Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

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"Refuse to finance the occupation – Boycott Israel" – a Swedish poster calls for a boycott of Israel

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a global campaign[1] which uses economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the movement: The end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian or Arab land, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.[1]

The campaign was started on 9 July 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations in support of the Palestinian cause for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel. Citing a body of UN resolutions and specifically echoing the anti-apartheid campaigns against white minority rule in apartheid era South Africa,[2] the BDS campaign called for "various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law."[3]

There is considerable debate about the scope, efficacy, and morality of the BDS movement. Critics argue that the BDS movement promotes the delegitimization of Israel.[4][5][6] BDS supporters argue that both the movement (and criticism of the movement) are similar to the earlier boycotts of South Africa.[7][8][9]


Debate over a wide ranging boycott of Israel has been ongoing in the Middle East since 1945 when the Council of the Arab League called for an economic boycott against the Jews of Mandatory Palestine.[10] Egypt (1979), the Palestinian Authority (1993), and Jordan (1994) signed peace treaties or agreements that ended their participation in the boycott of Israel. Mauritania, which never applied the boycott, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia do not enforce the boycott.[11] In 1994, following the Oslo Peace Accords, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) states, ended their participation in the Arab boycott against Israel.[12]

According to Julie Norman the circumstances in the Palestinian territories of Israeli occupation in combination with the Palestinian Authority acting as a quasi-state institution creates unique challenges for civil resistance. Civil society groups have to challenge problems with their own government while keeping the focus of their activities on the occupying power. Julie Norman argues that in this situation withdrawal of consent by the Palestinian population does not undermine the power of the Israeli government provided it retains the support of the Israeli electorate. Thus activists are presented with a more difficult task than the removal of a dictator or political party from government as they must find opportunities for resisting the occupying force while simultaneously convincing the Israeli population and government of the requirement for change.[13]

Describing the opportunities created for increased participation through non-violent means of resistance one activists stated, "Just a very small percentage of the population will be willing to be suicide bombers or martyrs. Just slightly more will be willing to use guns. Then maybe stones will bring slightly more. But with non-violent resistance...every person in the society can participate."[14] Rhea DuMont writes that local non-violent means such as direct action, community organizations, media reporting and sumoud have enabled a wide range of people to be involved in the resistance to occupation. On a regional level non-violent methods allowed for collaboration between Palestinian and Israeli activists, NGO's and human rights organizations. While globally they promote the direct participation by international activists and the creation of worldwide support networks and solidarity groups.[14]

During the Second Intifada Palestinians began establishing new approaches that concentrated on developing international solidarity and support that could be used to apply pressure on Israel through non-violent means.[15] Following this idea proposals for boycott began in 2002 and 2003, BDS campaigns were initiated, which have continued to develop and expand since the end of the intifada.[13][14][15][16]

Although much has been said about BDS as a non-violent movement, BDS protests occasionally do turn violent.[17] According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the BDS movement does not denounce politically-motivated violence directed against Israelis or Jews.[18][19]


According to the July 2005 call, the BDS campaign urges various form of "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel until it "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."[20]


The campaign uses the means of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to achieve its goals. The BDS website describes its three pronged approach as, boycott: "targets products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions [which] directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations". Divestment "means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of the university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies". Sanctions are described as "an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country's actions. Israel's membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes."[1]

As well as promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions, the campaign seeks to establish a critical image of Israel in contrast to the one it presents to the world.[1] According to Abigail Bakan and Yasmeen Abu-Laban the BDS campaign has been important in contesting what they describe as "the hegemonic framing of Israel as a victim state in the face of Palestinian ‘terrorism.’"[21] Describing this aspect of the campaign they state:

The BDS movement has been framed to expose and challenge a series of corresponding repressive policies. These include the denial of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, militarised violence directed against Palestinian men, women and children, the confiscation of land from Palestinians, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the daily racism invoked by a series of policies directed at Palestinians which encumber their freedom of mobility, access to education and ability to earn a living.[21]


In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) voted to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions.[22] It was joined in December by the American Studies Association (ASA). In a vote in which 1,252 of its 5,000 members participated, 66% voted in favour of a boycott.[23] The reasons given were "Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; [and] the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights."

