Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions has been the response of a grassroots public opinion to the failure of their governments to take an significant action in the face of Israel’s flagrant violation of international norms and agreements, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

In 2005 Palestinian civil society, with the endorsement of over 170 Palestinian organisations, called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) is thus clearly desired by the Palestinian community (even though it may ‘hurt’ them, as was also the case in South Africa). Many think the current situation unlikely to be resolved unless BDS takes off in a big way, as it did in relation to South Africa. It is not that Israel would be seriously hurt at the economic level, though that would also be the case. Israel’s chief source of income is not, as one might think, exporting fruit and vegetables, but diamonds. (This in itself is problematic, but that is a whole other issue: the diamonds which are refined and polished in Israel before being sold on are in the main acquired from West Africa.)  

Israelis wants the approval of the outside world, and that means North America and Europe (they could not really care a damn what the Arab world thinks of them; note the dismissal of the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002, still on the table, in which the 21 states which comprise the Arab League offered peace and a normalisation of relations in return for a viable Palestinian state). What Israel desires is a normalisation of relations with the West, but of course it is not a normal situation. In what has been declared by the UN an illegal occupation Israel is subduing another people, together with all the paraphernalia of control which goes with this. Thus we should call their bluff. To co-operate with them is to close our eyes in the most horrifying fashion.

I heard an Israeli who is devoting his life to the cause of the Palestinians say: ‘Israel needs tough love, as you must give a child if they are not to grow up to be monsters.’ Israelis get their legitimacy from abroad. If everything they do is apparently OK or is given legitimacy nothing will change. The problem at present is that the Israelis can say ‘the Americans agree with us’, ‘the Europeans give us a preferential trade agreement’, ‘other nations are helping to maintain the blockade of Gaza’, ‘other nations outlaw Hamas’, and so forth. Until Israel is seen as a pariah state in the eyes of the West (and not just the Arab world) we shall make little progress.

The BDS movement is now world-wide and extends to all sections of society in a multitude of organisations as well the action of individuals. Israel is clearly becoming hot under the collar and most concerned as to what is happening. A documentary on the effectiveness of the BDS campaign, particularly in the UK, was shown on Israeli TV Channel 10. Israel is clearly feeling it where it hurts most. The Palestinians themselves have been active. In April 2010 Mahmoud Abbas approved a law banning the trade of goods produced in settlements and some 3,000 young people started distributing booklets listing banned settlement goods. Since the boycott was announced the number of Palestinians working in settlements has declined by 25%, but Palestinians are in a catch 22 situation here owing to the lack of alternative jobs. (See ‘A Matter of Instinct and Conscience’, Palestine News, PSC magazine, summer 2010.)

How would one determine when such a boycott should end? It is perfectly clear. When Israel is no longer involved in an unlawful  (and brutal) occupation and the Palestinians are granted a fully independent and viable state.

There follows an indication of some of the main bodies involved in BDS, particularly orientated to the UK scene. 

The Trade Union Movement

In a comparable move to its stand against South African apartheid, on 17.09.09 the British Trade Union movement, representing 6.5 million workers, voted to support Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS (see above) until Israel complies with international law, further calling on the UK government to suspend all arms trading with Israel and called for the EU-Israel Association Agreement to be suspended. (, scroll down to ‘76 Palestine’.) Support by the Israeli umbrella Trade Union organisation Histadrut for the Israeli position on the attack on the Mavi Marmara led to a condemnation by UNISON. This was followed by the 2010 TUC’s Annual Congress passing unanimously the strongest motion ever, calling for boycott of settlement goods, disinvestment from companies profiting from the occupation and instructing General Council to work actively with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to encourage employers and pension funds to disinvest and boycott goods.  For further details click here.  

A delegation of senior trade union leaders visited Palestine in April 2011, meeting with a range of people and organisations and concluding in their subsequent Statement that Israel showed ‘no intention of stopping the expansion of illegal settlements, ending the occupation, and respecting the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people’. In a strongly worded statement they judged that: ‘The TUC position as defined in the 2010 Congress motion is absolutely correct and justified in calling for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign of complicit firms.’  

War on Want Palestine Campaign

War on Want has been active in its support for the BDS call since its inception. A UK national gathering on BDS was held 2-4.10.09. See their report ‘Profiting from the Occupation’ calling for divestment from companies profiting from the illegal occupation. They have a very active Palestine campaign ( and have further called for an arms embargo and the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. 

Academic Boycott and Related

The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) is an organisation of academics based in the UK, having the twin aims of (i) supporting Palestinian universities (ii) calling for boycott of Israeli academic institutions (rather than individuals based in them). They have a membership, good newsletter and excellent website.  

The Alternative Information Centre (Further Information) have published a lengthy report ‘Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories: pdf.

