+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

No, BDS does not unfairly 'single out' Israel

Ironically, the boycott movement actually expresses some level of faith in Israeli democracy by assuming a little pressure might motivate it to change.

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

When the most recent flotilla set sail for Gaza to protest Israel’s eight-year blockade, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote an open letter to the activists. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, he suggested they had taken a wrong turn on the way to Syria. It’s part of a theme repeated obsessively: “there are worse violations elsewhere, but no one ever protests them. Therefore, protesting the occupation on behalf of Palestinians is hypocritical, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Therefore, it can be ignored.” Nowhere is this argument more prominent than as a response to boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) efforts against Israel.

At first glance, it is a genuinely troubling point. No one who claims to care about human rights should sleep at night knowing what is happening to millions of Syrians who are and have been uprooted, and the hundreds of thousands who have been butchered – for a start.

The problem is not that liberals don’t care. The problem is that the accusations of global indifference are simply false. Whether you support or despise the boycott of Israel, it’s time to stop writing it off as hypocrisy.

Start with sanctions. The U.S. and Europe have both placed sanctions on Iran for human rights violations, not just for nuclear research. International sanctions to end human rights violations began long before the putative “singling out” of Israel, even before the occupation.

In 1965, Britain placed sanctions on Rhodesia; then in 1966, the UN Security Council for the first time in its history authorized international sanctions against the white minority government, for the next 14 years, until Rhodesia created a fairer government and became Zimbabwe. (Israel, incidentally, was one of the countries that did not respect the sanctions – displaying at least moral and political consistency.)

The UN imposed sanctions against Iraq (1990, for its treatment of Kuwaitis during the invasion) and against Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, for its treatment of ethnic minorities. In those cases, sanctions preceded international military intervention, something that has never remotely been on the table in the West’s treatment of Israel.

Numerous other countries perpetrating egregious human rights violations, such as Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone have been placed under international sanction regimes. Including, yes, Syria. The charge of “singling out” Israel is dead wrong.

What about boycott efforts that seem to be catching fire among academics and cultural figures? Why don’t they take aim at North Korea, or at ISIS?

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

ISIS conducting a mass execution in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

First, celebrities probably wish to support what they perceive as the underdog, the party in need of attention, which they can bring. For most of the decades under occupation, Israel’s narrative reigned in the West. Palestinian people were essentially ignored, written off wholesale as terrorists, and their claims and experiences of life under occupation misunderstood, if noticed at all. The last decade of attention to Palestinian reality is essentially a pendulum swing in their direction.

Celebrities may not feel the global attention they command is needed on behalf of ISIS victims. We all agree that being drowned, beheaded, pushed off a building or burned with acid is evil.

Second, it’s attractive to work for a cause where there’s a possibility you can actually make a change. North Korea is an impenetrable fortress that scoffs at arguments of democracy and human rights, if it notices them at all.

But precisely because Israel has a democratic ethos, because it is part of the West and in dialogue with it, activists reasonably believe gains can be made. They’re right. If Israel wants to be more democratic toward all the people it controls, it surely has the political culture in place to do so. The claim to democracy also makes the nearly 50-year occupation so much more offensive.

But there’s an even simpler reason why students, celebrities, academics, and some individuals call to boycott Israel instead of other places: Palestinians asked them to.

The Global BDS movement is certainly problematic. There is a gap between its stated policy goals, and the implication supporters sometimes convey that only erasing Israel will suffice. BDS activists can be aggressive and coercive. Boycott efforts – specifically those in the West Bank –  could hurt Palestinians more than anyone else, by taking jobs away from average people on the front line.

Those are major flaws. But just as Israel expects its supporters to “stand with us” despite Israel’s flaws, some Palestinians are asking people around the world for support despite the flaws of its movement. The South African anti-apartheid movement immolated collaborators. That didn’t stop Western governments and corporations, and everyone in my high school, from proudly joining in the boycott of South Africa. We didn’t hate South African whites and boycotters today are not automatically anti-Semites. They just figure solidarity counts, and boycott is how the Palestinians they encounter have asked them to help.

Anyway, what are the other options? Should supporters of Palestinian freedom protest occupation the way the occupying power wants them to? In fact Israel rejects all forms of protest on this issue. Violence is of course wrong. Diplomatic action is considered an anti-Israel plot. Unarmed grassroots demonstrations in West Bank towns week after week are met with tear gas, blasts of putrid water, arrests and sometimes death. Failed negotiations are invariably and entirely blamed on Palestinians. Boycott is called “economic terrorism” – and, of course, hypocrisy.