Many universities and prominent scholars criticized this move. Brandeis University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University and Kenyon College decided to withdraw from the ASA. The American Council on Education,[24] an umbrella organization of 1,800 institutions, the American Association of Universities which represents 62 schools across the US and Canada, and the American Association of University Professors all condemned the boycott.[25]

A list of 2012 academic and cultural boycott successes has been compiled by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In 2013, the Palestinian BDS National Committee published an interactive timeline listing some of the movement's key achievements.

In March 2009, large scale student demonstrations were held at several UK Universities to protest Israel's actions in Gaza. At Cardiff University the protests led to the University divesting all investments in BAE Systems, an arms manufacturer that co-operates with Israel.[1] In May 2009, advertisements for tourism in Israel were removed from the London underground network in response to pressure from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.[1] In July 2009, Dexia, a Belgian-French financial group, stopped all financial services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.[1]

In April 2014, the Washington State Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 ruling, affirming the dismissal of a lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op for their 2011 decision to boycott Israeli products, mandating the plaintiffs pay $160,000 in statutory damages as well as other legal fees. In a press release, the Center for Constitutional Rights quoted one of the defendants and a Co-op staff member: "We are thrilled to hear that ... our right to freedom of speech has been upheld [..] Boycotts are a longstanding form of non-violent political expression; using the Court system to attempt to silence our right of expression clearly qualifies as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation."[26][27]


United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967", Richard A. Falk,[28] in his 2012 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recommended that "businesses highlighted in the report – as well as the many other businesses that are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise – should be boycotted until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards." He specifically named the United States' Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett Packard and Motorola; Israel's Ahava, Elbit Systems and Mehadrin; Sweden's Volvo Group and Assa Abloy ; France's Veolia Environment; United Kingdom's G4S, Belgium's Dexia Group, Netherlands' Riwal Holding Group and Mexico's Cemex.[29] At a news conference Falk said: "The focus on business activities is partly an expression of frustration about the inability to obtain compliance with these fundamental legal obligations of Israel and the ineffectiveness of the U.N. efforts to condemn settlement expansion." He also stated "The whole issue of Palestinian self-determination is at risk here."[30]

British physicist Stephen Hawking announced that he will boycott the Israeli Presidential Conference, a prestigious conference sponsored by Israel's president, Shimon Peres. Hawking had accepted the invitation to attend the conference, then declined after receiving "a number of emails from Palestinian academics" asking him to respect the academic boycott against Israel. Hawking then stated what his original intent at the conference would have been had he attended "Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster." Among wanting to express his opinion on the prospect of a peace settlement, Hawking also intended to lecture on the West Bank.[31] It was later found that among the 20 academics who lobbied Hawking to boycott were Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Malcolm Levitt who advocated boycott as the proper method for scientist to respond to the "explicit policy" of "systemic discrimination" against the non-Jewish and Palestinian population.[32]

Following the 2008/09 Gaza war Naomi Klein endorsed the campaign in two articles, one published in The Nation, the other in The Guardian, stating "[i]t's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa."[21][33][34]

Other supporters of BDS include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker.[35]



Australian prime minister Julia Gillard stated that the BDS campaign does not serve the cause of peace and diplomacy for agreement on a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and added that Australia is firmly opposed to the BDS movement.[36]

In 2011, a series of protests were staged at Max Brenner outlets, a franchise of the Israeli Strauss Group which supplies the Israeli Defence Forces.[37] At one protest in Melbourne, 19 protesters were arrested;[38] four were charged and most were released without charge.[39] The Australian Jewish News reported the protesters were not peaceful and that no member of the public was injured.[40] Two of the activists arrested were found guilty of assaulting police and were fined $500 each. Two other protesters were fined $100 for resisting and hindering police, but did not receive convictions.[41]

