Defining The BDS Movement

“The call by the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] campaign to boycott products from the parts designated ‘occupied territories’ of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights stands clearly in the tradition of the national socialist Jewish boycott and the slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews!”’

– Student parliament at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.

The BDS movement is based on coercion rather than democracy. Proponents imply that Israel is not open to persuasion and that the electorate is too stupid, immature or evil to know what is best for the society.  Unable to convince the Israeli electorate of the merits of their views, BDS proponents demonize Israel and call for outsiders to punish the citizens of Israel until they capitulate.

Some students believe that pressure must be applied to stimulate the parties to make concessions that will make a peace agreement possible. While this is a debatable tactic, students genuinely interested in peace recognize that any pressure would have to be directed at both parties. BDS proponents, however, are interested only in pressuring Israel and hold the Palestinians blameless for the conflict. Yes, there are many injustices that have resulted from the ongoing failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but seeking to present Palestinian grievances out of context and without consideration of parallel Israeli concerns is neither constructive nor fair.  The advancement of Palestinian rights should not negate the legitimate rights of Israelis.

Unlike peace advocates fighting to hasten a two-state solution to the conflict, BDS proponents make partisan political demands that are clearly aimed at a different outcome:

1. “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194”

The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission established by this resolution. Furthermore, Point 11 resolves:

that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by Governments or authorities responsible. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation… (emphasis added).

The emphasized words demonstrate that the UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands. Furthermore, the resolution uses the word “should” instead of “shall,” which, in legal terms, is not mandatory language.

The resolution met most of Israel’s concerns regarding the refugees, whom they regarded as a potential fifth-column if allowed to return unconditionally. The Israelis considered the settlement of the refugee issue a negotiable part of an overall peace settlement. As President Chaim Weizmann explained: “We are anxious to help such resettlement provided that real peace is established and the Arab states do their part of the job. The solution of the Arab problem can be achieved only through an all-around Middle East development scheme, toward which the United Nations, the Arab states and Israel will make their respective contributions.”

At the time the Israelis did not expect the refugees to be a major issue; they thought the Arab states would resettle the majority and some compromise on the remainder could be worked out in the context of an overall settlement. The Arabs were no more willing to compromise in 1949, however, than they had been in 1947. In fact, they unanimously rejected the UN resolution because, at the time it was introduced, the Arabs still believed they could win the war and allow the refugees to return triumphant. When their defeat became obvious, the Arab states changed their position and reinterpreted Resolution 194 as granting the refugees the absolute right of repatriation. Regardless of the interpretation, 194, like other General Assembly resolutions, is not legally binding.

Does Israel have any obligation to take in the 4.4 million Palestinian refugees? Where would they live?

The current Israeli population is approximately 7 million, 5.3 million are Jews. If every Palestinian was allowed to move to Israel, the population would exceed 11 million and the Jewish proportion would shrink from 76% to 48%. The Jews would be a minority in their own country, the very situation they fought to avoid in 1948, and which the UN expressly ruled out in deciding on a partition of Palestine.

Current peace talks are based on UN Resolution 242. The Palestinians are not mentioned anywhere in Resolution 242. They are only alluded to in the second clause of the second article of 242, which calls for “a just settlement of the refugee problem.” The generic term “refugee” may also be applied to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Furthermore, most Palestinians now live in historic Palestine, which is an area including the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. When Palestinians speak of the right to return, however, they don’t mean just to Palestine, but to the exact houses they lived in prior to 1948. These homes are either gone or inhabited now.

Even respected Palestinian leaders acknowledge that it is a mistake to insist that millions of refugees return to Israel. Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh, for example, said the refugees should be resettled in a future Palestinian state, “not in a way that would undermine the existence of the State of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state. Otherwise, what does a two-state solution mean?”

2. “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”

Arabs in Israel already have full equality under Israeli law.  Suggesting otherwise is a deceptive effort to imply that Israel practices institutional discrimination against its Arab citizens. It is not easy to be a minority in any country, and Arabs in Israel do not enjoy perfect equality any more than minorities do in the United States or any other Western nation. Still, Israeli Arabs are represented in virtually every segment of Israeli society. There are currently 12 Arabs in the Knesset, including a former Deputy Speaker and former cabinet minister. In addition, an Arab  is currently sitting on Israel’s Supreme Court. In 2007, an Arab even served for several days as Acting President of Israel after the president resigned.

This is not to say that there aren’t instances of discrimination in Israel, there are, but the political structure of the society also contains all the means accepted and applied by western democracies for redressing inequalities and injustices, thus obviating the claimed need for BDS.

3. “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall”

Statements such as this are typical of the BDS tactic of borrowing morally-laden terminology from the lexicon of western values to hide the true nature of the assault being perpetrated on Israel. Thus, the word “occupation” is typically interpreted in the West as referring to Israel’s presence in the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. But in most radical Western, Islamist and Palestinian nationalist literature, the term refers to the territories “occupied” by Israel in 1948; i.e., all of Israel sits on the land of others and, therefore, the borders of the state are irrelevant because Israel has no right to exist at all.

Another theme of the BDS movement is that Israel’s existence is a colonial enterprise. Israel, however, was not established as a tool of foreign powers to impose their will on an indigenous population. To the contrary, Israel was established because the world recognized then – as it still does today – that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination no leass than any other people. Israel, the concrete political expression of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, is no more a colonial enterprise than France or Spain (or Jordan or Syria or Saudi Arabia or Egypt).

The reference to the so-called “Wall” relates to the security barrier erected by Israel in response to the wave of suicide bombings between 2001 and 2003 in which hundreds of Israeli citizens were murdered. The barrier is a response to terror not a political tool of disenfranchisement, as Israel’s detractors like to suggest. By ignoring the security context in which it was built (if Israel genuinely sought to restrict Palesitnian rights by building the barrier, why did it wait 35 years before building it?) BDS proponents intentionally misrepresent legitimate Israeli acts of self-defense as part of their campaign to demonize the state and its actions. Moreover,  the barrier saves Jewish and Arab lives, and while its route may be disputed, international law does not demand or even recommend that it be dismantled.

Why don’t BDS advocates endorse two states for two peoples?

Under the false premise of being “apolitical,” BDS advocates claim they are not advocating any one solution. In reality, this is purposeful ambiguity, as their three demands clearly spell out a “one-state” outcome, which has no basis in international law and which is code for the destruction of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While disavowing any interest in a formula for concluding an Israeli-Palestinian agreement,  their preconditions make it impossible to see an outcome whereby an independent state of Palestine would coexist beside a secure Jewish state. Meanwhile, BDS proponents use this ambiguity to try to recruit well-meaning people unaware of the movement’s true agenda, BDS is, therefore, a recipe for disaster, not coexistence. Creating “one state” with the “right of return” would mean that there would be no Israel and no self-determination for the Jewish people. This is not a basis for peace but a formula for perpetual conflict.