The truth about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (‘BDS’) campaign

July 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine)

By Cathy N, Workers Liberty

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign has become the dominant frame for viewing the Israel-Palestine conflict in recent years and Omar Barghouti has been its most high-profile exponent. Despite the author’s dogmatic insistence that BDS is triumphant, his book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights demonstrates the real political confusion behind BDS and why socialists should oppose it.

The BDS campaign dates from 9 July 2005, when a gathering of 170 Palestinian organisations, including unions and civil society groups demanded boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Barghouti argues that BDS has almost all the ingredients for a successful campaign: a comprehensive, rights-based approach, a morally compelling message, an empowering strategy of nonviolent, creative civil resistance and a massive civil society coalition.

BDS makes three demands on Israel:
• ending the occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands [occupied in 1967] and dismantling the wall;
• recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
• respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinians refugees to return to their homes and properties.

These are often dressed in the garb of UN resolutions. The first two demands are completely reasonable for any democrat or socialist. However there are fundamental problems with the demand for the right of return. First and foremost, it is a slippery formula, evasive about who it applies to – is it simply those displaced in 1948 or all Palestinians, does it mean the same place they were living then, or simply immigration into a new Palestinian state? Ultimately the demand is incoherent with regard to the political basis of a democratic solution to Israeli-Palestinian relations. The BDS campaign publicly fudges the question of the political solution. Officially “the BDS movement as such does not adopt any special political formula and steers away from the one-state-versus-two-states debate”.

Political solution

However Barghouti is quite explicit about his view. He states:  “I have for over twenty-five years consistently supported the secular democratic unitary state solution in historic Palestine”. He laments that now “there is no political party in Palestine now or among Palestinians in exile calling for a secular, democratic state solution”. His politics are the PLO’s, frozen in 1987.

Barghouti is also unequivocally opposed to a two states solution. He says: “The two-state solution is not only impossible to achieve now – Israel has made it an absolute pipe dream that cannot happen – but also, crucially, an immoral solution. At best it would address some of the rights of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, a mere one-third of the Palestinian people”. But in a moment of candour, he reveals that the political basis of BDS is not compatible with two states either. He wrote: “You cannot practically reconcile the right of return for refugees with a negotiated two-state solution”. There it is in black and white: support BDS and you are tied to a single state solution.

Self determination

Barghouti offers an impoverished version of self-determination. He moralises that “A call signed by more than 170 Palestinian political parties, unions, nongovernmental organisations, and networks, representing the entire spectrum of Palestinian civil society… cannot be ‘counterproductive’ unless Palestinians are not rational or intelligent enough to know or articulate what is in their best interest”. He says no Palestinian party stands for a single state – but there is no need to defer to that opinion. So much for the commitment to Palestinian self-determination: 170 organisations call for boycott; but no-one is for his real objective – secular, democratic state. Too bad for the Palestinians – they can be trusted with the means, but not the end. His sleight of hand is to do away with the idea of national rights altogether. He reduces Palestinian oppression to racial rather than national terms, hence all the rhetoric about apartheid.

On the other side, Barghouti simply denies that Israeli Jews have any right to self determination at all. He cannot conceptualise them as a nation, therefore their self determination is not even discussed. He sugar-coats his “solution”, saying he wants “a secular democratic state where nobody is thrown into the sea, nobody is sent back to Poland, and nobody is left suffering in refugee camps”. Yet there is no explicit criticism of Hamas in the book. The nearest he comes is a jibe at those “addicted to the armed model of resisting the occupation”. Later he simply dismisses the problem of Hamas’ politics altogether: “It’s irrelevant whether or not Hamas accepts Israel’s so-called right to exist as a Jewish state (read: an apartheid state) or accepts the ’67 borders – totally irrelevant”. He therefore simply avoids the problem with the single state solution, whether secular or Islamic: neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis get to exercise their own, self-defined, self-determination.

The Israeli left

Barghouti’s failure to engage with the right of Israeli Jews to self-determination is clear from his contempt for the Israeli left. He asks rhetorically, what left? “In fact, most of what passes as ‘left’ in Israel are Zionist parties and groups that make some far-right parties in Europe look as moral as Mother Teresa”. “What Israeli peace movement? There is no such creature. The so-called peace groups in Israel largely work to improve Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, rather than eliminate it, with their chief objective being the guarantee of Israel’s future as a ‘Jewish’ – that is, exclusivist – state. The most radical Israeli ‘Zionist-left’ figures and group are still Zionist, adhering to the racist principles of Zionism that treat the indigenous Palestinians as lesser humans who are the obstacle or a ‘demographic threat’…” He explicitly defames those who argue that the logic of the right of return would be the elimination of the state of Israel. For Barghouti, “the only true fighters for peace in Israel are those who support our three fundamental rights: the right of return for Palestinian refugees; full equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ending the occupation and colonial rule”.

