Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS)

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS)



The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a Hamas-inspired initiative that aims to use various forms of public protest, economic pressure, and court rulings to advance the Hamas agenda of permanently destroying Israel as a Jewish nation-state. While Hamas pursues this goal in its low-intensity war against Israel by means of terrorism and bloodshed, BDS supplements those efforts in the United States. As it name implies, it focuses on three nonviolent forms of punitive action against Israel:

(1) Boycott: This term refers to a coordinated boycott of particular corporations or individuals (e.g., entertainers, artists, and athletes), in an effortto intimidate and coerce them to break off their business relationships with Israel.

One particularly noteworthy variation of the BDS boycott tactic is a campaign by highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual activists demanding that all goods which are produced by Jews in Israeli settlements located in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—disputed territories east of the 1967 cease-fire line or “Green Line”—should be clearly labeled as having been manufactured there. This demand is founded on the premise that all land east of the Green Line rightfully belongs to the region’s Arabs; that any Israeli business enterprises therein are both illegal and immoral; and that many consumers would (and should) choose not to purchase goods produced by Jews in those regions. For example:

  • In December 2009, the British government issued an official recommendation urging business owners to label Israeli products manufactured in West Bank settlements as such, so that consumers wishing to boycott those items could easily identify them.
  • In 2012, Norway began identifying products originating in Judea and Samaria with a special label. Said Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal: “This is a step that clearly shows consumers that the products are produced under conditions that not only the Danish government, but also European governments, do not approve of. It will then be up to consumers whether they choose to buy the products or not.”
  • In May 2012, the Migros supermarket chain in Switzerland announced that beginning in mid-2013, it would label all Israeli products originating from the West Bank as such, rather than as having been “made in Israel.” “We want to ensure transparency, so that the customer can decide if he wants to buy the product or not,” said a Migros spokesperson.
  • Also in May 2012, the South Africa Department of Trade and Industry announced that products originating from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank would be labeled as such, and not as Israeli products.
  • That same month, Denmark’s foreign minister said that he, too, planned to permit supermarkets to place a special label on goods originating from West Bank settlements.
  • In November 2015, the European Union likewise decided to start labeling Israeli products made in the West Bank, a move that was condemned by Israel and praised by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
  • In January 2016, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency reiterated its policy that goods from the West Bank and Gaza Strip must be labeled as such, rather than as having been produced in “Israel.”

(2) Divestment: This term refers to decisions by banks, pension funds, and corporations to withdraw any financial investments which they may have made in the state of Israel, or in companies that operate there. Seeking ultimately to isolate and strangle the Jewish state economically, promoters of this strategy contend that such divestiture is an indispensable element of “corporate social responsibility.”

(3) Sanctions: This term refers to the effort to convince governments around the world to take punitive actions—such as trade penalties or bans, arms embargoes, and the severing of diplomatic ties—against Israel specifically.

Using these tactics, the BDS movement aims to lay the psychological and rhetorical groundwork for: (a) creating the impression that Israel has usurped large swaths of land that rightfully belong to the Palestinians; (b) depicting Israel as a habitual human-rights violator guilty of subjecting its Palestinian neighbors to brutal campaigns of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and “genocide”; (c) likening Israeli public officials and soldiers to “Nazis,” and Gaza to a “concentration camp” or “ghetto”; (d) delegitimizing, in the minds of people worldwide, Israel’s very right to exist as a sovereign state; and (e) promoting the idea that this illegitimate Jewish state should either be replaced by an Arab-majority alternative or joined by a newly created, independent Palestinian counterpart. As NGO Monitor puts it, the effectiveness of BDS campaigns is rooted chiefly “in their ability to penetrate the public and political discourse and blur the lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and the complete de-legitimization of Israel in the international arena.”

The former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, Dan Diker, has observed that BDS generally presents its goals to the public “in a language of peace, justice, and human rights that appeals to Western audiences.” As a result, he adds, Americans and Europeans commonly misperceive BDS as “a progressive, nonviolent campaign led by Palestinian grassroots organizations and propelled by Western human rights groups” that earnestly seek a peaceful “resolution of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” But Diker points out that BDS can be “accurately described as a political-warfare campaign conducted by rejectionist Palestinian groups in cooperation with radical left-wing groups in the West,” and that “BDS leaders and organizations are also linked to the Palestinian Authority leadership, the radical Muslim Brotherhood, other radical groups, terror-supporting organizations, and in some cases even terror groups themselves such as Hamas.”

In addition to its boycott-, divestment-, and sanctions-related activities, BDS’s principal hallmarks also include “direct action” measures like “humanitarian aid” flotillas, “die-ins,” mock checkpoints that portray Israel as an authoritarian fascist state, mock “apartheid walls,” and well-coordinated demonstrations and protest marches held primarily in European cities and on North American college campuses.

BDS is not a formalized, centrally controlled movement, but rather, a non-hierarchical network composed of many radical activists and scores of anti-Israel NGOs. Some of these NGOs are Palestinian entities, others are Israeli, and still others are based in Europe and North America. Among the more influential NGOs that support and promote BDS are: +972 Magazine, Addameer, Al-HaqAl-Mezan, the Alternative Information Center, the American Friends Service CommitteeAmnesty International, the Applied Research Institute–JerusalemBADIL, Boycott from Within, Bread for The World, Broederlijk Delen, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Christian Aid, the Coalition of Women for Peace, Cordaid, DanChurch Aid, Defence for Children International–Palestine Section, Diakonia, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and IsraelElectronic Intifada, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Grassroots Jerusalem, the Holy Land TrustHuman Rights Watch, IKV Pax Christi, the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, the International Federation of Human Rights, the International Solidarity Movement, the Israeli Committee Against House DemolitionsJewish Voice for Peace, Kerk in Actie, La Asociación para la Cooperación en el Sur (The Association for Cooperation in the South), Machsom WatchMedical Aid for PalestiniansMIFTAH, Mossawa, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights–Gaza, the Palestinian NGO NetworkSabeel, Stop the Wall, Students for Justice in Palestine, Trocaire, War On Want, Who Profits, and Zochrot.

Historical Background

The term “BDS” first became popular after the July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call For Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Against Israel Until It Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights”—a document which will be discussed and explained below. But in fact, boycotts against Israel and the Jewish people have a history that long predates 2005. As a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs analysis explains, the contemporary BDS movement merely “represents a continuation of an ongoing campaign promoting political subversion and economic warfare against the State of Israel irrespective of the territories in dispute between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.” For example:

  • In the early 20th century—decades before Israel even came into existence as a sovereign state—universities in Europe and the U.S. imposed official and unofficial limits on the number of Jews they would admit.
  • In the 1920s, Arabs in the British Palestine Mandate began to boycott the pre-state Jewish Yishuv in an effort to discourage Jewish immigration to that region and thereby prevent the creation of a Jewish homeland.
  • In August 1922, the Fifth Palestine-Arab Congress exhorted all Arabs to refuse to sell land to Jews, or to patronize Jewish businesses.
  • In 1929, this boycott was extended to encompass all Jewish-made products. Two years after that, the Arab Workers Committee published a comprehensive, itemized list of specific Jewish goods that Arabs in both the Middle East and the West should boycott.
  • In 1937, an Arab Congress meeting in Syria passed motions calling for the nullification of the Balfour Declaration—a 1917 British government document that endorsed the creation of a Jewish homeland in BPM—and advocating an economic boycott of Jews.
  • In December 1945 the fledgling Arab League announced a collective boycott stating that all Arab “institutions, organizations, merchants, commission agents and individuals” should “refuse to deal in, distribute, or consume Zionist products or manufactured goods.” “Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries,” the measure added.
  • Over time, the Arab boycott expanded to target also foreign companies doing business in Israel; e.g., a boycott against Coca-Cola in 1966 caused the product to be removed from supermarket shelves throughout the Arab world.

With the brief improvement in Arab-Israeli relations following the Madrid and Oslo peace initiatives of 1991 and 1993, respectively, many Arab countries relaxed their boycott efforts against the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Israel launched new economic relationships with Arab nations in the Gulf, and the fledgling Palestinian Authority established economic and business ties with Israel. But after peace talks broke down in the summer of 2000, Arab calls for boycotts against Israel began to re-emerge. And by early autumn, the Palestinians had launched their Second Intifada, a relentless wave of terrorism whose hallmarks were Fatah and Hamas suicide-bombing assaults.

BDS & The Durban Strategy

Throughout the first half of 2001, Arab states continued to lead a majority of the anti-Israel boycott activities that were taking place around the world. Participation in these boycotts broadened dramatically, however, in the aftermath of the United Nations’ famous “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” (WCAR). Held in Durban, South Africa from August 30 through September 8, 2001, this event was crucial in laying the foundation of a global BDS campaign against Israel.

The WCAR featured, most prominently, an NGO Forum that focused a hugely disproportionate share of its attention and condemnation on the alleged transgressions of Israel and the United States. Members of the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights & the Environment—also known by the acronym LAW (Land And Water)—were on the Conference steering committee and played a key role in narrowing the focus of both the NGO Forum and the overall Conference mainly to Israel, America, and the Jews.

At the WCAR’s NGO Forum, Jewish delegates were verbally and physically harassed; guest speakers repeatedly compared contemporary Israel to apartheid South Africa; many copies of the infamous 19th-century anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold to attendees; and there were numerous displays of flyers that asked, approvingly, “What If Hitler Had Won?” The Forum culminated in the production—with heavy inputfrom the PLO delegation, members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Western NGOs—of an NGO Forum Declaration that made the following assertions:

  • “[T]he Palestinian people are … currently enduring a colonialist, discriminatory military occupation that violates their fundamental human right of self-determination.”
  • “[T]he Palestinian people have the clear right … to resist such occupation by any means provided under international law until they achieve their fundamental human right to self-determination and end the Israeli racist system.”
  • “[A] basic ‘root cause’ of Israel’s on going and systematic human rights violations,… acts of genocide and practices of ethnic cleansing is a racist system, which is Israel’s brand of apartheid.”
  • Israel has demonstrated “a continued refusal to allow the Palestinian refugees to exercise their right as guaranteed by international law to return to their homes of origin,” and thus “has destabilized the entire region and has impacted on world peace and security.”
  • “[T]he Israeli systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing” should come to an “immediate end.”
  • Israel’s “alien domination and subjugation with the denial of territorial integrity amounts to colonialism, which denies the fundamental rights of self-determination, independence and freedom of Palestinians.”
  • “Israel’s brand of apartheid [is] a crime against humanity [and] has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, ‘bantustanization’ and inhumane acts.”
  • “[T]he Israeli state war on civilians” includes “military attacks, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, the imposition of severe restrictions on movement,… and systematic collective punishment, including economic strangulation and deliberate impoverishment, denial of the right to food and water, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to housing, the right to education, and the right to work.”
  • “[T]argeted victims of Israel’s brand of apartheid and ethnic cleansing methods have been in particular children, women and refugees.””

Having issued the foregoing charges against Israel, the WCAR’s NGO Forum urged all its participants to help bring about: (a) “an increased awareness of the root causes of … Israel’s belligerent occupation and systematic human rights violations as a racist, apartheid system”; (b) “the launch of an international anti-Israeli Apartheid movement as implemented against South African Apartheid through a global solidarity campaign network … and [an end to] the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States”; (c) “a policy of complete and total isolation [by the international community] of Israel as an apartheid state as in the case of South Africa, which means the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel”; and (d) “condemnation of those states who are supporting, aiding and abetting the Israeli Apartheid state and its perpetration of racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide.”

As NGO Monitor puts it, the World Conference Against Racism was a watershed moment in the early development of the so-called “Durban Strategy” of “delegitimizing Israel as ‘an apartheid regime’ through international isolation.” Many NGOs continue to promote this “delegitimization” agenda by publishing distorted, misleading and false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “apartheid”; organizing anti-Israel provocations such as flotillas and violent demonstrations under the guise of humanitarian aid and human rights; and targeting Israeli-affiliated businesses with protests and flash mobs.

Another significant expression of both the Durban Strategy and the BDS agenda is the use of “Lawfare,” a term connoting a war that is being waged against Israel not on the battlefield, but rather, in the courtroom. We can see lawfare in action whenever anti-Israel NGOs: (a) file lawsuits against companies and governments that do business with Israel; (b) try to persuade courts and international legal bodies to impose boycotts and embargoes on Israel; (c) demand the issuance of arrest warrants against Israeli public officials whom the NGOs accuse of human-rights violations; and (d) lobby for cases to be brought against Israelis at the International Criminal Court. The most prominent NGOs in the vanguard of anti-Israel lawfare campaigns include the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Adalah, BADIL, Defense for Children International–Palestine Section, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. To view a list of some of the more significant lawfare cases that these and other NGOs have initiated over the years, click here.

The Durban Strategy Spreads

Around the time of the 2001 Durban Conference, campaigns to boycott Israel began to sprout up in a number of Western countries. For example, in July 2001, Member of Parliament George Galloway helped Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign launch the Boycott Israeli Goods (BIG) initiative. The following year, academics from the United Kingdom, United States, France, Morocco, and elsewhere signed a letter affirming their refusal to “cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities …[or to] attend … scientific conferences in Israel … [or to] participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies.” And by 2004, anti-Israel boycotts and protests were commonplace in a number of Western countries, though these events were typically small, localized, and of limited impact.

Because Western intellectuals and far-left activists constituted a majority of the boycott movement leaders at that time, many critics derided the campaign as “Orientalist”—meaning that it inappropriately projected Western values and narratives onto Middle Eastern cultures. To address this charge, in 2004-05 there emerged efforts to ‘Palestinianize’ the boycott movement—i.e., to make it appear to be an authentic grassroots Palestinian phenomenon. The most notable measure, in this regard, was Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti’s establishment of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PCACBI) in April 2004. Three months later, PCACBI issued a statement of principles urging likeminded groups around the world to “comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions” until Israel: (a) “withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem”; (b) removes all its colonies in those lands”; (c) agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees’ rights”; and (d) dismantles its system of apartheid.”

About a year later, in July 2005, PCACBI helped organize more than 170Palestinian NGOs in composing the “Palestinian Civil Society Call For Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel Until It Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.” The acronym “BDS” was subsequently adopted from its use in this 2005 document, which stated: “We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel.” The explicit reference to apartheid South Africa echoed the language of the 2001 Durban NGO declaration. To view the full text of the 2005 Call For BDS, as well as a comprehensive list of its signatories, click here.

According to a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report: “The Palestinian organizations that signed onto the 2005 ‘grassroots’ Palestinian BDS call are primarily not grassroots organizations. These NGOs do not represent, as they claim, a broad swath of Palestinian society. Instead they are largely either individual antipeace activists or effectively fronts for rejectionist Palestinian political factions. These factions, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], exploit BDS as an alternative and sometimes complementary strategy to terror in attempting to cause Israel’s implosion. Historical context is significant. Rejectionist groups such as the PFLP had lost influence, relevance, and financial capacity with the establishment of the internationally-backed, Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 1994. These other Palestinian groups saw their role in BDS initiatives as a ticket to maintaining relevance and garnering local Palestinian support in opposing the newfound cooperation and spirit of political compromise between the Fatah faction and Israel following the signing of the Oslo Exchange of Letters and the 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement.”

The Three Non-Negotiable Demands of the 2005 Call for BDS

The 2005 Call For BDS enumerated three conditions that Israel would have to fulfill before the boycott could be lifted. But as Dan Diker points out in “Unmasking BDS,” the language in each of these three conditions was intentionally ambiguous. Below are the three conditions as they were written in the Call For BDS. Each one is then followed by a brief discussion based on Diker’s analysis:

1. “Ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall” (i.e., the anti-terrorism Separation Barrier in the West Bank)

This first condition sounds initially like a reference to the territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. And indeed, on some of its pages the BDS-movement website of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) specifically singles out “all Arab lands occupied in June 1967.” But on other pages of the same website, the phrase “all Arab lands” appears without any reference to what Israel captured in ’67. In other words, Israel’s very existence upon any portion of the land situated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is presented as the problem. “Hamas and other rejectionist groups consider all of Israel to be occupied Arab land,” explains Diker, “and even the Palestinian Authority’s official media promote the notion that all of Israel is ‘Occupied Palestine.’ This deceptive language enabled BDS leaders to position their boycott call as simply ‘anti-occupation’ to mainstream audiences in the West who might have recoiled at the more explicit call for the dismantling of Israel…. This confusion over the true scope of the BDS call was not accidental. It allows liberal critics of Israel to express their support for the BDS movement by citing the more limited phrasing, while the original signatories of the 2005 BDS call can maintain their loyalty to the more expansive version referring to the dismantling of all of Israel.”

2. “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”

This second condition appears simply to call for basic fairness. “However,” writes Diker, “this appeal too must be understood in the context of a political discourse by Israeli Arabs in which the concept of collective equality between Jews and Arabs means by definition that Israel can exist only as a binational state, thereby annulling its Jewish character.” For example:

  • BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said that “definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
  • The “Democratic Constitution” of the pro-BDS organization Adalah advocates a binational state as the only legitimate path to equality.
  • BDS advocate Noura Erekat acknowledges that the 2005 Call For BDS constitutes “an implicit endorsement of the one-state solution.”
  • Palestinian-American author Ahmed Moor, describing the BDS movement as “a long-term project with radically transformative potential,” says that “ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.”
  • Political science professor and and prominent BDS supporter As’ad AbuKhalil contends that Israel’s destruction “should be stated as an unambiguous goal” without “any equivocation,” because “justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.”
  • Roger Cohen, a liberal critic of Israel, has suggested that “the hidden agenda of BDS” is “nothing other than the end of the Jewish state.”

3. “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194

This third condition is essentially a call for the Palestinian “Right of Return.” Here, some background is in order:

On the very day of Israel’s birth in May 1948, five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state in what they intended as a war of annihilation. During the fighting, an estimated 472,000 Arabs fled their homes to escape the dangers. They planned on returning immediately after what they fully expected would be an Arab victory and the destruction of the Jewish state. But instead, the Jews repelled the Arab armies and emerged victorious.

Nevertheless, the Arab states were determined to carry on their campaign of destruction and they remained formally at war with Israel. In 1950, Jordan annexed the entire West Bank. As a resultof that annexation and the continuing state of war which, with few exceptions, persisted for decades thereafter, the Arab refugees who had fled Israel during the 1948 war never returned.

Today BDS activists demand a “right of return” to Israel on behalf of some “5 million” Arab “refugees.” This figure is more than ten times the number of Arabs who actually left the fledgling Jewish state in 1948, because it includes not only those original refugees but also all of their descendants. More than 90 percent of the Palestinians who now reside in the West Bank and Gaza have never lived a day of their lives in territorial Israel, thus their claim of a “right of return” is logically incoherent. But they understand that the incorporation of 5 million Arabs into Israel would render the Jews a permanent minority in their own country, and would thus spell the end of Israel. That is why BDS proponents have made it a fundamental demand.[1]

In summation, each of BDS’s three non-negotiable conditions are intended to promote the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions National Committee

An outgrowth of the 2005 Call For BDS was the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), established in 2007 to coordinate what it terms “the global movement” to inflict economic hardship on Israel, in retribution for its alleged human-rights abuses. Referring to Israel’s creation in 1948 as the “Nakba” (Arabic for “Catastrophe”), BNC contends that “for decades, the Jewish state has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination.” In 2008 the Committee adopted a strategic position paper that accused Israel of practicing “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people, and of presiding over a political system whose ugly hallmarks included “apartheid,” “occupation,” “colonialism,” and repeated violations of “international human rights and humanitarian law.” For additional information about the BNC and its positions, click here.

U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel

Launched in January 2009 to support the BNC, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCACBI) states that its objective is to persuade “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” Specifically, USCACBI objects to Israel’s “persistent violations of international law”; its “system of racial discrimination, or apartheid, to which Palestinian … citizens of Israel are subjected”; its failure “to respect [the] fundamental human rights … of the people of Palestine”; and its “occupation and colonization in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territory.”

According to USCACBI, “Israel is distinguished from other nations” in a number of ways “that justify a boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign” against it. These include allegations that (a) “Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid and weapons,” which it uses not only “in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” but also in “such daily offenses as collective punishment, systematic torture, and, indeed, the extended occupation of Palestinian territory”; (b) “Israel has violated more United Nations resolutions than any other country in the world, and has been consistently protected by the U.S.’s Security Council veto power from any attempt to enforce those resolutions”; and (c) “Israel is institutionally racist” and “engages in ethnic cleansing or ‘population transfer’ and policies that conform to international definitions of apartheid for the sake of territorial expansion.”

For additional information on USCACBI, click here.

Palestinian Leadership in the BDS Movement

* Omar Barghouti—a founding member of both PCACBI and the BDS movement generally—has been a longtime supporter of the “one-state solution” and the Palestinian “Right of Return.” Asserting that “the two-state solution … was never a moral solution to start with,” Barghouti contends that “an exclusive Jewish claim to Palestine … is irreconcilable with the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people.” Barghouti also detests Israel’s primary ally, the United States, which he once described as “a menacing rogue state that is arrogantly bullying other nations, east and west, north and south, into unqualified submission to its self-declared designs for world domination and incontestable economic supremacy.”

* Another key promoter of boycotts and “nonviolent resistance” against Israel has been Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who is currently the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party. At the turn of the 21st century, Barghouti headed the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) and served as its representative on the Palestinian National Council (PNC). Under Barghouti’s leadership, the PPP was a signatory to a November 2001 statement by the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces calling for the continuation of the “blessed intifada” and praising the “heroic resistance” of its martyrs who had died while fighting “the Zionist entity.” Also in 2001, Barghouti co-founded Grassroots International Protection for the Palestinian People (GIPP), a program that served as an umbrella group for pro-BDS organizations like the Palestinian NGO Network and the International Solidarity Movement.

* One of the conveners of the first BNC conference in 2007 was Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (also known as “Stop the Wall”). Denouncing Israel as a “colonial racist apartheid state,” Juma’ has coordinated many anti-Israel demonstrations—including some that were violent—in various Palestinian villages. According to Juma’, it is the “right” and “obligation” of “the oppressed and occupied” Palestinians to engage in “struggle and resistance using all necessary means.”

Far-Left Partners of the BDS Movement

Many of the organizations that promote BDS are far-left entities like the Socialist Workers Party UK and the South African Communist Party. “The far-left groups behind BDS,” writes Dan Diker, “tend to be the remnants of the Cold War-era Marxist parties—both pro-USSR Communist parties and Trotskyists mixed with 1960s-style radicals, Greens, and newer groups of left-anarchists.”

Groups like these commonly converge at the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual anti-capitalist symposium that has emerged as a highly important platform for the promotion of BDS. In January 2005, a number of WSF-participating organizations collaborated to publish a call for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions vis-à-vis Israel to End Occupation and Apartheid Policies.” Essentially an early draft of the Palestinian Call For BDS which would be drafted six months later, the WSF statement said: “We call upon the international community and governments to impose political and economic sanctions on Israel, including an embargo on armaments. We call upon the social movements to mobilize also for divestment and boycotts. These efforts aim to force Israel to implement international resolutions, and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, to stop and take down the illegal wall and end all occupation and apartheid policies.”