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

Pro-Israel protesters hold signs condemning BDS as racist, New York, June 1, 2014. (Illustrative photo by A Katz/Shutterstock.com)

If the boycott movement is accused of wishing to erase Israel, aggressive “pro-Israel” messagers seek to erase the occupation from our minds. Defenders of Israel’s policies must answer that charge if they expect a reasonable position from BDS.

Otherwise, activists will continue to view Israel as hypocritical: a democracy that holds people in chains. A country that could change, precisely because it is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” In a strange sense (probably one they didn’t intend), their protests show faith that Israel will ultimately honor its democratic values if pushed just a little harder, or if they can point out the internal contradiction to Israelis who simply cannot see it.

Some activists don’t just wish to mouth off opinions. They want something to do, even if it’s not perfect. For any other cause, we would probably find that commendable.

Newsletter banner

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Ben

      Scheindlin hits it out of the park. Can you see the haze on the +972 site today? That’s 6 months of right wing contentions about being singled out going up in smoke. Between Beiler and Scheindlin I think they wrapped that one up.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Hercules

      QUESTION: Does BDS single out Israel?

      ANSWER: Yes, BDS singles out Israel.

      QUESTION: How? What IS BDS against the State of Israel?

      “Boycott is act of hate, not peace”

      – Shimon Peres

      “The BDS movement is anti-Semitic terror of a new type.”

      – Yitzhak Herzog.

      “BDS leaders are ‘out and out anti-Semites’”

      – Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid party leader)

      “All who join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel “are effectively promoting the dissolution of the Jewish state whether or not that is their intention.”

      – Cary Nelson (Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois)

      The BDS-movement against Israel is a “CULT”, a “GHETTO”, “dishonest”, “silly”, “disingenuous” and “a whole lot of leftist posturing”, whose goal is to destroy Israel, says Norman G. Finkelstein.

      “They don’t want Israel. They think they are being very clever. They call their three-tier: we want the end of occupation, we want the right of return; we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is WHAT? What’s the result? YOU KNOW AND I KNOW – WHAT’S THE RESULT?! THERE IS NO ISRAEL. THERE IS NO ISRAEL – FULL STOP!”

      – Norman G. Finkelstein, who is also a virulent anti-Israel critic!


      As Pedro X correctly said: “BDS is all about violence and hatred. It seeks to harm Israelis in the belief that somehow if enough harm and hatred is brought to bear on Israelis, Israelis will accept Palestinian demands, such as an unlimited wrong of return, and commit national suicide. Some Palestinians support BDS because it fits in with their culture of hatred and desire to see the Jewish state destroyed and replaced with another majority Arab state as the leader of the Palestinian BDS movement promotes. BDS is simply racist.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Gustav

      Dahlia:”Anyway, what are the other options?”

      How about pressuring the Palestinians to agree to make some concessions too? Concessions such as…

      1. Outlined in Olmert’s 2008 peace offer.

      2. Giving up the maximalist Right of Return (ROR) demand.

      3. Recognition of Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people which would formally indicate the end of the state of the 100 year war between the two societies. Since the idea of the Jewish state was always the reason why the Palestinians made war on us even before the occupation, even before the Jewish state came into existence (they tried to prevent our Jewish state from coming into existence).

      Now, if the Palestinian Arabs agree to all that but Netanyahu would still not budge, then many Israelis like me would be willing to vote for an alternative Israeli government which WOULD make peace on those terms. But not before. Why not before? Because without those terms, we don’t trust the intentions of the Palestinian Arabs and we are not willing to give up anything. Even though we don’t like the current situation either.

      Reply to Comment
      • Matt

        I think a return of all Palestinian land that was taken in 1967 and after, in addition to ending the blockade and military campaigns against civilians would be a good start.

