Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

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Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
BDS Movement logo.gif
Formation9 July 2005 (2005-07-09)
TypeNon-profit organization
PurposeBoycotts, political activism
A BDS demonstration outside the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, April 2017

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (also known as BDS) is a Palestinian-led[1][2][3] campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel. The campaign claims that its objective is to pressure Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as Israel's obligations under international law,[4] defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and "respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties".[4] The campaign is organized and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee.[5]

Protests and conferences in support of the campaign have been held in a number of countries. BDS supporters compare the movement to the 20th-century anti-apartheid movement and view their actions similar to the boycotts of South Africa during its apartheid era, comparing the situation in Israel to apartheid.[6][7][8] Critics have charged that the BDS movement is antisemitic, accusing it of promoting the delegitimization of Israel, and have likened it to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.[9][10][11]


Area C (blue), the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, in 2011

One of the objectives stated at the founding of the Arab League in 1945 was to "frustrate further Jewish development in Palestine by means of boycott against Zionist products". A central boycott office was established to coordinate this effort. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, the boycott of Jewish products from Palestine was transformed into the boycott of Israeli products and services.[12]

Zachor Legal Institute founder Marc Greendorfer argued in the Roger Williams University Law Review that the BDS movement originated in the Arab League's boycott of Israel in name, in function, in tasks, in methodology and in goals.[13] Historian Alex Joffe agreed and added the General Union of Palestinian Students, Muslim Brotherhood activities within the United States, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as historical antecedents. Accordingly, Joffe wrote, unresolved issues originating in the Cold War relationship between pan-Islamism and Communism are driving historical forces behind the BDS movement.[14]

During the Second Intifada, Palestinians began developing international solidarity and support that could be used to apply pressure on Israel nonviolently.[15][16] In 2002 organizations in Europe, Australia, the United States, and the Palestinian territories called for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including a boycott of academic and cultural institutions.[17] Palestinian academics and intellectuals also called for a boycott in October 2003.[17] In 2004 an attempt to coordinate the boycotts gained momentum following the start of the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier.[15] In April 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was founded.[18] One of the founders was Omar Barghouti.[19][20]

Founding and Organization

There is disagreement over exactly when and how the BDS movement began.[citation needed] According to the BDS movement's website, on 9 July 2005, the first anniversary of the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice in which the West Bank barrier was declared a violation of international law, a broad spectrum of over 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations initiated a campaign for a boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel until it complied with international law and universal principles of human rights.[21]

The BDS campaign is organised and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee.[5] Other organisations that advocate and are active in BDS include Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the Palestinian NGOs Network.

The BDS National Committee was established at the first Palestinian BDS conference, held in Ramallah in November 2007.[21] The committee cites a body of UN resolutions. It specifically draws on language from the anti-apartheid campaigns against white minority rule in apartheid era South Africa.[22][23] But in Anti-Zionism on Campus, a 2018 book about anti-Zionism and antisemitism on American university campuses, editors Andrew Pessin and Doron Ben-Atar contend that BDS has its origins in the 2001 Durban UN Conference against Racism. They cite the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs as stating that some of the Palestinian NGOs referenced in BDS literature do not exist and that a significant percentage of the NGOs that do exist come from countries other than Israel or the Palestinian territories.[24] Pessin and Ben-Atar believe that BDS should be placed in a historical context of other boycotts of Israel.[25]

Goals of the campaign

The BDS campaign calls for "various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law".[4][26] These measures should bring about:[26]


BDS protest in Melbourne, Australia against Israel's 2007–present Gaza blockade and 2010 attack on a humanitarian flotilla, June 2010

The BDS campaign has found the most success in university settings, where Israel may be judged in the court of public opinion.[27] It has organized demonstrations and protests targeting companies that have contracts with the Israeli military or with companies in Israeli settlements.[28][29][30] Actions may also target prominent individuals who openly support settlements businesses.[20]

At the grassroots level, social media, petitions, articles, and on-campus events pressure individuals to cancel their participation in events in Israel or in Israeli settlements, such as concerts or academic events.[31] These activities are intended to link Israel to negatively-charged words such as "apartheid" and "racism."[25] At the same time, Israelis are pressured not to take part in activities outside Israel or the Occupied territories.[32] Participants in events are sometimes demanded to declare solidarity with the Palestinian cause.[33] Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is a series of such events normally held in February or March.[34] Since IAW began in Toronto in 2005, it has since spread to at least 55 cities around the world including locations in Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Austria, Jordan, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Botswana, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, Mexico, Norway, Australia, and Palestine.[35][36][37][38][39][40]

Its opponents argue that at official university levels, the BDS campaign inundates university organizations and departments with various and recurring anti-Israel resolutions, often without notice or time for open debate. They say that BDS supporters bring outsiders to influence opinion or to vote on university resolutions even when this is unauthorized.[41] Whether a resolution passes is not as important as keeping the debate alive at official university levels. The goal is to influence future policymakers to find fault with Israel.[27]

Financial and organizational ties

The BDS movement is diverse enough that no single organization controls the entire movement. But some of the movement's opponents have criticized what they say are close ties to militant organizations in the Middle East.

