Ten years of BDS in the USA
Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and adjunct professor of international human rights law at Georgetown University.
Introduction by Joel Beinen of Jewish Voice for Peace
The latest issue of Middle East Report includes this perceptive article by Noura Erakat surveying the history of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States over the past decade, with a focus on the University of California at Berkeley, where she was an undergraduate student and political activist. She notes that according to Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), “the fundamental pillar of the BDS call was its rights-based approach that does not endorse any particular political solution to the Arab-Israeli colonial conflict, but insists that for any solution to be just and sustainable it must address all three basic rights [an end to the occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian refugees’ right to return] stated in the call.” At the same time, the BDS victories in the US have targeted the occupation rather than Israel itself. However, many Arab-American and Jewish-American supporters of the two-state solution regard BDS, and all the more so terming Israel an apartheid state, as undermining that effort. Nonetheless, the BDS movement is growing and knee-jerk “supporters of Israel” have been put on the defensive.
On April 26, 2010, the student senate at the University of California-Berkeley upheld, by one vote, an executive veto on SB 118—the student body resolution endorsing divestment of university funds from General Electric and United Technologies, two companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Proponents of the resolution needed 14 votes to override the veto and, as 16 senators had spoken in favor of doing so, it appeared a simple task.
But the vote in Berkeley had shifted the gaze of national pro-Israel organizations from Capitol Hill westward, begetting an unlikely alliance between the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its self-proclaimed liberal rival, J Street. The two groups collaborated in lobbying efforts on campus to sustain the veto. Ultimately, two senators changed their votes and a third abstained, bringing the final count to 13 in favor of overriding the veto and five opposed. While adherence to student body procedure has blocked the divestment measure, the numbers indicate the strong support for divestment on Berkeley’s campus and can be regarded as a milestone in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The strident response to Berkeley’s resolution from off-campus groups reflects that the BDS movement is being taken more seriously by its opponents than ever before. Berkeley students have been at the forefront of BDS efforts since February 6, 2001, the day Ariel Sharon became Israeli prime minister. They erected a mock checkpoint on campus and unfurled banners exclaiming, “Divest from Israeli Apartheid.” Within the span of three years, this first university-based divestment campaign spread onto dozens of other American campuses as well as into churches and community organizations. Yet the movement did not gain international legitimacy and elicit serious treatment until a call for BDS came from Palestinian civil society in 2005.
Since then, and especially since the resounding failure of the international community to hold Israel to account for war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, the assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, the notion of extra-governmental tactics targeting Israeli human rights violations has permeated mainstream institutions. No longer the passion of idealistic students alone, BDS demands have reverberated within American retail stores, corporations and international multilateral organizations.
The movement’s deepening acceptance among mainstream stakeholders correlates with the steady decline of faith in efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While heads of state fail to extract the most modest commitments from Israel, such as a settlement freeze, BDS activists have increased compliance (albeit incrementally) with international law among corporations and institutions that have distanced themselves from, or divested their holdings in, settlement-related enterprises.
BDS victories to date, at least in the United States, have targeted Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories, the notion being what should be boycotted and sanctioned is the occupation, rather than Israel itself. But the movement draws inspiration from similar efforts aimed at apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, coupled with the 2005 call emanating from Palestine that includes a demand for equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. This genealogy makes BDS abhorrent to many loyalists of the two-state solution. J Street, for example, sees the movement as an attack on Israel’s character as a Jewish state. In his blog entry opposing the Berkeley resolution, Isaac Luria of J Street complains that the movement “fails to draw a clear distinction between opposition to the post-1967 occupation and opposition to the existence of the state of Israel itself as the democratic home of the Jewish people. Even if it was not the intent of the students who drafted this bill, its passage is now being seized on by the global BDS movement as a victory in its broader campaign.” BDS activists insist that they emphasize rights, as opposed to political solutions, precisely to escape the debate over whether Israel and Palestine should be one or two states. They recognize, however, that the fruition of the 2005 demands may lead to an Israel that is a state of all its citizens irrespective of religion. Hence it is inevitable that BDS will be anathema not only to AIPAC, but also to J Street and Arab American partisans of the two-state solution like Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine.