In October 2011, Izzat Abdulhadi, head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia said that he is against the "full-scale" BDS campaign, and condemned the occasionally violent protests at the Max Brenner stores in Australia, saying, "BDS is a non-violent process and I don't think it's the right of anybody to use BDS as a violent action or to prevent people from buying from any place."[42]

In New South Wales in 2011, Walt Secord of the Labor Party's NSW Legislative Council, called on the NSW Minister for Police, Michael Gallacher, to "provide assurances for the protection of businesses with Israeli links" after two BDS protesters were arrested outside a Max Brenner store.[43] Also in New South Wales, on 19 April 2011, the town council of Marrickville held a fiery meeting over whether to support the global BDS campaign. Though they struck down the motion, one councilor went on record hoping that Israelis and Palestinians could "live in peace in the future without Marrickville Council trying to interfere".[44]

The NSW Greens State Conference prior to the 2011 NSW State Election adopted a resolution in support of BDS.[45] In support of the statement, Senator Lee Rhiannon said it was "motivated by the universal principles of freedom, justice and equal rights"[45] and also "I see the value of that tactic as a way to promoting Palestinian human rights."[46] Following the election, Federal leader Bob Brown said that he had conveyed his disapproval of this policy emphasis to Rhiannon.[47]

In December 2011, the NSW Greens reviewed their support the BDS campaign against Israel, bringing the branch more closely in line with the federal Greens Party position. However, they did vote to support BDS as a "legitimate political tactic". Rhiannon said that this was not a defeat, but rather, "The resolution recognizes the legitimacy of the BDS as a political tactic."[48][49]

In August 2012, Liberal MP David Southwick said in parliament that Labor MP Martin Foley had links to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) group, through union membership. Foley responded by saying "I seek his withdrawal of these comments where he has sought to associate [me] with this racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel boycott movement."[50]

Following the incident, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that the "campaign does not serve the cause of peace and diplomacy for agreement on a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine," and added that Australia has always had firm opposition to the BDS movement.[36] Others, including former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, also condemned the protests in a follow-up article by the Australian discussing protests at the University of New South Wales.[51]

Representing the Coalition prior to the 2013 federal election, Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop reaffirmed Gillard's stance by promising to cut off federal grants for individuals and institutions who support the BDS campaign. On 29 May 2013, Jewish Australian academics Andrew Benjamin, Michele Grossman and David Goodman condemned the Coalition's election promise as "an anti-democratic gesture par excellence".[52]


The most visible face of organizing in support of BDS in Canada is Israeli Apartheid Week, originally started in Toronto in 2005. Other organizations such as the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) promote strategic boycotting of Canadian and Multinational corporations operating in Canada as a legitimate means of protest and pressure that is neither "anti-Israel" nor "anti-Semitic". The United Church of Canada voted to boycott products from Israeli settlements.[53] In March 2014, the University of Windsor Student Alliance is considering plans to implement the results of a referendum vote in which the majority of voters called for the University to boycott companies with ties to Israel.[54][55]

In Québec the political party Québec solidaire, the second largest public sector union Centrale des syndicats du Québec and the feminist organization Fédération des femmes du Québec have all supported the BDS campaign. Amir Khadir has sponsored a petition to the National Assembly of Quebec calling for the suspension of Quebec's cooperation accord with Israel. In 2013, Jessica Squires and Benoit Renaud wrote that Khadir's support for the campaign has led to allegations of antisemitism and accusations that he is promoting a hidden Islamic agenda. The authors describe the accusations as "predictable" and "a ludicrous allegation to anyone who knows even a little of his background.".[56] In February 2011, Khadir was the only member of Quebec's National Assembly to vote against a motion that condemned boycotts of Quebec businesses which sell products made in Israel and "reiterates [Quebec's] support for the understanding on co-operation between the government of Quebec and the government of the State of Israel, which was signed in Jerusalem in 1997 and renewed in 2007."[57][58]

In 2006, CUPE Ontario voted to join the boycott of Israel "until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination" and "until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law."[59][60][61]


