Who’s afraid of BDS?

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel is gaining increased traction outside Palestine.

There is plenty of evidence that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel, initiated by dozens of Palestinian civil society groups in 2005 in protest against Israel’s apartheid policies, is frightening the Israeli state.

BDS has gained increased traction outside Palestine and a growing variety of actions and protests in support of it have taken place around the world. One example is consumer-led objections to the sale of Israeli goods — in particular goods made in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land with stolen Palestinian resources.

The BDS movement is a form of non-violent struggle for Palestinian liberation. The corollary to that is the realisation that Palestinians have few tools left with which to confront the illegal occupation and colonisation of their lands, and convince the outside world about the worth of their struggle. Very often the discussion is about the very legitimacy of Palestinians’ struggle rather than Israel’s oppression.

Of course, the same standards are not demanded of Israel by the international community. On the contrary, we hear from Western defenders of Israel at every turn that it has a right to secure its borders and defend itself against “terror”.

Israeli government spokespeople present grim, determined fronts in response to BDS and its impacts — offering the arguments on how supporters of Palestinian “terrorism” are mistaken. It is clear it sees the stakes as high.

While exact figures are unavailable, Israel invested a lot in Israeli pop singer Netta Barzilai's Eurovision win and the hosting of a stage of the Giro d'Italia cycling race. The intended pay-off was in boosting Israel’s international reputation and its suitability as a Middle East business hub.

But it is clear that BDS is growing, diversifying and taking place in an increasing number and variety of places. High-profile BDS wins include Argentina’s football team and Colombian pop star Shakira cancelling events in Israel in recent weeks.

Less reported, but important developments, include a decision this month by councillors in Galway, Ireland, to “fully support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in solidarity with the people of Palestine". Earlier this year, Dublin became the first European capital to endorse BDS. It is one of a number of “apartheid free zones” across Europe. And four major cities in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona) have either formally endorsed the BDS movement or resolutions in support of Palestinians’ right of return.

Another sign of the growing momentum for BDS is the decision of 11 filmmakers to boycott TLVFest — the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival. Canadian director Marc-Antoine Lemire pulled his short movie Pre-Drink, which won the Toronto International Film Festival Award for Best Canadian Short Film.

Lemire wrote: “We have recently become aware of Israel’s pinkwashing strategy, and wish to express our refusal to contribute to it, in addition to our support for the LGBTQ+ community. Following a protest movement of several filmmakers and artists in disagreement with Israel’s policies towards Palestine, we have decided to take a stand in favour of this movement.”

Another campaign taking place alongside BDS efforts is the incredibly brave Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which seeks to break Israel’s cruel siege on Gaza. The 2018 flotilla was officially launched from Sweden and, after an awareness raising tour of various European ports, will carry crews and supplies to Gaza where participants will try to break the Israeli blockade.

As with past flotillas, it will likely be intercepted by the Israeli navy, which strictly enforces an exclusion zone along the Gaza coastline.

Despite its non-violent nature, even the BDS campaign attracts criticism. It seems supporters of Israeli’s policies believe Palestinians should quietly accept the growing encroachment of illegal settlements onto their lands, house demolitions, arrests at checkpoints, theft of resources like water and cold-blooded murder, such as the recent massacres in Gaza.

Global powers criticise Palestinian protests and resistance as villages are demolished, maps redrawn (thanks to West Bank annexation projects and the regularisation law) and Gaza is subjected to a crippling starvation siege that has lasted more than a decade.

As US President Donald Trump returns home after his G7 performance and discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, his son-in-law Jared Kushner is due to return to Israel to discuss the Middle East peace process. His actual interest in peace is indicated by an itinerary that includes no visits to Palestinian territories or meetings with Palestinian officials.

In this context, the stakes of BDS as a powerful form of resistance and international solidarity are high.

We can acknowledge both the sense that the tide against Israeli apartheid could be turning, and also the very serious and well-funded push back against it from Israel and its supporters.

Coming out of Palestinian civil society demands and being adopted worldwide by an ever-growing variety of groups and individuals who recognise Palestine’s right to exist, it is the “people power” nature of BDS that gives it so much power — generating hope for Palestinians and fear for Israel and its backers.