In February 2019, the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry reported that a number of current or former members of designated terrorist organizations, especially Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), were financially and organizationally involved in the BDS movement.[42][43] For example, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a former PFLP member who participated in a bombing that killed two students in 1969, participated in meetings organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and National Students for Justice in Palestine in the United States.[44] Between 2017 and 2019, 30 financial accounts linked to BDS have been shut down in the United States and Europe after it was discovered that they had ties with terror groups.[45] BDS organizers said the report was "wildly fabricated" and declined to respond.[46]

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former terrorism finance analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department, has argued that there are links between American supporters of Hamas and the BDS campaign. In April 2016 Schanzer testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade that "in the case of three organizations that were designated, shut down, or held civilly liable for providing material support to the terrorist organization Hamas, a significant contingent of their former leadership appears to have pivoted to leadership positions within the American BDS campaign."[47][48]

Academic boycotts

Universities have been primary targets of the BDS movement, according to English professor Cary Nelson, "because faculty and students can become passionate about justice, sometimes without adequate knowledge about the facts and consequences. ... [U]niversities also offer the potential for small numbers of BDS activists to leverage institutional status and reputation for a more significant cultural and political impact."[49]

The campaign for academic boycotts of Israel has been led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which has been endorsed by nearly 60 Palestinian academic, cultural and other civil society federations, unions, and organizations, including the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities' Professors and Employees and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) in the West Bank.[50] Sari Nusseibeh, former president of Al-Quds University, opposed a boycott of Israeli universities in 2014. A handful of Palestinian scholars oppose cutting academic ties and have differing views on what practical results the boycott on Israel will have.[51]

Academics in a number of countries have signed on to support the campaign.[52][53][54][55] In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) joined the boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.[56][57] Israel is the only nation ever boycotted by the ASA in the 52 years since the organization's founding.

As of March 2018, resolutions to endorse BDS had not had any effect on college investment decisions, according to Nelson. The effect they do have, he says, is the promotion of anti-Israel (and sometimes antisemitic) sentiment within student bodies, faculty, and academic departments.[58]

After previously agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for a student, a University of Michigan professor declined to write it after discovering the student was planning to study in Israel. After critics called a letter to the student anti-semitic, the professor said he supports BDS for human rights reasons and rejects antisemitism. Guidelines from a Palestinian organization associated with BDS say faculty "should not accept to write recommendations for students hoping to pursue studies in Israel".[59][60] 58 civil rights, religious, and education advocacy organizations called on the university to sanction the professor.[61] University officials ended the controversy by disciplining the professor[62] and issuing a public statement that read in part, "Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students. Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences. Such actions interfere with our students’ opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university's educational mission."[63]

Business boycotts

Effects of business boycotts on Palestinian employment

Opponents of BDS argue that BDS destroys employment for Palestinians. They argue that companies in settlements are beneficial for Palestinians. They claim that they offer employment with high wages compared with Palestinian factories and that the Palestinians are happy with their jobs and do not feel exploited.[20] Proponents of BDS say that in 2011 many Palestinians worked in settlements without permits and earn less than the Israeli minimum wage or even less than half the minimum wage.[64] In the former SodaStream factory in Ma'ale Adumim, for example, for entry-level employees there was not much difference in the salaries between SodaStream and Palestinian factories. The majority of Palestinian employees at SodaStream had renewable seasonal contracts that last only three months each. According to a study conducted by Al Quds University, 82% of Palestinians working in Israeli settlements stated they would like to quit these jobs if alternative employment were available in the West Bank.[65] Omar Barghouti said that the fact that "tens of thousands" of Palestinians work in settlements is the direct result of Israeli policy. For decades Israel has been "systematically destroying Palestinian industry and agriculture, confiscating our most fertile lands and richest water reserves, and imposing extreme restrictions of movement preventing many from reaching their workplaces".[20] According to Who Profits, all of the Palestinian trade unions and labor unions and almost all Palestinian civil society organizations, including political parties, support the BDS call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.[64]

