In this Sunday, April 22, 2012, photo, Israeli flags fly over the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El near Ramallah. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
BDS: A Call for Solidarity and a Challenge to the Status Quo
Critics of BDS who call for a settlement-only boycott ignore the vast range of political and economic forces inside Israel that sustain and profit from the occupation.
by Lizzy Ratner, on May 25, 2012
Before tackling all the bluster and hysteria around Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—before diving into critics’ knee-jerk manipulations and angry accusations—let’s start with the facts: the ugly ones, the undeniable ones, the ones that have been created on the ground over six brutally deliberate decades.
Let’s start, for instance, with Gaza, that locked-down, bombed-out latter-day ghetto where “refugee” has become a permanent category of existence and an endless, five-year siege has turned collective punishment into the daily norm. Let’s talk about East Jerusalem, where the native Palestinian residents are being forced from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. In the West Bank, illegal Jewish-only settlements hulk over a landscape denuded of olive groves. Settlers guilty of violence against Palestinians go free, while Palestinians are hauled to jail for “stealing” their own water. More than 230 kilometers of segregated roadway, and 760 kilometers of the “Separation Wall,” have convinced even the most unlikely sources that something is desperately wrong. “While the world’s statesmen have dithered, Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids,” wrote Stephen Robert, former CEO of Oppenheimer & Company and an “ardent Israel supporter,” in The Nation last year.
Finally, let’s talk about refugees, the ones who have been living in exile for decades, often in appalling conditions and have the right to return home under international law. And let’s talk about Israel itself—“democratic,” post-1948 Israel, where, despite their having the right to vote, Palestinian Israelis are subject to a dizzying concoction of discriminatory laws.
Let’s talk about all of this, because this is the reality for 11.2 million people—and this is the reality from which BDS has sprung.
“We have lived the past six decades going from one trauma to another, one tragedy, one slaughter, one theft to another…,” said author and human rights activist Susan Abulhawa in her address to the 2012 National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference. “The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is our nonviolent response to this violence.”
In the frenzy to discredit BDS, it’s perversely easy for critics to forget these facts, to get lost in the abstraction (and sometimes distraction) of arguments about the uplifting effects of transnational corporations, the benevolence of 1948 Israel and the lurking anti-Semitism of the BDS agenda. These arguments are not just misleading but often downright dangerous and offensive; the anti-Semitism charge in particular is probably the most often cited and potent. So let’s be clear: vile and frightening anti-Semitism certainly exists, but BDS is not an example of it. As a nonviolent movement dedicated to human rights and nondiscrimination it is, in many ways, its opposite: the lesson of “Never Again” interpreted universally, a reminder that in the face of extreme horror, it is incumbent upon people of conscience to rally around the inalienable rights of the abused.