Laughably, Barghouti states that the BDS movement “does not subscribe to drawing up lists to decide who is a good Israeli and who is not based on some arbitrary political criteria”. Yet this is precisely what he does. Either accept the BDS strategy and the three conditions, or you’re not left, really a Zionist and no doubt complicit with the oppression of Palestinians. He narrows progressive Israelis to only those who support BDS – eliminating for example the refusniks, the peace movement, the unions and various writers. All the rest are branded with inverted commas.

Boycott strategy or tactic

Barghouti is quite upfront that BDS ultimately means ostracising everything Israeli. The campaign is “working to expel Israel and its complicit institutions from international and interstate academic, cultural, sporting… environmental, financial, trade, and other forums. He soft-soaps that “groups that for tactical reasons support only a subset of BDS, or a targeted boycott of specific products or organisations in Israel, or supporting Israel, are still our partners. Boycott is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. What is important to agree on, though, is why we are boycotting and towards what ends”. He distinguishes between advocating such a targeted boycott as a tactic, leading to the ultimate goal of boycotting all Israeli goods and services, and advocating such a targeted boycott as the ultimate strategy. While the former “may be necessary in some countries as a convenient and practical tool to raise awareness and promote debate about colonial and apartheid regime, the latter, despite its lure, would be in direct contradiction with the stated objectives of the Palestinian boycott movement”.

Barghouti is also clear that the boycott of settlement goods alone is not sufficient. The BDS movement, he says,” views the approach of focusing on banning only settlement products as the ultimate goal – rather than the first, convenient step towards a general Israeli products boycott – as problematic, practically, politically and morally”. At a practical level “Israel has made it extremely difficult to differentiate between settlement and other Israeli products, simply because the majority of parent companies are based inside Israel or because colony-based companies have official addresses there”. Politically “even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may argue that they are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of 1967 and have no further problems with Israel”. Finally, there is a moral problem with accepting these “two grave… violations of human rights and international law as givens”.

BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.

25 Comments

  1. Michael Brennan said,

    Good stuff.

  2. skidmarx said,

    I started laughing at the second word of the title. “Truth”, indeed.

    I could launch into a long dissection of how the only thing slippery about the right of return (and the failure to mention the Law of Return) is your determination to ignore Palestinian rights in the belief that will produce justice, but what’s the point?

  3. Jim Denham said,

    An idiot writes: “I could launch into a long dissection of how the only thing slippery about the right of return (and the failure to mention the Law of Return) is your determination to ignore Palestinian rights in the belief that will produce justice, but what’s the point?”

    The point Skidiot, would be to see how you justify such a stupid, lying and/or ignorant statement.

  4. Argaman said,

    Excellent critique of the BDS campaign.

  5. skidmarx said,

    Yeah, because you wouldn’t actually bother to address any of the points made, just hope you can quote-mine it for future allegations of anti-semitism. As you and Harry T showed a few weeks ago at your second home. What did happen to all the bullshit you came up with about Italy?

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Skidiot: “quote-mine it for future allegations of anti-semitism”. Well, that’s not too difficult with your stuff on the Middle East, is it?

    As for “all the bullshit you came up with about Italy”: I haven’t got the faintest idea what you’re on about. I cannot recall *ever* writing anything about Italy here or anywhere else.

  7. Mr Jelly_not_Jolly said,

    shittyknickers has seen the werd ‘JEW” and just couldn’t help himself. He is of course AN ANTISEMITE. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is probably a DUCK.

  8. maxdunbar said,

    Given its supporters’ level of intelligence and self awareness it amazes me that BDS is still going

  9. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘I started laughing at the second word of the title. “Truth”, indeed’.

    This comes from someone who believes that there were only ‘100,000’ victims of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and who says that anyone who argues otherwise is an RPF apologist.

    This also comes from someone who has a tendency to back his ‘anti-Zionism’ with links to race hate websites:

    https://modernityblog.wordpress.com/tag/skidmarx/

  10. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Denham: You, on the other hand, are a member of an organisation (the SWP) that rejects a two-states solution, denies Jews the right to a state at all, supports the genocidal Islamists of Hamas, and whose founder (Tony Cliff) is on record stating that he regrets (in fact, his *biggest* political regret was) having supported the right of Jews in the 1930′s and 40′s, fleeing European Nazism, to have settled in Palestine…

    Skidmarx: Jewish migration to Palestine: if it was the basis of the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homes and then their country, then notwithstanding the Holocaust Cliff was probably right.

    http://tinyurl.com/3vgdk38

    http://brockley.blogspot.com/2011/05/dumbshit-americans-killing-of-osama-and.html

    https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/nocide-denial-here-we-go-again/#comment-32289

    ‘Christian Davenport deosn’t (sic) appear to deny there was a genocide:
    The genocide caused, by their (sic) estimate, 100,000 of a total of 1 million deaths. But then that wouldn’t fit your agenda of claiming that anti-imperialists are all David Irving clones’.

    ‘[Davenport is] estimating that 10% of the deaths were due to the genocide, not that only 10% of the deaths actually took place’.

    ‘I used to buy into the RPF view of the events in Rwanda. Even after reading a couple of well-written articles at the Tomb last year I still tended to think that the genocide should give Kagame and co. a lot of leeway. But the weakness of the argument put forward here and its support makes me think that the other view was right all along’.

