What Is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)?

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) organization was formally founded in 2005 after being established at the infamous Durban Conference in 2001 by anti-Israel NGOs.  It was created as a political weapon with the aim of eradicating the State of Israel and is a continuation of the call to boycott Israel that has been around since before the State was even established in 1948. 

BDS presents itself as a social justice movement, when in reality it is a political movement that seeks the defamation, delegitimization and eventual elimination of the State of Israel, as stated openly by the group’s founder and leader, Omar Barghouti. 

To further their goal, the BDS movement presents a black and white narrative, insinuating that Israel is uniquely evil. They also explicitly reject “coexistence” and working with even progressive groups if those groups don’t embrace “co-resistance” to dismantle the State of Israel. 

Supporters of the movement pressure governments, companies, organizations, and individuals to boycott Israel in the diplomatic, economic, academic, and cultural spheres.

Boycott activists tactically use inflammatory and inaccurate terms to describe Israel, knowing that these terms elicit strong emotional reactions and conjure up images of the very worst human rights abusers in history. These accusations spread misinformation about the actual situation in the country and denigrate the true meaning of these terms.

What Are the Aims of BDS?

Omar Barghouti — a founding member of the Boycott National Committee (BNC) and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) — explains frankly and clearly that, despite what many might think, the end of Israel’s presence and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is not the end game of BDS.

In the eyes of BDS, the Palestinians not only have a right to the lands controlled by Israel as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, but they also have a right to the “1948 lands,” meaning all of the land within the internationally recognized boundaries of the State of Israel.

Below, Mr. Barghouti explains it even more plainly.

“Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” he says, referring to the entire stretch of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea encompassing the West Bank, Israel proper, and Gaza:

The BDS movement has a list of demands that is meant to obfuscate their true aims. In their demands they state that they will maintain a boycott of Israel until 1) it “ends the occupation of all Arab lands,” 2) until it recognizes the “fundamental right of Arab citizens of Israel to full equality,” and 3) until it grants the so-called “right of return” to Palestinian refugees.

In terms of its first demand, the BDS movement considers all of Israel to be part of “Arab lands,” meaning that Israel itself must be eradicated.

In regards to the second demand, Israeli Arabs have more rights in Israel than in any of the 21 Arab countries. With roughly 1.9 million Arab citizens of Israel, accounting for roughly 20% of the population, Israel has never practiced racial segregation; it is the only real democracy in the Middle East, where Arabs sit in the country’s Parliament, in its governing coalition, and on its Supreme Court; the Chairman of Israel’s largest bank is an Arab/Palestinian; while over 22% of the student body of the Technion, Israel’s version of MIT, are Arab students. Israel also has progressive laws when it comes to free speechgender equality, as well as LGBTQ rights.

In the video below, Mr. Barghouti explains the true implications of this third demand — the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and all their decedents. 

“If the refugees were to return,” he says, “you would not have a two-state solution. Like one Palestinian commentator said, you would have a Palestine next to a Palestine, rather than a Palestine next to Israel.” 

In the video one can also hear Mr. Barghouti oppose the two-state solution. He supports a one-state solution in which Israel will be replaced by a Palestinian state encompassing all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories. He also has stated there is no reason not to re-name this new state, “Palestine.”

Incitement to Violence

Many of the leading BDS organizations are no longer hiding their true motives and their support for militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad (two US and EU designated terrorist groups that are also part of the BNC). 

Here is a video of New York’s leading BDS group, Within Our Lifetime, who have been the main organizers of the BDS marches in the city. They call for the eradication of Israel and violence to be waged not just against Israel, but also against any Jew or Jewish organization in America that supports Israel:

BDS leader Omar Barghouti also supports violence against Israel and resistance by any means, despite claiming the BDS movement is non-violent in their literature. In a recent private letter to BDS Boston, the BNC, the governing body of the BDS movement, also expressed support for those who advocate for violence against Israel, as long as they don’t do so under the banner of BDS.

Anti-Normalization

The BDS “anti-normalization” policy opposes any interactions between Arabs and Israelis, as well as any events that showcase Israel as a legitimate country.

