What is Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel?

BDS is a call by more than 170 Palestinian civil societies, first issued in 2005,  http://bdsmovement.net/call for global solidarity and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.


What is the inspiration for BDS?


BDS is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Indeed,  Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Nobel Laureate 1984, who fought so long and so vigorously against apartheid in South Africa, supports BDS. Tutu has said that the situation in Palestine reminds him of conditions in apartheid South Africa: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/south-african-church-leaders-endorse-israeli-apartheid-week


What are the goals of BDS?


That Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:


1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194


BDS against Israel is by specific political parties or politicians.


No. BDS Malaysia is a non-partisan movement, part of a global movement. BDS Malaysia does not involve itself with partisan Malaysian politics, whether BN, PAS, PKR, DAP, Amanah, or others. Similarly, the BDS movement globally is a non-partisan movement that has been embraced by scholars, activists, non-governmental organisations, municipalities, pension funds.


Is BDS against Jews?


No, BDS is NOT against Jews. Indeed, in 2014, over 200 Jewish activists issued a statement calling for the dismantling of Israel’s apartheid regime, throughout historic Palestine, in solidarity with the Palestinian call for BDS ( http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/jews-apartheid-israel )


Is BDS anti-semitic?


No, BDS is not anti-semitic. The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) is explicitly anti-racist. Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian figure in the BDS movement, “BDS is a universalist movement that categorically opposes all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. This is not negotiable. We should never welcome racists in our midst, no matter what.”


Yonatan Shapira, an ex-Israeli air force pilot has said, “I’m a member of Boycott from Within –people from Israeli society who support boycott…I look at the guidelines of the BDS movement, and I feel totally comfortable”.


Isn’t boycotting Israel, but using Facebook, or a product from a company founded by a Jewish person hypocritical?


BDS uses boycott as a tactic to pressure Israel, for example by targeting companies that work with the state of Israel to oppress Palestinians. BDS does NOT target all Jews worldwide, nor companies founded by Jews simply because they were founded by Jews.


Yes, I oppose Israel’s actions, but why aren’t you boycotting the United States or other countries that do bad things?


BDS against Israel is a specific tactical call by Palestinian civil society. Supporting BDS does not mean supporting, or not supporting, other boycotts. When deciding on whether to support a boycott, the boycott should be assessed on its own merits. Supporting BDS against Israel does not mean that one cannot also oppose injustices elsewhere. As Nelson Mandela explained, “boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending on circumstances”


Additionally, with Palestine, as with South Africa in the past, we have a call by those suffering oppression for boycott. Palestinian society has asked the world to support this non-violent method.


Yes I oppose Israel’s actions, but a boycott would undermine attempts to change Israeli society from within.


There are courageous people in Israel who oppose their state’s actions, for example, Israeli human rights organisations such as B’Tselem. We want to support these people. As stated above, BDS does NOT target Jews. Nor does BDS target all Israelis. However, Israelis in the state of Israel have to realise that actions have consequences, and that their state cannot continue to act with impunity. BDS is a non-violent method to pressure the state of Israel, to demonstrate that actions have consequences. The very purpose of non-violent direct action tactics such as boycott is to compel a community that has constantly refused to negotiate in good faith, to do so. If one opposes violence, and also opposes BDS, then what else is left?


Boycotting Israelis, for example Israeli athletes, for the actions of the Israeli state is not fair.


This misunderstands what BDS is about. BDS does not target individual Israelis. It targets Israel, its institutions, and representatives in all fields. Companies that operate in Israel, especially in support of the Israeli state and its oppression of Palestinians, are also targeted. Individual Israeli athletes, who are not representing Israel, for example, an Israeli playing professionally for a European football club, are not targeted.  


Yes I oppose Israel’s actions but sports and politics should not mix.


It is not possible to have normal sport in a society under occupation.


Palestinian national team member Mahmoud Sarsak was detained for 3 years without trial or charge. Zakaria Issa, a striker in Palestinian national team was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment in 2003. Muhammad Nimr a striker in the Palestinian youth football team was detained from 2007 to 2009. https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/adri-nieuwhof/how-israel-derails-promising-careers-palestinian-football-stars


Furthermore, the movement Palestinian athletes, as with all Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, is highly restricted, via the system of checkpoints, ID cards, permits. Commuting is time-consuming, and very difficult, due to often arbitrary decisions by individual Israeli soldiers. Therefore, even going to sports training daily can be extremely difficult for Palestinian athletes. It has been estimated that Palestinians lose 3 million working hours per day to travel (American Anthropological Association Task Force Israel Palestine, 2015)


Yes I oppose Israel’s actions but academia, and academic freedom of speech, should not be affected by politics, no?


