Written by Ehud Rosen
In the past few years, Israel has been subjected to an international campaign of political subversion – known as the “Delegitimization Campaign” – aimed at undermining its existence as a sovereign state. The campaign operates in the political, legal, academic, cultural, and economic fields, and sometimes also includes “direct action” activities such as flotillas or pre-coordinated demonstrations and marches around the world.
In many instances, the same individuals and groups – primarily from the far left, the Muslim Brotherhood including its Middle Eastern branches and affiliates in Europe, and Fatah or other PLO organizations – have been active in a range of campaigns. While these various activities and actions are presented as being initiated by grassroots, civil society organizations, they are usually part of networks made up of a rather small number of activists that work together on the basis of joint ideology and end goals, personal ties, and sources of funding.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) angle of the campaign, which represents much of the battle in the economic field, has recently monopolized the headlines – against the background of actress Scarlett Johansson’s persistence in promoting SodaStream, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning during the Munich Security Conference that Israel will face growing boycott pressure in the future if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved.
The BDS initiative, inspired by the 2001 “Durban Strategy,” was launched in July 2005, when its proponents called for “non-violent punitive measures” to be maintained until Israel meets three basic obligations:
Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194 [which, according to the Palestinian interpretation, means returning to the whole of Israel].1
These basic obligations are constantly reiterated by the main figures identified with BDS, such as Omar Barghouti. As he explained in January 2014: “B.D.S. calls for ending Israel’s 1967 occupation, ‘recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,’ and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948.”2
It is this last point that has raised suspicions about the ultimate aim of the BDS movement. Writing in the New York Times, Roger Cohen, who is often critical of Israeli policy, nonetheless concludes that the BDS movement has a “hidden agenda,” which he states is “the end of Israel as a Jewish state.” Indeed, Barghouti wrote back in December 2003 that his goal is a one-state solution, which he defines earlier in the same article as a unitary state in which “by definition, Jews will be a minority.”3 Nevertheless, he is outraged by Cohen’s charge, calling him “a bigot, not a liberal.”4
To certain audiences, BDS supporters will emphasize that the reason sanctions must be applied to Israel is due to Israel’s presence in territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Even the reporters of the Financial Times fell for this false characterization of the BDS movement, defining it as “a broad coalition of activists committed to isolating Israel’s economy until it withdraws from the Palestinian lands it occupied in 1967.”5 At times, BDS leaders actually share their far more expansive intentions. Here are a few samples:
The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is really dead. Good riddance! But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution…
The current phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.
Going back to the two-state solution, besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with.6
OK, fine. So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state….I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential….In other words, BDS is not another step on the way to the final showdown; BDS is The Final Showdown.
This belief grows directly from the conviction that nothing resembling the “two-state solution” will ever come into being. Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.7
As’ad Abu Khalil
Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.8
Jamal Jum’a, regarding the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations
…this opens up the space for questions regarding the underlying paradigm that reduces the Palestinian struggle for liberation to a border dispute and calls for action by different actors, including not least international civil society and the rapidly growing boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.9
BDS has received several endorsements from within the Palestinian Authority, including from senior Palestinian officials who have also expressed their insistence on the Palestinian “right of return,” such as Dr. Nabil Shaath, a Fatah foreign relations commissioner, member of the PLO Political Committee, and former foreign minister. In addition, some activist groups and individuals are close to Riyad al-Maliki, the current foreign affairs minister. In recent articles and interviews, the two insisted that Israel cannot be recognized as a Jewish state, tying this point to the effect that such recognition would have on the “right of return.”10
One of the most important arenas in which BDS promotes itself is within trade unions. On April 30, 2011, the first Palestinian trade union conference for boycotting Israel convened in Ramallah.11 During the conference, “the broadest trade union coalition” for the boycott was launched – most likely the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS), listed among the current members of the BDS National Council (BNC).12 Alongside the many trade union figures present at the conference were Dr. Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to Shaath; Sheikh Fadel Hamdan, a Hamas legislator from Ramallah and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC); and Qais Abd al-Karim, a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and member of the PLC.
The conference highlighted the role of trade unions as a key formative component in the Palestinian struggle via the promotion of BDS in trade unions around the world as a major form of “popular” and “peaceful” resistance to the Israeli occupation. Letters of support were accepted from senior figures in various PLO factions, such as Abu Maher Ghneim, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee; Ahmed Saadat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); Rakad Salem, Secretary-General of the Arab Liberation Front (ALF); and Jamil Shahada, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Arab Front (PAF); as well as from many trade unions in Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Finally, the conference called for the continuation of the BDS campaign until the three obligations mentioned above were fulfilled.
