BDS: Upholding our Rights, Resisting the Ongoing Nakba

The BNC Commemorates the 69th Anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba

FAQs
Section 1: Understanding BDS
How does BDS help the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality?

The BDS movement aims to end international complicity in the Israeli regime of occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism.

Many companies such as Orange, Veolia and CRH have pulled out of Israel as a result of BDS campaigns.

As Israeli corporations, institutions and organizations become isolated or suffer economic setbacks due to international BDS campaigns, Israel, including business and society, will find it more difficult to maintain its oppression of Palestinians.

Each BDS success generates media attention and shines a light on the just Palestinian struggle for rights. The BDS movement is leading a tidal change in perceptions and approaches to Israel’s regime of oppression.

The growth and success of the BDS movement send a clear message of hope and inspiration to Palestinians and others that public opinion is increasingly supportive of the Palestinian people. The Israeli government now recognizes the potential of the BDS movement as a “strategic threat” to its system of injustice.

How can I support the BDS movement? Is there a list of products to boycott?

The first simple step that people can take is to boycott Israeli goods. Take a look at our What to boycott page for more details.

One of the most useful things you can do is to get actively involved in a BDS campaign near you that targets a particular product, company or institution.

There are BDS campaigns in dozens of countries all across the world, and hundreds of organisations actively participate in the BDS movement. It’s easy to get involved with a campaign near you and that matches your interests. If not, start your own!

Check out our Get involved section for more information.

How have Palestinians used boycotts and anti-normalisation campaigns in the past?

BDS stems from decades of Palestinian nonviolent popular resistance, which has included boycotts since the 1920s as a means of resisting British occupation and Zionist colonisation.

In 1936, Palestinians held a six-month strike and a campaign of non-cooperation in opposition to the colonial British Mandate’s support for Zionist colonisation of Palestine, effectively bringing the mandate to a halt. This strike is still credited by many as the longest strike in history. 

Sanctions have been implemented by states that opposed Israel’s colonisation since shortly after Israel’s establishment through the massive, premeditated ethnic cleansing of the majority of the indigenous Palestinians.

During the first intifada (1987-1992), Palestinian resistance factions built a mass popular boycott of Israeli goods as one of the ways in which Palestinians could take part in the mass uprising, leading to a significant drop in Israeli exports to the occupied Palestinian territories.

The concept of opposing any form of normalisation with Israel remains a vitally important one within Palestinian politics. This is the idea that there cannot be business as usual with Israel while it continues to oppress Palestinians. 

Efforts to combat normalisation activities have become a key form of BDS activism in Palestine and the Arab world. Protests and campaigns against normalisation activities often win widespread support and succeed in forcing normalization events to be cancelled.

What has the BDS movement achieved so far?

Thanks to the strategic campaigning of people and organisations all over the world, the global BDS movement is having a real impact. For example:​

  • French multinational Veolia has completely withdrawn from Israel after a BDS campaign over its role in Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land cost it billions of dollars in lost contracts.

  • Major international companies including Orange, G4S and Unilever have announced steps to end their participation in Israel’s crimes.  

  • Thousands of artists including Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, Faithless, Lauryn Hill, Brian Eno and Elvis Costello have refused to play in Israel.

  • Academic associations and student unions, most notably in the US, Canada, South Africa and the UK, now support BDS. A number of churches have divested from companies involved in Israel’s occupation.

  • Israel regards BDS as a “strategic threat” to its ongoing oppression of Palestinians. Some Israelis are calling for modest changes to Israeli policy.

Check out our Impact page for more information. 

Do Palestinians support BDS?

The 2005 call for BDS is endorsed by all major political parties, trade union federations, refugee rights associations, academic unions, farmers’ organizations, NGO networks, women’s unions, youth movements and others.

The signatory organisations to the 2005 call represent Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in exile (predominantly refugees).

The BDS call is the most widely supported document in the last few decades of Palestinian history.

