Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Another Nonviolent Strategy for Palestinian Liberation

From the June 2012 PNL # 815

Keren Carmeli

Reports of renewed negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians produce cynical responses from some, and rightfully so: new “Roadmaps” or “Peace Plans” bring Palestinians no closer to a just resolution.

The problem is that the negotiating sides are unequal. Israel is backed by the US and sports a well-funded military. The Palestinians remain an occupied people, denied many of the basic human and national rights enjoyed by Israelis. These rights include the ability to travel freely both domestically and internationally, the right to purchase land and the right of return for refugees.

Israel’s continuous human rights abuses, despite condemnation by the world community, indicate its unwillingness to relinquish power without severe outside pressure. The US has proven time and again that it cannot act as an honest broker for peace because it continues to support Israel financially and militarily. As a result, Palestinian Civil Society has turned to another outside force to support their struggle for equality: the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Origins of BDS
In 2005, Palestinian activists issued a call for a comprehensive economic, educational and cultural boycott of Israel. Supporters of the call are influenced by other successful boycott movements of the past (particularly the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa).

BDS has three stated objectives: ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. This resolution, passed in December 1948, includes articles which specify Palestinians’ right to access holy sites in a demilitarized Jerusalem and calls for the return of refugees—neither of which have been fulfilled.

Some BDS campaigns identify a company or product operating illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and exploiting Palestinian resources (like the Dead Sea beauty product company, Ahava). Others target a company or product for contributing to the expansion of the occupation’s infrastructure (like Veolia, the transportation company responsible for the Jerusalem Light Rail which connects settlements). BDS campaigns are underway against Motorola, Elbit Communications, Sabra Hummus, Soda Stream, Caterpillar, TIAA-CREF, Lev Leviev Diamonds and others.

BDS Successes
BDS successes  range from small food co-ops in Olympia, Washington (hometown of slain activist Rachel Corrie) to Britain’s fifth largest grocery chain, both refusing to purchase produce from Israeli settlements mislabeled as “Products of Israel.”

Palestinians for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) emphasize the severance of academic and cultural ties between foreign and Israeli educational institutions. Many Israeli academic institutions work closely with the military and state to develop new technologies and mechanisms servicing the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. PACBI’s objection to collaboration with Israeli institution stems from its desire to de-normalize a state which disrespects the rights to education of all its citizens, as Palestinian institutions of higher learning are often closed by Israel for extended periods of time. 

From independent musical acts like Devendra Banhart and Cat Power to international celebrities like Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana and the Pixies, artists have cancelled scheduled performances in Israel. Elvis Costello called his decision not to perform “a matter of instinct and conscience.” Other performers, like Elton John and Madonna, have not heeded the boycott call despite public pressure.

Kairos Document
Palestinian Christians expressed support for BDS with the release of the Kairos Document—a plea to Christian congregations to support BDS campaigns. In early May, following lengthy debate, the United Methodist General Conference voted down a divestment resolution focused on  Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard. However, the church did pass a resolution calling on the US to end “all military aid to the region” and upon all nations not to import goods from Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories. The Presbyterian Church will consider a similar resolution in July.

The Impact of BDS
The international BDS movement is a public relations nightmare for Israel. The Israeli Knesset has gone as far as banning Israelis from expressing their support for BDS. This is an unabashed move to stifle free speech and intimidate Israelis who choose to voice solidarity with their oppressed neighbors, either as individuals or as members of organizations such as Boycott from Within. Despite such intimidation, BDS campaigns continue to grow (including discussions within SPC’s CNY Working project). With persistence, companies will see Israel as a less attractive partner for business, and perhaps then Israel will begin to see the Palestinians as a more attractive partner for peace.




Keren, a dual Israeli-US citizen, is the first recipient of the Gary Bergh Memorial Scholarship travel grant to Palestine. In 2010 she joined a delegation to the West Bank with Interfaith Peace Builders.