The Hidden Success of BDS
As the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement enters into its eleventh year, it is clear that 2016 is already the movement’s most noteworthy year yet. The grassroots initiative debated by individuals, student governments, nonprofits, churches, and private businesses, is asking its members the same question: Is it ethical to conduct business with companies working with or originating from the occupied Palestinian territories? The answer varies from group to group, but the movement’s increased exposure and awareness can only mean one thing – it’s working.
One of the most notable ways BDS has gained attention this year is through the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which was passed in the U.S. Senate on February 11. The bill includes an extensive section on U.S.-Israel trade and requires “non-cooperation with entities that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and reporting on such entities.” Although President Obama is expected to sign the bill, he is reluctant to do so. In a statement released on Thursday, President Obama said he does not support aspects of the trade bill that “contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity.” President Obama will soon join Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom who signed an anti-BDS bill on February 15.
Separately, U.S. Senate and House bills entitled Combating BDS Act of 2016 (S. 2531/H.R. 4514) were introduced on February 10. The act is following the lead of states such as Indiana and Illinois that have passed anti-BDS legislation, and “strengthens these efforts by affirming, at the federal level, the legal authority of state and local governments to take tangible actions to counter this economic warfare against Israel.” Congressmen are showing their support to state lawmakers who have passed legislation that blacklists individuals and companies who are exercising their rights to free speech and protest. Those who are blacklisted cannot enter into contract with governments who have passed anti-BDS legislation. Instead of the government working on behalf of the citizens’ requests, using black lists to shame voters and companies into certain behaviors is a seemingly Orwellian strategy to ensure that citizens comply with the government’s belief system.
Efforts to protect the Israeli government and companies that violate international laws and human rights are developed and funded by the Jewish American lobby AIPAC. Although boycotting is a Constitutional right, state and federal lawmakers are supporting the anti-BDS bills under the guise that they are combatting anti-Semitism. Formally equating opposition to Israeli policies and companies as anti-Semitism ignores the reality that Jews and Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, also participate in the BDS movement, which is strictly against the occupation, not any religious organization. There would be no need to introduce anti-BDS legislation at the national level if the movement was not successful in gaining momentum and impacting the profitability of companies contributing to the occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank, such as Caterpillar, SodaStream, G4S, Sabra Hummus, and Hewlitt Packard.
Not only do BDS enthusiasts partake in consumer and political boycotts, they actively monitor cultural institutions as well. While Americans were expressing their frustration over the list of Academy Award nominees being all white for a second year in a row, boycotters of Israel were also raising awareness of the gift bags those nominees will be receiving after the Oscars. This year, the nominees and host Chris Rock will receive a free, ten-day trip to Israel sponsored by the Israel Tourism Ministry. Israel has over fifty racist laws it uses to keep white Jews as first-class citizens, non-white Jews as second-class citizens, and Israeli Arabs as third-class citizens. By associating itself with a country that uses racist laws to maintain white supremacy, the Academy is further smearing its image as a racist institution.
Knowledge of Israeli racism is often suppressed in American media, again under the guise that criticism toward Israel is equated to anti-Semitism. This would explain why minority artists such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez are perhaps unaware of their impact when contemplating performances in Tel Aviv. Many artists and music groups, such as Elvis Costello, Greenday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Carlos Santana have canceled shows in Israel because of the calls to boycott. Neither Beyoncé nor Jennifer Lopez has commented on the immense social media pressure to cancel their shows. However, if Beyoncé in particular stands for social justice as her recent Superbowl Halftime show tells Americans, then she would be a hypocrite to ignore racism in Israel. Much like the state and federal lawmakers who take payment from AIPAC to support pro-Israel legislation, celebrities who accept gifts from the Israeli government or perform in Tel Aviv for a paycheck are supporting the illegal occupation and Israel’s apartheid policies.
The BDS movement has gained enough attention to earn itself a headline in major news sources every day. While not every headline is pro-BDS, critics and supporters feel the movement’s growth equally. Pressuring lawmakers and celebrities to recognize Israeli atrocities is nothing a true boycotter can be “shamed” out of doing. If a group of like-minded people around the world can stop a performance in Tel Aviv or a multi-national company like Veolia from working in the occupied territories, then there is hope of ending the occupation altogether. World leaders may not yet be on the side of BDS publicly, but the fact that they know the movement is an achievement in itself. These small accomplishments are creating a larger picture that is forcing the world to recognize Palestinians and their rights.