In September 2011, following President Abbas’ speech at the United Nations, Dr. Sabri Saydam, the president’s adviser on high-tech affairs, revealed Palestinian plans for the coming months: to use weapons that were made available by modern technology – recruit and develop social networks in order to organize campaigns for boycotts of Israeli goods; apply more pressure on the Israeli academy by asking universities in countries supporting the Palestinian cause to cut their ties with these institutions; organize demonstrations with more attendees; and strengthen the relations between various solidarity groups, so they can better communicate and listen to each other and not fall under specific factions.13
In April 2012, Abdel Fattah Hamayel, Governor of Bethlehem, reportedly issued a circular that included all public and private institutions, as well as private individuals; the circular was intended to prevent any direct links or meetings with the Israeli side, acts that would be considered outside the law and lead to penalties.14
The current domain of BDS’s National Council, BNC (www.bdsmovement.net), was registered by Jamal Jum’a, head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, which since its inception in 2002 “has been the main national grassroots body mobilizing and organizing the collective efforts against the Apartheid Wall.”15 Among its various activities, the campaign operates the popular committees, which coordinate the demonstrations held against Israel in various villages, and in some cases have led to violence. Jum’a has expressed his support for the ongoing Palestinian “resistance” more than once.16
Jum’a was among the speakers at the first BNC conference that was held in Ramallah in November 2007,17 where he pointed out that boycotts were an effective tool in supporting Palestinian farmers and the building of a Palestinian economy of steadfastness on the land, as opposed to grandiose “development projects” that effectively entrenched dependency on the “occupation.” Opposition to normalization, Jum’a stated, had to be a crucial element of the campaign, “in order to strengthen Palestinian cohesion and give a signal to the people and the leadership.”
Representing the Palestinian NGO network (PNGO), Dr. Allam Jarrar summarized the need for a boycott in the current political context, “because 60 years into the Palestinian Nakba, we are beginning to revise the strategy of our struggle for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, foremost among them our rights to self-determination, independence and return [for refugees].”
Adnan Ateyah, speaking for the Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI), explained the criteria for the BDS campaign and emphasized the strategic character of this campaign that aimed not only to end the military occupation in place since 1967, but also to challenge Israel’s ideology, Zionism, and its international relations. Indeed, among the recommendations raised in three workshops were to build “public awareness about the importance of the campaign and the criteria for boycott and anti-normalization; initiate action and build a popular culture of boycott; and develop a response to those insisting on normalization”; and emphasizing that the campaign “does not only target Israel’s economy, but challenges Israel’s legitimacy, being a colonial and apartheid state, as part of the international community.”
The fourth annual BNC Conference took place on June 18, 2013, at Bethlehem University, under a slogan that reinforced the stated goals of BDS: “Boycotting Israel and Opposing Normalization Contribute to Liberation, Return of Refugees, and Self-Determination.”18 According to a BNC report, “Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PLO Executive Committee also took part in the conference, underlining official recognition of the BDS Movement’s increasing clout and impact.” Moreover, Mustafa Barghouti, a key PA oppositionist with ties to the European affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood and international far-left circles – and also a major player in advancing anti-Israel boycotts around the world – delivered a speech on behalf of the National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, “a main pillar of the BNC.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote on February 4, 2014, that the “third intifada” is underway, this time “propelled by nonviolent resistance and economic boycott.”19 It is worth noting that back in April 2008, the intentions of PA figures and NGOs to open a third “peaceful intifada” in case the talks with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed – “under the patronage” of Israeli and international peace activists – were presented to Al-Quds Al-Arabi.20
BDS supports and promotes completely different values than those which currently stand at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It is a highly controversial notion even within far-left circles. In a December 2011 lecture, Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass said: “As someone who grew up in a Marxist environment, I say, ‘don’t make a religion of it.’”21 In February 2012, Norman Finkelstein, one of the most vocal critics of Israel, stated that the BDS movement was a “cult” and that those who ran it were dishonest. He concluded by saying: “At least be honest what you want – ‘we want to abolish Israel and this is our strategy for doing it.’”22
Thus, several questions have to be raised: Are those in “the European Union in Brussels and other opponents of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank across the globe,” who Friedman says now lead the “third intifada,” choosing the right partners? Are they wise to continue to fund NGOs that promote BDS and therefore agitate for the opposite outcome to that which the European Union asserts it is trying to promote? If the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations bear fruit and continue, will the PA shun the growing number of its officials who support and promote BDS, or will the PA allow this tendency to continue to grow?
Ehud Rosen specializes in modern political Islam, focusing on the ideology and history of the Muslim Brotherhood. He lived in London for five years while working toward his PhD at SOAS, University of London. He is currently a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and teaches at Bar-Ilan University. - See more articles here.