Tuesday, October 24, 2017

BDS: 10 Critiques. 10 Responses

These common critiques of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and their responses were put together by the Quaker Palestine-Israel Network (QPIN). We have added images to help explain and illuminate the arguments.

Those seeking peace and reconciliation shouldn’t take sides. Rather, we should remain neutral while calling on both sides 
to support nonviolence.

* In a situation of injustice and power imbalances, remaining neutral means siding with the status quo and the powerful.

Standing consistently in support of justice and against the violation of rights is not “taking sides” but rather speaking truth.

* BDS is on the side of rights and justice. The BDS Palestinian call issued in 2005 asks people to stand for freedom, equality and justice.

BDS cuts off dialogue. Those committed to peace should encourage dialogue and programs that bring together Palestinians and Israelis instead of promoting BDS.

*BDS lifts up the voices of Palestinians living under occupation and provides space for them to be heard in international debates where their voices have traditionally been absent. 

* BDS encourages dialogue. It opens up conversation between those who support BDS and those who are opposed, or who are not sure what they think, or who go along with the status quo because the issue seems too controversial. 

* BDS necessitates conversations about ethics and corporate actions and how institutions and corporations may sustain or be complicit in abusive behaviors. In short, BDS is about opening and not closing space for dialogue.

*BDS and other activists oppose endless dialogue within what they refer to as a “normalization” framework. 

“Normalization” involves bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to understand each other as individuals without paying attention to content or power differentials. 

Those opposed to normalization are not generally opposed to dialogue but also recognize that bringing Israelis and Palestinians together is not enough and can obfuscate asymmetries in power. Addressing the roots of the occupation and all of its structures of oppression must be
prioritized over contact. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue
does not promote justice and equal rights. 

* BDS supports Palestinians and Israelis who come together for
co-resistance against occupation and injustice. It does not support bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to discuss how they can co-exist within a fundamentally unjust system.


BDS alienates many liberal Israelis and Jews who might otherwise work for peace. Peace activists should support actions that bring together people, not actions that push people apart.

* The goals of BDS are an end to occupation, equality between Palestinians and Israelis inside Israel, and justly addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees. It seeks the realization of these goals through targeted campaigns to hold companies and institutions complicit in violations of law or human rights abuses accountable and pushing for changes in their behaviors. It never targets individuals because of their religious identity, beliefs, or political positions. 

* If people are alienated by actions to bring justice, perhaps it is those people’s positions that should be challenged and not the actions for justice that make them uncomfortable.

* The BDS movement includes Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others. It brings together and provides space for all people committed to freedom, equality, and justice. 

* Israeli actions and apartheid policies are much more alienating, violent and divisive than nonviolent actions to realize justice. 

* Challenging injustice and power is a process that necessarily causes discomfort among those who currently hold power and are in positions of privilege. The discomfort caused by nonviolent actions to Israelis with power should not be placed over and above the pain and injustice of Palestinians living under occupation. Nor should the feelings of the dominant/privileged group outweigh the rights of the oppressed.

BDS singles out Israeli violence and human rights violations for attention and ignores war crimes and human rights violations in other parts of the world. 

* Those advocating BDS are responding to a direct call for nonviolent action that has come from Palestinians who need civil society’s help in ending Israeli dispossession, occupation, and discrimination against them. Pursuing such goals in the context of Israel/Palestine does not stand in the way of seeking justice in other contexts.

* BDS activists support BDS based on a principled stand in support of human rights, international law, and equality for
all people. That they may not advocate the use of BDS tactics in all other situations does not mean they do not support justice and rights in all situations.

* Although many activists support several causes, most tend to focus their primary energy on a single issue. Advocates for justice and rights in Iran are not singling out Iran if they do not also speak about Israeli human rights abuses. Advocates for justice in Saudi Arabia, or the Congo, or the United States are not singling out these countries if they do not also speak about human rights elsewhere. 

* Equally, advocates for justice in Israel/Palestine are not singling out Israel if they do not speak about abuses in other locations when they speak about
abuses in Israel/Palestine.

* Many U.S. BDS activists do feel a special responsibility to
support human rights in Israel/Palestine because of the massive military, diplomatic, and economic aid the U.S. government has given to maintain 
State of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people over the decades as part of its own unjust foreign policy objectives. The U.S. government has singled out Israel by giving it unconditional military aid and diplomatic support.


The BDS Movement is anti-Semitic.

* The BDS movement does not target Jews or Judaism, but rather the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli government against Palestinians, and the various states that enable this or the companies that profit from it.

* The goals of BDS are freedom, justice and equality for the
Palestinian people without violating the human rights and
security of Israelis. The BDS movement, which includes
people of all religions, protests against the unjust policies of a
state and it does not target individuals on the basis of their
faith or ethnic or national identity. Its focus is getting the
government of Israel (and the US as its main supporter) to
comply with international law and to respect universal human

* The BDS movement categorically rejects and condemns all
forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism. A statement on the front page of the BNC (BDS National Committee) website reads: “BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

* A growing number of Jews and Israelis, particularly youth and
young adults, support BDS. They feel that a repressive and cruel occupation does not embody the prophetic Jewish values they were taught growing up, values they cherish and believe in. They know that their work for BDS does not make them anti-Semitic.

BDS is violent and punitive. It is a coercive use of economic power to punish and harm one group of people. Those seeking peace should support other nonviolent change processes.

* BDS uses nonviolent means to challenge the violence and
oppressive policies of the Israeli state. It never engages in or
threatens violence against anyone.

 BDS calls for accountability and changes in the behavior of
institutions and companies that are complicit in Israel’s
occupation and violations of human rights and international
law. BDS is not about punishing these companies or Israel but
rather ending their abusive behavior and ensuring

* BDS does not seek to harm Israelis. It seeks to end harmful
Israeli government policies and actions with the goal of
realizing an end to Israel’s occupation, securing justice for
Palestinian refugees, and achieving equality for Palestinians and Israelis.

* BDS actions target institutions - not individuals - for their complicity in Israel’s occupation and/or human rights abuses.

* Boycotts and divestment are proven nonviolent tactics used in many situations -- from the Montgomery bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins in the segregated southern U.S., to boycotting grapes or strawberries in defense of farmworker rights in California. 

If we deny Palestinians the use of even nonviolent change tactics, what options do we leave open to them as they seek to realize their rights and end abusive Israeli actions and policies?

BDS seeks to delegitimize and destroy Israel. BDS supports the right of  return for Palestinian refugees and could therefore jeopardize the Jewish nature of Israel, effectively eliminating it as a Jewish state.

* The goals of BDS are freedom, justice and equality for
Palestinians. If asking for freedom and equal rights for
Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, is
perceived as “destroying” Israel, what does that say about the
current system that is in place?

* When the government of South Africa gave up its racist
policies of Apartheid did it destroy the government of South Africa, or merely reform it and make it more democratic and respectful of human rights?

* If anything “delegitimizes” Israel in the eyes of the world it is Israel’s brutal and unjust policies towards the Palestinians,like the construction of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, the destruction of Palestinian homes and farmland, and a racist political and legal system that treats Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis unequally.

* Eliahu Elath, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. in 1949, stated
that the 750,000 displaced Palestinian refugees could not be
allowed to return to their homes, farms, and businesses
because “Israel would commit suicide if she took back all the
refugees.” Palestinians were denied their right to return after
the 1948 war because Israel saw them as a threat to a sustainable Jewish demographic majority. 

While it is true that the ethnic cleansing of most Palestinians from what became Israel is what allowed for a solid Jewish demographic majority in Israel, to deny Palestinians their legal right of return under international law because their return would shift demographics within the State of Israel again is to repeat the same racist arguments made by Israeli officials like Eliahu 70 years ago.
* Israel’s displacement of Palestinians is at the core of the conflict. To lift up the objective to maintain a Jewish
demographic majority at all costs and as a reason for denying Palestinian refugees the legal right of return now is to accept the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 as justified. A
position that says that the Palestinians’ legal right to return
must be denied because it threatens current demographic
realities makes it impossible to address the core component of
the conflict.

* BDS activists believe that they should not support states in
their efforts to unjustly create or retain a particular ethnic
character or to privilege certain ethnic or religious groups
over others. Rather, they support people in their search for
equality and human rights for all citizens.

* UN Resolution 194 enshrines the right of return for
Palestinian refugees. Since 1948 Israel has blocked the return
of Palestinian refugees while enacting the “Law of Return” which allows any Jewish person in the world to move to
Israel/Palestine and secure rights as a citizen. This double
standard is racist.

* There are also different ways that the right of return for refugees might be addressed in a negotiated settlement that could include compensation, attractive opportunities in a new Palestinian state alongside Israel, in addition to the option of physically returning to live within the internationally recognized borders of Israel.

BDS seeks a single democratic state in all of Israel/Palestine, which means the destruction of Israel.

* The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which leads the
global BDS movement, takes no position on whether there
should be a one-state or two-state resolution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. While there are prominent supporters of
BDS who call for a democratic, one-state solution with
equality and justice for all Palestinians and Israelis, there are
other key BDS supporters who support a two-state solution.

Ultimately, there is no consensus on what a final agreement
will entail. Where there is consensus among the Palestinian
initiators of the BDS call is that an end to the occupation,
equality for Palestinians inside Israel, and justice for refugees
are rights that must be addressed to realize peace and justice
no matter what the final resolution of the political structures
in Israel/Palestine.

* It is also true that many prominent observers of
Israel/Palestine, including former U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry, have noted that the window for realizing a two-state
solution is closing and may even have closed. If that is the
reality, then those seeking peace have a choice: accept the
ongoing oppression of Palestinians by the State of Israel or
push for the transformation of Israel into a single democratic
government in all of Israel/Palestine or a binational
democratic secular state that protects the rights of Israelis and
Palestinians equally.

 The purpose of BDS activism, however, is not to preserve or
create particular government structures, but rather to protect
the rights of all people whether or not a one or two state
solution is ultimately chosen.

BDS puts all its attention on Israel’s abuses and ignores violence by Palestinians.

* BDS is about accountability for the unaccountable. It uses an
international law framework and nonviolent tactics to call
attention to Israeli human rights abuses that are not currently
addressed and pressures institutions and corporations
complicit in those abuses to end their complicity. 

Palestinians who engage in violence are already subject to sanction by Israeli and international actors, often through abusive military
or security services. 

* All imports and exports to the occupied Palestinian territory
are controlled by Israel, key aspects of the Palestinian
economy in the West Bank are controlled by Israel, and Gaza
is under siege by Israel. Palestinians are effectively sanctioned.
At the same time, Israeli receives over $3 billion in military
support from the US annually. It is not Palestinian violence
that is being ignored.

* BDS also builds on a long legacy of Palestinian nonviolent
action and strengthens the strategic focus by the majority of
Palestinian civil society on nonviolent civil resistance as the
best means for achieving freedom, justice, and equality.

Peace activists should support positive actions like investment in the Palestinian economy, not negative actions like divestment and boycott. Otherwise, BDS will hurt Palestinians first.

* BDS activists support positive actions and encourage
investment in the Palestinian economy. However, positive
actions cannot be a replacement for calls for accountability
from companies that are currently complicit in Israel’s
occupation and violations of Palestinian rights. Investment in
the Palestinian economy does not preclude divestment and

* Divestment and boycott are not negative or punitive actions.
They are nonviolent actions designed to bring accountability
and to end ongoing human rights abuses. Once this end is
achieved, both Palestinians and Israelis will benefit.

* The Palestinian economy is completely controlled by Israel.
Long-term development cannot happen unless the occupation is ended and Israeli controls are removed. While investment
in the Palestinian economy is important, there cannot be sustainable investment and economic growth under

If it is to be impactful, positive investment must therefore be paired with divestment and boycott initiatives which aim at political as well as economic change.

* The BDS movement is led by Palestinians themselves. BDS
has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties,
organizations, trade unions, and movements, and enjoys
overwhelming support among ordinary Palestinians, even
though they may face increasing challenges because of it.

* Palestinians often say that they value their freedom more than
the few jobs brought about by Israel's occupation, which takes
their land, water, and other resources, and imprisons them in
ghetto-like bantustans where poverty is rife and there is no
room for self-determination.

* Palestinians know that their economy will never thrive or be
sustainable as long as the occupation remains in place. Many
are willing to endure more deprivation if, in the end, they
achieve equality.

* During divestment from apartheid South Africa, Black South
Africans initially suffered some effects as a result of
divestment, and they knew that would happen. It was a price
they were willing to pay however, because they knew that in
the long run it would help them achieve their freedom. The
same is true for Palestinians.

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