Palestinians living under Israel’s regime of colonial oppression cannot possibly boycott Israel completely. Support for boycotting Israeli goods in the OPT has grown tremendously since the Israeli massacre in Gaza in 2014.

According to a World Bank report, Israeli exports to the Palestinian economy dropped by 24% in the first quarter of 2015. The report attributes this to a growing Palestinian boycott, despite the obstacles of Israel's effective control of Palestinian economic activity. 

A recent poll of Palestinian public opinion in the OPT, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, shows 86% support for BDS.

How widely supported is the BDS movement internationally?

The 2005 Palestinian call for BDS against Israel has triggered a massive response from people of conscience and civil society organisations across the world.

BDS campaigns are supported by scores of unions, churches, NGOs and movements representing millions across every continent. Progressive Jewish groups and conscientious Jewish-Israeli groups, play an important role in the movement.

Public figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Roger Waters, Angela Davis and Judith Butler back BDS.

Corporations, banks and investment funds now adopt the logic of BDS with some starting to divest their money from Israel’s occupation.

BDS leads major news headlines and is shaping how the Palestinian cause is perceived in public. BDS is leading a tidal change in support of justice for Palestinians. ​

Does BDS call for a boycott of the whole of Israel or just the illegal settlements?

As in the boycott against apartheid South Africa, the BDS movement calls for a boycott of Israel’s entire regime of oppression, including all of the Israeli companies and institutions that are involved in its violations of international law. BDS does not target anyone or anything based on identity, but rather based solely on complicity in denying Palestinian rights.

For example, we call for a boycott of all Israeli fruit and vegetables, regardless of whether they are grown inside Israel or in an illegal Israeli settlements because all Israeli agricultural businesses are involved in human rights violations.

Just like South Africa under apartheid, Israel as a state is responsible for the occupation, colonization and apartheid policies that it implements.

Some of our biggest campaigns are against companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. However, support for a full boycott of Israel is widespread. Academic associations and groups of academics, writers and artists in the US, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, and across Europe have come out in support of an academic and/or cultural boycott of Israel.

As our movement grows, so do our skills, ambitions and ability to achieve tangible, strategic and sustainable results. Targets are regularly reassessed as the BDS movement grows. ​

Can BDS realistically end the West’s unconditional support for Israel?

The BDS movement is leading a change in public opinion in Western societies in regards to Israel. The rapidly growing widespread support for Palestinian rights is making it harder for governments to maintain their unconditional support for Israel,

In the US, where the Israel lobby has a strong hold on Congress, polls indicate an unprecedented  determining shift in the so-called “bipartisan” support for Israel in the country.

A 2015 Luntz poll of “opinion elites” shows that 76% of Democratic opinion shapers say Israel has too much influence in the US, with 47% of Democrats agreeing that Israel is a “racist” country. Close to 31% of those leading Democrats, the poll shows, are ready to support BDS.

Another poll from 2015 shows that 49% of Democrats favor “sanctions or more serious action” against on Israel.

A 2014 poll by an Israel lobby group in the US reveals that 15% of Jewish Americans support a full boycott of against Israel.

Of course, support for Israel remains deeply entrenched, but the BDS movement is showing that it can become a hugely powerful tool in ending western support for Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism.  

In Europe governments are taking steps compatible with  the movement’s general  approach, such as measures that enforce the EU’s non recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories. These include warning businesses to stay away from illegal Israeli settlements, excluding Israeli entities operating in the OPT (including East Jerusalem) from funding and recognition, and considering cutting all financial transactions and ending business deals with Israeli banks that fund the occupation.

How has Israel reacted to the BDS movement?

The Israeli media frequently reports BDS successes, and Israeli politicians and commentators speak regularly about the continued rapid growth of the BDS movement.

In June 2013, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the BDS movement a “strategic threat” to Israel’s regime of oppression and has assigned the overall responsibility for fighting BDS to the ministry of strategic affairs.

The former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak admits that BDS is reaching a “tipping point.”

The Israeli government has recently allocated at least 25 million dollars to combat BDS, in addition to allocating massive resources to its intelligence services for fighting the movement.