In January 2014, Danske Bank, which is the largest bank in Denmark, blacklisted Israel's largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, for "acting against the rules of international humanitarian law" due to its funding of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Previously, the Danske had withdrawn its investments from Africa Israel Investments Ltd. and Danya Cebus for the same reasons.[62]


Since 2010, over 250 Irish artists have pledged to boycott Israel along with over 140 Irish academics.[63]

In March 2014, members of NUI Galway Students' Union voted to join the BDS campaign in a 64% victory, making it the first Irish students' union to endorse a boycott of Israel. The vote is non-binding on the university.[64]


On 11 July 2011, the Knesset passed a law making it a civil offence to publicly call for a boycott against the State of Israel, defined as "deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage". According to the law, anyone calling for a boycott can be sued, and forced to pay compensation regardless of actual damages. At the discretion of a government minister, they may also be prevented from bidding in government tenders.[65]

The new law drew a lot of criticism, including a petition by 32 Israeli law professors arguing that the law is unconstitutional and does grievous harm to the freedom of political expression and freedom of protest.[66] Other pro-Israel advocates who are fully opposed to BDS, including Gerald Steinberg from NGO Monitor and Morton Klein from the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized the law by saying that there are many better avenues with which to counter BDS.[67] On the 10th of December 2012 the Israeli Supreme Court froze the law and issued an interim order to the state of Israel to explain why the law should not be struck down. The court order gave the state until March 14, 2013 to respond. The final hearing on the issue will be before a nine-justice panel of the court presided over by Asher Grunis President of Supreme Court of Israel. Yehuda Weinstein Attorney General of Israel is reported to have called the law “borderline” defensible and admitted in defending the law in the hearing that it had serious problems.[68]

A group of Israeli businessmen have started a sales website called "Shop-a-Fada" in order to promote Israeli products. Tal Brody is the honorary chairman of the initiative and said the purpose is to "fight back against those who think that they'll be able to destroy Israel by waging economic warfare".[69][importance?]

Some Jewish factory managers who employ Palestinian labor have condemned the boycott, claiming a boycott of Israeli products will result in the loss of Palestinian jobs.[70]

Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within is an Israeli activist group launched in 2009 to support BDS from within Israel. The group concentrates on the cultural boycott by appealing to international personalities, artists and academics who consider visiting Israel.[1] The 'Who profits?' project is another Israeli group involved in the BDS campaign that documents and publicizes how profits are made from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including documentation of who benefits from the occupation. According to 'Who Profits?', both Israeli and international corporations are involved "in the construction of Israeli colonies and infrastructure in the Occupied Territories, in settlements' economy, in building walls and checkpoints, in the supply of specific equipment used in the control and repression of civilian population under occupation".[1][importance?]

In early 2014, Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, stated that Israel is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid.[71]


Luxembourg's state pension fund has blacklisted eight Israeli firms along with US firm Motorola Solutions for assisting in human rights violations and illegal settlements in the State of Palestine.[72]

The Netherlands[edit]

In 2013, Dutch water company Vitens severed ties with Israel pointing to alleged violations of international law while engineering company Royal HaskoningDHV cancelled work on a project in East Jerusalem stating that "involvement in the project could be in violation of international law." Frans Timmermans, the Netherlands' Foreign minister, who visited Israel in December 2013, later stated economic activities in the occupied territories are opposed by the Government.[73][74]

In response to these developments, Kees van der Staaij of the Reformed Political Party and Joel Voordewind of the ChristianUnion jointly submitted a motion to the Dutch Parliament calling on the government “to indicate in a visible and convincing way that it encourages relations between Dutch and Israeli businesses and institutions” because “economic cooperation promotes peace, security, stability in the region.” On 18 March 2014, the motion was passed by a large majority of the lower house of the Dutch Parliament.[75][76]

New Zealand[edit]

In December 2012 the New Zealand Superannuation Fund excluded three Israeli companies from its portfolio because of their involvement in the construction of Israeli settlements and the Israeli West Bank barrier. The fund's manager for responsible investment stated that "Findings by the United Nations that the separation barrier and settlement activities were illegal under international law were central to the fund's decision to exclude the companies." The New Zealand Herald described "the fund's investments in the [Israeli] firms," which amounted to less than $83,000, as "insubstantial." [77][78]


