Creating new perspectives since 2009

Why Israel sees BDS as a ‘strategic threat’

October 25, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Demonstrators come together to support the BDS movement on 15 July 2012 [Heri Rakotomalala/Flickr]

As leaders of a state that is totally alien to the region and its indigenous peoples, Israeli political and military planners are obsessed with what they term “strategic threats”.

Such “threats” have varied over the years. The prime targets have included former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and, since 1988, Hamas, Palestine’s Islamic liberation movement.

The PLO, “the Hamas” (or “the Khamas” as Israeli leaders constantly – and wholly incorrectly – insist on naming it) have been joined in the last decade or so by “the BDS” – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The habitual, and mistaken, Israeli use of the definite article in reference to BDS is an interesting wrinkle, one more revealing of the thinking behind Israeli propaganda than may at first be apparent.

In adding “the” to BDS, Israelis and their supporters give away that they are thinking of BDS as a unitary organisation – a sort of grand conspiracy against Israel. In fact, BDS is a strategy, not an organisation.

Read: New Zealand BDS activists raise $12k for Gaza after Israel fines them $12k

There are many and varied Palestine solidarity groups all around the world which embrace the BDS strategy. This is a popular movement, not some nefarious plot against the “Jewish state”.

Although the idea of boycotting Israel has older roots, BDS began formally in 2005, with a document signed by hundreds of Palestinian civil society organisations. The BDS call has formed the principled basis of the diffuse movement ever since.

While it is true that the BDS call is maintained by a specific Palestinian organisation – the BDS National Committee – that group is not what Israelis are referring to when they misattribute the latest BDS victory to “the BDS”.

The BDS National Committee (BNC) sets out the basic principles of the movement’s strategy, and maintains unity between the diverse Palestinian civil society organisations which endorse it – only on the specific question of BDS. It also publicises BDS victories when they happen, and pushes for more such action.

Read: Israel orders BDS activists to pay $12,000 damages over cancelled concert

But it does not decide on specific BDS campaigns in specific countries. Those are the providence of individual Palestine solidarity groups.

As an initiative of Palestinians themselves, the genius of the 2005 BDS call was that it unified the fractured Palestinian body politics in a programme of solidarity actions against Israeli repression.

The document, inspired by the use of boycott in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, calls for people around the world to boycott Israel until three conditions are met:

  1. An end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories
  2. Full equality for everyone living in historic Palestine
  3. The right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel in 1948

The first condition addresses the primary concern of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (as well as that of Syrians in the occupied Golan Heights), the second addresses that of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the third seeks redress and restitution for those Palestinians expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948 and their decedents – the majority of Palestinians in the world today.

By sidestepping the political question of representation since the hollowing-out of the PLO as a result of the Oslo Accords, the 2005 BDS call document wisely re-centred the Palestinian struggle in terms of international solidarity.

Such solidarity, of course, will never be a substitute for a people’s own liberation struggle, and the 2005 BDS document doesn’t pretend as much.

Much of the success of BDS hinges on its decentralised nature. As such, by alluding to the phantom of a grand unified organisation – “The BDS” – Zionist propagandists are only fooling themselves.

Less idiotic opponents of BDS understand this.

Image of a BDS march on 16 August 2014 [Alex Chis/Flickr]

BDS march on 16 August 2014 [Alex Chis/Flickr]

The director-general of Israel’s anti-BDS ministry (the Ministry of Strategic Affairs) said as much to a parliamentary committee in 2016. Sima Vaknin-Gil said that BDS is “not a hierarchical military entity whereby if we killed X, the entity underneath it would no longer function.”

As hard as it may be for some Zionist fanatics to believe, BDS groups are not brainless drones waiting to receive their marching orders from Ramallah.

Nonetheless, despite Vaknin-Gil’s recognition of this reality two years ago, Israel hasn’t stopped trying to “decapitate” BDS in a similar fashion to how they murder Palestinian resistance fighters.

Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian intellectual and a co-founder of the BDS movement, was last year arrested and smeared by Israeli authorities, who set about releasing baseless rumours about him.

“Due to a gag order, I am not allowed to delve into any facts about the case,” Barghouti stated at the time. “I am thus denied the ability to even refute the vicious lies published by Israel’s regime against me. I am in no hurry to do so, though, as their main objective – attempting to tarnish my reputation and, by extension, hurting the BDS movement – has clearly failed.”

The previous year, they had imposed a travel ban on Barghouti, in a clear attempt to stop him from continuing to speak out in favour of BDS around the world.


All this came after Israeli ministers openly threatened Barghouti. Gilad Erdan – the politician responsible for the anti-BDS ministry – said in 2016 that BDS activists would soon “pay a price” and that “we will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”

Intelligence minister Yisrael Katz even threatened Barghouti with a “civil assassination” – invoking the same Hebrew euphemism (“targeted thwarting”) as that used in Israeli propaganda about assassinations of Palestinian resistance fighters.

All of this goes some way to explaining why – a decade on from the Palestinian call for BDS – Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in 2015 dubbed the movement a “strategic threat of the first order”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.