As the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) gains momentum, Israel is starting to feel the pinch. The Israeli government is allocating millions of dollars to discredit the BDS and its supporters.
BDS was launched in the Palestinian territories in 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice passed a ruling delegitimising Israel’s settlement activities, including its building of a separation wall in the West Bank.
The movement, which made a modest impression in its early year, has recently gained traction in several Western nations, including the UK, Ireland and Norway. South Africa, a major inspiration for the BDS, is also supporting the movement.
The continued stalemate in the peace process, Israel’s vigorous pursuit of an illegal settlement programme on Palestinian land and its repeated attacks on Gaza have added stimulus to the BDS movement.
The support the BDS campaign, which models itself after the struggle against apartheid in South Africa three decades ago, has gained among European business interests, civil society and academia is such that Israeli policymakers who initially treated the campaign as irrelevant are now seeking ways to counter its arguments.
Palestinian analyst Hani Al-Masri believes that BDS is capable of undermining Israel’s international standing. BDS “focuses on Israel’s weakest point,” he said.
According to Al-Masri, BDS is capable of dislodging Israel’s narrative about being “an oasis of civilisation and democracy” in a turbulent region.
Despite all the atrocities it commits against the Palestinians, Israel still insists “that it has high moral standards and respect for human rights and that it abides by international law and legitimacy,” he added.
In a recent article titled, “Boycott: An Effective Weapon,” Al-Masri, who runs Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, argues that BDS “may change the whole situation, but only if used as an instrument of long-term strategy, not as a tactical way of improving the conditions of Palestinians living under occupation, or to enhance the terms of negotiations.”
BDS “is making Israeli leaders worried,” he said. “Israel lost [the sympathy of] European and American universities and fears that changes in public opinion may lead to changes in government policies,” he added.
Israel, Al-Masri noted, is calling on its friends to thwart the campaign. It has persuaded the US Congress and the Canadian legislature to pass laws outlawing the boycott, Al-Masri said.
The US House of Representatives recently passed a law encouraging a free trade agreement with Europe, but on condition that EU countries refrain from imposing any type of boycott on Israel. This step shows the kind of muscle Israel is using in its war on the BDS campaign.
Because Europe stands to gain 130 billion euros annually from increased trade with the US, EU countries have refrained from commenting on the US law. Beginning in 2014, the EU started to boycott Israeli products produced in illegal settlements, as well as various academic activities held in Israel. Customs services in EU countries began to place a visible label on products made in illegal Israeli settlements, to warn consumers.
Mustafa Al-Barghouthi, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, says that BDS is “an effective weapon” against the occupation. Speaking to journalists, Al-Barghouthi said, “Boycott is one of the most refined forms of human peaceful struggle for freedom.”
The boycott has damaged Israel’s international standing, as well as costing the country billions of dollars in economic losses, Al-Barghouthi added.
Last month, a European parliamentary group representing leftist parties issued a statement in Brussels calling on the European Parliament to end all partnership agreements with Israel. It cited testimonies by 70 Israeli army personnel that the offensive on Gaza in summer 2014 made no distinction between civilian and military targets.
The European parliamentary group also highlighted a UN report that Israel intentionally bombed UNRWA-run shelters for civilians during the recent conflict in Gaza, killing 44 civilians and injuring 227 others.
Jewish activists, including Israelis, are taking part in the BDS campaign. And Israel’s liberal media published testimonials about army violations during the 2014 war on Gaza.
BDS “shook the Israeli political system, forcing the Netanyahu government to spend millions of dollars to confront the campaign,” Al-Barghouthi said.
At present, the Binyamin Netanyahu government is portraying BDS is a form of anti-Semitism, the aim of which is to delegitimise and destroy Israel. Promising a powerful counter-offensive against BDS, Netanyahu called on Israel’s left and right to unite in this quest.
Speaking at a recent cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of trying to “run away” from the peace negotiations. Netanyahu’s government promised to spend 100 million shekels, or $27 million, to fight the campaign.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Netanyahu is considering appointing Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, as special adviser for the anti-BDS campaign.
Speaking on local radio programme, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked a member of the rightwing Jewish Home party said that the only way to stop the BDS movement is to discredit it members.
Former finance minister Yair Lapid told journalists that unless the BDS is halted, Israeli exports might drop by nearly 20 billion shekels ($5 billion) annually, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs.
According to Lapid, even a partial boycott could “hit every Israeli citizen in the pocket.” He warned that the cost of living would rise and that spending on such matters as education, security and health would fall.