Examples of business boycotts

In 2013, Luxembourg's state pension fund, FDC, "excluded from [its] authorised investment universe" eight major Israeli firms, including Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, and AFI Group. FDC also excluded American firm Motorola Solutions.[66][67] Norway's YMCA-YWCA joined the boycott in 2014, announcing that it would support "[a] broad economic boycott of goods and services from Israel and Israeli settlements".[68][69] In February 2016, Crepes & Waffles terminated its security transport contracts with British company G4S."[70] On 29 July 2019, a Canadian court ruled that wine from Israeli settlements must be marked, saying that labelling such products as "made in Israel" is misleading to people who wish to boycott settlement products for political reasons.[71][72]

Cultural boycotts

The organizers of the weeklong Rototom Sunsplash music festival held in Spain in 2015 cancelled the scheduled appearance of Jewish American rapper Matisyahu after he refused to sign a statement supporting a Palestinian state. Matisyahu said that it was "appalling and offensive" that he was singled out as the "one publicly Jewish-American artist".[33] After criticism from Spain's daily paper El País[73] and the Spanish government as well as Jewish organisations,[74] the organisers apologised to Matisyahu and reinvited him to perform, saying they "made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià."[75]

In December 2017, New Zealand pop star Lorde cancelled the 5 June 2018 concert of her Melodrama World Tour in Tel Aviv after being urged by fans to boycott Israel, supporting the ongoing cultural boycott on the nation.[76]

Impact of BDS


BDS's economic impact is disputed. Some reports indicate that BDS has had little impact on the Israeli economy and suggest that it is unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future.[77][78][79] In their analysis of BDS, Andrew Pessin and Doron S. Ben-Atar wrote:

"So how is the BDS movement actually doing? ... [S]ome companies have ceased doing business with Israel .... The cultural boycott boasts of some cultural figures who endorse the boycott.... The academic boycott can point to many academics who publicly support BDS .... Several significant mainline Protestant churches continue their early support of BDS. ... In the sense of actual concrete achievements, however, the report card is less impressive. ... [Israel's] gross domestic product (GDP) has nearly doubled between 2006 (the early days of the BDS movement) and 2015. Foreign investment in Israel has tripled during the same period."[80]

The New York Times reported that the Arab Council for Regional Integration, a group of "Arab journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars and others," said that boycotting "Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade. They [said] it has also undercut Palestinian efforts to build institutions for a future state, and torn at the Arab social fabric, as rival ethnic, religious and national leaders increasingly apply tactics that were first tested against Israel."[81] At the Council, Kuwaiti information minister Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf spoke about the opportunity costs to Palestinians, saying that outsize focus on BDS draws money and attention away from investment in Palestinian professionals such as doctors and engineers.[82]

In June 2015, a RAND Corporation analysis concluded that a successful BDS campaign against Israel, if it could be maintained for ten years, could cost the Israeli economy $47 billion. This figure, which was not published in the report, was reportedly determined by using a model examining previous attempts to boycott countries. The RAND Corporation also noted that "evidence on the effectiveness of sanctions is mixed, making an assessment of the potential economic effects of the BDS movement problematic".[83][84]


According to Haaretz columnist and Brown University student Jared Samilow, BDS's most significant impact is the social cost it puts upon Jews living outside Israel.[85] A 2016 poll found that 58% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza think BDS has had a positive impact, and 14% believe it to be negative.[86]

Reviewing four lists of achievements published by the BDS movement between July 2017 and December 2018, analyst Amin Prager concluded that, with some exceptions, impact was limited but that BDS's greatest potential effect arises from its long-term aim to influence discourse about Israel's legitimacy and international standing.[87]


Reactions by Palestinian authorities

During a visit to South Africa in 2013, President Mahmoud Abbas stunned reporters and Palestinian activists by stating that the Palestinians do not support a general boycott of Israel. He supported, however, a boycott of settlement products. Omar Barghouti told Electronic Intifada that Abbas's statement conflicted with the mission of BDS.[88]

At the 25th African Union assembly in the South Africa in June 2015, President Abbas urged the African countries to boycott goods produced by settlement companies in the West Bank.[88]

Reactions by Israeli authorities

In March 2016, the Israeli Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz argued that Israel should employ "targeted civil eliminations" against leaders of the BDS movement. The expression puns on the Hebrew word for targeted assassinations.[89]

