Editor’s Note: Noam Chomsky recently questioned the tactics of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in a piece for The Nation titled “On Israel-Palestine and BDS.” Because BDS has been a frequent topic of debate in the Nation community, the editors solicited a number of responses to Chomsky’s piece. Below, Chomsky replies to each of the respondents in turn.
In response to Yousef Munayyer’s “How BDS Is Educating the Public About Israel’s Brutal Policies”
According to Yousef Munayer, my article “warns against the one strategy that offers the most hope: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” That is a puzzling reaction. In fact, the article strongly advocates that strategy. That is explicit from the first mention of it: “One way to punish Israel for its egregious crimes was initiated by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom in 1997: a boycott of settlement products. Such initiatives have been considerably expanded since then.” The article goes on to list many successful examples. That is why I have advocated and participated in these actions for years, since well before the BDS movement was formed.
I do not understand what led Munayer to think that I criticized BDS for not changing the power dynamic, let alone that that was my main criticism. I can’t find a hint of such an idea in the article.
There are indeed “warnings” in the article: namely, that we should be careful in crafting tactics so that they help rather than harm the victims—doubly harm them, as discussed. That is surely second nature to activists.
Munayer alleges that I charged BDS with “shifting attention away” from the Palestinian plight. Not at all. Rather, I pointed out—correctly—that poorly crafted tactics have in fact done that on occasion, and that those tactical errors should be avoided. But properly executed tactics have “shifted attention” towards the Palestinian plight, and have had a very positive impact, including those I listed, a very small sample.
According to Munayer, the article “dismisses the apartheid designation.” Not quite. Rather, the article points out that in the Occupied Territories (OT) Israel’s policies are far worse than apartheid. That’s an odd form of “dismissal.” However, within Israel itself, while there is severe discrimination, it does not compare with South African apartheid.
Munayer writes that the article dismisses “the right of return” while “downplaying the demand for equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.” On the latter, there is not a word suggesting anything of the sort. On the contrary, the article points out that “there are ‘prohibitions against discrimination’ in international law,” and that BDS initiatives focusing on severe discrimination within Israel can be successful with educational efforts “laying much more groundwork in the public understanding for them, as was done in the case of South Africa.”
That aside, it is a rather strange comment. Though this article doesn’t happen to deal with the matter, I have been harshly condemning fundamental attacks on the rights of Palestinians all my life, and extensively in print for fifty years. That is why I was invited to write the introduction for the first serious book on Palestinians citizens of Israel, Sabri Jiryis’s Arabs in Israel. At the same time, I was writing detailed analyses of the worst of Israel’s measures, the land laws, reprinted in my book Towards a New Cold War (1982), while also reviewing and condemning other repressive measures targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel. And I have been continuing since, extensively, until the present. There is nothing in the article suggesting any departure from the stand I have always taken, outspokenly. Munayer adds that “Chomsky advises Palestinians, and those concerned for them, to accept the prevailing power structure and fight for only a fraction of their rights.” That is completely false, and there is not a word in the article suggesting this radical departure from my long-standing and easily documented practice.