  11. skidmarx said,

    Mr.Jelly – I did see someone else with that Ed Miliband gag, but it was Mark Steel in the next day’s Independent. Do you think he nicked it from me?
    And I think it isn’t until Para 8 that the word Jew(s) first appears, and I was laughing long before that. Don’t know what’s supposed to be funny about the word itself, but I expect your buddies here could find something anti-semitic about that statement, as they do with most statements possible in a finite universe.

    and as for the Hutu Power-loving piece of shit:

    sackcloth and ashes
    9 May 2011, 5:31 pm
    ‘Doesn’t he know the 72 virgins thing is made up?’

    Like the Rwandan genocide?

    Still pretending to be an academic are you?

    Jimbo – I think it was you talking about Italy on an HP thread recently where the best piece of quote mining Harry T(uttle) could come up with was something about Cliff and Jewish immigration to Palestine that just showed what racists you all are.
    Why do you think the comment threads here are so shit?

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Skidiot: “I think it was you talking about Italy on an HP thread recently …”
    You can think what you like, mate, but you’re still talking out of your asshole. I’ve no idea what you’re on about.

    “Why do you think the comment threads here are so shit?”: probably because we don’t always delete garbage like yours on sight.

    • skidmarx said,

      I find the first hard to believe. But then much about you is.

      Not your and shithead’s interventions then. Mr.Jelly’s starting to look like an intellectual fucking giant compared to the rest of you.

      • Mr Jelly_not_Jolly said,

        do i detect a hint of the Oxbridge types’ well known haughty disdain for those not born with a silver spoon in their gob? ShitSnickers is of course well known for talking down to people. In this he is of course as one with Gameboy. Worra pair. Of tits.

      • skidmarx said,

        I fuckin’ hope not.

  13. sackcloth and ashes said,

    skidmark, if there’s any Hutu power apologists on this site, it’s you. As I have explained time and time again, my remarks were directed against your own record of genocide denial, to which I have linked above. Do not even bother trying this trick again. It fools no one here, you Strasserist piece of shit.

    Modernity has also outed you as a Jew-hater as well, you walking haemorrhoid.

    ‘Still pretending to be an academic are you?’

    Unlike your fellow swanker johng, I have no need of pretence, skidmark. You’re the one who’s struggling to pass yourself off as a human being, as opposed to an overgrown winnet.

    • skidmarx said,

      No it’s you. As I have explained time and time again, you’re just talking shit. I’d say don’t try this trick again, but you’ve done it countless times on HP. I don’t think you fool anyone, but you do get a bit tiresome sometimes.

      Modernity’s a racist bully. No wonder you like him so much.

      You pretend you’re an academic, you pretend to have articles in academic journals. Based on the breadth of your vocabulary and your complexity of analysis, I couldn’t see you employed as a correspondent for Nappy News.

      • sackcloth and ashes said,

        skidmark, your comments above are on record, and you have refused repeated invitations to confirm whether you endorse or oppose Davenport’s pseudo-scholarship. You may bluster otherwise, but no one reading your remarks can doubt that you are a liar and a particularly sick individual, which is why you are well suited to be in the SWP. Your transparent efforts to attribute your pro-genocidaire attitudes to me is a particularly shabby and desperate trick on your part.

        Modernity also nailed you on your own anti-Semitic tendencies, which makes your accusation that he is a racist even more galling. I would call it chutzapah, if it weren’t for the fact that you are brownshirt scum.

  14. Harry Tuttle said,

    Skidmarx –

    Quote-mining? Was it really used out of context? I would think anyone familiar with you is aware that you are hostile to Jewish national self-determination. If I’m wrong, correct me. If not, then what is wrong with showing the the extent of that hostility?

    Jim Denham –

    As for “all the bullshit you came up with about Italy”: I haven’t got the faintest idea what you’re on about. I cannot recall *ever* writing anything about Italy here or anywhere else.

    He referring to a comment I made at the Sauce; he believes you and I are the same person.

    • sackcloth and ashes said,

      skidmark does find it hard to believe that the list of people who think he’s scum exceeds single figures. To his list of failings we can add self-awareness.

  15. Martin Ohr said,

    yawn, yawn, yawn; shiraz posts something skidmarx turns up to denounce it.

    Skidmarx- just for once why not either not bother, or actually engage with the argument. I for one would like to see you try to take Cath’s article apart in the way you claim to be able to do. I can arrange for you to debate her in person on this subject if you wish too. Or you can just turn up on here, be abusive and then complain that everyone hates you.

  16. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘Skidmarx- just for once why not either not bother, or actually engage with the argument’.

    Martin, I honestly doubt that skidmark – like other members of the National Socialist Workers Party – is capable of addressing a debate on its own merits, or representing his opponent’s views accurately or honestly. He even lies about his own political attitudes, so expecting him to be straightforward with those of genuine leftists is a bit of a tall order.

    • Martin Ohr said,

      annoying that skidmarx like his co-thinker johng just fucks off when directly challenged

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