The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is an international campaign aimed at delegitimizing and pressuring Israel, through the diplomatic, financial, professional, academic and cultural isolation of Israel, Israeli individuals, Israeli institutions, and, increasingly, Jews who support Israel’s right to exist.
The BDS movement asserts that Israeli policies towards Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and even some within the Green Line, are akin to those of apartheid South Africa. They argue that the same boycott and isolation tactics used to help dismantle the South African White minority government should be used against Israel in order to force it to change its policies towards the Palestinians. In practice, the global BDS movement doesn’t seek to create a Palestinian state but rather aims to dismantle the Jewish state and end the right to Jewish national self-determination on any portion of this contested land.
BDS is one tactic in the long history of campaigns and efforts to delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.
The call for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” has its roots in anti-Israel calls to action at the start of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and at the 2001 U.N. Durban Conference Against Racism. A July 2004 statement by The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and a July 2005 statement by Palestinian civil society organizations called on the international community “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” The statement also called for pressure on governments “to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel.”
How BDS Operates:
BDS campaigns frequently focus on demanding the "divestment" of university, municipal, church, union and other investment portfolios from companies that advocates claim “aid Israel’s occupation,” as well as calling for the “boycott” of Israeli products, professionals, professional associations and academic institutions, and artistic performances (in Israel and abroad).
The BDS movement’s regressive policy of “anti-normalization” forbids people-to-people exchanges, dialogue opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians or even interactions between “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine” groups and advocates unless the parties involved first recognize Israelis as “oppressors” and “colonizers.” BDS thus seeks to dehumanize Israelis and opposes the fundamental building blocks for Israeli-Palestinian understanding, peace-building and ultimate reconciliation, even at the grassroots level.
Some supporters of BDS may genuinely believe that these tactics are a productive and non-violent way to effect change in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we all seek to resolve the conflict peacefully, BDS campaigns, which portray Israel as a pariah state and advocate that it be singularly targeted, are unfair, one-sided and disproportionate.
In fact, the BDS campaign does not support constructive measures to build Israeli-Palestinian engagement, nor does it promote peace negotiations or a mutually negotiated two-state solution to the conflict. Rather, BDS presents a biased and simplistic approach to the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, positioning this dispute over territorial and nationalist claims as the fault of only one party – Israel - while ignoring other actors and dynamics such as Palestinian shared responsibility for the continuation of the conflict. BDS advocates for self-determination for Palestinians while denying to Jews that same right.
BDS, antisemitism and its impact:
The BDS movement uses divisive and inaccurate terms like “apartheid”, “genocide”, “settler colonialist,” and “supremacists” to refer to aspects of Israeli action or policy they criticize, language which serves to demonize the Jewish state and those who support its existence.
ADL believes that many of the founding goals of the BDS movement, which effectively reject or ignore the Jewish people’s right of self-determination, or that, if implemented, would result in the eradication of the world’s only Jewish state, are antisemitic.
Furthermore, some BDS advocates and campaigns engage in antisemitic rhetoric, including allegations of Jewish power, dual loyalty, and Jewish/Israeli culpability for unrelated issues and crises. Some have made clear their opposition to the existence of the state of Israel altogether, or justify/express support for violence against Israelis. Increasingly troubling are incidents involving BDS advocates holding all Jews culpable for the Israeli government’s actions, and advocating a litmus test for Jews to renounce Israel and/or Israeli policies in order to join certain social activist movements.
BDS often gives rise to tensions in communities — in the U.S. we see it particularly on college campuses — that can result in the isolation and intimidation of Jews and supporters of Israel. With the focus on negating Israel and its supporters, BDS campaigns may create an environment in which antisemitic actions and expressions may be emboldened.
Historical Roots of BDS:
BDS is only the most recent and prominent tactic used to delegitimize Jewish statehood. The most infamous campaign was the Arab economic boycott, which was established by the Arab League in 1945, even before the establishment of the State of Israel, and continues to be in official effect through today.
Other examples include the campaign to brand Zionism as racism, a claim that stems from a Soviet propaganda campaign, and which was affirmed by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1975 (repealed in 1991), as well as efforts by some allied governments to exclude Israel from international bodies and events. These campaigns — aimed at demonizing and punishing Israel — were government-initiated and primarily played out on state and international community level, in contrast to BDS, which is largely grass-roots focused.
Some activists, including some who consider themselves Zionists and supporters of Israel, support a boycott of settlements or settlement products as an expression of opposition to Israeli settlements. While such action is different from BDS campaigns that target all of Israel, Israelis and Israeli enterprises, much of this distinction is lost on the vast majority of people, and such campaigns can lead to the wholesale demonization of Israel and Israelis. Indeed, the BDS movement and their supporters often hail such initiatives as an endorsement of their cause.