In arousing the ire of both the right and the left ends of the spectrum of permissible opinion on Israel-Palestine in Washington, the BDS platform and movement cuts to the heart of the conflict over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and could become central to the conflict itself.
Visions of Justice
The tripartite strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions is rooted in economic logic: Israel must comply with international law because non-compliance is too politically and economically costly to maintain. Divestment pressures institutions with stakes in Israeli companies, or in companies that sustain Israeli human rights abuses, to drop their holdings. Boycotts encourage consumers to “let the market decide” upon justice by refusing to buy goods made by companies that benefit from the occupation or inequality in Israel. Sanctions, on the other hand, are trade restrictions imposed by governments upon others.
In the US, BDS is associated with the solidarity movement aimed at ending apartheid in South Africa. That movement is widely credited with helping to topple apartheid and free Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner for 27 years, who became the first black president of South Africa. The African National Conference of which Mandela was a part called upon the world to boycott, divest from and sanction apartheid South Africa in 1958. Due to the South African experience, BDS is seen as a grassroots strategy that works. According to Abdul Minty, secretary of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, “The worldwide movement was effective because it was a coalition of committed governments and people’s movements in the West that managed to inﬂuence policy at the national level, as well as institutions like the UN.”
As with South Africa, the impetus for a global BDS campaign against Israel came from Palestinian civil society. On July 9, 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion declared the route of Israel’s wall illegal, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. The call gave voice to a growing movement that began, appropriately, in Durban, South Africa at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, where non-governmental organizations and activists equated Israel’s racially discriminatory policies throughout Israel proper and the Occupied Territories with apartheid and advocated BDS as the strategy of choice for fighting back. In Durban and subsequently, the activists have drawn upon the general definition of apartheid laid out in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid: policies “designed to divide the population…by the creation of separate reserves and ghettoes for the members of racial groups, …[or] the expropriation of landed property…[or] the persecution of organizations or persons…because they oppose apartheid.” Directly preceding the 2005 call, a group of Palestinian intellectuals and academics issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004. The Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (PACBI) fundamental principles ultimately formed the basis for the 2005 document, which demands that Israel comply with international law and uphold universal human rights by:
Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The 2005 call marked a significant shift in the movement for Palestinian self-determination. Most importantly, it emphasized the rights of Palestinians everywhere irrespective of which state they live in today or where they envision living tomorrow. Omar Barghouti, a founder and steering committee member of PACBI and a drafter of the 2005 document, explains that “the fundamental pillar of the BDS call was its rights-based approach that does not endorse any particular political solution to the Arab-Israeli colonial conflict, but insists that for any solution to be just and sustainable it must address all three basic rights stated in the call.”
Not everyone considers the affirmation of all three rights to be a neutral act. The likes of J Street view it as threatening to Israel’s self-proclaimed identity as a Jewish state, because the return of refugees in appreciable numbers would render Jews a small minority. Those committed to the two-state solution on the “pro-Palestinian” side, like Ibish, have interpreted the call as a repudiation of the state-building project in place since 1993 and a return to the liberation model. It was important, however, to the BDS drafters to represent the interests of all Palestinians, and not just those living within the elastic boundaries of a future Palestinian state. Hence the call’s second clause demands the full equality of Israel’s non-Jewish Palestinian citizens.
It is logical that this clause would be inserted, given the participation in the drafting of Ittijah, the umbrella network of Palestinian NGOs in Israel, which demands equal treatment before the law irrespective of race, ethnicity, national origin and religion. From the perspective of the BDS organizers, therefore, objecting to this clause amounts to rejecting Palestinians’ self-definition as a unified national body. Still, for supporters of Palestinian human rights who prefer to indict the occupation only, the second clause is an affront to their solidarity. For these supporters, ending Jewish privilege within Israel may be desirable, but it exceeds the mandate of a movement for Palestinian self-determination. Despite its best efforts to transcend political solutions, therefore, the BDS call has been read as an implicit endorsement of the one-state solution.
