When did the BDS campaign get so lazy?

People campaigning to boycott Israel (Jewish News)
People campaigning to boycott Israel (Jewish News)

I recently attended The Key to Justice webinar, hosted by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, the annual commemoration of the events of Israeli Independence in 1948 which led to the forced and voluntary displacement of many Palestinians.

The supposed purpose of the webinar was to explore “the connections between the Palestinian struggle to end the ongoing Nakba and the struggles of millions of refugees, migrants and those struggling for adequate housing worldwide, particularly during the pandemic.   Speakers included SOAS assistant professor Rafeef Ziadah, who has a history of hosting events with controversial speakers, Marta Ill a representative of the renters’ trade union in Barcelona and Rey Perez Asis, a migrant workers activist.

What linked these three causes?

What was the element that allegedly connected BDS, the Barcelona renters’ trade union and migrant workers in the Philippines, in the age of COVID-19 nonetheless? The answer is there wasn’t one. The lecture was a dishonest attempt to conflate the issues of housing injustice, the mistreatment of migrant workers and the situation in Israel and the disputed territories as just another issue that falls under the problem of neoliberal capitalist injustice. When did the BDS campaign get so lazy?

Before introducing her three speakers, the host opened the talk by defining Nakba day as the anniversary of ‘the premeditated and violently executed ethnic cleansing of a majority of indigenous Palestinians.’ This narrative of Nakba being premeditated stems from a false historical reading of the Israeli War of Independence. It assumes, without evidence, Israeli will as the cause of any & all bloodshed & injustice during the war of independence. It characterises the foundation of the state by the darkest events of the War of Independence and imposes an antisemitic conspiracy theory onto those events. The concept of Nakba need not require conspiratorial blame to mark what is a significant moment in Palestinian history. However, BDS employing this definition serves as a reminder of the sinister nature of the campaign, which is the call for Israel’s destruction.

Rafeef Ziadah began by praising the ‘steadfastness’ of the Palestinian people. She even stated ‘so many people have lost their lives to keep this memory alive’. I was curious as to why the rejection of peace agreements time and again by the Palestinian authority leading to further loss of life on both sides would not strike her as correlated with this steadfastness she so praised. Her argument seemed to follow the narrative that neoliberalism, as manifested in the Israeli system, is victimising the Palestinian people. Ziadah has a history of pushing this narrative even to fallacious places. In 2016 she hosted extreme speakers at an Israel Apartheid Week event at SOAS including Sahar Francis of Addameer. Without citation, Sahar claimed that Israelis steal organs from dead Palestinians. Ziadah’s insistence on manufacturing the crimes of the Israeli state and her belief that only through the boycott of this ‘neoliberal capitalist’ state will bring justice has likely blinded her to the damage that boycotts do to Palestinians.

If ‘the real problem is capitalist exploitation’ as she claimed in the webinar, she would have to explain the 500 Palestinians who lost their jobs and livelihood as the result of the BDS campaign against Soda Stream in 2016. It seems the BDS campaign puts its extreme political ideology before the Palestinian people and this webinar which appeared to be more political posturing in this vein is just as unproductive.

Rey Asis and Marta Ill, at least maintained some intellectual honesty as they made no real attempt to conflate the anniversary of Nakba with the concept of low wage migrant workers or housing in Barcelona.  They did continue the theme of criticising ‘neoliberal globalist policies’. Marta Ill framed housing injustice as a defect of capitalism, disregarding the Palestine topic almost entirely. What I witnessed in the talk was the attempt to broaden the tent of the BDS cause into other “progressive” causes. The cunning implication of the speakers’ message was that if one is sceptical of capitalism, they must be anti-Israel by definition.

This webinar was yet another political move by the BDS campaign to enlist support by association for their intellectually disjointed campaign against the state of Israel. To really find the “key to justice”, we must counter these attempts by encouraging productive discussions between Zionists and anti-Zionists alike. The narratives on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict are made less productive and more abstract by echo chambers such as this webinar.




About the Author
Daniel is Israel and Campaigns officer at Nottingham Jewish and Israel Society, and a 2019/20 CAMERA Fellow.
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