See further:
- Boycott IMA [Israeli Medical Association]:
Cultural boycott. Many musicians and artists have agreed to boycott Israel. Contact for example British Writers in Support of Palestine. Contact:
There is a good list of these various professional campaigns at

The South African Experience and Apartheid

Many South Africans have shown themselves deeply sensitive to what is going on in Palestine, seeing in that situation a mirror of what they themselves endured. Nevertheless the situation is essentially very different. In South Africa it was the overwhelming majority of the population who who were being oppressed by a tiny minority, whose position was thus inherently unstable. In the case of Israel and the OPT approximately half the population, the Israelis, enjoying overwhelming military might and don’t actually need the Palestinians for their labour; they are increasingly attracting people from abroad as workers. Thus they are able to corral the Palestinians into Bantustans (Solutions?) with impunity. Thus while it is correct to call the Israeli policy ‘apartheid’ and to speak of ‘Bantustans’ it could be a delusion to think that the situation is capable of resolution in the way that proved to be the case in South Africa. Meanwhile there is general agreement that the Palestinian situation doesn’t compare with what pertained in South Africa it is so much worse.

Wikimedia Commons

‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

‘The horrendous dehumanisation of Black South Africans during the erstwhile Apartheid years is a Sunday picnic compared with what I saw and know is happening to the Palestinian people.’

Willie Madisha, head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, after a visit in 2006:

For thinking about boycotting try:

  1. -‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Non-Violent Response to Israeli Apartheid and Occupation’ (PSC pamphlet;, June 2010. Excellent pamphlet on all aspects of the campaign.

  2. -Yasmin Khan ‘Bringing the Occupation Home’,

  3. -‘Why Boycott Israeli Universities?’ (BRICUP; British Committee for the Universities of Palestine,2007)

  4. -For an extraordinary Israeli take on the boycott see BDS in no way aims to eliminate Israel (!), simply to end the occupation.

Israel and Tourism

In May 2010 Israel was admitted to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) amid much protest by campaigners who pointed out that  Israel did not conform to the Fourth Geneva Convention or meet the human rights standards required for membership. (OECD and Israel.) The first conference to be hosted by Israel after its accession was an OECD conference held in Jerusalem. Eight countries, the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Turkey, and South Africa, duly boycotted the conference and other countries sent low-level officials rather than their tourism minister. The Israeli tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov tried to give it out that the siting of the conference in Jerusalem implied the recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, upon which in response  the General Secretary of OECD Angel Gurria wrote a strongly worded letter to Netanyahu stating that this was ‘factually incorrect and quite unacceptable’. Calling on the OECD to move the conference the Palestinian BDS national committee commenting: ‘Organizing this tourism conference in Israel sends once again a strong signal that OECD members are perfectly willing to be complicit with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and actively support Israel’s PR efforts to whitewash its colonial and apartheid policies.’ The Palestinian Legislative Council issued a statement thanking the UK and Turkey for boycotting the conference and calling on other countries to do the same. For further information click here.

It should be noted that the Israeli Ministry of Tourism under the leadership of Stas Misezhnikov, who is a member of the extreme right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home), has deliberately tried to confuse the situation and wipe Palestine of the map.  Thus maps put out by that ministry, failing to show the green line, simply annex the West Bank to Israel. (A map on the London Underground showed the Gaza Strip also as simply part of Israel until it had to be removed following protest!). See further an article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz 10 May 2010 ‘Israel’s Tourism Ministry is Wiping Palestinians off the Map’. The article quotes an American Professor of Political Science at George Washington University Nathan Brown who comments: ‘The new [Palestinian text] books tell history from a Palestinian point of view but they do not seek to erase Israel, de-legitimize it or replace it with the “state of Palestine”.’ Palestinian maps do sometimes show the green line: ‘In this respect they are actually more forthcoming than Israeli maps.’

In the UK there is much that private
individuals can do in regard to tourism. I remember a Palestinian guarding entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque being most impressed that I was staying in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, an immediate statement as to where my sympathies lay. Alternatively there are excellent hotels in Arab East Jerusalem: the Holy Land Hotel, which is very central, is most welcoming. Meanwhile it is worth keeping an eye on the wording of British travel company’s brochure, which may equally in effect ‘annex’ the OPT, describing a visit to Bethlehem under a holiday purportedly in Israel, or failing to refer accurately to the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’, which is after all the UN designation. The Ramblers Association has mended its ways in this regard, but Explore Worldwide could do much better. One would hope that, were they to receive enough letters of complaint from their clientele, tour companies could be persuaded to rethink their policy, minimally wording their brochures with clarity and accuracy. Israel can be trusted to take advantage of any ambiguity.

See Further on this Site:

  1. -EU/OECD & Israel -> Calls for Suspension of Agreements, The Labelling of Goods

  2. -Spreading Information, Campainging, Giving Money

  3. -Breaking the Siege of Gaza