In January 2014, the government of Norway announced that its pension fund will no longer invest in two Israeli companies (Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus) "due to [their] contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem."[62] Norway's YMCA-YWCA joined the boycott in 2014, announcing that it will support "[a] broad economic boycott of goods and services from Israel and Israeli settlements.”.[79][80][81]


Claiming "respect for international law, the positions of the EU and the protection of Romanian citizens", Romania announced in 2012 that it will not allow Romanian labourers to be sent to Israel unless guarantees are provided that they will not be employed in construction projects in the West Bank. Commenting on the refusal to grant this condition for Romanian workers, Israeli MK Michal Rozin stated that "Israelis are being harmed by the government’s activity in the territories."[82][83][84]

South Africa[edit]

In 2011 the University of Johannesburg decided to suspend ties with Israeli Ben-Gurion University, while still allowing "individual faculty" to continue cooperating with the Israeli University on a water purification project, citing the University's support for the Israeli military. The decision was seen to affect projects in biotechnology and water purification.[85] However, two days later, Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor and principal of the university issued a statement saying that "UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel.... It has never been UJ's intention to sever all ties with BGU, although it may have been the intention of some UJ staff members."[86]

On 31 August 2012 the Wits University Students' Representative Council (Wits SRC) adopted a declaration of academic and cultural boycott of Israel.[87] Several days later, the Executive Committee of Wits Convocation, representing the alumni and academic staff of the university, distanced itself from the declaration. The South African Union of Jewish Students, sharply criticized the resolution, calling it "a vicious and one-sided resolution aimed at shutting down all debate and discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".[88]

In March 2013, eleven student BDS supporters at the Wits University were arrested after they forced the cancellation of a concert by Israeli pianist Yossi Reshef. They were subsequently sentenced to community service. At a follow up concert held on 28 August 2013, which featured Jewish Israeli jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir, dozens of BDS protesters gathered outside. Due to security measures implemented by the University, the protesters were unable to disrupt the performance, as they were kept outside by security personnel.[89]

However, concert goers were subject to verbal abuse including the singing of a song which included the lyrics "Dubula iJuda" (Shoot the Jew), at as well as chants of "There is no such thing as Israel" and "Israel apartheid." Some attendees were also pelted with sheets of paper. The actions of the protesters were condemned by University Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib and by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which claimed that "this incident unmistakably shows is that BDS-SA’s real agenda is not to stand up for the Palestinian cause but to incite hatred, and possibly even violence, against Jewish South Africans.” However, Muhammed Desai, who is the coordinator of BDS South Africa, argued that justified the incident saying "many African people in South Africa when using the word Jews meant it in the same way they would have during the eighties. Just like you would say kill the Boer at funeral during the eighties it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime". Desai also claimed that "the whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion".[90][91][92]

Several days later, BDS released a statement which condemned condemning the chants of “dubula ijuda” (shoot the Jew), stating that "Given our history of work against racism, including anti-Semitism, we unequivocally distance ourselves from the singing of this song and its sentiments." Muhammed Desai's earlier defense, that the term "Jew" in the song was not meant to be taken literally, was criticized by the University of Cape Town’s Palestine Solidarity Forum, which was "dismayed by this reasoning and feels that this version of the song has unacceptable and explicit anti-Semitic elements" and by the Rhodes University Palestinian Solidarity (RUPSF) forum, which described Desai's views as "disturbing" and announced that RUPSF refused to "be complicit in the condoning of racism of whatever sort" while demanding that BDS South Africa issue an "unqualified apology and an unqualified rejection and statements made by Desai" and calling on Desai to resign.[93]

United Kingdom[edit]

On 22 April 2005, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) Council voted to boycott two Israeli universities: University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The motions to AUT Council were prompted by the call for a boycott from Palestinian academics and others.[94] The AUT Council voted to boycott Bar-Ilan because it runs courses at colleges in the occupied West Bank (in Ariel College) and "is thus directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories contrary to United Nations resolutions". It boycotted Haifa because it was alleged that the university had wrongly disciplined a lecturer. The action against the lecturer was supposedly for supporting a student who wrote about attacks on Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel (he withdrew the claims when sued for libel and the University denied having disciplined the lecturer[95]). The boycott, which was not compulsory, was set to last until Haifa "ceases its victimisation of academic staff and students who seek to research and discuss the history of the founding of the state of Israel".