In June 2016, Haaretz reported that Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister was going to establish a "dirty tricks" unit to "establish, hire or tempt nonprofit organizations or groups not associated with Israel, in order to disseminate" negative information about BDS supporters.[90] The news came on the heels of a report that Israel's efforts to fight the BDS movement have been ineffectual, in part because the responsibility had been transferred to the Strategic Affairs Ministry from the Foreign Ministry. "Despite receiving expanded authority in 2013 to run the government's campaign against the delegitimization and boycott efforts against Israel, the Strategic Affairs Ministry did not make full use of its budget and had no significant achievements in this area," Haaretz quotes the report as saying. "In 2015, it still did not carry out its work plans."[91]

On 7 January 2018, Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of twenty specific non-government organizations whose officials would be banned from entering the country, including the BDS national committee, BDS France, BDS South Africa, BDS Italy, BDS Chile, and BDS Kampagne.[92][93][94]

In a response to Ireland's progressing of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018,[95] the Israeli prime minister issued a press release that "strongly condemns the Irish legislative initiative, the entire goal of which is to support the BDS movement and harm the State of Israel" and instructed that "the Irish Ambassador to Israel be summoned to the Foreign Ministry on this matter."[96] According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Irish ambassador said that this is not a BDS initiative and that the Irish government opposes BDS.[97]

On August 15, 2019, Israel used a law passed in 2017 to ban the entry of two US congressional representatives. The law allows Israel to refuse entry to supporters of BDS. Fourteen people have now been denied entry on this basis including seven French politicians and European Union parliamentarians in late 2017.[98]

Responses by other governments


The Austrian parliament on 27 February 2020 unanimously passed a resolution condemning BDS as antisemitic and urged that it not be supported.[99]


Legislative Assembly of Ontario

In 2016, a non-binding motion was passed in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that "calls on the legislature to stand against any movement that promotes hate, prejudice and racism" and "reject the 'differential treatment' of Israel by the BDS movement". The motion was supported by the two largest parties, the governing centrist Ontario Liberal Party and the opposition centre-right Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, with only the social democratic Ontario New Democratic Party opposed.[100]

Czech Republic

On October 22, 2019, the Chamber of Deputies passed a non-binding resolution "condemn[ing] all activities and statements by groups calling for a boycott of the State of Israel, its goods, services or citizens." The resolution was introduced by Jan Bartošek, leader of the chamber's Christian Democrats caucus.[101]


On May 17, 2017, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged Danish minister of foreign affairs Anders Samuelsen to stop funding Palestinian organizations supporting the BDS movement.[102] Two days later, the Danish ministry of foreign affairs began an investigation of the 24 organizations in Israel and Palestine that Denmark supports. On May 24 Netanyahu called Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen to complain about Denmark's funding activities in the area.[103] In December 2017, the Danish ministry of foreign affairs announced that Denmark would fund fewer organizations and that the conditions for obtaining Danish funds needed to be "stricter and clearer". Michael Aastrup Jensen, spokesman of foreign affairs for Venstre, said, "Israel has objected emphatically. And it is a problem that Israel sees it as a problem, so now we clear up the situation and change our support".[104]

On February 7, 2019, Ninna Hedeager Olsen (EL), mayor of technical and environmental affairs in Copenhagen, gave an award to three BDS members, Ronnie Barkan, Majed Abusalama and Stavit Sinai.[105][106][importance?] Olsen proclaimed, "True peace is born from justice and truth. The work of the Humboldt 3 is an important contribution to a peaceful solution to the crisis provoked by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands."[106][importance?]


In France, the 2003 Lellouche law outlaws discrimination based on a variety of immutable characteristics, including national origin."[107][108] That law and hate speech laws have been applied against BDS activities.[109]


In December 2017, Munich passed a bill banning boycotts of Israel, becoming the first German city to deny space and public funds for the BDS campaign. Charlotte Knobloch, a holocaust survivor and chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community who campaigned for the legislation, said, "Munich sent a signal against antisemitism".[110] In May 2018, the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Baden-Württemberg called BDS a "new variation of antisemitism."[111]

In May 2019, the German Bundestag passed a "symbolic"[112] non-binding resolution declaring BDS antisemitic and stating that it was "reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history".[113] The lower house voted down a competing motion from the far-right Alternative for Germany party that called for BDS to be banned entirely. The Left Party refused to support the motion but said they also rejected BDS.[114] Three German Nazi parties—The III. Path, The Right and the National Democratic Party—support BDS.[115]