There are now dedicated anti-BDS staff at many of Israel’s overseas embassies in the west.

Knowing that it has lost the argument in many spheres, Israel has resorted to lobbying supportive governments and legislatures in the West to take steps to make BDS illegal or repress BDS activism. These McCarthyite steps have only strengthened the resolve of the BDS movement and brought it further into the public eye.

In 2011 the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a draconian law to punish Israeli citizens that support a boycott of Israel or any of its companies and institutions, even those that operate in the OPT.

A small and gradually growing number of Israelis now support BDS and a growing number of public figures and ordinary Israelis are calling for policy changes in response to the growing impact of BDS.

What is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led, global movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

BDS is inspired and inspiring. It draws inspiration from decades of Palestinian popular resistance, from the South African anti-apartheid struggle, from the US Civil Rights movement, among other others. It inspires Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights worldwide to speak truth to power, to challenge  hegemonic, racist power structures and to assert that Palestinian rights must be respected and implemented.  

Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. It is maintaining a regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people.

World governments fail to hold Israel to account. Companies and institutions help Israel to oppress Palestinians. In response, Palestinians are calling for nonviolent grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigning against Israel.

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
International law recognises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights as occupied by Israel.

2. Granting Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel their right to full equality

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

Ten years since its launch, BDS is now widely supported by unions, academic associations, churches and movements across the world.

As a result of BDS pressure, major companies, such as Veolia, Orange and CRH are withdrawing from the Israeli market after following campaigns over their involvement in Israeli projects that violate international law. The UN and the World Bank say that BDS is starting to have a significant economic impact. Thousands of artists including major celebrities like Roger Waters and Lauryn Hill now refuse to play in Israel.

Israel is increasingly worried that the BDS movement is making it a pariah state in the way that South Africa once was.

See our What is BDS? page for more information.

Why are Palestinians calling for BDS against Israel?
Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. It is maintaining a regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism over the Palestinian people. Israel is only able to maintain this illegal regime because of international support and complicity. Instead of holding Israel to account, many governments provide Israel with political, diplomatic, military and financial support. Companies compete to profit from Israel’s violations of international law. When those in power refuse to act to stop this injustice, what is needed is a global citizens’ response.
What does BDS aim to achieve? Does it call for a one state or a two state solution?

The BDS movement aims to pressure Israel to respect international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
International law recognises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights as occupied by Israel.

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

These are three basic rights without which the Palestinian people cannot exercise its inalienable right to self-determination.

The BDS movement does not advocate for a particular solution to the conflict and does not call for either a “one state solution” or a “two state solution”. Instead, BDS focuses on the realization of basic rights and the implementation of international law.

Section 2: Responding to common arguments against BDS
Doesn’t an academic boycott of Israel undermine academic freedom and silence progressive Israeli academics?

The BDS movement subscribes to the internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom as adopted by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNESCR).

The academic boycott is a boycott of complicit Israeli academic institutions not individuals.

Israeli universities play a key role in designing, implementing and whitewashing Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Israeli academic institutions plan Israel’s discriminatory policies and are deeply involved in the development of the technology and techniques used to violently oppress the Palestinian people (see examples here).

During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, a tower at the University of Haifa was lit up as the Israeli flag to “express solidarity with Israeli soldiers”.  

There is a wealth of further information about the academic boycott on the Academic Boycott campaign page.

Have boycott strategies been used elsewhere?

The word boycott was first used, indeed the term was coined, following a campaign of social ostracism organised by the Irish Land League in 1880 against Captain Charles Boycott, an agent of an English landlord. 
Forms of BDS have been used throughout history to end oppression, and these struggles are today celebrated even if they were once condemned by hegemonic powers. Examples include the Indian Salt March, the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the US struggle for civil rights and the international boycott that helped end apartheid in South Africa. Palestinians have used boycotts during their decades-long struggle for freedom, justice and equality. BDS draws on this rich tradition. 

Isn’t a boycott of Israel anti-Semitic?

