Neil Lazarus
An internationally acclaimed expert in the fields of Middle East politics, public diplomacy and effective communication training.


The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement initiated by the Palestinian Civil Society has grown in influence and popularity over the last decade, moving from a much-maligned fringe movement to a cultural and institutional cause with a potentially severe impact on the state of Israel.

The movement, which bills itself as a human rights initiative with philosophical ties to anti-apartheid South Africa, operates under the guise of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but a dive below the surface reveals more sinister motives.

Far from promoting peace in the Middle East and positive relations between Israel and Palestine, BDS instead works to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

The BDS movement serves simply as arms of an anti-Semitic ideology that seeks to establish Palestinian superiority in ancient Jewish lands. We’ll also take a look at how pro-BDS thought encourages anti-Semitism on campuses around the world.

What is BDS, Exactly?

As a political and cultural movement, BDS has gained traction in recent years, with an increasing number of world governments, academic institutions, political figures, and celebrities embracing and promoting the cause. But what exactly is BDS?

Started nearly two decades ago, BDS is a political and cultural movement that promotes systemic and individual boycotts, divestments, and (ultimately) sanctions against the state of Israel. Officially, the movement seeks to impose these measures until Israel meets what the group determines are its duties under existing international law, which are delineated as follows:

  • Israeli withdrawal from “occupied territories”
  • Removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank
  • Granting of equal rights to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel
  • “Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”

Proponents and leaders of BDS compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, where nations around the world boycotted and broke ties with the white supremacist nation, eventually forcing an end to the white-nationalist policies and systemic oppression against black South Africans.

Despite this rhetoric, however, the differences between apartheid South Africa and the state of Israel are immense. In fact, such comparisons are nothing more than a cover for the movement’s true goal, which has been expressed on countless occasions by BDS proponents and leaders: the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel.

In a statement, prominent BDS activist and co-founder Omar Barghouti remarked, “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. 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 more enduring alternative… the one-state solution… where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.”

This anti-Semitic view serves as a bedrock to BDS ideology and can be traced as far back as the movement’s founding.

Though BDS leaders love to propagate the myth that the movement was founded in 2005 as a response to Israel’s refusal to follow international law, evidence suggests that the movement sprang up in a 2001 NGO forum on the UN’s Durban Conference.

The forum, which was described by attendees as highly anti-Semitic, served as the foundation for BDS and its call to boycott Israel.

Neil Lazarus, as with many other Israeli speakers, are isolated on the US campuses by BDS

Today, BDS is a worldwide, Palestinian-based movement, led largely by co-founder Omar Barghouti. Barghouti, who supports the dissolution of the Jewish state and the merging of current Israeli and Palestinian lands into a democratic, Arab-led nation in which Jews will have no collective rights, has gone on record stating, “Ultimately, BDS aims to turn Israel into a pariah.”

Simply put, the movement believes that the best way to do that is to facilitate an economic and cultural boycott of everything Israel. Through negative propaganda, the movement seeks to classify Israel as a serial human rights abuser and colonizer unworthy of foreign business or investment. More specifically, the BDS movement can be broken down into three main legs: academic, cultural, and economic boycotts.

Three Stages of BDS

BDS seeks to impose a total stranglehold on the Israeli state by cutting off the nation’s access to academic, cultural, and economic capital. Let’s take a look at how these three stages manifest to create an insidious and anti-Semitic campaign against Israel.

  1. Academic
Pro BDS supporters protest a lecture by Neil Lazarus at UC Santa Cruz

The BDS movement has arguably experienced the most success at the academic level, where pro-Palestinian ideology has infiltrated campuses across the West. Officially, BDS’s campaign for academic boycotts of Israel was initiated in 2004 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), of which Barghouti is a founder.

The campaign has experienced measurable success, with a number of academic organizations calling for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions. According to BDS ideology, Israeli universities are complicit in the “human rights abuses” perpetuated by the state and therefore are a threat to Palestinian scholars and students.

The claim, dubious at best, has led groups such as the American Studies Association (ASA) to officially boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Despite the rhetoric propagated by BDS advocates, a 2017 study by the AMCHA noted a significant increase in anti-Semitism on campuses where pro-BDS sentiment or policies are present.

In other words, the opposite proves to be true. As a piece published in the Algemeiner aptly states, “When BDS comes to campus, antisemitism follows.” This trend highlights the increasing terror faced by Jewish students on campuses throughout the West and serves to underscore the racist nature of the BDS movement. Furthermore, it highlights the growing need of universities and other academic institutions to take action to protect students from racism and its potentially-harmful implications, suggesting that academic organizations should be wary of siding with or promoting BDS ideology.

  1. Cultural

BDS-inspired boycotts on the cultural level have largely targeted celebrities and musicians of Jewish heritage or who are planning on performing in the nation. Recent years have seen an uptick in the number of performers who are bullied out of Israeli tours and appearances. BDS activists seek to threaten these musicians with the loss of business and fan support for being associated with the Jewish state.

A few notable cases include the 2015 case of Jewish-American rapper Matisyahu, whose appearance at the Rototom Sunsplash Music Festival was canceled due to his refusal to sign a statement supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. In making the decision, the festival cited “…the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion, and threats employed by the BDS Pais Valencia.” Though the rapper was subsequently re-invited following criticism from the press, the government, and other outsiders, the instance serves as a microcosm of BDS bullying that’s come to surround Jewish performers in the last few years.