In September 2018, the parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, barred public institutions from hosting and supporting BDS groups.[116] On Friday 13 September 2019, the Administrative Court of Cologne instructed the City of Bonn to admit the German-Palestinian Women’s Association to the annual Bonn Culture and Encounter Festival. The city had excluded the association because of its support for the BDS Movement. According to the court, the City of Bonn has “not even remotely” demonstrated any justification for this exclusion. In its ruling, the court clarified the status of this and other anti-BDS motions: “The motions of the Bonn City Council, as well as the motions of the parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia (20 September 2018) and the German Bundestag (17 May 2019), don’t constitute legislative acts, but are political resolutions or expressions of political will. These motions alone cannot justify, from any legal perspective, the restriction of an existing legal right.”[117]


Dublin's City Council passed two resolutions on 9 April 2018 endorsing the BDS movement that included a motion to boycott Hewlett Packard (HP) goods, for its complicity concerning Israeli occupation.[118] In doing so, it became the first European capital to endorse BDS.[119]

South Africa

In 2012, South African African National Congress party gave its support to the BDS movement stating it was "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel."[120] In January 2018, it notified Israel that blacklisting individuals who support BDS has only served to strengthen the ANC's support for the Palestinian people.[121]


In 2018, Navarre, a state in northern Spain, was the first to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. It passed a motion that requested Spain "suspend its ties with Israel until the country ceases its policy of criminal repression of the Palestinian population."[122]

Spain's third largest city, Valencia, passed a resolution to boycott Israeli citizens and companies. It declares that the city is “free of Israeli apartheid”, and calls for it to formally follow the BDS movement.[123] A Spanish court found the resolution to be discriminatory and illegal a year later. It has since been annulled.[124]

In August 2018, two Spanish municipalities rescinded their BDS motions, following legal action.[125]


Ann Linde, Sweden's foreign minister since 10 September 2019,[126] said during a parliamentary debate that the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic, but a legitimate, nonviolent movement.[127][128]

United Kingdom

In 2014, Leicester City Council passed a motion which supported BDS in boycotting goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank to oppose "continuing illegal occupation" of Palestinian territory and the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.[129][130] Other councils that have implemented boycotts supporting BDS include Swansea Council (2010), and Gwynedd Council (2014). Legal action against the councils brought by Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) was subsequently dismissed by both the High Court and then the Court of Appeal in July 2018.[131][130] The councils were all cleared of anti-Semitism over the Israeli goods boycott.[132][129]

The lead judgment given by Lord Justice Sales stated that the council's motion condemned 'certain actions' of Israel's government yet still recognised the state of Israel's right to exist. He said, "The condemnation was in line with a respectable body of opinion, including the UK government, the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union and the International Court of Justice." He added, "the criticism made was temperate and legitimate."[133] Lord Justice Floyd and Lord Justice Underhill supported his decision.[134] The judgment also stated that similar judgments were a “well-known gesture of political solidarity with oppressed groups overseas, as illustrated by calls for boycotts of goods from South Africa during the apartheid era.”[135]

Leicester City Council's barrister, Kamal Adatia noted, ‘The ruling totally endorses Leicester’s approach to handling this motion, and has made no change whatsoever to the way in which councils can pass such motions in future. The judgement is a landmark – not for organisations like JHRW – but for all local councils. It recognises their fundamental right to pass motions of this nature and makes it clear that they can, like Leicester, fully comply with their equality duties when doing so.’[136]

In February 2016, the British government had banned boycotts of Israeli goods by public authorities, stating said authorities would face severe penalties should they enact such a boycott, as the government deemed such boycotts damaging to community cohesion and hurting Britain's national security.[137]

In December 2019, Eric Pickles, special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, announced that Boris Johnson would attempt to pass a law banning local councils from supporting BDS.[138]

United States

In April 2015, Tennessee became the first U.S. state to pass a resolution condemning BDS.[139] As of January 2019, 27 states had passed various anti-BDS measures.[140] On January 15, 2020, South Dakota became the 28th US state to enact an anti-Israel boycott law by executive order or legislation. The order prohibits state offices from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.[141] Other states that have enacted similar measures include Alabama, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Kentucky.[142]

In several states, these laws have been challenged on First Amendment grounds for violating citizens' freedom of speech.[143] Supporters of anti-BDS statutes argue that boycotts are economic activity, rather than speech, and that laws prohibiting government contracts with groups that boycott Israel are similar to other anti-discrimination laws that have been upheld as constitutional. Opponents, such as the ACLU, contend that the laws are not analogous to anti-discrimination legislation because they only target boycotts of Israel.[144] The Texas, Kansas, and Arizona legislatures amended their states' anti-BDS laws in response to criticism and lawsuits.[145][146]

