreme Court ruled boycotting is protected as a form of free speech. free speech is part of the bill of rights.
      So I have another reason to boycott Israel. The Zionist Criminal state attacked my basic rights as an American citizen.
      Now I need to boycott Israel until it no longer poses a threat to my basic rights. The Question I need to ask myself is how can I stop Israel from destroying American rights.
      Google S 720 and HR 1697. See if your rep voted for it. Now you know who never to vote for. also writing them will let them know the American people are not going to give up the Constitution of the United States of America.
      Israel is attacking America, not our friend

      • charliematerne

        You are semi-correct. The SC has stated that BDS is “free speech” but it has NOT required the government to support it. The US anti-BDS laws simply state that if you want to BDS Israel, don’t expect to get federal funding (tax cuts/exemptions) to pay for it.
        A simple analogy for you. When was the last time that you (assuming that your stated name of Robert means you are male) went to a store and purchased things you have no use for and do not want, such as tampons, panty hose, bras, panties etc. In other words, something you do not need, have no use for, is not in your best interest and have no desire to purchase for yourself. Why should you expect the government to do what you do not expect of yourself. That would be YOU giving up on the Constitution

    • si91

      Stupid BDSers want to boycott businesses that employ Palestinians! Apparently “solidarity Palestinian people” goes out the window when they get the chance to hurt Israel, even if they hurt their “Palestinian brethren” in the process!

      • charliematerne

        While researching ICC jurisdiction, I found that there is no Internationally accepted definition of terrorism and therefore no ICC prosecution. It has to do with the old “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” This also makes extradition out of the question, We need to start emphasizing that the “terrorists” are war criminals (well defined in International Law) and violators of basic Human rights, both of which are covered by the Rome statutes and under the jurisdiction of the ICC