Since 2005, when Palestinian civil society issued a global call for a non-violent campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to be waged against Israel’s illegal occupation of its territories, the BDS movement has gradually emerged as an international challenge to Israel’s hegemonic authority over the Palestinian people.
Over the years BDS has gained momentum — moving inexorably toward calling upon the global community to pressure and isolate Israel. As it has matured BDS has morphed into two political tracks — a limited track that calls for the boycott of settlements and settlement products through targeted boycotts and divestment, and a track that calls for total boycott.
While I recognize that many Israel supporters perceive BDS as an existential threat, I believe that they should embrace BDS as a non-violent tool – at the very least in its limited form – to help Israel fully realize its aspirations for justice and peace in the Middle East as a state alongside Palestine.
To consider BDS we must first acknowledge that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is illegal by all, including Israeli, standards. After the Six-Day War Theodor Meron, legal advisor of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, issued two memorandums at the request of his government:
In 1967 Meron wrote, “My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” and in 1968, in a “Top-Secret” memo, he stated that the legality of demolishing the homes of terror suspects in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and of deporting residents on security grounds violated the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in war.
In America most BDS calls have been limited.
Witness that in support of a “Just Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” The New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) passed a resolution that will be considered at its upcoming national synod. Their resolution proposes a fourfold strategy by UCC to help end the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict – “calls” that seek to establish a just peace including a call to “UCC entities to divest holdings from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories and a call to all entities of the UCC to boycott goods produced by Israeli companies in the occupied Palestinian territories”…
Witness that the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine has presented a resolution to the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City with an introduction by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town: “… I understand the enormous burden western Christians carry for the many centuries of anti-Semitic behavior towards our Jewish sisters and brothers… But I must point out to you quite emphatically that the injustices borne by Jewish people in Europe and later the United States cannot be corrected at the expense of another injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Why should the Palestinians be the bearers of the sins of western complicity in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust? Your rightful initiative to reconcile with the Jewish people should not come with a blind eye for the inhumane policies inflicted by the state of Israel on the Palestinians…”
Common arguments against BDS have generally ignored considerations of justice and have favored exclusion of the Palestinian narrative. To many of Israel’s supporters it feels that Israel is being held to a different standard than other countries like Syria, Russia, Iran and China.
I agree because none of those other countries declare themselves democracies or home of the world’s most “moral army.” The UN created none of those other countries by partitioning another peoples’ land.
None of those countries has Israel’s special relationship with America and no other country has had their Prime Minister invited to Congress to justify its occupation of another people.
When a country holds itself to a certain standard it must expect itself to be measured against those standards, not against the standards of non-democratic states.
BDS is not unchallenged: with the support of American pro-Israel advocates a determined effort is being made to stifle legitimate speech and protest and delegitimize the Palestinian movement.
For example, many members of Congress, rather than be concerned with issues of justice, are conspiring in an anti-boycott bill that would require America to discourage its European trade partners from boycotting Israeli products — even if they are made in illegal West Bank settlements!
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Supreme Court upheld a law that criminalizes support by companies, NGOs and individuals who favor a boycott on Israel or its West Bank settlements — even if that support is limited to the occupied territories. One Justice, Hanan Meltzer, called boycott supporters “political terrorists.”
Since 1967 Israel has continued to colonize and dispossess Palestinians and many Americans and international organizations, in the realization that they may be immorally profiting from the harm done to others, no longer want to be complicit in the suffering of others.
One cannot be complicit with exploitation and remain free. It’s the same realization that has moved many Israelis to condemn the occupation and who boycott products made in West Bank settlements — as we all should do.
BDS’s opponents can attack Presbyterians and Methodists, attack Jewish Voices for Peace and Americans for Peace Now and threaten members of the UCC and Episcopal Churches with the breaking off of interfaith dialogue if they support BDS, but those are futile gestures — BDS is a moral imperative and is moving forward, both in its limited and total iterations.
Witness that the union of graduate students at the University of California, representing about 13,000 student-workers, voted to support BDS, the first time a major American union so voted.
Witness that the Gates Foundation, the United Methodist Pension Board and others have recently sold shares in G4S, and that the Presbyterian divestment call was against Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions for their role supporting Israeli occupation.
Today, BDS is active on many fronts: Many artists and entertainers are refusing to perform in Israel, and soon FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) may decide to suspend Israel’s international membership because of its treatment and restrictions placed upon Palestinian athletes. Globally, academic and cultural institutions are being called upon to assess their relationship with a country that is denying basic rights to a subject population.
During the weekly Shabbat service the faithful pray: “Oh God, may we never become complacent / Faltering in our effort to build a world of peace. / Let the nations know and understand that / Justice and right are better than dominion and conquest; / May all come to see that it is not by might nor by power / But by Your Spirit that life prevails.”
Justice and right are better than dominion and conquest.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.