The AUT's decision was immediately condemned by certain groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and members of the AUT. Critics of the boycott within and outside the AUT noted that at the council at which the boycott motion was passed the leadership had cut short debate citing a lack of time. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Union of Jewish Students accused the AUT of purposely holding the vote during Passover, when many Jewish members could not be present.[96] Israel's embassy in London issued a statement criticizing the AUT's vote as a "distorted decision that ignores the British public's opinion", and condemning the resolutions for being "as perverse in their content as in the way they were debated and adopted".[97]

The AUT said that members had voted for the boycott in response to a plea for action by a group of Palestinian academics. It was condemned by the Israeli embassy in London, the British ambassador to Israel, by Jewish human rights groups, by al-Quds University[98] in Jerusalem, by the National Postgraduate Committee of the UK,[99] and by Universities UK.

After both internal and external backlash and condemnation, members of the AUT, headed by Open University lecturer Jon Pike - gathered enough signatures to call a special meeting on the subject. The meeting was held on 26 May 2005, at Friends Meeting House in London. At the meeting the AUT decided to cancel the boycott of both Israeli universities. Reasons cited for the decision were: the damage to academic freedom, the hampering of dialogue and peace effort between Israelis and Palestinian, and that boycotting Israel alone could not be justified.[100]

At the 2006 annual conference of the United Kingdom lecturers' union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), members were asked to support a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and universities which failed to distance themselves from "apartheid policies".[101] Although the motion was passed it ceased to be official policy just two days later when the union merged with the Association of University Teachers.[101]

Prior to the NATFHE debate the Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employees and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel described the campaign in a letter to the Times Higher Education Supplement as "the only non-violent forms of action available to people of conscience the world over" adding, "We salute those who recognise that, since justice for Palestinians cannot be expected from the international centres of world power, they must organise to further the cause of justice and genuine peace."[102] In contrast, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg argued:

"it is never a good idea for academics to boycott colleagues in other countries on political grounds. During the Cold War, American and Soviet scientists were careful to keep intellectual communication open; this not only served the cause of science, but promoted personal relationships that led to initiatives in arms control. In a similar spirit, when I ran the Jerusalem Winter School of Theoretical Physics we did what we could to recruit Arab students from Muslim countries whose governments discriminated against Jews. We never dreamt of boycotting them."[102]

At the 2009 University and College Union (UCU) annual congress, the union passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions by a large majority. Delegates stated that Israeli academics were complicit in their government's acts against Palestinians. However, the vote was immediately declared invalid as UCU attorneys repeated previous warnings that such a boycott would likely trigger legal action against the union.[103][104]

In 2013, "a motion calling for blanket sanctions against Israel was rejected by the Oxford University Students’ Union."[105] The motion was defeated by a large margin: 69-10.

UK business G4S became under investigation by the OECD in early 2014 over claims it supplied equipment that furthered the occupation of Palestine by Israel.[106]

The UK's National Union of Student's Black Students conference passed Motion 402: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions by an "overwhelming" majority endorsing the Palestinian call at their national conference at the University of Warwick.[107]

United States[edit]

In 2014, John Kerry warned the Netanyahu government that "there are talk of boycotts" in the event of failure to agree to a peace deal.[108]

In February 2012, Norman Finkelstein, an academic who is critical of Israeli policies, criticized the BDS movement, saying it was a "hypocritical, dishonest cult" that tries to pose as a human rights movement, while in reality their goal is to destroy Israel.[109][110]

