“Targeted BDS” and Why its a Bad Idea

Proponents of the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel are increasingly seeking to promote initiatives of selectively boycotting  “the occupation,” i.e. targeting for boycott individuals and businesses associated with Israel’s presence in the West Bank, arguing that such boycott actions are a necessary and worthy response to the supposedly illegal Israeli presence in those areas. Quite aside from the many legal arguments as to the legitimacy of Israel’s presence and civilian activity in those areas until such a time as a political accord is reached between the sides, there are many arguments, both practical and ethical, against the adoption of such a boycott.

Following are ten reasons why this so-called “targeted BDS” is a bad idea:

  1. BDS, at its heart, is a tool designed to win a propaganda war, not help bring a real peace. It is a blunt weapon of ideological hostility, not human empathy and engagement. It is neither a genuine response to the suffering endured by both peoples nor a program designed to address effectively the complex challenge of improving their lot.
  2. Focusing on BDS in any form weakens other, constructive forms of engagement and action that seek to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Choosing even partial BDS as policy promotes a vision which undermines the principles of engagement, tolerance, dialogue and coexistence and makes it more difficult to establish trust, mutual awareness and compromise.
  3. Despite claims to the contrary, there are other ways to express concern and opposition to the ongoing Israeli presence in the territories, if that is a position that someone wishes to support. The presentation of boycotts as a last resort where all other measures have failed is a misrepresentation of the opportunities to impact positively on the story.
  4. While someone supporting a limited boycott may think they are not engaging in an act of delegitimization, BDS proponents use and abuse any kind of BDS activity to claim support and momentum for their own, full-blown anti-Israel version of the strategy. No matter how good the intention may be, associating with BDS strengthens the delegitimizers who seek Israel’s demise.
  5. BDS doesn’t address the real sources of the current political impasse, such as the Palestinian failure to reassure the Israeli public of the peacefulness of their intentions. Punishing Israelis for the “occupation” may even help entrench maximalist Palestinian claims, rather than encouraging the necessary moderation needed to reach a fair political accommodation. Opponents of the “occupation” would also have greater credibility within Israel if they dissociated themselves from the boycott campaign.
  6. Boycott campaigns by their very nature are divisive and hurtful. BDS tactics have brought division and rancor to every institution (coops, campuses, church groups and others) they have targeted, precisely because the conflict in the Middle East is a complex one in which both sides have grievances that must be addressed in direct negotiations. One-sided attacks on Israel do not resolve Palestinian concerns and ignore Israel’s altogether.
  7. The distinction between Israeli businesses and communities in the territories and the rest of their compatriots cannot be applied in practice. Any steps to isolate and exclude Israelis from over the green line would inevitably also isolate and exclude Israelis from within it. The collective-punishment nature of the BDS agenda which makes it wrong in general also undermines its validity in its supposedly more focused version.
  8. The Arab League has applied a boycott against Israel since 1945 without significantly harming Israel’s economy or coercing it to change its policies. A BDS campaign is also doomed to failure as it will not change Israel’s perception of its fundamental national interests as regards the core issues of security, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees.
  9. “Targeted BDS” is easily dismissed by Israelis who see it as hypocritical, anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel given that the proponents express no concern about non-democratic countries.
  10. “Targeted BDS” won’t help the Palestinians achieve their political or economic goals. In fact, were BDS in the territories to take hold it would make Palestinian lives worse, by removing the livelihood of tens of thousands of Palestinian bread-winners, with no viable prospect of alternative employment anywhere to be seen. On the political level, BDS creates a magnetic attraction for Palestinians away from the negotiation table and reinforces the view that the way ahead is to run to supporters in the international community, rather than make tough decisions inside the negotiating room.