Perhaps surprisingly, several Palestinian NGO representatives within the Occupied Territories initially opposed the BDS call as well. They viewed the comprehensive approach to Palestinian rights as a veiled endorsement of the one-state solution, and hence a blow to the Palestinian Authority and a subversion of the strategic direction of the Palestinian national movement since the late 1980s and enshrined by the “peace process” of the 1990s. Drafters of the call, including PACBI, Ittijah, Badil and Stop the Wall, invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in explaining that the fundamental emphasis on rights was necessary to redress the concerns of a cohesive Palestinian national body as opposed to endorsing a particular political solution. Ultimately, the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, the coordinating body for the major political parties in the Occupied Territories, along with the largest Palestine Liberation Organization mass movements, facilitated the acceptance of the BDS call by major sectors of Palestinian civil society within the Territories and beyond. Constricted by the parameters of the “peace process,” the Palestinian Authority has neither endorsed nor repudiated the BDS call. They have, however, launched a narrower boycott of settlement-produced goods. In January 2010, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad staged the burning of $1 million in settlement products and created a National Dignity Fund to support the production and distribution of Palestinian-made goods. Unlike the 2005 call, the PA initiative perpetuates a state-centric approach to resolving the conflict and as such does not attempt to represent the rights of a unified Palestinian national body.
Barghouti explains that the call for equality within Israel remains the least popular element of the call among solidarity activists, even more controversial than the right of return, because it goes beyond calling on Israel to rein in its occupation policies in the Palestinian territories and demands that Israel rectify its domestic policies to afford non-Jewish Arab citizens full equality. But as Barghouti asks: “If a political system is built on a foundation of inequality and would collapse if equality set in, is it a system worth keeping?”
Barghouti’s rhetorical question is precisely what makes BDS so controversial. Though BDS is in fact a reform movement, one that seeks to alter corporate and state behavior, it has been viewed as radical. Mark Lance, a Georgetown philosophy professor and co-founder of Stop US Taxpayer Aid to Israel Now (SUSTAIN), explains that when his group first approached cohorts with the idea of divestment in 2001, they were hostilely dismissed as naïve. The established solidarity organizations feared such a tactic would alienate average Americans who were ready to support a Palestinian state but not to criticize Israel or call its internal policies into question. SUSTAIN redirected its energy at young global justice groups, Lance continues, and waited for the time for BDS to ripen. Within two years, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the “connective tissue” of American Palestine solidarity groups, had incorporated numerous BDS activists.
Established in 2001 with a $20,000 grant and a few dozen member organizations, today the Campaign has grown to more than 300 members and boasts a budget of $250,000. In 2005, the Campaign endorsed the BDS call and mounted a campaign against Caterpillar, manufacturer of the heavy bulldozers used by the Israeli army to raze Palestinian homes. Phyllis Bennis, a Campaign co-founder and steering committee member, explains that Caterpillar emerged as a target for its role in the destruction of Palestinian olive trees and the murder of Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen State College student run over by a bulldozer in 2003 while trying to prevent a home demolition. Soon, Bennis says, “the discussion moved from the tactical targeting of Caterpillar to the strategic effort to build a campaign against corporations profiting from occupation.”
The Campaign’s focus, which reflects its member groups’ prerogatives, has continued to shift. In 2006, the coalition adopted an anti-apartheid framework, which expounds on the discriminatory treatment of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, and in 2009, it endorsed the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, another controversial strand of the BDS movement. The Campaign’s progression from divesting from occupation to boycotting Israel may be a bellwether of change in mainstream organizations that have joined the BDS movement but have limited their activism to targeting war-profiteering corporations involved in the occupation.
Code Pink, the women’s peace group famed for head-to-toe pink attire and unabashed disruption of business as usual on Capitol Hill, coalesced in opposition to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to member Nancy Kricorian, Code Pink expanded its mandate to include the occupation of Palestine when it joined the Campaign in 2006—but the gesture was largely symbolic, as the group’s work remained focused on Afghanistan and Iraq. This quiet engagement became much louder in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, when Code Pink brought Palestine to the front and center of its agenda, to the dismay of several members and funders. Undeterred, the women’s group has since taken two solidarity delegations to Gaza, co-led the Gaza Freedom March in January 2010 and launched Stolen Beauty, a boycott of Ahava, the settlement-manufactured cosmetics line. Since its inception in June 2009, Stolen Beauty has pressured Oxfam into suspending its goodwill ambassador, “Sex and the City” starlet Kristen Davis, for the duration of her contract as an Ahava spokeswoman and pushed Costco, a national wholesaler, to take the product off its shelves.