Liberal Zionist Peter Beinart, in his 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism, describes BDS as a "shrewd tactic" in that "[a]s a non-violent movement, it turns the world's attention away from terrorism, which has long undermined sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It gives activists frustrated by America's unwillingness to pressure Israel a mechanism to do so themselves. It harnesses new technologies that empower citizens to organize across national lines. And it capitalizes on the revulsion that many people whose nations were once colonized -- or were once colonizers -- feel toward an Israeli occupation with clear colonial features."[111]

Noam Chomsky, the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize recipient and a prominent activist for Palestinian human rights, has stated that he supports the "boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories" [112][113] but the current BDS movement's "hypocrisy rises to heaven". He stated that the BDS campaign harms the "whole movement. It harms the Palestinians and it is a gift to the Israeli hardliners and their American supporters", because the BDS's "hypocrisy is so transparent... why not boycott the United States?.. Israeli crimes [are] a fragment of US crimes, which are much worse". He also argued that the Palestinian people don't support boycotting Israel and that the BDS movement is run by "one man NGOs" who falsely claim to represent the Palestinian people.[114] In the same interview, he also criticized BDS founder Omar Barghouti for advocating a full boycott of Israel, despite having studied at Tel Aviv University. In May 2013, Chomsky, along with other professors such as Professor Malcolm Levitt, advised Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott an Israeli conference.[32]

Norman Finkelstein, a harsh critic of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, has also expressed an ambivalent attitude towards BDS. He has said that BDS has the "right tactics", but that it needs to be "explicit on its goal" and that "the goal has to include recognition of Israel, or it won't reach the public". He is hostile towards the BDS movement in its current form, labeling it a "hypocritical, dishonest cult" led by "dishonest gurus" who want to "selectively enforce the law" and tries to cleverly pose as human rights activists, whereas their real goal is the destruction of Israel.[115] In addition, he said, "I'm getting a little bit exasperated with what I think is a whole lot of nonsense. I'm not going to tolerate silliness, childishness and a lot of leftist posturing. I loathe the disingenuousness. We will never hear the solidarity movement [back a] two-state solution." Furthermore, Finkelstein stated that the BDS movement has had very few successes, and that like a cult, the leaders pretend that they are hugely successful when in reality the general public rejects their extreme views.[116]

On 27 March 2012, the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, New York, voted against holding a referendum on whether to implement a BDS-oriented boycott of Israel.[117][importance?]

Academic response[edit]

As of 2012, "[n]o American university has divested from Israel and prominent campus presidents have said they would oppose such efforts."[118] University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann said in January 2012 that the university "has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel". She said that the school was not a sponsor of a BDS conference taking place on campus in February 2012.[119]

In January 2012, The Forward published an article about Jewish presidents of universities, saying that "many college presidents" see BDS as a "red line" and "presidents who were previously disinclined to speak out against anti-Israel activity on campus in the name of preserving open dialogue found themselves publicly opposing the movement."[120] According to an editorial by Judea Pearl, calls for academic boycotts of Israel usually fall on deaf ears because universities recognize the anti-academic character of the BDS campaign and understand that the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is more complex than the BDS campaign asserts it to be.[121]

American Studies Association[edit]

In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) decided to join the boycott of all Israeli academic institutions; a move that yielded multiple accusations of antisemitism.[122][123][124][125] The New York Times reported that ASA's president Curtis Marez argued that America has "a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel." Marez acknowledged that other nations that receive U.S. military aid have comparable or worse human rights records, but stated that civil society groups in those nations had not asked the ASA to consider a boycott, as the Palestinians had done regarding Israel, and that, "One has to start somewhere".[126] In response, a number of organizations and politicians accused the ASA of applying a double standard towards Israel.[123][127][128][129][130][131][132]

Over 700 new members joined the organisation between the vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions was passed and April 2014. The ASA released a statement that said it had "collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century" and that their organization is "thriving." [133]


