With well over 1000 dead in Gaza many are seeking a way to pour their outrage into effective solidarity actions.
Following in the footsteps of the South African anti-apartheid movement the Palestinian Boycott Disinvestment and Sanction (BDS) movement seeks to make Israeli apartheid economically unviable and redress the power imbalance against the Palestinian people.
BDS is not the sole tactic to be used in solidarity with Palestine but I believe these 7 reasons show it should be central one and, even if you have not been involved in any campaigning before, now is the time to join!
1. It’s led by Palestinian civil society
Many campaigns against injustices suffered in the global south fail to actually listen to the people the campaign is supposedly acting for. BDS is different. The global BDS movement was sparked by a call-out made by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005, and today it continues to be Palestinian led. If we are serious about standing in solidarity with Palestinians we must listen to how they want us to make that stand.
See the call-out and list of signatories here: www.bdsmovement.net/call
2. It breaks Palestinian solidarity into many winnable campaigns
Israel is a powerful state with a huge armoury of both bombs and spin doctors. It has allies in almost every national leadership office in Europe and North America and a powerful civil lobby. How can we take on such a monster?
The strategy of BDS allows us to break the campaign into many potential wins and to chip away at strategically important areas.
For instance, in order to undermine the Israeli settlements, BDS campaigners have targeted companies that support them. One such company is Sodastream. Already the campaign against Sodastream has forced the closure of their flagship store in Brighton and caused John Lewis to stop stocking their products, making a major impact on Sodastream’s UK operations.
These wins, along with many others, create a continued excitement to the campaign, while materially undermining the occupation. It allows us to strategically plan where to act rather than trying to face it as a whole.
3. It has led to a real impact on the ground
BDS is starting to have an impact on Israel’s economy.
Due to consumer pressure on supermarkets in western Europe, settlement agricultural producers are complaining of having to sell produce for less and reduce harvests. Indeed the Jordan Valley settlements, lost 14% of their revenue in 2013 due to lost sales in Western Europe and was expected to stop grape production altogether.
While the current impact of BDS is small on the overall Israeli economy, there is fear of a growing movement. In April, Finance Minister Yair Lapid warned that boycotts represented the greatest threat to Israel’s economy.
4. It pushes the debate on
The ‘topic’ of Israel-Palestine is often raised as just that, a fight between two sides, rather than as a relationship of oppression against Palestinians. So we end up with calls for restraint on “both sides”, and claims ‘they are just as bad as each other’, ignoring the history of continuing oppression faced by Palestinians. Seeking justice for Palestine also means seeking a change in the public narrative to accept injustice has occurred.
The reality is public opinion is already shifting. According to a 2014 BBC-GlobeScan poll 72% of the UK population hold a negative opinion towards Israel (compared to 14% who held a favourable view), an increase of 22% in two years. The point here is that for supporters of Palestinian liberation, it is no longer the time to merely tell the public of Israel’s crimes, now is the time to say “and what are we gonna do about it?” (and then say “well there is this great campaign called BDS…”).
BDS campaigns help re-frame the debate. They start on the premise of opposition to oppression and push on from there. By fighting an aggressive campaign we are able to to move from opposing propaganda to start telling a new narrative of resistance to oppression.
6. Israel hates it
Due to the above reasons, Israel hate BDS.
In fact, the Israeli government hate BDS so much they banned anyone calling for boycott campaigns within Israel. Despite this, many Israeli campaigners continue to publicly call for BDS.
Internationally, Israel and its supporters are investing huge resources into fighting it. In 2010 US Zionist organisations announced their intention to spend $6 million to combat BDS campaigns in the US. In Feburary this year, a meeting of Israeli government and intelligence services decided to invest an extra $30 million in combating the BDS movement internationally, maximise intelligence efforts against campaigns and push for criminalisation of BDS campaigns in ally nations.
The fact Israel is willing to put such resources in opposing BDS means they see it as a threat. We don’t have those kind of resources but the fact that Israel is willing to take BDS so seriously shows we should take it seriously too.
6. It is inspired by the successful South African Anti Apartheid movement
Apartheid fell in South Africa due to the bravery and struggle of ordinary South Africans but it was vitally supported by international boycott movement. The BDS movement takes inspiration from this.
The South African campaign was highly successful in materially undermining the South African regime. The sporting and artist boycotts cemented South Africa’s place as a pariah state, while economic boycotts, sanctions and divestment isolated apartheid South Africa, making the continuation of Apartheid impractical.
BDS has a long way to go to reach the levels of the South African movement. But BDS has grown massively 9 years with no sign of slowing, and it is helping shift the discourse to seeing Israel in the same light as apartheid South Africa (a move that scares Israel’s former PM).
7. It is racking up wins around the world and building momentum
The last year has been really important for the BDS movement, with wins rolling in quicker than ever. For a campaigner this is really powerful as the internet allows us to see victories around the world and are inspired into further action.
Just some of the victories since the start of 2013 include:
- Multiple EU states have issued guidelines against investment in and trade with companies operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move that would not have been possible without the discursive foundation being laid by the BDS movement.
- The Gates Foundation were pressured into divesting from occupation profiteers, G4S.
- King’s College, University of Southampton and the BBC refused deals with G4S following widespread campaigns.
- Luxemburg’s largest pension fund FDC, and Holland’s second largest pension fund PGGM, divested millions from Israeli banks due to their role in settlement finance.
- After pressure on artists, Lollapalloza Israel, Plugfest and Progstage festivals were forced to cancel due to lack of performers willing to play in Israel.
- Sodastream’s ‘Ecostream’ store closed in Brighton following two years of weekly protests and John Lewis stopped selling Sodastream products after shop invasions and protests. More info.
- Perhaps the world’s most famous professor, Stephen Hawking, multiple academic associations and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) joined the academic boycott of Israel.
- The Presbyterian Church (USA), and US Methodist Church pension board voted to divest from firms complicit with the occupation.
For more victories and the history of the global BDS movement here: www.bdsmovement.net/timeline