BDS: Is It Working?

The reaction of Zionists and Israel’s apologists to the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, which has scored some significant victories in the last few years and is being felt by the colonial occupiers, is textbook and could have been predicted. As Gandhi said, first they ignore you, then they mock you, then they attack you and then you win. The movement has gone beyond the first two phases and is now in the critical third phase, which is when they attack you with everything they’ve got. 

The University of California system, which includes ten campuses throughout California, under the presidency of Janet Napolitano, has been trying to adopt the US State Department definition of antisemitism, which equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. President Obama’s Stare Department adopted the language in 2010, which characterizes any speech perceived to “demonize,” “delegitimize,” or set a “double standard for Israel”, as antisemitic. According to the State Department website, “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions,” “multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations,” and “denying Israel the right to exist” all qualify as expressions of anti-Semitism. So, not only are Palestinians supposed to recognize their occupiers’ “right to exist”, which means their right to occupy, but now, we, US citizens, are also expected to recognize “Israel’s right to exist”. I suppose it may even be okay to question the US’ right to exist, but Israel’s is not okay! The position also, in a way, demands that organizations can’t focus “on Israel only for peace or human rights”. In other words, organizations that deal with “peace or human rights” must focus on Palestinians, too, for violation of Israelis’ human rights; otherwise, they’ll be labeled antisemite with possible future consequences. 

Some have said that Israel is like the 51st state for the US. I disagree. I think it’s more than that. Millions of Americans living in all 50 states live in poverty, with no access to affordable healthcare, housing or education, which can’t be said about Israeli settlers. No US state acts as a reliable, permanent and statewide military base and as an arms depot dedicated to endless wars, occupations and regime changes throughout the Middle East, with a settler population that’s by necessity dedicated agents of imperialism and imperialist aggression and oppression.

But, the consciousness and awareness about the continuing genocide is on the rise throughout the world. Due to the student governing bodies’ resistance to the resolution presented to the UC Regents, which acts as its Board of Trustees, the resolution failed in October. Then, in November, Dick Blum, who is one of the regents and the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a rabid Zionist, threatened the regents that his wife “would engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university, if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties” for students who are found to be in violation of the new definition. Zionists would not go to such lengths if the boycott movement weren’t working. 

While this was going on last month, the students’ governing body at UC-Santa Cruz voted to divest from companies doing business in occupied Palestine. This came at the heels of a series of other recent victories for the movement, including the decision by the European Union to label products imported from illegal settlements, built on land occupied in 1967. Although, that move is far from enough and is indirectly validating the occupation of the rest of Palestine, it is a positive step. Also, some stores in Europe have begun boycotting Israeli products on their own, due to pressure by their customers. These are all due to the BDS movement.

I hear sometimes from some individuals that boycotting doesn’t work. What these individuals are doing, wittingly or unwittingly, is deny and undermine an important tool available to oppressed people everywhere in their struggle for social justice and freedom. This is one of the ways the political establishment tries to discourage us from participating in the boycott movement. Trying to make people think they’re powerless and nothing they do will ever change anything is one of the old methods used by ruling classes and oligarchies. But, here’s the thing: if they’re concerned and worried, then it means it’s working. If they’re discussing and strategizing and threatening us, then it means it’s working. If they’re attacking and misrepresenting us and are trying to undermine and discredit us and the movement, then it means it’s working. Some say the same thing about the Black Lives Matter movement, that it’s useless and nothing will ever change, denying the gains of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, which used similar methods, including boycotting. The truth is: not only such grassroots movements and people’s direct actions do work and can make a difference, they’re the only way real change can be accomplished.

The other way that defenders of the apartheid regime try to dissuade us from joining the movement is by claiming that the boycott hurts the very people we’re trying to help, namely Palestinian workers who work for the businesses that we’re boycotting. This is the same criticism as that made by opponents of the abolition movement that claimed freeing the slaves working in the plantations in the South would hurt the slaves by taking away from them the livelihood that their masters were providing them with. 

Some ultra leftists even argue foolishly (if we can call such nonsense an argument) that if Palestinian workers don’t work for colonial occupiers, they’ll have to work for their own bourgeoisie, so what’s the use, they ignorantly ask. These so-called “leftists” (who in practice end up on the side of the rightists) have no concept of a movement for national liberation and self-determination. Such movements don’t even exist in their vocabulary. What they don’t understand is that there can’t be socialism which they call for, without national liberation and self-determination. 

The boycott is working and that should make us feel encouraged to double our efforts in support of the movement. Remember products that are made in Israel have a barcode that start with 729 and 871. 


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