The unexpected death of BDS

That bastion of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement the Electronic Intifada recently leaked a copy of a report co-written by the Anti-Defamation League and the Reut Institute. If the authors of the report had taken a look at the BDS movement in the UK they would have realised that we are watching the movement in its death throes.

People in the United Kingdom are tired. They’re tired of hypocrites saying they’re against occupation by occupying their lecture theatres. They’re tired of hypocrites campaigning for rights for Palestinians by depriving Jews of theirs. They’re tired of hypocrites claiming to be in favour of free speech while insisting Zionists be silenced. They’re tired of hypocrites telling them what they can and can’t buy or where they’re allowed to eat by holier than thou activists using Israeli made products to preach their message. Examples of this hypocrisy are everywhere.

Kamal Hawwash the Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was recently in the news for being denied entry to Israel. The rights and wrongs of Israel’s new law notwithstanding how can one of the most outspoken advocates of BDS really display righteous indignation that he’s not allowed to visit the very country he’s calling on others to boycott?

Malia Bouattia the outgoing president of the National Union of Students may have eleven and a half thousand followers on Twitter but scraped only 270 votes in her failed bid to hold onto her position for another year. David Ward the one time Member of Parliament who was recently called an antisemite in the House of Commons has been sacked by the head of his party and Ken “Hitler” Livingstone the former Mayor of London can look forward to nothing more than infamy for the rest of his career. The fact that the Labour Party refused to expel him simply contributed to Britons finding the party unfit for government.

The BDS movement has been successful in bringing attention to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Names like Max Blumenthal, Asa Winstanley and Ben White have made waves. Their articles are liked and shared thousands of times. White publishes a seemingly endless stream of articles attacking Israel. He and Blumenthal have written books on the subject of Israel’s awfulness and move from university to university to convince young minds that Israel is the worst country Western imperialists ever brought into existence. This success should be recognised, as should that of Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah and the various other organs of BDS. Without recognition of their achievements there can be no understanding of the limits of those achievements.

And the limits of their achievements are clear. They have failed to bring about a Palestinian state in any form. They have failed even to bring one closer to becoming a reality. Palestine is not free. Nor can they free it. Only Palestinian leaders actually living in Palestine can do that and they’re too busy thinking of reasons not to.

For a while there were even flotillas attempting to run the Israeli Navy’s blockade of Gaza. Something the ADL – Reut report spends some time discussing. I think the irony of running blockades to Palestine was lost on their organisers. When Jews ran the blockade the British placed on Palestine their intent was to bring thousands of Jews who wanted to live in the homeland to its shores. Ships were filled with people desperate to make it to the promised land to live, to establish a country. To hell with the risks they said, we’ll defy a superpower and make it happen. They would succeed or they would die in the attempt. Some did die in the attempt, more succeeded.

The participants of the BDS flotillas didn’t want to live there. They wanted to “raise awareness”. Their exercises succeeded in gaining some quickly forgotten media attention. They speak of millions of refugees being allowed to live in what is now Israel. But where are their ships? Where is their determination? Where are the masses so desperate to make it to the homeland that they are ready and willing to risk life and limb to get there?

In 2014 during Israel’s war with Hamas there were tens of thousands of people marching against Israel on the streets of London. Perhaps another war with Gaza would provoke the same reaction. But what people should consider is that when there’s no war there’s no public interest. This year represents the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Jewish groups all over the world will be celebrating Israel’s miraculous victory over adversity but the BDS movement won’t be able to mobilise any more than the usual 50 or so activists. Recently the Israeli ambassador to the UK Mark Regev went to SOAS to speak on campus. There was a lot of noise from students on campus, there were letters and there were kids waving flags. But the ambassador spoke and BDS failed. Again.

In fact the noise around the ambassador’s event at SOAS is an excellent example of how BDS doesn’t even try to score a victory that would change life for Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza but restricts itself to “raising awareness”. Activists such as David Collier have the social media posts proving that the middle management, the ground level activists of the BDS campaign are just as likely to explain how 9/11 was an inside job or how the Holocaust was a “Holohoax” as they are to discuss Palestine. These people have no credibility anymore.

In real life the thousands of likes and shares never materialise into more than 50 real people present at any given BDS event. Today the Palestine Solidarity Campaign advertised a Nakba commemoration to be held outside the Israeli embassy in London. About 20 people showed up.

Some bands have refused to appear in Israel, some university unions have adopted BDS policies as have some worker’s unions. Some companies have refused to do business in Israel. But now they’re sinking under the weight of their own failure to achieve results of any consequence. The most notable success the BDS movement has had to date is letting the rest of the world know it exists. The egos involved are so large, the self righteous indignation at any kind of criticism, however small, so intense that the movement can only exist in the ether of Facebook and Twitter. If social media success equated to change in the Israeli Arab conflict I’m sure the BDS movement would have succeeded in eliminating Israel entirely.

But it doesn’t.

Now imagine a BDS campaign that insisted the Palestinian Authority negotiated with Israel regardless of the preconditions a hard line Prime Minister demanded. Regardless of whether it amounted to acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state or something else. Imagine a movement of Palestinians from the diaspora demanding that their leadership enter into a negotiation that resulted in a homeland for them, that resulted in a tangible state for Palestinian refugees from 70 years ago to live in. They might have a chance at success. Alas this will never happen, instead various individuals like Ali Abunimah will continue to judge their success by how many retweets their anti-Israel abuse gains them. They will claim victory at tiny measures Israelis don’t notice and Palestinians aren’t helped by. On the ground their numbers will remain an infinitesimal fraction of their virtual likes offering only the illusion of numbers. An illusion which no longer blinds anybody.

Bouattia’s gone, Ward’s been sacked, Livingstone’s been suspended from a political party the electorate are about to consign to the political wasteland. BDS is dead and though the main personalities will keep on tweeting no one’s listening any more.

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada