This week, the BDS National Committee (BNC) published a round-up of campaigning for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel during 2016, including a summary of “the most significant indicators of direct and indirect BDS impact in various fields”. Introducing the timeline, the BNC noted how progress over the past year has occurred in the face of intensified Israeli state efforts to undermine, attack and sabotage the BDS movement.
Despite this, the BNC points out, campaigners have seen successes in activism targeting major multinationals, churches, city councils and student groups, as well as securing the support of the European Union and national governments for the right to boycott (despite Israeli efforts to equate such campaigning with illegitimate hate speech).
Highlighting the decision by the UN Human Rights Council to establish a database of companies “complicit in and profiting from Israel‘s occupation regime,” the BNC notes that “the logic of appeasing Israel’s regime of oppression has started giving way to the logic of sustained international pressure, which proved instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa”.
This is the key to the argument for BDS – the logic of pressure replacing the logic of appeasement. But Israel and its friends are as determined as ever to prevent the application of any sort of pressure whatsoever, as we also saw this past week.
Tom Watson’s ‘moral’ stance
Take Tom Watson, deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party, who used a speech at the Westminster-based lobby group Labour Friends of Israel to describe the fight against BDS as a “moral obligation” – even “a commandment”. Watson, it seems, has decided to enthusiastically ally himself with the jailer and bulldozer against the human rights defender and forcibly displaced farmer.
Meanwhile, Michael Oren, deputy minister for public diplomacy in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of settlement cheerleaders and nationalist demagogues, slammed France’s decision to make it obligatory to correctly label produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. For Oren, this modest measure was reminiscent of the Dreyfus affair and France’s Nazi-allied Vichy regime.
Yet no matter how extreme the rhetoric gets, or how shameless the smears become, the case for BDS remains as straightforward and compelling as it always has been. It is based on the reality of Israel‘s longstanding, systematic violations of international law and human rights, on the call for solidarity from Palestinian civil society groups, and its value as a tactic.
The clarity of the case for BDS stands in stark contrast to the stagnation afflicting other potential arenas for advancing Palestinian rights, both internal and external.
At Fatah’s long-awaited conference in Ramallah this past week, it was business as usual, despite the various and serious challenges awaiting novel solutions, both inside the party and with respect to the bleak picture faced by the Palestinian national movement more broadly.
Fatah’s conference opened on the United Nations’ annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked with a run-of-the-mill statement. UN peace process official Nickolay Mladenov, meanwhile, addressed the Fatah meeting in person.
But their statements merely highlight how, through the yawning disparity between UN resolutions and action, through the embrace of a “both sides” conflict resolution discourse, and by creating an enabling environment for Israel to violate Palestinian rights with impunity, international diplomats are a long way from showing meaningful solidarity.
BDS, it should be emphasised, is just one tactic. The revitalisation of the Palestinian national movement, the fate of the Palestinian Authority, and the use of the UN as a forum for strategic gains, are all imperatives independent of the global, civil society-driven boycott campaign. BDS can only do so much, but it is also something that can, and must, be done.
Year of anniversaries
There are three big anniversaries next year: the Balfour Declaration centenary (the mourning/celebration of which has already begun); 50 years of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June; and 70 years since the adoption of the UN Partition Plan.
Without a doubt, many will feel like the best response to this “red-letter year” is to campaign for, and demand, apologies or measures such as the recognition of a Palestinian state. While it is not a case of “either or,” I would suggest that the most strategic way to direct energies is at an intensification and expansion of the BDS campaign, in all its constituent parts.
For example, a boycott of settlement produce should be built on and expanded, since it is the Israeli state and various institutions (financial, academic, etc) that are either directly responsible for, or complicit