Israel’s attacks on the BDS movement

June 1, 2016

Having so far failed to stop the rising number of concerned citizens joining the BDS movement, Israel and its lobby groups have desperately launched an unprecedented, well-funded global campaign to silence Palestinian narratives and criminalize BDS advocacy.

A factsheet from the Palestinian BDS National Committee

Ten years since its launch, the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) movement for Palestinian rights is now strongly supported by major civil society organisations from across the world and ha sachieved significant impact.

Having so far failed to stop the rising number of concerned citizens joining the BDS movement, Israel and its lobby groups have desperately launched an unprecedented, well-funded global campaign to silence Palestinian narratives and criminalize BDS advocacy. This repressive attack is designed to disrupt attempts to hold Israel accountable for its systematic violations of international law and its regime of occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people. The Israeli government has recently allocated $26M in this year’s budget to anti-BDS activities.

Threats against BDS human rights defenders

Israeli government ministers have made threats of physical violence against leading BDS activists.

As Amnesty International has noted, “An especially alarming statement came from Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz who called on Israel to engage in ‘targeted civil eliminations’ of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence”.

Gilad Erdan, Israeli minister of Strategic Affairs who is responsible for coordinating Israel’s attacks on the BDS movement, recently said that BDS activists must “pay the price”. Although he followed this up by saying that he does not mean “physical harm”, the comments are particularly inflammatory given the current general extreme right-wing atmosphere in Israel and Israel’s history of carrying out assassinations against Palestinian activists. These threats appear aimed at Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders who are active in the BDS movement.

Omar Barghouti

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) is particularly concerned about the welfare and safety of Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights defender and a co-founder of the BDS movement. Barghouti has faced constant incitement and smears against him from the Israeli government, right-wing activists and the media for his prominent role in the BDS movement.

Barghouti, who holds Israeli permanent residency, is under an effective travel ban due to the Israeli Ministry of Interior’s refusal to renew his travel document.

Aryeh Deri, the Minister of Interior, has stated that he is considering stripping Omar Barghouti of his permanent residency, at the request of a far-right lawmaker. The imposition of an effective travel ban appears to be a first step to put this threat into action.

Defending Barghouti’s right to campaign “to hold Israel accountable for human rights and other international law violations” and to advocate “for the use of non-violent means in doing so”, AmnestyInternational has expressed its concerns “for the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers”.

It added, “This is not the first time that Barghouti has faced threats and intimidation, but these statements have been the most serious to have come from government officials.”

Spying on BDS international activists

Israeli media reports and statements by Israeli ministers make it clear that Israel uses its intelligence services to spy on western citizens in their countries and “sabotage” the work of international civil society organisations engaged in BDS advocacy for Palestinian rights under international law.

Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz recently told a conference that the Ministry of Intelligence is “absolutely” part of Israel’s efforts to tackle BDS and that the Israeli intelligence services collaborate with other intelligence services regarding the BDS movement.

Israel’s Military Intelligence monitors “dozens” of organisations involved in the BDS movement internationally, according to an Israeli military official. Two “former military intelligence officers” told AP they had created a company which would “collect intelligence on BDS organizations” nternationally and that the aim was “to dismantle the infrastructure of groups”.

One Israeli military analyst has recently revealed that Gilad Eran, Minister of Startegic Affairs tasked with leading Israel’s anti-BDS efforts, is seeking direct control of the Military Intelligence unit that spies on BDS organisations and activists. Erdan recently said that some of the staffers working for his ministry against the BDS movement are moving out of their current offices in Jerusalem due to the “need to be in close proximity to other security agencies located in the Israel’s center.”

Israel’s military and intelligence services act with impunity. It seems highly likely that Israel is using them in its surveillance of electronic communications and phone calls of BDS activists in western countries, in contravention of these countries’ respective laws. Governments must take action to protect their citizens from the intrusive surveillance of Israel’s intelligence services.

Repression of BDS activism by western governments

Israel has been successfully lobbying supportive governments to take anti-democratic measures to repress BDS activism in their own countries.

France: In 2010, then justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie issued an instruction to state authorities that considers calling for a boycott of Israeli goods as a violation of a law passed in 1881. Since then, more than 30 activists have faced criminal charges over their participation in nonviolent BDS advocacy. Using a false and arbitrary interpretation of a high court ruling to claim that all activities in support of BDS are “illegal”, there have since been a number of attempts by the police to prevent demonstrations in support of BDS from taking place. In early March, a solidarity activist wasarrested simply for wearing a t-shirt supportive of BDS, as was reported. Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently stated that he would speak with the Ministry of Interior to discuss what further measures could be taken to repress BDS activism.

US: According to the new Right to Boycott website, anti-BDS bills or resolutions have been introduced in 21 different states and in the US Congress. Many of the laws seek to withhold public support or funds from bodies that endorse BDS in various ways.

Major civil rights organizations, like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), have condemned such anti-BDS legislative measures as an attack on the constitutional right of free speech and an attempt to delegitimize lawful campaigning. The Supreme Court has held that boycotts to effect political, social, and economic change are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

UK: The UK government has made announcements that seek to intimidate public bodies into falsely thinking that it is illegal for them to exclude companies that are complicit in Israeli violations of international law from public contracts, as many have done. The government has also announced plans to introduce steps to make it more difficult for public bodies to divest from companies targeted by the BDS movement.

Canada: The Canadian parliament, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party, recently voted to condemn the global BDS campaign. This motion is the latest in a string of government-backed attacks on the BDS movement which also includes signing of a cooperation agreement with Israel that included a specific commitment to fight the BDS movement.

Glenn Greenwald has described this well-orchestrated series of draconian measures as the “greatest threat to free speech in the West”.

Attacks on civil society organisations

There has been a recent upsurge in attempts to sabotage the BDS movement through legal and administrative challenges to civil society organisations. Examples include:

  • Failed legal challenges against trade unions in the UK and the US over their support for BDS.
  • The closure of bank accounts of organisations involved in the BDS movement in the UK andGermany and campaigns to close accounts of organisations in Austria and France.
  • Pro-Israel groups seeking to sabotage BDS organisations by impersonating Palestinians.


BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist movement that is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is opposed on principle to all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Jewish support for BDS has grown impressively in the last few years, with one Israel lobby group’s poll in 2014 showing that 46% of all non-Orthodox Jewish-American men under 40 support a full boycott of Israel.

At the heart of Israel’s attacks against BDS is an attempt to redefine anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism, the political ideology behind the establishment of an exclusionary, supremacist Jewish state through the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Some western government are adopting Israel’s baseless smears against the BDS movement as anti-semitic. The UK College of Policing recently adopted a discredited version of anti-semitism that equates anti-Zionism to anti-semitism.

June 1, 2016


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