The BDS movement stands for freedom, justice and equality.

Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BDS movement, led by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, is inclusive and categorically opposes as a matter of principle all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism.

BDS campaigns target the Israeli state because of its responsibility for serious violations of international law and the companies and institutions that participate in and are complicit in these Israeli violations. The BDS movement does not boycott or campaign against any individual or group simply because they are Israeli.

The world is growing increasingly weary of Israel's attempts to conflate criticism of its violations of international law with anti-Semitism and to conflate Zionism with Judaism. Israel is a state, not a person. Everyone has the right to criticize the unjust actions of a state.

Many Jewish students, academics, intellectuals, LGBTQ advocates and others as well as and a growing number of Jewish-Israelis support and advocate for BDS.  

As the US organisation Jewish Voice for Peace has explained, Israel claims to be acting in the name of all Jewish people but a rapidly increasing number of Jewish people of conscience feel compelled to make sure the world knows that many Jews are opposed to Israel's actions.

Doesn’t BDS single out Israel? Why not boycott North Korea or the US?

BDS is a strategy of popular resistance and the most effective strategy of international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for rights. It is not an ideology or a dogma that can be helpful in all circumstances of injustice.

BDS is a Palestinian-led movement. It is only logical that Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with their struggle orient their struggle towards Israel, the party that denies Palestinians their freedom, and not towards North Korea, for example. The South African liberation movement also targeted the regime of oppression that they lived under, naturally, not the one in Cambodia or Honduras at the time.

Palestinians are choosing to use and calling for the tactic of BDS to hold Israel to account because it is necessary, morally consistent and effective.

The BDS movement challenges the way in which Israel is singled out for unprecedented support from the international community. Western governments in particular shield Israel from being held to account for its war crimes against Palestinians, allowing it to continue its colonial project without facing consequences. The BDS movement is working to end this exceptionalism and calls for Israel to be held to account according to the standards of international law.

As the South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said, the west places Israel “on a pedestal,” above international law and above criticism. BDS aims to take Israel off that pedestal to be held accountable for its violations of international law. ​

Aren’t dialogue and negotiations more effective than boycotts?

For dialogue between those who are oppressed and those who belong to the oppressors’ camp to be ethical and constructive, it must be based on the recognition that all humans are entitled to equal human rights, irrespective of identity.

Dialogue that rejects this fundamental equality of rights and the need for Palestinians and Israelis to work together to end injustice is by definition unethical. Worse still, this kind of dialogue is used to whitewash injustice and cover up oppression.

The BDS movement therefore opposes activities that create the false impression of symmetry between the colonizer and the colonized, that portray Israel as a ‘normal’ state like any other, or that hold Palestinians, the oppressed, and Israel, the oppressor, as both equally responsible for “the conflict”.

Recent “negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian leadership have completely ignored human rights and sidelined international law. As a result, they have failed to lead to freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. They have only served to provide a cover for Israel to continue its colonization of Palestinian land and its oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Negotiations will at some point be needed to discuss the details of how Palestinian rights can be restored. These negotiations can only take place when Palestinian rights are recognised.

BDS is therefore crucially needed to mobilize local and international citizens and to put civil society pressure on the UN and governments to do what is needed  so that Israel will end its violations and respect the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people.  ​

If we boycott Israeli products, don't we have to throw away our computers and stop using Israeli medicines?

BDS is a strategy for effective solidarity and not a dogma or ideology. As our What to Boycott page explains, the BDS movement is impactful when it focuses its consumer boycotts and campaigns on a number of companies that are most deeply involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

Intel, the US chip manufacturer, has invested billions in the Israeli economy, making it deeply complicit in funding Israeli impunity. However, Intel is not currently a worldwide BDS target because of its near monopoly status in its sector, making a consumer boycott of the company hard to succeed at present.

We must remain strategic and think of sustained, long-term impact on Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

The fact that Israel exports useful technological and medical products doesn’t mean it should escape accountability for its grave human rights violations. South African scientists produced useful medical advances during apartheid – it was still necessary and important to boycott the apartheid regime. ​

Doesn’t BDS hurt Palestinians?

