Regardless of one’s views of BDS, it is ridiculous that one should have to tell self-proclaimed ‘democracies’ that the right to boycott is a basic civil right, not a punishable crime.
Last week, over 120 people attended a conference in Nazareth on the subject of “BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and ‘48 Palestinians (citizens living inside Israel’s 1948 borders).” Although the discussions were lively, many participants were cautious with their choice of words: Israel’s Anti-Boycott Law – which allows groups and citizens to be sued for calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including settlements – cast a heavy shadow over the event.
The anxiety of discussing the subject of boycott would have seemed an implausible scenario a decade ago. Boycotts, we always learned, are a legitimate method of political expression, praised in our history books and modern politics as an example of how nonviolence can be more powerful, moral, and strategic in advancing human rights struggles around the world.
Now, in a corrupt twist, the very countries that purport to uphold civil rights have become the main forces undermining them. In recent months (and years), governments and local authorities in the USA, France, the UK, and others have advanced new laws, administrative decisions, and behind-the-scenes pressures to stem the rising tide of BDS activities – simply because they are being applied against Israel. This transnational counter-movement, as Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman recently detailed in the Intercept, is part of a “very coordinated and well-financed campaign” to censor BDS – and “it is succeeding.”
The political backlash to BDS was always expected; similar attacks by state authorities had targeted the boycott movements in the Jim Crow south and against apartheid South Africa. What is shocking, however, is not only the extent to which authorities are working to crush today’s BDS movement, but the use of legal measures to restrict or fully silence boycott activities against Israel. These include criminal convictions of BDS activists in France; the threat of penalties against local councils in the UK that boycott Israeli goods; and new regulations that will fully incorporate West Bank settlements into the US’s trade with Israel, among others.
The authorities’ manipulation of legal tactics against BDS has severely compromised citizens’ rights. When the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the Anti-Boycott Law last year in a 5-4 ruling, the majority of justices departed from technical arguments and