In July 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution denouncing the BDS movement. One of the resolution's sponsors, Brad Schneider, explained that he was not concerned about the movement's economic impact but opposed what he said was "an effort to delegitimize Israel, of course." A separate resolution introduced by representative Ilhan Omar, which did not explicitly mention the BDS movement but was widely seen as a response to the House anti-BDS bill, affirmed the “right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad.” The bill was co-sponsored by representative John Lewis and supported by the ACLU and J Street.[147]


Artists and writers

Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters supports BDS.[148][149] Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, has given her support to BDS and has rejected further editions of The Color Purple from being published in Israel.[150]

In September 2018, 140 artists (including six Israelis) signed an open letter in support of a boycott of Eurovision.[151][152]

In July 2019, after the Open Source Festival in Düsseldorf disinvited the American rapper Talib Kweli for refusing to denounce the BDS movement, 103 artists, including Peter Gabriel, Naomi Klein and Boots Riley, signed an open letter condemning Germany's attempts to impose restrictions on artists who support Palestinian rights.[153]


The African National Congress endorsed BDS in 2012. The party declared itself "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel".[154] Following Israel's ground invasion of Gaza in 2014, the Green Party of England and Wales's conference supported "active participation in the BDS movement".[155] Scotland's Green Party endorsed a boycott of Israel in October 2015.[156] Members of the Green Party of Canada voted to endorse BDS in August 2016, despite the objections of the party's leader and sole MP Elizabeth May.[157] In June 2018 the Socialist International issued a Declaration expressing support for "Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli occupation, all the occupation institutions, and the illegal Israeli settlements including the total embargo on all forms of military trade and cooperation with Israel as long as it continues its policies of occupation and Apartheid against the Palestinian people".[158][159] In 2014, an international Jewish group, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, issued a list of signatories endorsing the American Studies Association academic boycott of Israel.[160] The Israeli activist organization Boycott from Within supports the BDS campaign. Boycott From Within regularly releases statements calling on musicians to cancel concerts scheduled in Israel.[161] After the German parliament declared that the BDS movement was antisemitic, a group of 60 Israeli academics responded with a letter that criticized the motion and said it was part of a larger effort to delegitimize supporters of Palestine.[162]

Trade unions

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) supports the campaign for BDS against Israel, fully endorsing it in July 2011.[163] During the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, COSATU vowed to "intensify" their support for the campaign, picketing Woolworths for stocking Israeli goods.[164]

In April 2014, the UK's National Union of Teachers, the largest teacher's union in the EU, passed a resolution backing boycotts against Israel.[165] In July of that year, the UK's Unite the Union voted to join BDS.[166]

In April 2015, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, Quebec, Canada, representing 325,000 in nearly 2,000 unions, voted to join the campaign for BDS and support a military embargo against Israel.[167]

On 11 September 2019, the British Trades Union Congress passed a motion titled "Palestine: supporting rights to self-determination", called for the prioritization of “Palestinians’ rights to justice and equality, including by applying these principles based on international law to all UK trade with Israel”, and declared its opposition to “any proposed solution for Palestinians, including Trump’s 'deal', not based on international law recognising their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes”.[168]

Public figures

The South African cleric Desmond Tutu has endorsed the BDS Movement,[169] saying, "In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime."[170][171] In an essay for Haaretz, Tutu wrote, "Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace."[172]

Stephen Hawking, a BDS supporter, was critical of Israel, although he visited the country on several occasions.[173][174]


Artists, actors, and writers

In 2015, author J. K. Rowling made the following statement:

The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality. I want to see the Israeli government held to account for that injustice and brutality. Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure… What sits uncomfortably with me is that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government.[175]

Others who oppose the BDS movement include Howard Stern[176] and Ed Asner.[177] Novelist Ian McEwan, upon being awarded the Jerusalem Prize, was urged to turn it down, but said, "If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed. [...] It's not great if everyone stops talking."[178]

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt said:

But I do think that the B.D.S. movement, at its heart – when you see what is really behind it, and the people who have organized it – is intent on the destruction of the State of Israel. If you look at the founding documents of the groups that first proposed B.D.S., they called for a full right of return, and, essentially, in practical terms, they’re calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. I think the ultimate objective of B.D.S. is not B.D.S. itself. If that were the case, we would all have to give up our iPhones, because so much of that technology is created in Israel. I think the objective of B.D.S., and especially the people who are the main organizers and supporters, is to make anything that comes out of Israel toxic, and I think they have had some success. So I see that, but I do not think that any kid who supports B.D.S. is ipso facto an anti-Semite. I think that’s wrong. It’s a mistake. And it’s not helpful.[179]