Unlike other cultural boycott campaigns, the policy of “anti-normalization” impacts Palestinians and other Arabs most heavily, as its primary purpose is to prevent the Arab world from interacting with Israelis. For example, PACBI, the main cultural boycott organization, recently launched a pressure campaign targeting Palestinian participants in an EU program that was seeking to bring young Israeli and Palestinian leaders together in Brussels, branding it a “normalization” program.

Another important component of this policy is the inability of artists to perform in both Israeli and Palestinian venues. A number of artists over the years, including Coldplay, Lauryn Hill and Lana Del Rey, have attempted to perform in venues in both Israel and the West Bank, and been rebuffed by Palestinian venues due to pressure from BDS anti-normalization activists, since any performance in Israel normalizes it as a legitimate country.

What Public Figures Have Said About The Cultural Boycott

Nick Cave

Nick Cave

Artist

“The cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful. Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement.”

David Draiman

Frontman of Disturbed

“Regardless of whether it’s Israel or anywhere else, boycotting an entire society and an entire people based on the actions of its government is absolutely ridiculous. And it doesn’t accomplish anything.”

David Draiman
Aaron Bay-Schuck

Aaron Bay-Schuck

CEO/Co-Chairman Warner Records

“Artists should not be threatened or silenced wherever they choose to perform… The BDS movement is cowardly. It’s hypocritical and it’s bullying. When an artist chooses not to perform in Israel, or anywhere in the world for that matter, we all suffer.”

Thom Yorke

Radiohead

“I don’t agree with the cultural ban (of Israel) at all, along with JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and a long list of others. All of this creates divisive energy. You’re not bringing people together. You’re not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding.”

Thom Yorke
Aurura

Aurora

Artist

“I don’t believe in cultural boycotting…musicians and artists out there shouldn’t be silenced because of political disagreements. We shouldn’t be forced to boycott fans around the world because of political reasons and we shouldn’t be scolded for trying to do good, just because our way of thinking might be different to yours. Art should be something we all can share, no matter what. I want to walk on cultural bridges, and I don’t want to be a part of any cultural boycotts.”

Grace Chatto

Clean Bandit

“I find musicians and DJs pulling out of performances [in Israel] a self-defeating act. I’m not really sure what they hope to achieve and the suggestion that playing in a country means you support the political or foreign policy of the country is ridiculous, especially if you’re not willing to play there but play America or the UK. Me wanting to play in Israel is not making a statement.”

John Lewis

Noted American Civil Rights Leader

“I want to make it very clear that I disagree strongly with the BDS movement. Economic, educational, and cultural interaction with Israel, America’s democratic ally, is not only in the best interest of Israelis and Americans, but it improves the climate for peace with Palestinians, which is in everyone’s interest to encourage.”

Even leading anti-Israel critic and noted academic, Noam Chomsky, rejects the BDS call for a cultural boycott of Israel:

Our View

We at Creative Community For Peace hope for a peaceful and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe dialogue, which can be facilitated through the arts, culture, sports, and music, is crucial to helping to achieve this goal. The BDS movement — both through its aims and its tactics — is simply another roadblock to peace. 

Nick Cave: Photo Contributor: Featureflash Photo Agency Nick Cave arriving for the premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” at the Odeon Leicester Square, London. 12/12/2012 Picture by: Steve Vas; John Lewis By United States House of Representatives – Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49741683; Thom York: Photo Contributor: Christian Bertrand BARCELONA – JUN 3: Thom York, frontman of Radiohead (band), performs in concert at Primavera Sound 2016 Festival on June 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.; Auora: Photo Contributor: Ben Houdijk Stock Photo ID: 1465375085 5-7 July 2019. Down The Rabbit Hole Festival, The Netherlands. Concert of Aurora; Grace Chatto LONDON, UK. February 20, 2019: Grace Chatto arriving for the BRIT Awards 2019 at the O2 Arena, London. Picture: Steve Vas/Featureflash (Shutterstock)