‘BDS’ campaigns and ‘delegitimisation’ of Israel:
Oppose them publicly..... and help build peace

Published: 9 February 2012
Briefing Number 306

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Summary: This Beyond Images Briefing provides a concise summary of the threat posed to Israel by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, and we summarise some arguments which can be used to combat them.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns as an alternative to peace talks

‘BDS’ campaigns against Israel around the world have intensified.  BDS stands for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’.

According to a Palestinian strategy paper which was obtained by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and made public in January 2012, the Palestinian Authority aims to place Israel under “international siege” during the year (Ha’aretz newspaper report, based on Israeli Foreign Ministry Briefing, 2 January 2012).  

BDS campaigns led by activist groups in Europe and internationally are one tool in mounting that “siege”.  Such campaigns are set to accelerate in 2012.

All supporters of peace and of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians need to oppose such measures, strongly and publicly. 

  • Academic boycotts of Israeli institutions and the marginalising of Israeli academics, researchers and students clearly flout academic freedom
  • Cultural boycotts of Israeli musicians, theatre performers and other creative artists stifle the free exchange of ideas and expression
  • Boycotting Israeli products and businesses threatens to harm the Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs often involved in production, and is totally futile

All of these BDS measures promote discrimination against Israel and Israelis in the public arena. 

They undermine the integrity, impartiality and values of the NGOs, cultural,  professional and other groups, and student and academic bodies, which actively support them or allow them to proceed.

They display a double-standard by ignoring the massive human rights offences being perpetrated in many parts of the Arab and wider world (as well as in Gaza).  

They promote stereotypes about Israel and polarise attitudes

And they are built on a completely one-sided narrative of the rights and wrongs of the underlying conflict. 

Key messages: 

  • You cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising the Jewish one 
  • Seeking peace is not a ‘zero sum game’ of vilifying Israel
  • You cannot build a Palestinian state through BDS 
  • You will build a viable and sustainable Palestinian state by negotiation, and by recognising the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to sovereignty in the land of Israel.  Peace and coexistence are possible.  But not through BDS.  And supporters of both Israel and the Palestinians in the UK need to proclaim this boldly and publicly        

The BDS campaign as part of a wider effort to ‘delegitimise’ of Israel

The BDS campaign is part of a wider effort to ‘delegitimise’ Israel.  Some proponents of BDS claim that it is just a tool to force Israel out of the West Bank, and they claim to support Israel’s basic rights as a state.  But if you ask those same people if they believe in Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, or if they believe that the Palestinians should relinquish their ‘right of return’ into Israel, they will usually say no, and advocate a one-state solution instead.  And they will rarely if ever attribute responsibility for the conflict to Arab or Palestinian intransigence.   

Deliberately, or unwittingly, the BDS movement contributes to the delegitimisation drive.  Israel has no rights.  Israel has no context.  Israel does not deserve to be heard.  Israel is to blame.    

Explaining ‘delegitimisation’..... in plain English

‘Delegitimising’ Israel involves an assault on the concept of Israel.  Not just on specific policies, but on the very idea of a sovereign Jewish state in the region.

You assault the concept of Israel by calling for a so-called ‘one-state solution’ in which Jews and Arabs live side-by-side, which sounds polite and even liberal.... but is actually immoral, discriminatory and completely unworkable

You assault the concept of Israel by labelling Israel an ‘Apartheid state’, which  attacks its moral and legal foundations, besides being completely unfounded.

And you assault the concept of Israel by rewriting history to suggest there is no legitimate connection between the land of Israel and the Jewish people

The UK is one of several “hubs” in this assault on Israel, according to the Re’ut Institute, the JCPA thinktank and others.  And the BDS campaign is part of this wider, persistent and international phenomenon. Key message:

  • All steps to ‘delegitimize’ Israel must be publicly and strongly opposed. 
  • At stake is peace and a better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Boycotting Israeli academics (Briefing 30 – January 2003)

Delegitimisation of Israel (Special Briefing – November 2010)