The BDS movement takes many forms. The acronym stands for Boycott, Divest and Sanction, supposedly in an effort to isolate Israel politically and economically.
For some, it is simply protesting the Israeli settlements in the territories by boycotting any goods produced by Israeli companies in those areas — now considered only the West Bank, since Gaza has been emptied of Jews and is under the control of Hamas. However, many justice-minded people are attracted to BDS thinking that the settlements are the issue, when in reality, for BDS organizers, Israel’s entire existence is the issue.
Israel advocates argue these West Bank companies provide good jobs and high wages to Palestinian workers in an area desperately in need of economic activity, and the Palestinians in those areas aren’t supportive of the BDS movement.
When speaking honestly, the BDS movement targets Israel in general, since the view of most Palestinian activist groups is that all of Israel, including the pre-1967 area, is occupied territory by what they call colonist outsiders with no ties to the land, i.e., European Jews, though about half of Israel’s Jewish population has Middle Eastern origins.
BDS activists pressure musicians to refuse to hold concerts in Israel, as Lorde recently cancelled a concert. They also try to cut off any collaboration between Western universities and their Israeli counterparts, push for the cancellation of shows or exhibits involving Israeli groups around the world, shut down Israeli speakers on campus — even those on the left. They also try to shut down American law enforcement efforts to learn anti-terrorism best practices from Israeli counterparts, or emergency and mass-casualty response — such as the New Orleans-Israel Partnership on Emergency Response and Medicine.
Efforts to improve the lives of Palestinians or establish even the most basic form of dialogue are also condemned as “normalization” with Israel, and therefore forbidden under BDS.
One of the founders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, was born in Qatar, lives in Acre (which is in pre-1967 Israel), and has a degree from Tel Aviv University, where he is pursuing a doctorate while trying to get academic institutions worldwide to boycott Israeli universities.
Barghouti has said that “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel… That should be stated as an unambiguous goal,” but referred to his Tel Aviv studies a “personal matter.” He also states that unlike Palestinians, Jews aren’t a nation and have no right of self-determination.
Pro-BDS groups charge that their opponents consider any criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitism.
There is a line drawn between legitimate criticism of Israel, which happens every day, and anti-Semitism. The latter is seen as the denial of the right of self-determination exclusively to Jews; using classic anti-Semitic imagery or canards, such as nefarious conspiratorial Jewish power or the “harvesting” of Palestinian organs by Israel; comparing Israeli defensive actions to Nazi genocide and the concentration camps; denying any historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel; singling out the world’s only Jewish state as uniquely evil; or denying Israeli rights to self-defense that would be permitted to any other country.
Many major German cities reject BDS, saying it all too often uses language and imagery from the Nazi era, and over half of U.S. states have anti-BDS laws.
Usually, BDS battles take place on college campuses. There, stealth is often employed, with BDS resolutions before student governments coming up unannounced, or having a vote scheduled for a meeting that takes place on Rosh Hashanah or the first day of Passover, times when it is certain that Jewish community opposition would be limited.