Despite these achievements, which have been covered in the New York Post and elsewhere, Kricorian shares that her group still uses the “A-word” gingerly. While BDS can be presented within the framework of corporate accountability and war profiteering, the term “apartheid” is controversial. “This word still triggers people’s emotions in a way that shuts off dialogue. It is a trigger because of its history in South Africa, but in the case of South Africa, most people would not have dreamed of saying that apartheid was necessary for security’s sake, or that it was a good idea to keep blacks in bantustans.”
Fayyad Sbaihat, a former University of Wisconsin student and a leading member of al-Awda Wisconsin, which garnered faculty senate and union endorsement of divestment across the 25 University of Wisconsin campuses in 2005, explains that the first and strongest opposition to BDS came from long-time allies who feared that the movement would drive away liberals or induce a backlash in Israel. “It was a hindrance in the short term,” says Sbaihat. “Not only was BDS too much to ask of the ‘fair-weather friends’ of Palestine, but also it was too much for them to accept or live with the apartheid analogy. However, part of the appeal of BDS as we recognized it was getting the uninterested to begin asking questions and then questioning Israel’s character, and using the apartheid analogy was a way to provoke questions from the casual observer.”
Glenn Dickson hopes to present precisely this challenge to the Presbyterian Church USA. At its 2004 general assembly, the 2.3 million-strong church endorsed divestment from companies profiting from Israeli occupation by an overwhelming vote of 460-41. Despite threats to burn down houses of worship and pressure from Congress to rescind the resolution, the church has reaffirmed its commitment to corporate engagement at subsequent general assemblies where support for divestment has only increased. In 2006, 17 of the 170 overtures submitted to the assembly opposed the divestment resolution, while in 2008 only two overtures protested the church’s stance. Today, the Presbyterians’ Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee has denounced Caterpillar for profiting from the non-peaceful use of its products and continues to explore divestment from Motorola, ITT, Citibank and United Technologies for their role in sustaining the occupation.
Dickson is the retired Presbyterian pastor who introduced the 2004 divestment resolution. He did not consider including boycott at the time because he felt that unlike divestment, which lends itself to corporate engagement, boycott precludes dialogue. He rightly predicted divestment’s potential to excite controversy despite the church’s legacy of principled divestment from South Africa, Indonesia and Sudan, among other human rights violators. Today Dickson and his colleagues are thinking of introducing the concept of apartheid at the 2010 General Assembly because “it will help people to realize that Israel is as bad as South Africa in its poor treatment of people of color…. Because most people in the US see Israel as a benevolent democracy and see Palestinians as terrorists, reframing who Israel is will help us.”
Blessing or Burden?
Notwithstanding its popular association with South Africa’s experience, the term “apartheid” is not a requisite element of the BDS strategy, though it may be a useful instrument of branding in and of itself. Like the US Campaign, Code Pink and the Presbyterians, activist groups have launched BDS campaigns without adopting the loaded term, only to adopt it later as their advocacy efforts developed. Even Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel, a group at Stanford University for whom the term was obviously central, has used it tactically at most.
According to Omar Shakir, a founding member of the group who is now at Georgetown, the Stanford students wanted to make apartheid central to demonstrate the power disparity inherent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and move beyond the language of “two sides,” which can imply that Israel and the Palestinians have equal resources to draw upon. When campus opposition focused on the asymmetry between the South African and Palestinian cases, however, Shakir and his colleagues dropped the framework and focused instead on divestment criteria, including disparate treatment of Israel’s non-Jewish Arab citizens. The method here was to describe the violation rather than call it by name. “In the beginning,” Shakir comments, “the opposition focused on apartheid more than our goal of divestment…. We liked the way we did it because we could pick and choose; we weren’t wedded to apartheid.”
