The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement was born on July 6, 2004 when a number of Palestinian civil society organizations called
for an “academic and cultural boycott” of Israel.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was formed to oversee the call, and the BDS National Committee was created, with PACBI membership, as a shared leadership body.
Another, more comprehensive call
was issued on July 9, 2005 by dozens of organizations in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel – this time explicitly calling for international supporters to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives” similar to those that helped create pressure on apartheid South Africa and eventually led to the dismantling of the race-based system of governance.
Boycotts have been used in Palestine since the inception of the struggle over land. The fifth Palestine Arab Congress called for a boycott of Jewish goods in 1922, as Zionist settlement increased in what was then the British Mandate. In 1945, Arab states declared that they would boycott Jewish companies in Palestine and this stance was formalized once Israel declared statehood in 1948.
In 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) implemented a five-month oil embargo after the US supported Israel with arms in its war against Egypt. The fallout lead to legislation in the US restricting companies from adhering to the boycott.
Subsequently, Egypt (in 1980) and Jordan (in 1995) ended their boycott of Israel. In 1994, several Arab Gulf states of the Persian Gulf stopped boycotting companies that did business with Israel and there was a gradual start to diplomacy between Israel and Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, and Qatar. Today, Syria, Lebanon and Iran are the only countries that continue the original Arab League boycott today. The weakening of the Arab boycott over time and lack of international pressure on Israel was one of the factors that lead to the Palestinian call for BDS.
IMPACT OF BDS
On the ten-year anniversary of the call for BDS, founding member Omar Barghouti cited among the movement’s successes a decline in direct foreign investment in Israel dropping by 46% between 2013 and 2014, according to a UN report. He also referred to a Rand study that projected Israel’s losses at the hands of BDS to be $44 billion over 10 years.
While Israeli foreign inflows have increased from $4.8 billion to 12.3 billion from 2005 to 2016, with fluctuations, Rand analysts say that this does not account for investment that might have occurred, were BDS not a factor.
Numerous singers and cultural figures have decided not to perform or appear in Israel due to BDS lobby campaigns. One of the most prominent supporters of BDS was renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who decided in 2013 not to attend an event honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres and actively supported Palestinian higher education.
The Mennonite Church, the Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ have all called for some form of divestment from Israel, in response to the ongoing occupation.
The success of the movement has resulted in increasingly repressive measures by Israel. Barghouti on April 19, 2016 was informed that Israeli authorities would no longer renew his travel document, an attempt to keep him from advocating for BDS abroad.
On July 12, 2011, Israel signed into law a measure that allows for civil penalties against individuals or organizations that promote boycott against any individual or party that is affiliated with Israel, and allows the state to deny public benefits to these individuals or organizations. The law was stayed in court until 2015 when the Supreme Court struck down a portion that allowed for civil penalties even if no damages were proven.
In October 2018, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court allowed for the first award based on the anti-boycott law, awarding three teenagers $13,000 in “emotional damages” because they were not able to attend a canceled show by Lorde. The two New Zealand defendants, authors of an open letter to the singer appealing to her to mind the boycott, have said that they will not pay the damages ordered.
A number of prominent individuals, among them Jewish individuals, academics, activists and politicians, have been denied entry to Israel since the government amended the Entry into Israel law in March 2017. While Israel had previously refused entry to numerous pro-Palestinian or Palestinian-affiliated visitors prior to the new law, the additional legislation provides a legal framework to these denials.
In October 2018, Lara Alqasem, a U.S. student of Palestinian descent who had been admitted to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, had her visa rescinded at the border and spent over two weeks in detention at the airport as she sought to enter the country. Alqasem had led a group that promoted BDS in college, interior ministry officials said. Alqasem’s appeal to the Supreme Court was ultimately successful, with the court saying the law was not intended for this use, and she was allowed entry into the country.
In the United States, attempts are being made to criminalize boycott of Israel. At least 24 states have enacted legislation that allows the state to somehow publish supporters of BDS, with legislation pending in at least a dozen more. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would criminalize a boycott called for by an international agency, such as the United Nations. Revisions have axed provisions allowing for jail time and punishment for mere speech supporting a boycott, but critics like the American Civil Liberties Union still say the bill is unconstitutional.