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Who is afraid of BDS?

This piece is co-written with Max Blumenthal

The day after the American pop star Macy Gray announced controversial plans to perform in Tel Aviv in March, we sat down for a drink at Pua, a bar nestled in the heart of one of Jaffa’s most gentrified neighborhoods. When the waitress, a sociable 20-something resident of the city’s burgeoning young Jewish community informed us of a new brand of beer the restaurant was carrying, we wondered based on rumors we had heard if it was brewed in a settlement in the Golan Heights. The waitress, who was clearly offended, vehemently denied that it was “a settlement beer.” She reassured us that the owner of the restaurant was “a real Tel Aviv type guy,” and as such, “would not carry such a product.”

We were confused. “What exactly is a Tel Aviv type guy?” we asked her. When she returned to our table with two European beers, we asked for more information about the owner and a conversation began. She informed us that the owner of the bar ‘just keeps to himself and his friends in Tel Aviv’. She told us that he was not interested in politics and just wanted to live his life. We asked about her ideas on politics and the occupation. “I am a photographer. I used to go to Bil’in but it is violent.” She continued, “Now I just spend time with my friends and try to be a good person. I can’t take trying to change anything anymore.”

When asked for her opinion on BDS, her response was short and quick: “You can’t fight evil with evil.” She insisted that every boycott in history was wrong. We pressed her gently on the issue of boycotts (what about MLK’s Montgomery Bus Boycott, or the boycott of apartheid South Africa?) but it was clear that she was unwilling to go deep into the issue. She knew about the Occupation, the settlements, the racism that was rising like a tidal wave all around her, but she had deliberately cloistered herself inside a quaint European-style bar and Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan lifestyle. Perhaps she could have contributed to the fight for a real democracy in Israel and justice for Palestinians living under occupation, but she had surrendered to the culture of apathy sanctioned by an entitled elite.

We began to understand the power of the cultural boycott in disrupting the apathy that pervades middle class, urban Israeli society. Apathy allows Israelis to live in comfort behind iron walls while remaining immune to the occupation and innoculated from its horrors. The culture of apathy allows them to watch the news and let out a groan of concern without thinking seriously about political engagement. In the case of the waitress at Pua, her apathy enabled her to witness the brutal military repression of legitimate political protest in the West Bank, only to return home to Tel Aviv and ignore her culpability.

The cultural boycott forces Israelis to deal with Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians by targeting them where it counts most: in the heart of their affluent comfort zones. The extreme right of Lieberman and the settlement movement must be confronted and exposed, but they are only the most extreme representation of an official ideology of racism towards Palestinians and the Arab world. They have grown and metastisized through fervent political activity, charisma and demagogy, while the “Good Israel” of Tel Aviv sits by impassively, and even cynically, watching the waves roll in while their society goes over the brink. It is the culture of apathy that supplies oil to the Occupation Machine.

Many Ashkenazi citizens of Israel have a second passport, allowing them to travel to and receive benefits from Western countries. They have developed an easy escape valve from the oppressive and violent manifestations of Jewish nationalism. Meanwhile, Palestinians live under a matrix of control devised inside US and European-funded Israeli universities and high tech research centers. An elaborate network of walls, electrified fences, biometric scanning devices, predator drones and collaborator networks ensures that each aspect of their lives is dominated by the Occupation. Because Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are forbidden from living where they choose with West Bank spouses, even their love lives are occupied. How would our waitress at Pua react if her life was subject to such crushing limitations?

We have often heard the argument that Macy Gray and other artists thinking about boycotting should perform in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. This commonly held idea not only reinforces concepts of segregation between Jews and Palestinians, it misses the point of the Palestinian boycott call entirely. The cultural boycott is designed to undermine the normalization of Israeli society. Palestinians do not necessarily want to see rock shows in Ramallah, they want to bring an end to the occupation. The 170 Palestinian civil society organizations who crafted the BDS call concluded that the most realistic non-violent means for ending the occupation was to force Israelis to live with the full responsibility of their actions. This was one of the ideas behind the boycott of Apartheid South Africa and one of the reasons why organizations like the South African Artists Against Apartheid now work to achieve the same goals in Israel.

My colleague and peer, Noam Shiezaf, published a thoughtful piece on this site arguing that Macy Gray should request that a certain number of tickets be sold to Palestinians in the West Bank for her Tel Aviv performance. The Palestinians would buy the tickets and then Israel would refuse their entrance to Tel Aviv. This would then provide a suitable subtext for Macy Gray to cancel her show.

The idea is clever but raises an important question: why would Macy Gray need to create a subtext to cancel? Doesn’t the longest military occupation in history provide a suitable enough reason to boycott? Furthermore, Israel would be able to correctly point out that Palestinians from the West Bank, by and large, are not allowed to enter Tel Aviv due to the sovereign laws of entry and exit to the State of Israel. Thus, the stunt would accomplish little more than reinforcing the notion that a militarized and radicalized Israeli society is perfectly kosher. And by circumventing the substance of the Palestinian BDS call, it allows critics to paint the cultural boycott as a form of collective punishment.

Too much of the commentary about BDS addresses the movement in a vacuum. The fact is, BDS is an integral part of Palestinian non-violent tactics. Quite simply, BDS is the globalization of Palestinian non-violent action against Israel’s occupation. So why do certain Jewish organizations from the United States and Israeli liberal Zionists lend rhetorical support to the joint nonviolent struggle in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere, while demonizing the call for BDS as borderline anti-Semitic and beyond the pale of reasonable people? Would the leaders of these organizations sit with the Palestinian families forcibly evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and tell them that their tactics are illegitimate?

It is easy to wash your hands of moral responsibility by participating in noble but ultimately doomed battles against the Occupation Machine. Confronting your own personal responsibility in allowing the crisis to reach such a terrible juncture is much harder, if not impossible, for too many. Perhaps the hardest step for the left-wing of the Jewish Establishment is ceding control of the debate while Palestinians assume the lead in their own struggle for freedom.

If the international community and especially the American Jewish community is unwilling to allow Palestinians a global form of nonviolent resistance against Israel’s occupation, what is left for the Palestinians to do? If violence is out of the question – it is certainly a terrible option for everyone — should Palestinians simply allow the Occupation to sweep them away like dust?

This is the question posed by the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish in his famous poem, “The Earth Presses Against Us.” “Where should we go after the last border? Where should birds fly after the last sky?” he asked. BDS may not be a panacea, but it at least ensures that for the Palestinians a horizon darkened by occupation can be extended until a just solution comes into view.

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    1. Quality over quantity.
      I read a few pieced about celebrities from Hollywood that joined the cultural boycott and i think it did more harm then good. especially in the case of Goldie Hawn. I think it was in slate.

      We also had Kim Deal (the amazing) performing here with the Breeders and Boycotting with the Pixies.

      none of them have no opinion about the Israeli-Arab conflict or the apartheid .

      I think that when people boycott because of some trend or pressure and not from a genuine ideology it undermines the ideology.

      I don’t think that the Roger Waters visit was anything by a reminder to the Israeli public about the apartheid, the occupation and Israeli atrocities.

      A cultural boycott should be focused on the IDF radio and the IBA radio. artists that want to boycott the apartheid and occupation should first boycott the media that promotes the occupation not the people.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mati

      Very interesting take by Uri Avnery: “I am afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.” (http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1251547904/)

      Reply to Comment
    3. Could you elaborate on what is “very interesting” about a piece which uses the words of a South African anti-apartheid icon who supports the Palestinian BDS call to argue that BDS is a “mistaken choice of strategy? It is interesting Avnery forgets to mention that Demsond Tutu is a vocal and public supporter of the BDS call. http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article675369.ece/Israeli-ties–a-chance-to-do-the-right-thing

      Just out of curiosity, would you reject Avnery’s argument that “99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel” because he does not provide any evidence to back up this claim and it seems to be largely made up?

      Reply to Comment
    4. F

      From a strictly moral point of view – it really does not make sense for an American artist to boycott Israel.

      American drone strikes have killed many many more Afghani civilians this year than Israel has killed Palestinian civilians. The American occupation of Afghanistan is entering its 9th year. But just like the Tel-Aviv socialites that Joseph and Max like to criticize – this description fits them perfectly in the American context. Max can visit his upper class parents in a white upper class suburb of Washington DC and absolve himself of his father’s participation in an administration that continued to bomb and kill around the world as well as impose a severe sanctions regime on Iraq that makes the sanctions on gaza seem like a paradise

      – yet he can pretend that he is liberal and absolve himself of his guilt because he voted for Barak Obama, and his dad (AFTER circulating racist right wing attacks on him) now writes op-eds in favor of Obama. Will Max advocate for the boycott of the United States or call US soldiers war criminals like he does to IDF soldiers? Of course not – because such a move would horrify his bourgeois white limousine liberal American fans who like to sit in their upper class north eastern neighborhoods and pretend they are fighting for human rights by telling Macy Gray to boycott Israel and calling the IDF war criminals – but would never call US soldiers war criminals because after all – Progressives are patriotic Americans as well and we are good progressives because we vote for Barak Obama, the killer of hundreds of Afghani and Pakistani civilians by escalating drone attacks to a level 10x that of the Bush administration. And of course we are good human rights fighters, advocating the boycott of Tel Aviv bourgeois to shock them out of their complacency – while we sit in our cafes, sipping chai mocha soy lattes wearing our “yes we can Obama” shirts.


      Reply to Comment
    5. F, you comment has some interesting points about American wars in Afghanistan but it is mostly just an attack which lends nothing to the debate. If you would like to add something, please feel free. If you would like to attack, then you are welcome to take you comments elsewhere.

      Reply to Comment
    6. F

      Joseph – journalists must be extra careful not to make false claims. Your assertion that Nelson Mandela is a public advocate or supporter of the BDS movement against Israel is simply false and it would do you well not to simply make things up.

      This fact should be obvious since South Africa ruled by Mandela had FULL diplomatic relations with Israel.

      Please be more careful not to spread falsehoods. Thanks

      Reply to Comment
    7. kobi

      the BDS has an important thing going for it: It is wining and even the foreign ministry realizes it can not stop it. That is one reason why many who have been hostile to BDS are now coming around. A wining movement is very attractive.

      Reply to Comment
    8. I am unable to find the direct quote at this point and so I will withdrawal the comment until I do so. I am happy that you are engaging in debate now and not simply attacking and name calling. All the best, Joseph

      Reply to Comment
    9. F

      Thanks Joseph,
      I don’t mean to attack and name call. Thanks for engaging in debate and allowing readers to weigh in.


      Reply to Comment
    10. Mati Milstein

      Hi Joseph,

      As you requested:

      Firstly, I always find it very interesting to consider viewpoints that may not necessarily exactly fit my own. Though I suppose not everyone is open to doing so.

      Secondly, I find it most interesting to consider the sociological dif…ferences between South African whites and Israeli Jews that Uri Avnery quite justifiably points out and discusses in his column. I believe this to be his main point: due to the history of the Jewish people and its influence on the Jewish national character over the course of generations, Israeli Jews might possibly respond to a cultural boycott in a very different manner than did the white majority in South Africa. BDS, therefore, MIGHT be counterproductive to those seeking to place increasing pressure on Israeli citizens to issue a popular domestic call to end the occupation.

      I don’t know that Mandela’s or Tutu’s personal positions on BDS are particularly relevant to Avnery’s primary thesis in this column, which I’ll repaste now: “I am afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.”

      I have no idea what percentage of Israeli Jews oppose a boycott of Israel and, since I also don’t think that is connected to what I found most interesting about Avnery’s analysis, I don’t really see a need to reject or accept (or attempt to confirm the accuracy of) this particular statistic in the course of this particular discussion.

      Irrespective of our own personal politics and opinions on what is right and wrong, I think it is important for people seeking to end the occupation to consider the possibility – even if it’s just a possibility – that BDS may result not in what its proponents intend but rather in something entirely different. I believe it would be a serious strategic error for BDS activits NOT to consider this possibility – particularly when it comes from someone like Uri Avnery.

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    11. F. A BDS campaign against Israel is feasible, and there is a call for it coming from the victims. Good enough.

      And I haven’t seen any “Yes we can” Americans endorsing BDS. If anything, a few of them have endorsed the Ariel boycott campaign, which is a much narrower campaign, and moreover, a campaign aimed (according to some of the initiators) at preventing the steady rise of the BDS campaign.

      It’s a pity that you do not have the decency to ask Max what his views on these US issues you mention are.

      Reply to Comment
    12. F

      Ofer – I know that Max has respectfully visited the graves of US soldiers and blamed Republican’s for the Iraq war which put “our troops in harms way.” He has said nothing about Afghanistan – and he posted a link to addresses, names, and telephone numbers of hundreds of IDF soldiers calling them “IDF war criminals.”

      Thats what I call hypocrisy. I do know some people that criticize the US and Israel and every many other Human Rights abusers with equal vigor. I can not understand self-described patriotic Americans hating Israel for its human rights abuses. This is precisely why, Noam Chomsky does NOT endorse BDS against Israel – because he says it makes no sense since Harvard University in the USA is equally complicit in any human rights abuses as Tel-Aviv Universty is. Therefore it is nonsensical for Harvard to boycott TAU.

      If you are talking about strategy for ending Israel’s occupation that is something else – if you are talking about taking a principled moral stand than that is something else.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Shaul, your suggestions are irrelevant to people outside Israel. I don’t think you’re addressing the BDS issue…

      F. Guess what, Republican started this war. Now, I have no intention of discussing Max with you. I agree with all the arguments for BDS in this article, and I am an Israeli citizen.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mati, Avnery’s positions are erroneous and sometimes contradictory.

      1. He does support a settlement against the settlement products.

      2. If boycotting settlement products is OK, why not boycott companies that profit from the settlements and the occupations? Well, most large Israeli companies do, so if he is consistent, he should support a (nearly) complete economic boycott of Israeli goods as well

      3. Avnery: “The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.
      In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

      Hello! it’s not “more than 80% “, it’s no more than 50% . Why doesn’t he include the inhabitants of the OT ? and if you include other Palestinian victims, like refugees abroad, it’s much less than 50%.

      Avnery’s premises are are RIDICULOUS.

      I have more to say. Maybe later.

      Reply to Comment
    15. correction: should be

      “1. He does support a BOYCOTT against the settlement products.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Offer. aren’t the Pixies and Elvis Costelo being plaid at IDF radio ?
      Why don’t you call 4AD; WB, Colombia and Sony to boycott the IDF radio ?
      I’m all for products boycott but not for a cultural one.

      Reply to Comment
    17. “Would the leaders of these organizations sit with the Palestinian families forcibly evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and tell them that their tactics are illegitimate?”

      The leaders of “these organizations,” like many of the writers on this site, seem to have a common goal but different strategies to reach it. If someone is working to end the occupation, it is petty and territorial to discredit them for not doing it your way. This goes for both sides of this debate.

      Reply to Comment
      • I think this is exactly the point that we were trying to address Michael. These organizations have vilified and attacked BDS despite its clear efficacy in combating and, hopefully, ending the occupation. We are not discrediting their work, we are asking why they are discrediting BDS and, as the title states, who is afraid of BDS? We propose a reason for their attacks on BDS in the text:
        “It is easy to wash your hands of moral responsibility by participating in noble but ultimately doomed battles against the Occupation Machine. Confronting your own personal responsibility in allowing the crisis to reach such a terrible juncture is much harder, if not impossible, for too many. Perhaps the hardest step for the left-wing of the Jewish Establishment is ceding control of the debate while Palestinians assume the lead in their own struggle for freedom.”

        Reply to Comment
    18. Shaul,

      1. It’s a good idea.

      2. I don’t see the difference between shutting down the Israeli public’s international music RADIO input and shutting down its international music LIVE input.

      Reply to Comment
    19. LisaG

      Just a reminder: BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Offer sorry, I didn’t said to shut the IDF or the IBA radios down, just to ignore them and boycott them.
      I don’t see what you mean.

      Reply to Comment
    21. LG

      What re the concrete demands of BDS? What would Israel have to do for the boycott to be lifted? In South Africa everyone knew what it was, end apartheid by dismantling the apartheid laws and holding elections on the principle of one person one vote.

      When I have asked supporters of BDS what the would need to be done to end the boycott I have received a wide range of answers from ‘end the occupation’ to the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state to be replaced by a single state from Jordan to the sea. Most often the answer I receive is ‘justice’ which they are unable to define in any specific way.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Shaul, I wasn’t talking about closing down the stations, only about denying them any *international* musical input. This is a *cultural* boycotting action that you are proposing!

      Reply to Comment
    23. LG, I don’t think there’s a set of detailed, agreed upon principles. However, there is definitely a core of human rights criteria that need to be met.

      If you will, that’s the weakness and the strength of this BDS campaign.

      Reply to Comment
    24. LG

      I can’t support a call for a boycott until I know what its demands are. How will its supporters know when the boycott is to be called off?

      Reply to Comment
    25. Yes you can, LG. Simply withdraw your support when you feel that the campaign is no longer justified. What we have now is apartheid and oppression with respect to all the relevant parameters. You should have no problem with supporting this campaign in the foreseeable future. If you do so, any supposed withdrawal will add credibility to your claims.

      Please note that right now, it is international law that is being violated, not a set of moot political tenets.


      If it still doesn’t suit you, feel free to grow your own, and issue the LG boycott call

      Reply to Comment
    26. Andrew Couzens

      Our only hope is found in the Bible… Daniel 2:44 – “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite;”

      Reply to Comment
    27. LG

      Most people I know who are active supporters of BDS are passionately opposed to the one-state solution and regard the idea of a Jewish state as a racist abomination. If I support a cultural boycott, I’m effectively lending weight to a campaign that I definitely don’t support. If BDS wants to get its act together and tell me truthfully what exactly it’s for, then I can make a decision on whether we’re on the same side. The anti-apartheid movement had no such difficulties making clear its goals, I don’t see why I should expect any less from BDS in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    28. LG,
      I support the BDS call and do not think that the Jewish state is a “racist abomination.” Perhaps the best place for you to start is by reading the call for yourself: http://bdsmovement.net/

      I would also recommend that you read information from the BDS site made up of Israeli citizens:

      There are so many resources at your fingertips that you do not need to count on rely on nonsense about BDS. Search Google and read articles. For example, a basic Google will produce an article about BDS written by Professor Neve Gordon http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/20/opinion/oe-gordon20

      Read it and make your own opinions about the issue. Best,


      Reply to Comment
    29. Gin

      The aims of the BDS movement are very clear and easy to find by anyone has actually *wants* to find out about them. While some people who support BDS advocate for a 1 state solution others are in the 2 state camp and others (like me) couldn’t give a rats whether it’s a 1,2 or 52 state solution as long as no-one is discrimated against by the state on the basis of their ethnicity. The BDS call is hardly a list of controversial demands. It is a call to respect international law. The occupation is illegal, the refusal of the right of refugees to return is illegal and the crime of Apartheid (the definition of which accurately & undoubtably applies to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians both within Israel and in the OPT) is illegal. It is just false to say the aims of the BDS are unclear.

      Reply to Comment
    30. khad

      I`m writing from germany and want to hear your
      should german support BDS?

      Reply to Comment
    31. Joseph: I think Mati addresses your thesis pretty directly:

      “Israeli Jews might possibly respond to a cultural boycott in a very different manner than did the white majority in South Africa. BDS, therefore, MIGHT be counterproductive to those seeking to place increasing pressure”

      The fear is that the default Israeli defensive posturing may push the country into even more hardline and harmful positions. That said, the more diplomatic political tactics of affecting change from within doesn’t seem to be having any effect at all.

      Reply to Comment
    32. IS

      It is clearly true that “Israel is not South Africa”. Uri A is correct however this is a fantastically meaningless point. Logically and morally without meaning.

      BDS should be supported as a legitimate strategy regardless of if Israeli’s speak Xhosa; and if Israel’s brutal and illegal behaviour meets the legal definition of Apartheid (which John Duggard, who literally wrote the textbook on International Law, seems to think it does).

      BDS should BE supported if:
      1. Israel’s actions are consistently unjust.

      2. Other activist strategies have failed and BDS could plausibly contribute to changing the basic power conditions necessary for any other strategy to have effectiveness.

      3. Israel’s occupation is proven to be largely (not entirely obviously) illegal.

      4. It can reasonably be shown that BDS won’t be an unfair form of collective punishment (like the USA sanctions on Iraq in early 1990’s, a.k.a ‘slaughter Iraqi children project’.)

      As far as I am concerned BDS meets the above criteria. I do think it is problematic (as “LG”
      says) to support BDS if one might disagree with BDS’s goals. Promoting the Right of Return, as BDS does, does seem to promote a one-state solution, even though experts have reinterpreted this passage in the original BDS principles.

      However disagreeing with BDS’s long term goals is no excuse for not then creating your own BDS group or supporting one which does fit with your ideals and goals. This is an excuse to disengage. If you don’t support BDS’s goals then you can still support the BDS strategy and do something. This is a poor excuse for one’s own hypocritical and apathetic behaviour.

      Lastly the “paralyzing” argument is common and was raised by “F” — i.e. it is hypocritical of us to propose BDS for Israel and not on other matters for other countries. (The Chomsky argument.)

      It is true that it is hypocritical to only promote BDS for Israel but then most human action will be according to this understanding of hypocricy. Then the criteria for just actions are only those which we are able to apply (in practise) to all relevant situations. This is plainly bollocks. As long as we support similar actions to similar offenders then no hypocricy is taking place.

      Mandela was not a hypocrite because during apartheid he did not actively promote BDS on England for its handling of Northern Ireand, etc. GROW up conservative Jews. Stop finding excuses for why Palestinians deserve our benign neglect in the cages.

      We cannot wait for Israeli Jews to come round to BDS. They will be the last to change. They will never support BDS. They are not meant to support it, they are meant to hate it — and over time this hate will hopefully be transferred to the occupation, as was done by the whites to Apartheid when the SA economy had a zero % growth rate in the early 1990’s (in some years). Obviously BDS was a pinprick in the wider causes of the inability of Apartheid to continue. And likewise it is unimaginable that BDS will be much more in Israel’s case too. It cannot, on its own change the basic long-term conditions which allow for the occupation to be sustainable.

      Thanks to Joseph for provoking and holding this discussion.

      Reply to Comment
    33. LG

      Joseph, here are indeed many resources, I’ve read many of them and find them contradictory. Here in the UK most voices calling for BDS are for a one-state solution, with supporters of a to-state solution labelled as Liberal Zionists. When I asked someone why BDS hadn’t come out with a clear statement of its objectives she told me that it was because there was no common goal and the desire was for it to be as inclusive as possible. But I repeat, until the movement tells what exactly Israel needs to do for the boycott to be lifted, I can’t support it. Include me out. BDS is not the only way to support the end of the occupation, and it is not sacred. I’s a tactic, not a principle.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Tamar

      LG: why are you trying to make a case against BDS based on what “someone” has told you. why not rely on what the BDS movement states?

      “These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained 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 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. ”

      The movement tells you EXACTLY what Israel needs to do in order for the boycott to be lifted.

      Most importantly though, you say that BDS is not sacred, that it’s a tactic and there are other ways to fight the occupation. Israelis who support the notion that the occupation should end, must at the very very least, as a very first step, acknowledge their own privilege as occupiers and listen to what the occupied are asking. It is their moral duty, and any other “struggle against the occupation” operates within the paradigm of occupying.

      This must stop. The Palestinian people is wholly united around the call for BDS: it was launched by over 170 civil society organizations of all three parts of the Palestinian people: refugees, citizens of Israel and West Bank and Gaza residents.

      How else must one strive to end the occupation if not by listening to what the occupied is asking?

      Reply to Comment
    35. Khad, Germans should support BDS. That being said, perhaps they should focus on “lighter” aspects of BDS, and work in coordination with the Israeli group:

      We’ve sent some letters to German politicians and institutions. See our recent letter to the Polish government. Poland is the new new-Germany. i.e just as bad on these issues.

      LG, no use in parroting, but I will say, along the lines of grow your own: feel free to not to endorse the call in its entirety, and endorse specific boycott measures, while promoting your agenda. If you fail to do even this, I am not sure that you approach BDS in good faith.

      Reply to Comment
    36. Majid Jamali Fashi

      I support BDS as well, but I think the goal should not only be to reverse the theft of 1967, but that of 1948 as well. Otherwise, there will not be justice

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    37. LG

      Tamar, I’m not an Israeli so I don’t have any privilege as an occupier.

      Secondly, I would need it spelled out how ‘3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194’ is accommodated within Resolution 181, which sets out the establishment of a Jewish state. In the discussions I have had with supporters of BDS in London, it is understood that the Right of Return in principle will nullify a Jewish state since no Palestinian body can negotiate away any individual’s right of return. Whether every refugee exercises it is beside the point, since Israel must accept that it is their right to do so and that they may well indeed do so.

      So a boycott proposal based on the above is not something I personally support. I also fully understand and appreciate that for many Palestinians this is indeed the main demand and it’s not for me to tell them what their demands should be. But equally I claim the right not to support demands I don’t agree with.

      Reply to Comment
    38. I find it fascinating that almost none of the negative comments here address the core arguments put forward by the authors in this piece.

      As I understand it, the authors argue that BDS has emerged as a necessary strategy for 2 reasons:

      1) Because in a context where young, left (or left-of-center) Israelis are becoming increasingly apathetic and inured to the violence of the occupation, it is important to adopt political strategies which can break through into “the bubble.” In part because BDS targets cultural products, including those cultural products which are strongly favored by the same community of apathetic Israelis, it appears to be an exceptionally well-adapted tactic — one which might actually de-normalize the everyday lives of Israelis who often appear too lost in the Tel-Aviv bubble to recognize the forms of state violence being sponsored in their names.

      Perhaps for the same reason, BDS has been stigmatized more than any other political tactic deployed in recent years. And, as I understand it, this is the crux of the issue: BDS is facing increasing resistance, in large part because it cuts to the heart of the matter, and has the potential to destabilize everyday forms of cultural and political exchange. But, therein lies its virtue.

      2) BDS campaigns provide a critical platform (built along non-violent principles) for enabling a wide range of global groups, movements, and individuals to organize in support of Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination. The implication here is that BDS is therefore not solely about creating economic pressure, but also about increasing the public’s consciousness of the occupation and Palestinians’ rights. As such, it makes very little sense to propose that we boycott “products” but not “culture,” since BDS is not just an attempt to make the occupation more costly or even economically unfeasible.