According to Yehuda Ben Meir and Owen Alterman in an essay published in the Strategic Survey for Israel 2011 by the Institute for National Security Studies (Israel), the BDS campaign operates under a two-pronged approach in targeting Israel. The authors argue that BDS engages in defamation and demonization of Israel by depicting Israel as a racist, fascist, totalitarian, and apartheid state. They state that this is followed by the specific targeting of Israeli diplomatic, economic, academic, and cultural targets—regardless of their position or connection to the conflict, which they describe as incitement.[134] Alan Dershowitz and the Israeli Action Network point to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's support of a boycott specific to Israeli businesses that operate in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories over a general boycott of Israel as evidence that the BDS is not in the Palestinians' favor.[135][136]

In a 2009 opinion column for the The Jerusalem Post, Gil Troy argued that the BDS movement does not target Israel's policies, but rather targets Israel's legitimacy.[137] The Israeli Reut Institute has argued that the BDS movement singles out Israel, and applies double standards which delegitimizes Israel.[138]

Martin Raffel, who oversees the Israel Action Network, argued in March 2011 that Israel's supporters can respectfully debate artists who choose to boycott the West Bank town of Ariel, but that "not recognizing Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a completely different story".[139]

The Economist in 2007 called the boycott "flimsy" and ineffective, noted that "blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair," and pointed out that the Palestinian leadership did not support the boycott.[140] By early 2014, however, they noted that the campaign, "[o]nce derided as the scheming of crackpots", was "turning mainstream" in the eyes of many Israelis.[141]

The director of communications for the New Israel Fund wrote in March 2012 that the BDS movement "has accomplished very little" and that it should be relegated "to the trash-heap of failed strategies, where it belongs".[142] Naftali Balanson, writing a response, says "Even if BDS messaging were improved and there was no backlash among 'besieged' Israelis, BDS would still be immoral and inherently wrong."[143]

Criticism by artists and public figures[edit]

The Palestinian Authority officially supports "a boycott only against products made in West Bank settlements". Although the authority rejects Israeli occupation and settlements in the West Bank, an advisor to Abbas said, "We are neighbors with Israel, we have agreements with Israel, we recognize Israel, we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel."[144]

Gene Simmons, lead singer of Kiss, said that artists who avoid Israel — such as Elvis Costello, the Pixies and Roger Waters - would be better served directing their anger at Arab dictators. "The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling," he said.[145]

Other artists who have voiced opposition to the campaign include John Lydon,[146] Umberto Eco,[147] Joel and Ethan Coen,[148] and Ziggy Marley.[149] Novelist Ian McEwan, upon being awarded the Jerusalem Prize, was urged to turn it down, but said that "If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.... It's not great if everyone stops talking."[147]

The Irish Dance production Riverdance performed in Israel in September 2011, stating that "cultural interaction is preferable to isolation".[150]

Creative Community for Peace, founded in late 2011, is an anti-BDS organization made up of music executives and music representatives of bands including Aerosmith, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake.[151]

Replies to criticism[edit]

Likely effects of the boycott[edit]

One line of critique says that the boycott is futile, in that it will not gather momentum[152] or that it will strengthen the hardcore Zionists and weaken the will to make compromises for peace. In an op-ed in Haaretz, Gideon Levy concedes that boycott may "enhance the sense of victimhood, isolationism and nationalism" in the short run, but that in the long run, it "could result in a major change in attitude", especially if Israeli businesses put pressure on the government.[153]

Allegations of antisemitism[edit]

The Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israeli officials categorize the BDS movement as antisemitic.[19][154][155][156][157] Abraham Foxman penned an advertisement that ran in The New York Times that criticized Brooklyn College's political science department for sponsoring a conference promoting BDS. In the ad, Foxman referred to the BDS movement as antisemitic "at its very core."[158][159]

When the American Studies Association (ASA) decided to join the BDS call in December 2013, it was subject to multiple accusations of anti-Semitism.[122][123][124]

Replies to allegations[edit]

Several replies have been made to the allegations presented above:

See also[edit]



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External links[edit]

Supportive of BDS[edit]

Critical of BDS[edit]

Debates on BDS and Mixed Support[edit]