In 2019, Madonna defied pressure by BDS and other pro-Palestinian groups to boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest held in Israel,[180] saying she would "never stop playing music to suit someone's political agenda, nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be."[181]

Over 100 celebrities, including such critics of the Israeli government as Stephen Fry, signed a statement against boycotting Eurovision in Israel. The statement read: “We believe the cultural boycott movement is an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition.”[182]


Political parties that oppose BDS include the Liberal Party of Australia and both major political parties in the United States.[183][184] A common reason given for opposing BDS is that it attacks Israel's legitimacy and fosters antisemitism.[185][186] Berlin's Social Democratic Party (SPD) accused BDS of antisemitism in May 2017 and some observers, such as Reinhard Schramm, the head of the SPD in Ilmenau and the head of the Jewish community of the state of Thuringia, say that BDS shows the SPD's commitment to protecting the Jewish state is doubtful.[187]

Trade unions

In December 2015, the executive board of the United Auto Workers struck down a vote by UAW Local 2865 to support the BDS movement. Local 2865 represents students workers on the University of California.[188][189]

Public figures

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said that Israel is used to debate, criticism, and controversy, but that BDS is an attempt to influence discussion in unhealthy ways. "Boycotts, violence, and incitement only deepen divides, and don't bring us any closer to a solution. When BDS takes over, criticism turns into camouflage for the de-legitimization of the existence of the State of Israel," Rivlin wrote in a 2016 Ynetnews op-ed.[190] He added, "I'm sorry to say that some parts of BDS even include factions which are connected to enemies of the State of Israel, and who work in order to eradicate Israel as a Jewish state. Some of them are even worse, and hide their anti-Semitism by calling their actions 'criticism of Israeli policy.'"[190]

The long-standing pro-Palestinian activist and political scientist Norman Finkelstein called the BDS movement a "cult". He argued that the worldwide movement was overly controlled by the Ramallah headquarters, made unrealistic claims so as to hide a wish to destroy Israel, and accused the movement of exaggerating its achievements and its capacity, most notably by maintaining that it represents the entire pro-Palestine movement. Finkelstein also asserted that the movement misrepresented and misinterpreted Israel's obligation under international law as defined by the International Court of Justice.[191][192][193][194]

Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar said, "I think BDS is an unfair, discriminatory movement based on a moral double standard that is, in the final analysis, anti-Semitic [...] BDS is in fact trying to harm every Israeli citizen and not only the government. In reality what BDS wants is to make life in Israel intolerable so the Jewish nation will not be able to have a normal existence in its state. BDS does not only want to change the government's policy, it wants to empty the country of Jews."[195]

Former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May have condemned the calls for an academic boycott of Israeli educational institutions.[196][197][198]

In an editorial, Judea Pearl claimed that the BDS campaign has an anti-academic character.[199]


Reception to the BDS movement has been mixed and varies widely depending on geography and politics. Some political parties have supported BDS, such as the NSW Greens in Australia[200] and the Québec solidaire in Canada.[201] BDS has also found support from some private companies, churches, and academic associations.[202]

The reaction to BDS in the United States has been especially polarizing. Several bills and resolutions have been written in federal and state legislatures with the intent to combat BDS.[203][204][205][206][207][208][209]


Criticism of the BDS

New Criterion reported that "some 300 university presidents denounced BDS as inimical to the academic spirit."[210] According to Yehuda Ben Meir and Owen Alterman in an essay published in the Strategic Survey for Israel 2011 by the Institute for National Security Studies (Israel), by depicting Israel as a racist, fascist, totalitarian, and apartheid state, BDS engages in defamation and demonization of Israel. They state that this is followed by the specific targeting of Israeli diplomatic, economic, academic, and cultural targets—regardless of their position or connection to the conflict, which they describe as incitement.[211] In a 2009 opinion column for The Jerusalem Post, Gil Troy argued that the BDS movement does not target Israel's policies, but rather targets Israel's legitimacy.[212] The Israeli Reut Institute has argued that the BDS movement singles out Israel, and applies double standards that delegitimize Israel.[213]

