Rooted in a decades-long tradition of Palestinian Arab popular resistance against settler colonialism, and inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the BDS movement for Palestinian rights takes to heart the words of Archbishop Tutu: “We do not want our chains comfortable. We want them removed.”
By appealing to people of conscience around the world to help end Israel’s three-tiered system of oppression, the BDS movement is not asking for anything heroic, but for fulfilling a profound moral obligation to desist from complicity in oppression. Given the billions of dollars lavished on Israel annually by western states, particularly the United States and Germany, taxpayers in those countries are in effect subsidising Israel’s violations of international law at a time when social programmes are undergoing severe cuts, unemployment is rising, and the environment is being devastated.
Striving to end western complicity in Israel’s violations of international law is not only good for the Palestinians; it is certainly good for those around the world struggling for social justice and against perpetual war.
Building on its global ascendance, the BDS movement – led by the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, the BDS National Committee – is spreading, and scoring significant victories.
Multimillion dollar campaigns by Israel’s foreign ministry to counter the BDS by “rebranding” through art and science have largely failed. With impressive successes in the economic and cultural fields, and with the increasing impact of its Israeli supporters, BDS is viewed by Israel’s establishment as a “strategic threat” to its system of oppression. This explains the Israeli Knesset’s passage of a draconian anti-boycott law last year that drops the last mask of Israel’s supposed democracy.
Reflecting the devastating deterioration in Israel’s standing in the world, a BBC poll last year showed Israel competing with North Korea as the third-worst-perceived country in the world in the opinion of large majorities in Europe and elsewhere.
The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, voiced support for BDS in December. The Association for Asian-American Studies endorsed the academic boycott of Israel, becoming the first professional academic association in the world to do so. The Federation of French-Speaking Belgian Students, representing 100,000 members, adopted the boycott of Israeli academic institutions a few weeks ago, and so did the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.
Student councils at several North American universities, including University of California Berkeley, are pressuring administrators to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.
The University of Johannesburg in 2011 severed links with Ben Gurion University over human-rights violations.
Trade union federations with millions of members have also endorsed BDS – in South Africa, Britain, Ireland, India, Brazil, Norway, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium and Turkey, among others.
Veolia and Alstom, two European corporations involved in Israeli projects in violation of international law, have lost contracts worth billions of dollars.
Some global firms are being moved by the pressure. The British Co-op supermarket chain, the fifth largest in the UK, for instance, has adopted a policy of boycotting Israeli agricultural companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territory. Deutsche Bahn, a German government-controlled rail company, pulled out of an Israeli project encroaching on occupied Palestinian land.
Even world-renowned artists – including, Roger Waters, Zakir Hussain, The Pixies, Elvis Costello, Natasha Atlas, Cat Power, Vanessa Paradis and Cassandra Wilson – have cancelled performances in Israel, heeding the cultural boycott and transforming Tel Aviv into the new Sun City. A statement calling for the boycott of an Israeli theatre company that performs in Israel’s illegal colonies in defiance of international law won the endorsement of top theatre and film figures in the UK, including Emma Thompson.
“Besiege your siege” – the cry of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish- acquires a new meaning in this context.