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BDS’ effect on Israel

People come together to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and to protest against Israeli violations on the Palestinian people [Stephanie Law/Flickr]
People come together to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and to protest against Israeli violations on the Palestinian people [Stephanie Law/Flickr]

On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Middle East Monitor presents a round-up of the successes achieved by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, a campaign launched in 2005 by a wide coalition of more than 100 diverse Palestinian groups. Though there are many ways to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, over recent years, the BDS campaign has emerged as the primary and most effective strategy of solidarity being adopted by activists and campaigners worldwide – and has provoked a fierce backlash by Israel and its allies.

Economic boycott and divestment

A number of major international companies have responded to BDS campaigning by getting rid of Israeli subsidiaries and even withdrawing from Israel as a market. French multinational Veolia quit Israel in 2015 after a global campaign targeting its links to occupation and settlements, while the following year, Irish construction giant CRH withdrew from the Israeli market. Also in 2016, Orange dropped its Israel affiliate following intense BDS campaigning in Egypt and France.

A number of significant investors have also divested from companies targeted by the BDS movement for their complicity in Israeli violations of international law and human rights, including pension funds in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand and Luxembourg. Earlier this year, Danish pension fund Sampension excluded four companies for their ties to Israeli settlements in, and the extraction of natural resources from, the occupied Palestinian territory, including two Israeli banks.

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

Trade union solidarity

BDS principles and tactics have been formally endorsed by national trade union federations in South Africa, UK, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Basque Country, Brazil and other countries across Latin America, in addition to scores of national and local unions. Recent examples include the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions voting in May for a full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel, while Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union with more than 310,000 members, also adopted a BDS motion in August.

Local authorities

Motions in support of BDS and BDS initiatives have been passed by more than 50 councils in Spain and by dozens of other local authorities in the UK, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. While pro-Israel groups have pursued legal efforts against Spanish councils with some degree of success, in the UK, Jewish Human Rights Watch, a pro-Israel advocacy group focused on lawfare, lost its legal action against three local authorities who had passed resolutions in support of Palestinian rights.

Students and academic boycott

Over 50 student councils and associations in North America have expressed support for BDS or backed specific calls for divestment from complicit companies. In 2015, the British National Union of Students (NUS) voted to endorse BDS, mandating the confederation of some 600 student unions to support the boycott campaign in various ways. Student groups from Belgium to South Africa, Brazil to Chile have also backed BDS, while in 2016, graduate students at New York University also gave their support to an Israel boycott. That same year, the largest single student union in Britain – the University of Manchester – voted to endorse BDS.

Timeline: International attempts to boycott BDS

Meanwhile, academic associations in Canada, Ireland, Qatar, South Africa and the UK have voted to support BDS; in the US, the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and National Women’s Studies Association, have all endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, while in the UK, hundreds of academics have publicly declared their backing for the academic boycott.

Cultural boycott

Recent years have also seen growing support for the cultural boycott of Israel, with hundreds of artists and cultural figures from around the world heeding the call, including Alice Walker, Henning Mankell, Roger Waters, Naomi Klein, Ken Loach, Judith Butler, Elvis Costello, and Mira Nair. In February 2015, almost a thousand UK artists signed a pledge in support of the cultural boycott. The boycott has attracted mainstream attention through such celebrity engagement – such as in February 2017, when American football star Michael Bennett refused to participate in an Israeli government-organised ‘good will’ (i.e. propaganda) tour.

Israeli ministers advance new anti-BDS legislation

Church denominations

A number of church denominations in the United States have adopted BDS or BDS initiatives, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church (UMC), along with several Quaker bodies. Many of these groups have adopted resolutions divesting from Israeli and international companies that are complicit in various Israeli violations of international law and human rights.

The Israeli backlash

The Israeli government has mobilised significant resources to tackling the BDS Movement; in 2016, the budget included $33 million for anti-BDS initiatives. That same year, an Israeli official acknowledged that cyber technology would be used in the fight, including through “actions [that] will not be publicly identified with the government”. The Israeli government has also enacted legislation as part of the anti-BDS offensive, including a law that denies entry to international visitors who support BDS, as well as a law that makes Israelis who support BDS vulnerable to civil lawsuits.

The potential threat

Analysing the economic impact of BDS to date is difficult by its very nature, though reports earlier this year in the Israeli media claimed that settler farmers in the Jordan Valley region of the occupied West Bank are losing NIS 100 million a year due to boycotts. In terms of future potential, one internal Israeli government report suggested that BDS could ultimately cost Israel’s economy $1.4bn a year. The Rand Corporation has estimated the potential costs at $47bn over 10 years.

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