The apartheid framework is both a blessing and a burden. On the one hand, because the South African experience is so well known and so roundly condemned, mere mention of apartheid forces pro-Israel advocates to defend an entrenched system of racial discrimination and oppression rather than rally support for Israel’s security. On the other hand, the two cases are far from identical. No South African blacks were allowed to vote or participate in government, as are Palestinian citizens in Israel. Neither were blacks subjected to military offensives or debilitating humanitarian blockades as are Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and nor were tens of thousands exiled as refugees to raise subsequent generations in the diaspora. Notwithstanding these differences, in the BDS movement there is general consensus that the apartheid framework is effective, especially in the symbolic realm. As Lisa Taraki, a Birzeit University professor and PACBI steering committee member, comments, “All historic analogies are fraught with problems, but in this case…I think this line of argument has been very successful on the whole, and has put Israel’s supporters in a very uncomfortable position, to put it mildly.”
That activists deploy the “A-word” tactically does not diminish their sincere belief that the framework is apt. To the contrary, Shakir and Taraki’s attitudes are responses to detractors whose focus on the analogy’s fine print is an attempt to dismiss it for lack of perfect symmetry. Such attempts are misguided because although the South African experience makes the apartheid paradigm more compelling, it is by no means the yardstick against which to measure all occurrences of apartheid, whether in Israel-Palestine or elsewhere. Perhaps only a legal forum like the International Court of Justice can settle this tension. In the meantime, public discussions of Israeli apartheid continue to be a battle for domination of the symbolic world.
Activists have waged this battle offensively for six years in their organizing of Israeli Apartheid Week. Originally limited to educational activities in Toronto and New York, today it spans 40 cities worldwide, including, for the first time in 2010, Beirut.
Adalah-New York’s BDS campaign is an organic outgrowth of Israeli Apartheid Week organizing. Unlike other groups, Adalah-NY began with the apartheid framework first and moved toward the divestment tactic later. The success of its campaign against Lev Leviev, an Israeli diamond mogul whose companies support the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, has made it a premier example of BDS organizing in the US. Lubna Ka‘abneh of Adalah-NY explains that the apartheid analogy constituted a cornerstone of the group’s outreach work “so that our [US] audience could make the connection to their own experiences.” Ka‘abneh and her cohorts have discovered that American audiences relate much more easily to narratives of institutionalized racial discrimination than those of occupation. Hence they work to draw parallels between the civil rights movement and the Palestinian movement to achieve freedom and equality.
Since launching its campaign in 2008, Adalah-NY has effectively pressed Danish Bank Dankse and the Danish pension fund PKA to exclude Leviev’s enterprise, Africa-Israel, from its investment portfolio, encouraged the second largest Dutch pension fund to divest from Africa-Israel, and convinced UNICEF, Oxfam, the British government and several Hollywood stars to distance themselves from the entrepreneur. Adalah-NY’s success in simultaneously highlighting Israel’s discriminatory character while choosing the occupation as its BDS target both captures the movement’s strategic possibilities and reflects political maturity in the movement.
The history of efforts at Berkeley is telling as well. While originally written to combat Israeli apartheid and therefore target all companies with subsidiaries worth $5,000 or more within Israel, the student body resolution SB 118 eventually limited itself to two American corporations that profit from Israel’s military occupation. “Divestment is ultimately about students engaging the administration,” comments Abdel-Rahman Zahzah, a founding member of the Berkeley campaign and now a leader of similar efforts in Beirut. Zahzah notes that Berkeley students did not start out with a political strategy in 2001. Instead they issued abrupt threats to the administration: “Divest all your holdings from apartheid Israel or we’ll take over academic buildings.” While activists did occupy Wheeler Hall twice, they did not come close to achieving divestment until nine years later when students introduced SB 118 in the student senate.
The tactical shift is derived in part from Hampshire College’s monumental success in becoming the first American institution of higher education to divest from Israel in 2009. Ilana Rosoff, a leading student organizer at Hampshire, explains that their campaign was a direct response to the Palestinian BDS call. Her fellows were motivated by the opportunity “to stand behind and re-empower Palestinians in their own national struggle.” Still, to avoid debilitating opposition, the students developed a strategy that targeted Israel’s occupation “but did not try to make moral arguments about Israel as a nation-state.”
The students won over the college’s board of trustees when in February 2009, the trustees voted to divest Hampshire’s holdings from Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT and Terex, companies that supply the Israeli military with equipment and services for use in the Occupied Territories. Under pressure from Alan Dershowitz, one of several self-appointed policemen of American discourse about Israel-Palestine, Hampshire’s administration denied that its decision was linked to Israeli human rights abuses and trumpeted its other investments in Israeli firms. The minutes of the board of trustees’ meeting nevertheless reveal an explicit link; the college president “acknowledged that it was the good work of Students for Justice in Palestine that brought this issue to the attention of the committee.” And, of course, the students took care to claim that Hampshire was divesting from Israeli occupation, not from Israel.