Other performers, such as New Zealand artist Lorde, have been pressured out of Israeli concerts, facing intense backlash from BDS activists. Still, others such as British groups Shame and Portishead have sided in solidarity with the BDS movement, vowing to boycott the Jewish state until BDS demands are met in full.

  1. Economic

A more pressing branch of the BDS movement is the turn to economic boycotts, which aim to shun goods and services produced in Israel and businesses in or that work with the Israeli state. Projections estimate that these economic and business boycotts could cost Israel between eleven to forty-seven billion dollars over the coming decade, suggesting severe implications for the state if the movement gains further traction.

According to the official BDS website, major European companies CRH, Orange, and Veolia have all pulled out of Israel due to extensive monetary loss following BDS activist pressure. In referencing Veolia, in particular, the group notes $20 billion in lost contracts as a result of BDS activism. This highlights the movement’s power to direct the flow of business and intimidate businesses wishing to operate in the state of Israel.

The group also boasts a 46% drop in Israeli foreign direct investment from 2013 to 2014. These numbers suggest that BDS activism could potentially cause severe implications for the Israeli economy. Despite this, studies have called into question the true economic impact of the BDS movement. What’s more, critics have called into question the feasibility of economic boycotts, noting that Israelis and Palestinians frequently trade with one another in the West Bank. This underscores the movement’s status as a cause whose main mission is simply to delegitimize the Jewish state.

BDS Is Genius—And Flawed by Design

With all this being said, the genius of the BDS movement is that leaders have been able to more or less successfully paint their anti-Semitic cause as one of the basic human rights. Through a sleight of hand, BDS propagandists have won over the hearts of thousands by suggesting that the group is inherently liberal. This fact, which couldn’t be further from the truth, indicates the success the movement has had in infiltrating the cultural sphere.

Despite this, it’s worth noting that BDS is flawed by design. As much as the group desires to brand itself as a peace-loving liberal cause, the reality is that the movement is built on fallacies, lies, and deceit. Perhaps the movement’s biggest flaw, however, is that it treats the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game, where victory on one side means certain defeat on the other.

In other words, BDS fails at its so-called mission because it blames only one side (Israel) for the deep and complex conflict that exists between the two countries. In pushing for unilateral demands—largely predicated on myths and one-sided ideology—the movement does nothing more than carrying on the conflict, which will never be solved by boycotting and propaganda.

BDS essentially highlights the current goal of pro-Palestinian activists: to cut Israel down on a moralistic level so that elimination of the Jewish state is the only just course of action. It’s no secret that many top officials of the BDS movement are openly against the Jewish state in any form. By painting Israel as a war-mongering state that denies basic human rights to Arabs and Palestinians, the group hopes to take away Israel’s moral claim to its homeland.

The reality, however, tells a different story, one of Hamas terrorism and the refusal of radical groups like BDS to recognize anti-Semitic terrorism.

By zeroing in on Israel alone, the BDS activists reveal their true agenda: to delegitimize Israel. This is directly evidenced in the group’s refusal to recognize any form of Palestinian terrorism and in the group’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Israel’s repeated attempts to settle the conflict in the West Bank (most notably Israel’s 2000, 2001, and 2008 attempts to almost completely withdraw from the West Bank in order to allow the creation of a Palestinian state).

BDS’s portrayal of Palestinians as victims subject to the dictates of Israeli conquerors (and not as individuals complicit in the long-standing conflict), in short, does nothing but highlight the radical agenda that pervades the movement’s philosophy.

For any proper dialogue to be established, then, it’s imperative that the two groups find a better roadmap to peace. Simply put, propaganda-fueled boycotts against the state of Israel are unlikely to yield any substantial benefits and will only further the conflict on both sides. In other words, the inherent flaws in BDS philosophy preclude the possibility of a solution that works for everyone, lengthening the conflict and boosting regional tension.

The Bottom Line

Over the course of the last decade, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has emerged as a major enemy to the state of Israel. Though the movement bills itself as a liberal, pro-human rights movement interested in promoting peace in the Middle East, evidence reveals the group’s motives to be far more insidious: to delegitimize the state of Israel and lead to the dissolution of the Jewish state.

Working against the BDS movement are its unique bias toward Israel and its unwillingness to recognize Israeli peace measures. The movement, which calls for a three-pronged attack against Israel in the form of academic, cultural, and economic boycotts, has been noted for its anti-Semitic language and its ability to incite anti-Semitism on campuses across the West.

Though calls for businesses, individuals, and academic institutions to join the BDS movement have increased over the last few years, those targeted should be wary of falling to the group’s demands. Simply put, to go along with BDS is to be complicit in the world’s oldest hatred: anti-Semitism. With this in mind, it’s time that organizations and individuals alike stand up to the underhanded and demeaning tactics of BDS to promote a healthier, safer climate for Jews across the globe.

About the Author
Neil Lazarus is an internationally acclaimed expert in the field of Middle East Politics, Israel Public Diplomacy and Effective Communication Training. He is the the director of He is emerging as one of Israel's leading key note speakers. He regularly podcasts.