An ambivalent rejection of BDS
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign launched in 2005 has an uncomfortable appeal to many who accept that the occupation of Palestinian lands and people must come to an end but find themselves disillusioned by the lack of any meaningful progress. One aspect of the BDS movement, however, makes it absolutely impossible for two-state advocates to support. This deal-killer, all-too-often left out of the discussion, is the BDS movement’s absolute demand for a Palestinian right of return outside the framework of negotiations (which would see millions of Palestinian refugees settled in Israel, upsetting the delicate balance that allows it to be both Jewish and democratic).
Unfortunately, BDS’s supporters, and even its detractors, tend to discuss the movement’s tactics in far greater detail than they do its goals and their implications, which can lead well-intentioned people to support a cause that contradicts their own beliefs. A recent slew of articles on +972mag have discussed the merits of BDS in the framework of its effectiveness without bringing up the movement’s goals. But to present only a partial view, is to create a fallacious discussion.
To many Jewish (and gentile) peace advocates, any non-violent action that brings about an end to the occupation and leaves behind peace in Israel and Palestine is legitimate. As such, the tactics of BDS may be painful for Israelis but it is difficult to say that they are illegitimate in and of themselves.
Israelis, or anyone who has family in Israel, cannot help but fear the harm to their livelihood that an expanded BDS movement would cause. That alone, however, does not serve as a strong enough argument against a boycott, divestment or sanctions campaign against Israel.
Ending the occupation and granting Palestinians the same rights that Jewish Israelis enjoy can easily justify whatever damage BDS causes to Israel’s economy and its political standing in the world. Once peace is achieved and the human rights violations inherent to the occupation are ended, those sanctions and boycotts would be lifted and Israel would likely find itself in a stronger economic and diplomatic position than it ever was as an occupying state.
Speaking to the 2011 J Street conference, Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson made an impassioned and convincing appeal to American Jews – specifically J Street supporters – to support the movement. She argued that anyone who supports “equality and freedom for the Palestinian people” should support BDS.
Vilkomerson correctly stated that the movement’s successes, as well as its educational, democratic and non-violent nature make it a legitimate and even admirable course of action to end the occupation. However, she left one aspect of BDS out of her speech, one that makes it impossible for J Street supporters, and most Jews, to support.
Any liberal-minded advocate of peace can easily align themselves with the first two goals of the BDS movement: the end of the occupation, settlements and the separation barrier; and full equality for Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel. These two points can be found in the mission statements of nearly every Jewish peace group around the world.
Its third point, however, is much more problematic for even the staunchest of Jewish peace advocates to get behind: “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”
The BDS movement does not officially endorse either a one-state or two-state solution for the conflict; it prefers to focus on ending the human rights violations that are endemic of it. Its absolute demand for over 4 million Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, however, undermines the idea of two states for two peoples.
Founding BDS member Omar Barghouti admits, “One must not deny that the right of return of Palestinian refugees does contradict the requirements of a negotiated two-state solution.”
Barghouti hit the nail on the head.
The right of return can and must be included in any negotiated solution but by presenting it in absolute terms that prevent creative thinking and negotiation over its implementation, the official BDS position is a de facto endorsement of a one-state solution.
The issue of refugees needs to be creatively and flexibly approached in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The solution reached must address the needs of Palestinian refugees living in horrid conditions throughout the Arab world, but must also address the unique demographic needs of Israel, necessary to maintain its delicate democratic and Jewish ideal.
It is for this reason alone that anyone who believes in the necessity of a two-state solution – however unlikely achieving it may be – cannot support the BDS movement.
BDS’s tactics embody an inspiring shift towards non-violent resistance to the occupation that may play an important role in bringing peace to the conflicted land. Like anything else, however, the movement’s goals are just as important as its tactics.
This post first appeared on JPost.com.