The Logic of BDS
While the Hampshire and Adalah-NY successes have made indelible marks, most campaigns cannot demonstrate their work’s impact in measurable units. Instead, the virtue of BDS has been its ability to challenge Israel’s moral authority, arguably the most coveted weapon in its arsenal. Israel was not a major recipient of US aid dollars until the aftermath of the Six-Day War, which greatly enhanced Israel’s image as a David facing down an Arab Goliath. In June 1968, the Johnson administration, with strong support from Congress, approved the sale of supersonic aircraft to Israel and established the precedent of US support for “Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors” (actually, any possible combination of its neighbors). Since then, no American politician seeking high office has spoken of Middle East peace without first stressing US commitment to the security of Israel.
BDS campaigns puncture holes in this security narrative by assuming an offensive posture. By asserting that Israel is worthy of BDS treatment, activists compel Israel’s defenders to explain the logic of its policies, such as the imprisonment, at one time or another since 1967, of 20 percent of the entire Palestinian population. When the conversation is taken to its logical end, as it is more and more often, pro-Israel spokespersons are forced to declare that Palestinians’ mere existence is a security threat.
In a recent address in Herzliya, site of an important annual security conference in Israel, Harvard fellow Martin Kramer leapt straight to the bottom of this slippery slope. He argued that when the proportion of adult men in the Arab and Muslim world reaches 40 percent of the population, their propensity to violence increases because they have become “superfluous” in society. Kramer not only dismissed political explanations for radicalization in favor of simple demography—dubious social science, to say the least—he concluded by encouraging the deliberate stunting of population growth among Palestinians as a matter of national security policy. The address, as Kramer said himself, was “memorable.”
Its legitimacy continually eroded by such pronouncements, Israeli structural discrimination will still find allies among Christian Zionists, who beseech God and Israel to hasten Armageddon, the defense industry, which wishes to protecting net earnings, and those American Jews who, for one reason or another, remain blind to Palestinian suffering. These allies are formidable, but they are not the broad spectrum of Americans whose backing Israel wants to safeguard its moral authority. For this reason, AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, dedicated his address at the group’s 2009 annual conference to warnings of the dangers of BDS, which he lamented is “part of a broader campaign not simply to denigrate or defame Israel but to delegitimize her in the eyes of her allies.”
The Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank, concurs. In its 2009 study, “Building a Political Firewall Against Israel’s Delegitimization,” Reut concludes that a network of activists working from the bottom up and from the periphery to the center has succeeded in casting Israel as a pariah state and warns that, within a few years, the campaign may develop into “a comprehensive existential threat.” In its presentation to the Knesset, the institute recommended that the government mitigate this threat with a multi-pronged strategy, including ending its control of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories.
Taraki says that such statements show BDS is having an effect. Unlike efforts at dialogue, which reinforced power discrepancies by creating “a false sense of symmetry [that] does not acknowledge the colonizer-colonized relationship,” BDS tackles the Israeli state head on. The proper response to ending Israel’s impunity is the application of pressure and “the logic of BDS is the logic of pressure.”
On the horizon is the burgeoning movement for academic and cultural boycotts. Although launched a year before the 2005 BDS call, academic and cultural boycott does not enjoy the support of economic BDS campaigns. Some argue that culture should be immune from politics and that boycotting intellectuals infringes upon academic freedom. Others contend that Israeli intellectuals are the best allies within Israel of the global movement for peace with justice. A close examination of the PACBI call makes it clear that boycott is restricted to Israeli institutions and entities that are complicit in justifying, promoting, supporting or otherwise perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid. Today, this call could not be more relevant as Israel rolls out its “Brand Israel” campaign, meant to rehabilitate its hobbled image through the media of popular culture. Irrespective of form, Barghouti says, BDS is “the most effective form of solidarity with the Palestinian people today.” Its non-violent and universal nature makes it “Israel’s worst nightmare.”