In 2007, The Economist called the boycott "flimsy" and ineffective, noted that "blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair," and pointed out that the Palestinian leadership did not support the boycott.[214] By early 2014, however, they noted that the campaign, "[o]nce derided as the scheming of crackpots", was "turning mainstream" in the eyes of many Israelis.[215] Alan Dershowitz and the Israeli Action Network pointed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's support of a boycott specific to Israeli businesses that operate in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories over a general boycott of Israel as evidence that BDS is not in the Palestinians' favor.[216][217] Dershowitz added, "The BDS movement is immoral because it would hurt the wrong people" such as Palestinians employees of the firms affected by BDS or patients awaiting medicine made by those firms.[218]

Dershowitz also argued that the BDS movement disincentivizes the Palestinian leadership from negotiating with Israel at present.[219] The Anti-Defamation League similarly encouraged critics of Israel to promote constructive dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian actors rather than destructive and one-sided delegitimization tactics.[220]

Allegations of antisemitism

The Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israeli officials categorize the BDS movement as antisemitic.[9][221][222][223] Abraham Foxman penned an advertisement that ran in The New York Times that criticized Brooklyn College's political science department for sponsoring a conference promoting BDS. In the ad, Foxman referred to the BDS movement as antisemitic "at its very core".[224][225]

Other arguments include:

  • The "double-standards" argument claims that the BDS campaign singles out Israel, or that it judges the state with standards different from those used to judge other political situations. For example, Charles Krauthammer wrote: "Israel is the world's only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation – is to engage in a gross act of discrimination."[226] Retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz compared the way BDS proponents "single out" Israel for its human rights violations with the way Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell defended his decision to impose anti-Jewish quotas in the beginning of the twentieth century. When asked why there should be a quota on Jews, Lowell replied, "Jews cheat." When reminded that Christians cheat too, Lowell responded, "You're changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now."[227]
  • The accusation that supporters of the campaign make antisemitic statements or engage in antisemitic activity.[224] For example, some supporters compare Israel's contemporary[228] treatment of Arabs to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews during the Holocaust and deny Israel's right to self-determination.[9][229] The Australian attributes BDS supporters with antisemitic activity including the publication of material on the Internet that denies the Holocaust and promotes attacks against "Jews and Jew lovers".[230]
  • Seeing similarities, or exact identification,[231][232] between BDS and historical acts of discrimination against Jewish minorities, such as historic antisemitic boycotts such as the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.[9][233]
  • The argument that BDS is a significant step in the creeping normality of antisemitism.[234] The resulting atmosphere threatens Jewish students on American college campuses.[235]
  • In the case of academic boycotts, BDS targets Israelis who are often on record as opposing the continued Israeli presence in Palestinian territories and supporting Arab–Israeli peace initiatives.[236]
  • According to Ira M. Sheskin of the University of Miami and Ethan Felson of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, BDS efforts have, at times, targeted Jewish individuals who have little or nothing to do with the Arab–Israeli conflict.[237]

Several replies have been made to the allegations presented above:

  • Jay Michaelson wrote an editorial in The Jewish Daily Forward critical of Foxman's position. His editorial mentioned that several leaders of the BDS movement are themselves Jewish and state that the ADL, "with every pro-censorship stance it takes [...] loses more and more credibility and cheapens the meaning of the term 'anti-Semitism' itself".[238]
  • Judith Butler asserts that BDS's demands are fully compatible with, and derived from, international standards for human rights. From this Butler draws the conclusion that equating BDS with antisemitism amounts to the assertion that those standards are antisemitic.[239] Butler argues that the allegation of anti-Semitism springs necessarily from a false "generalizations about all Jews", presuming that "they all share the same political commitments" while ignoring a view prevalent among some Jews who were "exceedingly critical" of the state.[239] A similar line of reasoning was developed by Omar Barghouti, who claims that those who criticize BDS as an attack on all the Jewish people are equating the latter with the state of Israel.[240]
  • A joint letter, signed in 2018 by 41 left-leaning Jewish social justice organizations from around the world, affirmed that BDS's tools and tactics “should not be defined as antisemitic.” The letter stated, “At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other[241][242][243]
  • Suggested similarities between BDS and boycotts imposed on Jews by antisemitism[9][233] have been challenged by Daniel Blatman, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at the Hebrew University.[244] Blatman, a liberal Zionist and an opponent of BDS, argues that "the boycott imposed on Jews by antisemitism and the boycott of Israel today have nothing in common... The antisemitic boycott movement was directed against the authorities who had not acted against those who were not considered to belong to the nation, and even deemed the nation's enemy. The Israeli equivalent of the boycott movement can be found in right-wing circles, who have called for a boycott of Arab produce...."

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Further reading

External links

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Critical of BDS

Debates on BDS and Mixed Support

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