Any oppressed community has the right to decide what tactics to employ to resist oppression, so long as that resistance complies with international law. All of the main Palestinian trade unions and other civil society and representative bodies have called for and participate in the BDS movement.

Palestinians have made the decision to call for BDS believing that any economic damage they may face is a small price to pay to realize freedom, justice and equality.

Arguing against BDS because it may hurt Palestinian workers is patronising - it claims to know what is in the best interests of Palestinians better than Palestinians themselves do. Not to speak that this argument is usually made by people who oppose rights for Palestinians or any resistance to Israel's oppression.

Palestinians face high unemployment and are often forced to work for Israeli companies including in illegal Israeli settlements because of Israel’s deliberate, decades-long destruction of the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian workers are routinely paid far less than Israelis in the same jobs, and often without their basic rights to safety and social security being respected.

Those with a genuine concern for Palestinians should work to end Israel’s systematic oppression of Palestinians, including its deliberate destruction of Palestinian economic activity.  ​

Isn’t there a risk that BDS will strengthen right wing politicians in Israel?

Like any colonial society that is not held accountable for its crimes, Israel has shifted to the far right in recent years. The current government is Israel’s most racist and extremist ever. This is due to many factors, but nonviolent Palestinian resistance and international solidarity with it can hardly be counted among the top of these.

A small and gradually growing number of Israelis and Israeli organisations support BDS. They understand that BDS is needed to pressure Israel to comply with international law and to make clear to ordinary Israelis that Israel’s occupation and apartheid system is widely opposed.

Israeli business leaders and politicians are warning that the boycott is starting to isolate Israel, and some are responding to the growth of BDS by calling for modest policy changes.

There’s a real fear within Israel that it is becoming the pariah state that South Africa once was. This is leading some Israelis to question whether Israeli apartheid is sustainable in the long term.

The way in which the UN, the international community and governments have failed to hold Israel to account for its actions is a principle reason why extreme anti-Palestinian ideas have become more popular in Israel. BDS seeks to address this impunity and lack of accountability.

Is BDS legal?

The BDS movement adopts a legal and analytical framework based on international law. The goal of the movement is to pressure Israel to comply with international law and recognize Palestinian rights. The legitimacy of BDS pressure tactics is time-honored and guaranteed under democratic principles and the principle of freedom of expression.

Boycott for political, economic and social change is regarded by the US Supreme Court, for instance, as speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. However, Israeli officials and lobby organizations are hard at work to outlaw BDS and undermine the right to protest Israel’s crimes using the nonviolent tactics of BDS. While most of the legal warfare, or lawfare, efforts by Israel have fallen flat, there are worrying trends in some countries.

Read more about Israel’s efforts to criminalise BDS and our legal analysis of why BDS is legal and should be protected as a form of free speech at our Right To Boycott page and our legal briefing regarding the legality of BDS.

Why punish Israeli artists and Israelis who enjoy culture with a cultural boycott? Doesn’t art transcend politics?

BDS does not target artists. It targets institutions based on their complicity in Israel’s violations of international law.

Israel has made a deliberate decision to use culture to whitewash its crimes.

As Israel’s standing in the world deteriorates and isolation grows, it increasingly attempts to use culture as a tool to cover up its crimes and mitigate the damaging effects of its oppression of Palestinians on its global image.

Following the Gaza massacre in 2009, an Israeli official announced a plan to “send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits” to “show Israel’s prettier face”.  This was part of the Brand Israel project, launched by Israel’s foreign ministry in 2005 to counter the boycott.

Often when Israeli artists perform overseas using government funding, they have to sign a contract promising to “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel”. Clearly such performances become propaganda activities to rebrand Israeli apartheid.

When international artists violate the boycott and perform in Israel, it helps to normalise Israel’s crimes. That’s why the Israeli government portrays concerts in Israel as a sign of support for its policies.

Read more at our Cultural Boycott campaign hub.