        Reply to Comment
        • Electric Avenue

          Matt, we both know that when the Palestinian institutions are able to guarantee safety they will be allowed some form of pricipality. Until then, you are not helping the cause.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Ginger Eis

      Ms. Scheindlin Is Dead Wrong – As Usual

      1. To justify her claim that Israel is not being singled out, the Ms. Scheindlin lists a number of countries that were formerly resp. are currently under different kinds of UN-sanctions. But: (a) Ms. Scheindlin failed to make a single argument as to why she believes that said countries are comparable to Israel. That smacks of incompetence; (b) Additionally, Ms. Scheindlin, either by design or sheer ignorance, failed to see the subtle but hugely consequential difference in the treatment of ALL of those countries she listed and the Jewish State, i.e. the Jewish State is the only State whose RIGHT TO EXIST is questioned and whose demise is openly called for and pursued with BDS. NONE of the countries mentioned by Ms. Sheidlin is treated that same way. In fact, the Jewish People are the only People of all the countries mentioned, who are being told that they have no right to self-determination. That, in- and of itself is discrimination, racism and a form of anti-Semitism, plain and simple.

      2. Ms. Scheindlin argued further that the reason she believes that Israel is not being singled out unfairly is because “celebrities, students, academics”, etc. are inclined to be on the side of the “underdog that need the attention which they can bring”. HOWEVER, precisely that very argument proves that Israel is being singled out. Indeed, the only “attention celebrities can bring” relates only to conflicts involving Jews and/or Israel. All other conflicts wherein Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Crimes Against Humanity, Mass Rapes, Beheadings, Slavery, etc. are raging as we speak do NOT “need the attention celebrities can bring”, because “the Jew/Israel-factor” is missing in the equation! The “Jew/Israel-factor” determines “the underdog that need the attention which celebrities, academics, students can bring”. Thus, Ms. Scheindlin defeats her own argument with her own argument.

      3. Beyond that, Ms. Scheindlin argues that “there’s an even simpler reason why students, celebrities, academics, and some individuals call to boycott Israel instead of other places: Palestinians asked them to.” BUT, what Ms. Scheindlin does not understand is that with that argument, she is in fact defeating her own argument that Israel is not being singled out. As We speak, the Yazidis, the Christians of Iraq are undergoing Genocide, their men and boys are beheaded and killed en mass while their women and girls are forced into sexual slavery, there are over 4-million Syrian refugees who have lost over 250.000. relatives, etc. and they are ALL begging the “students, celebrities, academics” and the entire world for help. But no one hears their cries! But the phony cries of the Palestinians who live in luxury compared to the Yazidis, the Iraqi Christians, the Syrians, the Yemenis, and many more across the Arab World, Africa and Asia, are not just heard, but people are falling all over themselves to rescue them! Why? Because of – again – “the Jew/Israel factor”. There can be no better example of discrimination based on race/ethnicity/religion/nationality.

      4. With regard to the, in my view, imbecilic attempt that sought to equate Israel to Apartheid SA, this South African Minister gives a thunderous slap down to Ms. Scheindlin:

      Watch. And Weep!


      This article is thus nothing more than extravagant exhibition and celebration of mediocrity. Any one of us could have done better as a high school girl/boy – just a few years ago!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Electric Avenue

      It is pathetic, priceless, cringe-worthy videos like the one below


      that assure me that BDS is merely an odd collection of misfits and weirdos that got trendy when the world was distracted.

      The lead bovine in this video is also boycotting bras which offer adequate support. The fiction is perpetuated in that we are supposed to believe that this grotesque jaba-the-hut-esque creature ever got off her cellulite filled ass to exercise

      Note the amateur acting troupe sent over by the anti-pink washing brigade

      To team BDS: is this the face (or the boobs) that you want representing your organization? Do you have anything in common with these people other than irrational hatred?

      Finally, Target security should have these losers pepper sprayed for disgracing their store, frightening customers, and damaging their merchandise

      Reply to Comment
      • Electric Avenue

        My apologies, I posted the wrong video.

        This is the one.


        Reply to Comment
    6. Terry B.

      I appreciate so much in this article. However there is one point that I was surprised to read, that should be recognized for the tired refrain applied to many boycott efforts for justice that it is: “Boycott efforts – specifically those in the West Bank – could hurt Palestinians more than anyone else, by taking jobs away from average people on the front line.” This was said repeatedly during the anti-apartheid divestment movement, among other such movements.

      Just as with black South Africans during the apartheid era, the huge majority of Palestinians support BDS, and they are intelligent enough to understand the implications for their own employment. We should respect their beliefs about what is in their best interests, i.e. ending the occupation, even at the cost of losing jobs on the way to that goal.

      Reply to Comment