Today, it is growing because it is both a moral and legal obligation to support oppressed people and pressure those who violate international law to end their unwarranted practices.
Building on a decades-long tradition of civil disobedience and popular resistance, and invigorated by growing international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as exhibited in the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001, Palestinians moved into action.
In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called for the boycott of Israeli government and academic institutions for their direct contributions to the military occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. This was followed in 2005 by a sweeping call for boycott made by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations.
PACBI has been a conduit through which the Palestinian point of view is articulated and presented to international audiences through the use of media, academic and cultural platforms. Because of its continued efforts and mobilization since 2004, many universities, teachers’ unions, student groups and artists around the world have endorsed BDS and spoken out in support of the movement.
The BDS movement’s three main demands are ending Israel’s illegal occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights, including that of full equality, of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
In the absence of any international mechanism to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and the lack of international law being enforced, as expressed in dozens of un-implemented UN resolutions, BDS has grown to become a major platform to create solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to apply pressure on and demand accountability from Israel and those who are funding, or in any way enabling, Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The call for BDS comes from Palestinian society. This is important, for no one has the right to represent the Palestinian struggle but Palestinians themselves.
However, the BDS movement itself — although centered on Palestinian priorities — is an inclusive global platform. Grounded in humanistic values, BDS aims to court world public opinion and appeals to international and humanitarian law to bring peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.
In fact, there are many notable historical precedents that guided BDS from the very start.
The boycott movement was at the heart of the South African struggle that ultimately defeated apartheid. Roots of that movement in South Africa go back to the 1950s and 1960s, and even before. However, it was accelerated during the 1980s, which led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1991.
There are many other precedents: The Boston Tea Party, protesting at unfair taxation by the British Parliament; the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 (which ushered in the rise of the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King); and the Salt March led by Mohandas Gandhi in 1930, which initiated the civil disobedience campaign that was a major factor leading to India’s independence in 1947.
Israel works hard to discredit the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but a similar campaign helped to end apartheid and it can end the Israeli occupation too.
These are all powerful examples of popular movements using economic pressure to end the subjugation of one group by another. BDS is no different.
However, Israel is relentless in levying accusations against the movement and its founders.
By equating any criticism of Israel and its right-wing government with anti-semitism, Israeli supporters accuse BDS of being an anti-semitic movement.
For example, the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League bases such an accusation on the premise that “many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state.”
This is one of many claims that mispresent the BDS movement. They are also meant to confuse and distract from the discussion. Instead of engaging with internationally supported Palestinian demands for justice and freedom, anti-BDS campaigners disengage from the conversation altogether by levying the accusation of anti-semitism.
But BDS is not anti-semitic. In fact, quite the opposite. BDS opposes the supremacy of any racial group or the dominance of any religion over others. It challenges the Israeli legal system that privileges Jewish citizens and discriminates against Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
The Israeli government has sponsored several conferences aimed at developing a strategy to discredit BDS and to slow down its growth. It has also worked with its supporters across North America and Europe to lobby governments to condemn and outlaw BDS activities and the boycott of Israel in general.
These efforts culminated on March 23, 2017 with Senate bill S720, which, if passed in its current form, will make the boycott of Israel an illegal act punishable by imprisonment and a heavy fine.
Meanwhile, Israel has already enacted laws that ban foreign BDS supporters from entering the country. This also applies to Jewish BDS supporters.
The massive campaign to discredit BDS is a testament to the power and resolve of the civil-society centered movement. Palestinians are determined to achieve their own “South Africa moment,” when apartheid was vanquished under the dual pressure of resistance at home and the global boycott campaign.
BDS is successfully pushing the conversation on Palestine away from the margins to the center. It seems that the more Israel attempts to thwart boycott efforts, the more opportunities BDS supporters have to engage the media and general public. The accessibility of social media has proven fundamental to that strategy.
• Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud