How BDS Is Actually Perpetuating the Occupation

By obscuring the uniqueness of the Israeli colonialist regime, BDS is giving Israel an escape hatch; instead, boycott movement must focus on occupation and settlements, stop blurring lines between Israel and Territories.

Dmitry Shumsky
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An Egyptian wears a T-shirt with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo.Credit: AP
Dmitry Shumsky

If the BDS movement didn’t exist, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of occupation and settlement would have had to invent it. For contrary to the popular notion in Israel, on the international scene BDS is serving as one of the most effective factors in perpetuating the Palestinians’ national enslavement.

Both the boycott movement and the present Israeli government – as made clear in Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s fundamentalist speech to Israeli diplomats – are striving to imprint in international consciousness the inherent identification between the State of Israel and the Israeli military regime in the occupied territories, a single organic Israeli unit. Put another way: There is basic consent between the BDS movement and the Israeli government regarding the conception of the geopolitical space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, as a single state called Israel.

The dispute between the boycott movement and the occupation and settlement government has to do with the moral character of that single “Israel” between the river and the sea. While BDS describes it as a criminal colonialist entity whose international legitimacy is in doubt, the Israeli government sees it as a legitimate partner in the family of nations that gives just expression to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

In this battle, BDS will never have the upper hand, for two main reasons: First, despite any cries about stolen land, to the vast majority of the international community, Israelis’ right to self-determination is a given. Ever since the PLO’s historic recognition of Israel in 1988, this right is also recognized by the oldest key segments of the Palestinian national movement.

Second, as a result of the Israelization of the occupation, to which the boycott movement is lending a hand, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are repeatedly likened to second- or third-class Israeli citizens. This makes it possible for the cleverest and most demagogic propagandists of the Israeli whitewashers of the occupation – such as in Ben-Dror Yemini’s recent articles in Yedioth Ahronoth – to evade confronting the occupation and settlements and escape into the type of comparative apologetics they’re so fond of, in which they contrast Israel to a number of “ordinary” countries like Iran or North Korea, which systematically violate their citizens’ rights without anyone threatening them with a boycott.

But the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza are not second- or third- or even fourth-class citizens. They are deprived of civil rights in the deepest sense of the word; they are non-citizens subject to the good graces of a foreign military regime, which directly or indirectly controls every aspect of their daily lives and faithfully serves the privileged settler citizens. This is the intolerable uniqueness of the Israeli colonialist regime, which has no match in this early 21st-century post-colonial world.

For this anomalous regime to be overcome, its uniqueness must not be obscured. Blurring it will provide the financer of this regime from Las Vegas and his protégé on Balfour Street a coveted escape hatch to avoid responsibility for denying the Palestinians’ civil and national rights. This is what will allow them and their supporters to channel the discussion onto matters such as the Jews’ just right to self-determination, and Israel’s internal character, whose future is in the hands of its citizens.

Thus, the international boycott weapon should be aimed in a careful and focused way against the occupation and the settlements. Of course, some people will find it hard to clearly differentiate between the “territories” and “Israel,” when the institutional, economic and cultural connections between the occupying State of Israel and its colonialist enterprise in the post-1967 territories are unequivocal. But whether it’s a naïve question, or one that winks at annexation, the answer is that is certainly possible. The Israeli organizations and institutions and companies that operate in sovereign Israeli territory that is recognized under international law should not be subjected to a boycott, even if they have branches in the occupied territories, just as there should be no thought of boycotting foreign countries and institutions that have cooperation and economic or cultural ties with the settlements.

Like the institutions and businesses inside Israel, they should be continually called upon to join a boycott of the occupation and settlement project. An effort should be made to persuade them to cut off all ties with the international criminal enterprise that is enslaving the Palestinian people contrary to “the law of nations” and gnawing away at the existential infrastructure of the State of Israel, which arose and continues to exist thanks to that same “law of nations.”

As for organizations, institutions and companies that operate from within the military-messianic colonialist enterprise – these should be subject to a comprehensive and uncompromising economic and cultural boycott. This must continue until the settlement enterprise disappears off the face of the earth – either by evacuation of all the settlements, or by territorial exchange and agreed-upon borders between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, or whether – and this is the most desirable solution – by having the settlers who wish to do so remain in and become citizens of the Palestinian state with the approval of the sovereign Palestinian entity. For after all, this small piece of land between the Jordan River and the sea is cherished by both peoples, by Palestinians and Jews both.

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