Being an Israeli student in an American university I have been exposed to the growing popularity of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement among college students. The understandable empathy towards the Palestinians has brought many to join to the BDS movement in an attempt, as they believe, to support Palestinian human rights.
However, is that truly what BDS seeks?
Recently I attended a lecture which attracted some BDS activists who were provocative, but very polite. I used this opportunity to have an hour long conversation with one of the activists about the conflict and the BDS movement.
After an initial exchange of accusations (hundreds of years of conflict can do that) we got to the key part – the goals of the BDS movement. The gentlemen handed me a flyer with the movement’s official goal (which can found at their website as well). Here they are:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Sounds like a noble cause until you start breaking these ideas to pieces.
1. Ending the “occupation and colonization” might sound great. Though for BDS to be effective it needs to assume that Israel has no interest in negotiating a peace agreement and thus a boycott will force it (otherwise they would have likely advocated BDS on both sides). This of course is factually not true as there were multiple attempts to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, including Ehud Barak’s and Ehud Olmert’s very serious offers. Furthermore, peace was reached with Egypt and Jordan, settlements were evacuated and land given when Israel withdrew from Gaza. So factually, Israel showed willingness to reach peace time and time again.
Actually, by boycotting only one side of the conflict, BDS provides the other side (the Palestinians) incentives not to reach an agreement as pressure mounts on Israel. Especially when considering that the fragile Palestinian leadership depends on this conflict to maintain a decade long dictatorships in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, most important are the words “Arab Lands”. Though it varies, largely for BDS activists this means all of Israel’s land (including the land prior to 1967) – de facto calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. Not a very peace seeking two-state solution approach. The activist also proudly mentioned that this claim includes the Golan Heights, an area occupied from Syria with only Druze population but ZERO Palestinian population. A Druze minority under no oppression what’s-or-ever and ability to get full Israeli citizenship if they apply for one (a great time to be in Israel and not Syria if you as ask me).
Ask yourself why would a Palestinian movement include a Syrian Druze minority in its demands? Why use the words “Arab Lands” and not “Palestinian Lands”? Hold your thoughts, maybe this is just a misunderstanding.
2. “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”. Well sounds wonderful. In fact, Israel is very much in supports of it. Arab citizens of Israel have equal rights, they vote and are elected to parliament, act as judges, doctors, teachers, professors, serve in the government, police and some even in the military. Sure, you might say there is discrimination by the Jewish society (which might be true), but isn’t discrimination of minorities a common social issue in most countries? There is a significant difference between institutional discrimination and a social issue of discrimination. Otherwise it’s clear that there are quite a few countries to boycott, probably most. By the way, why not boycott Lebanon or Jordan? Both countries have official government discriminatory policies against their Palestinian minorities.
A truly puzzling goal, I have yet to figure this one out.
3. “The right of return”, meaning the refugees who left or were driven out in 1948 (a whole discussion by itself) should be allowed to go back to their original properties in ISRAEL. This means go back to Jaffa, Haifa and other cities inside Israel, not just the Palestinian Authority. A third generation of refugees will go back to their grandparents properties in another country? Well in that case many Jews should start tracking properties in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; they might have rights to some of Grandpa’s land.
So, on one hand, the Palestinian Authority demands removing all settlements and Israeli presence to create a “Jew free Palestine” (2011, 2013, 2014 by various PA officials), but on the other hand seeks to have millions of Palestinians move into Israel. Meaning one state with 100% Palestinian population and another with what is likely to be a Palestinian majority. How can there be a Jewish state with a Palestinian majority? Doesn’t sound like a peace aspiring approach.
Lastly, BDS is actually doing damage to the Palestinians by driving Israeli companies out of the West Bank. SodaStream is a wonderful example of a company which used to employ hundreds of Palestinians in “Israeli” wages, with medical insurance and working conditions superior to those in the West Bank. BDS proudly claims to have forced the company out of the West Bank and back to Israel. Are these actions good for the Palestinian Economy? Are they good for building trust and cooperation needed for a lasting peace? Probably not.
When analyzing BDS’s goals it doesn’t seem that they support a two state solution, and their activities aren’t fostering peace negotiations, trust and economic prosperity. What BDS is effectively aspiring to, is abolishing the one country that serves as a home for the Jewish people. Identifying with the Palestinians and acting for their human rights is legitimate – what’s not legitimate however, is hiding under the “human rights tag” to promote a peace inhibiting and deceiving agenda.