      In fact, one could argue that, had artists like Macy Gray not been targeted by the BDS campaign, then the entire debate she sparked would never have occurred. Insofar as BDS also represents an attempt to highlight the violence of Israel’s occupation in the public imaginary, this episode could be considered a success.

      In sum, if you are going to dispute the authors’ claims in this article, it seems to me that one would at least need to engage their core arguments (and please correct me if I have missed something in my summary).

      Last, I want to congratulate both co-authors for writing this eloquent, succinct, and extremely well-argued piece!

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    39. Speaking from inside from what one could call a German context, I still have my apprehensions. True,DS could be one of those non-violent strategies against occupation and apartheid that could really make a difference. On the other hand, I do have the impression that the historically charged aspect of of “not buying from Jews” once meant, tends to be neglected. I’m really not sure about this…

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    40. Michael W.

      What ever happened to “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”?

      Should an individual be punished for the crimes of his government?

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    41. Michael W.
      BDS is not about punishment. As the article shows, BDS is about responsibility. Should an individual be held responsible for the crimes of his government? If that individual attempts to simply live a comfortable life without political engagement, should that person be held responsible for the actions of their government?
      I believe that the answer is yes. The culture of apathy which surrounds much of life in Israel is exactly what allows to the occupation to continue. For this reason, a campaign of nonviolence which seeks to change the statue quo of apathy is not punishment but an attempt to restore responsibility for the occupation and its horrors.

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    42. Michael W.

      Joseph Dana,

      What if they aren’t apathetic? What if it is just a matter of opinion? Would you BDS individuals and institutions because they think that the conflict and the occupation should end through a different process?

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    43. Kibbutznik

      ” I believe that the answer is yes. The culture of apathy which surrounds much of life in Israel is exactly what allows to the occupation to continue. For this reason, a campaign of nonviolence which seeks to change the statue quo of apathy is not punishment but an attempt to restore responsibility for the occupation and its horrors. ”

      Agreed .
      apathy versus accountability

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    44. Hi Michael W,
      This is a thoughtful point. The issue is more about the culture of apathy as opposed to the individual. In terms of the process, this is why Max and I placed BDS as a part of the larger process of Palestinian nonviolence. I believe that we can agree that nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation is the best method to dismantling it. In fact, many American Jewish organizations have lent support to movements of Palestinian nonviolence like the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah for similar reasons. I believe that BDS presents us with a form of international nonviolence. For this reason, it does not conflict with other methods on a theoretical level, in fact it compliments and strengths the effort.


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    45. Michael W.

      Joseph Dana,

      Regarding: “The issue is more about the culture of apathy as opposed to the individual.”

      Culture of apathy? What exactly does this mean? The Palestinian issue is the biggest issue in Israeli politics. It is the one issue that defines the Israeli political spectrum.

      Palestinians fight the Wall, the settlements, and so on, in other words, government policies visible on the ground. BDS fights a “culture”, as you say in your own words. I don’t see how one is an extension of the other. BDS may use the occupation as the reason, but they are fighting the one place where there is no occupation.

      The international community, Palestinians, and Israelis can fight government policies through protests, lobbying, and the political process. I don’t see why a blanket boycott of Israeli individuals and institutions is necessary. If Israelis aren’t aware of the occupation, give out pamphlets, buy ads, organize protests, etc.

      Boycotting companies that exploit Palestinians through the occupation, perhaps. But boycotting any Israeli company will just turn every Israeli into a Lieberman.

      The Israeli-right has said for a long time that the world is out to get them. BDS is just a confirmation of that. I’m afraid BDS would turn Israelis even more to the Right.

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    46. zvi

      Fascinating discussion. I am not sure to what degree BDS is an umbrella group for local organizations which share a common goal, but I do find some of their tactics (in Montreal where I live) to be rather opaque. They are very effective at rallying artists to protest against “apartheid” without being explicit about what exactly they are protesting (ie ISRAELI Apartheid). This disturbs me, and I have even called them on it – their response: “well everyone knows that Israel is the only apartheid state in the world”. If you want to protest Israeli actions, fine, but be explicit about it. And they are equally evasive about what exactly their goals might be.

      I am all for non-violent Palestinian activism and for breaking the Israeli “culture of apathy”, but I am wary about bringing in cultural metaphors from other conflicts (Apartheid, Genocide, Nazis, etc.). Our conflict is ugly enough without anyone needing to further hype things up. And this kind of distortion only serves to radicalize the sides.

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    47. Michael W.
      In the absence of a lot of time for a longer response, I will encourage to reread the piece. We are not talking about a culture but a culture of apathy. In other words, the ability to disengage from political engagement with the occupation and its horrors. A disengagement with one’s own culpability. It is the ability to lead a comfortable life while Israel continues a brutal military occupation.
      Sadly, an Israeli move to the right might actually help the situation of ending the occupation because the international community will no longer be presented with soft versions of Israeli understandings of the Palestinians. In theory, the international community would then do its job of applying pressure on Israel to honor international law and commitments.
      My peer and fellow writer, Noam Sheizaf, has explored on this site the idea of the ‘good Israel’ and the ‘bad Israel’ in American Jewish understanding of the country. He came to the conclusion that Lieberman and other elements of the right are reflective of a mainstream of Israeli society which many wish to ignore by casting them as immigrant elements harbor experiences of persecution or racism. Lieberman’s political style is interesting not because his views are radical compared with the majority but that he is simply open. Lieberman, in my opinion, is one of the best proponents of BDS active today. One of his speeches does more for the case of boycott than one hundred Macy Gray cancellations. In other words, I do not fear an Israeli move to the right because I think that the situation must get worse and our political language/actions become more openly hostile before things will get better.

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    48. Zvi,
      This is an excellent comment and I am happy that you are weighing in on the issue. I also uncomfortable with the ease at which apartheid comparison are thrown into the BDS debate. The system of occupation in the West Bank is based on the idea of separate and unequal which is an apartheid like system.

      I would recommend that you read the official literature about BDS on the BNC website http://bdsmovement.net/ as well as the information on the Boycott From Within site boycottfromwithin.net

      I think it is a good idea to acknowledge the difference in what the Palestinians are calling for from what certain supporters around the world might be pushing. Sometimes their own agendas can get mixed up with the original intention and message.


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    49. This is a really important piece. I think that the comments really reflect the problems that Jewish anti-boycott proponents have. You can go after Max’s family and threaten Estee, you can dismiss us out of hand, but ultimately, your failure to listen is on you. If you care about being Jewish, if you care about the future of the Middle East, if you care about Israelis, then you will open your ears to entertain every argument that is out there. If you don’t, you could be making a crucial mistake. It won’t be easy to be Jewish in the world 50 years from now if we get this question wrong. We are begging you to stop dismissing us just because you think you don’t support what we support. Try to listen, try to understand. Most of us used to feel exactly the same way you felt and now feel differently. Aren’t you at least curious about why and how we changed our views?

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    50. LS

      Sorry to enter so late into this debate. I hope I’m not repeating things that have already been considered (if so, just ignore).
      I’m very happy you raised – Dana and Blumenthal – the important question of whether one should support the BDS. Nevertheless I do not think that your way of presetting the issue is always particularly felicitous. For instance, I don’t see the point in complaining about demonstrators in SJ or their supporters that appose the BDS nor do I find anything particularly troubling with someone (a waiter) who consideres the protest in Bil’in too violent or dangerous. It would be better, I think, for activists to welcome and encourage the sympathetic discouraged rather than condemning them for their dispare or inability to act.
      I have no doubt that the BDS might be effective in dismantling the horrible occupation regime. (What you need, though, is a reason to think that it is the best way to reach this crucially important end.) My question is whether it won’t take a lot more with it. I can see how a boycott of products from the settlements might be somewhat effective and how it will stop when there are no more products of this sort. I don’t know, and I wonder if anyone has a better answer than I do to the question of whether there is any way of insuring that an effective delegitimizing boycott that brings down the occupation wont bring Israel/PA down (or up) into a Lebanon-like state of all out civil war. Understandably, It is hard to expect Palestinians will come to the jews’ rescue – if I were them I wouden’t. The question, then, is simply this: where will an effective boycott end? (Here the diference with South Africa might be important.)
      I expect you think, like me, that (very sadly) Israel has lost its legitimacy to exist given its 40+ years occupation and 60+ years of inequality for its arab citizens. Yet the way to regain this legitimacy might depend on a transformation of the Israeli public in the direction of a true democracy not by way of ending its existence (an end that may very well spell dome for jews and arabs alike). This brings me back to your presentation. Clearly, understandably, but hopefully not justifiably, you have given up on jewish Israelis. I’m well on the way of agreeing with you but I’m still holding out (and hoping that Fayyad will save us from ourselves).

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