The effects of Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinian academia are many and severe.  Do Palestinian scholars not have the same rights to academic freedom as Israeli scholars? Most offensive of all to academic freedom, Israel controls books that enter the occupied Palestinian territories, and does not refrain from bombing universities and schools in Gaza.


As with all Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian academics face severe restrictions on movement via the system of checkpoints, permits, ID cards. This, for example, makes field work impossible.


Additionally, this severe restriction of movement, and blockade, makes it almost impossible for Palestinians from one area, for example Gaza, to study in another, for example the West Bank. Therefore, Palestinian universities are becoming “provincial”, losing the broad diverse student and academic body that is a fundamental characteristic of universities. Whereas there are now no Gazans studying at Birzeit University in the West Bank, 20% of students used to be from Gaza. Also, students from Gaza studying at Bethlehem University have been prevented from doing so.


The severe restrictions on movement also obviously make travel abroad difficult for Palestinian students and academics. This is compounded by restrictions on the entry of foreign scholars to Palestine by Israel. Therefore, in total, Palestinian scholars are prevented from engaging with each other and the world, fundamental aspects of academia.


The entry of research equipment, spare parts, and material, is also tightly controlled by the Israeli government, making scientific research essentially impossible.


Finally, to date, not a single Israeli university has protested the ongoing destruction of Palestinian education by the Israeli government, whereas every Israeli university supported the 2014 bombing of Gaza (https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/warrior-students-how-israeli-universities-are-supporting-war-crimes-gaza)


Surely art & culture should not be politicised?


In human society, art and culture are essential parts of politics, politics is an essential part of art and culture. Culture does not, and cannot, stand aloof in a vacuum. Indeed, the Israeli government uses culture as a tool, as demonstrated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 2005, “we see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, … do not distinguish between propaganda and culture”.


Palestinian cultural events have been forcibly cancelled, cinemas, theatres, cultural centres have been repeatedly ransacked, closed down on various spurious reasons, in a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to silence the Palestinian cultural voice. For example, the Palestinian National Theatre, El-Hakawati, the only theatre in Jerusalem / Al-Quds that caters to Palestinians has long been targeted as part of the Israeli government’s attempt to undermine Palestinian heritage and culture. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/12/palestinian-national-theatre-el-hakawati-east-jerusalem.html#


The Palestinian vs Israeli issue is complicated, both sides have done bad things?


This FAQ is not the appropriate place for a long discussion of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, for that see, for example, http://www.ifamericansknew.org/history/ Instead, this FAQ’s focus is on current events, and the need for BDS.


The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described Israel’s oppression of Palestinians as “politicide”, “a process that has its ultimate goal the dissolution of the Palestinian people’s existence as a legitimate social, political and economic entity”.


The repeated attacks, and continuing blockade, against Gaza, even to the extent of targeting hospitals and ambulances, murdering professors (eg Dr Bashir Al-Hajjar, assistant professor of nursing, murdered whilst travelling in a UNRWA vehicle) in 2014, are only the most overt examples of Israeli aggression.


More insidious are the checkpoints restricting movement, unequal access to and seizure of land and water, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the Israeli settlements and settler only roads, the destruction of centuries, even millennium old Palestinian olive groves, the torture, the imprisonment of children, detention without trial: including of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council


Should Malaysians visit Israel?


BDS does not encourage visits to Israel. Israel’s regime gains from their visit legitimacy and uses it to erode the official boycott of their state, using these visitors as a back door towards normalization. Regardless of the noble intention of individuals or the benefit Palestinians may gain from Muslim and/or Arab brothers and sisters, or anyone in solidarity with Palestinians, supporting the tiny Palestinian economy in Jerusalem — and therefore contributing to their steadfastness in the occupied city — the harm done outstrips these benefits, especially the political normalization aspect.


What are the criteria for deciding on boycott targets, which corporations to be boycotted?


When boycott is used a tactic, and not as a principle, firstly, a key criterion is the degree of complicity of a corporation with the Israeli Zionist regime, whether the corporation works directly, hand in glove, with the Israeli Zionist regime to oppress Palestinians for example. Another criterion would be the potential for success. Linked to that is the potential for forming a broad, cross-movement coalition, across the entirety of Malaysian society, such that the boycott would be supported by Malaysian society as a whole. It should always be remembered that boycott is used as a tactic to force the Israeli regime to comply with the goals of BDS: ending the occupation, equality, right of return.


You have made many assertions in this FAQ, can you supply evidence for them?


This FAQ is not meant to be an academic paper, however, references can be supplied on request. Briefly, the assertions in this FAQ have been sourced primarily from Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations and activists, and the American Anthropological Association Task Force Israel Palestine, 2015.

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