BDS Activity on Campus

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has more than 150 chapters throughout the United States, is the organization most directly responsible for organizing BDS events—like its annual “Apartheid Week” activities—on college campuses. “[SJP’s] status as an official student organization,” reportsNGO Monitor, “makes it eligible for university funding on several public campuses.” These public funds, in turn, are often used to bankroll events and host pro-BDS speakers such as Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah, Miko Peled, and Allison Weir.

Campus BDS initiatives are commonly led by student groups that draft non-binding resolutions and lobby university administrators to remove Israeli companies from their schools’ investment portfolios. The Jewish Virtual Library reports the following about some of these campaigns in both the United States and Europe:

  • “In the United States, a divestment campaign was launched on college campuses in 2001 by Students for Justice in Palestine … in conjunction with the San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A year later, following the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s first conference, which was held in Berkeley, the movement began to spread to other universities, including the University of Michigan, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
  • “[I]n April 2005 … the Association of University Teachers (AUT) Council in the UK voted to boycott the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. This decision caused an uproar and a special meeting was called a month later that led to a decision by the AUT to cancel the boycott …”
  • “In 2007, the UK National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. NAFTHE, however, merged shortly thereafter with another academic union to form the University and College Union (UCU). The UCU announced that a ‘boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented.’ Nevertheless, two years later the UCU passed a boycott resolution. This was subsequently annulled when the union’s legal advisors warned that ‘a boycott of that kind could trigger legal action against the union.’”
  • “In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott all Israeli academic institutions, making Israel the first nation ever boycotted by the ASA in its 52-year history. The same monththe Native American and Indigenous Studies Association adopted a similar boycott resolution.”
  • “In 2015, the Graduate Student Union of the University of California vote[d] to boycott Israel, but that decision was overturned by the United Auto Workers International, with which the graduate student union is affiliated, ‘on the grounds that it inevitably implicates the international union, hurts members and violates elements of the UAW constitution.’”
  • “In November 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association went beyond boycotting Israeli universities and called for the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.’”
  • “[I]n March 2014, in the NUI Galway Students’ Union in Ireland endorsed [a] boycott. A few months later, the UK’s National Union of Black Students conference did the same.”

Christian Groups & Churches Involved in BDS

Several mainline Protestant churches with left-wing political orientations have given serious consideration to BDS agendas in recent years. For example:

1. Episcopal Church: Notwithstanding its traditionally low regard for Israel, prior to 2013 the Episcopal Church had never seriously considered participating in an anti-Israel divestment campaign. But in January of that year, a coalition calling themselves the “Episcopal Voices of Conscience” drafted a “Prophetic Challenge” to their denomination’s Executive Council. “Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid,” said the document, “so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa.” The signatories exhorted the Episcopal Church to “immediately” take measures to ensure that “our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation.” When the question of divestment was raised again in 2015, however, the Church rejected it.

2. United Church of Christ: The United Church of Christ (UCC) identifies Israel‘s “occupation” of Palestinian lands as the principal cause of the repeated wars that have “caused a significant number of Palestinians to be displaced from their homes” ever since 1948. In 2005, UCC leadership adopted an “economic leverage” resolution featuring “the use of selective divestment” against Israeli business interests, and called on the Jewish state to “tear down” its West Bank security barrier. That same year, the Church drafted a resolution charging that over the decades, “Israeli governments and Zionist expansionist organizations” had “progressively dispossessed the lands and property of Palestinians, who have maintained an historic presence and retain deep roots in the land.” In 2014, UCC voiced its approval, in principle, of “divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and [a] boycott of products produced in such territories by Israeli companies.” And in June 2015, UCC’s general synod formally voted—by a margin of 508 to 124—to proceed with its divestment program.

3. United Methodist Church: Early in the summer of 2006, the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) commendeddivestment and boycotts against firms doing business with the Jewish state, so as to prevent them from profiting from Israel’s “illegal and violent activities.” Moreover, a resolution from New York United Methodist stated that the “new” Palestinian leadership—i.e., Hamas, which had recently taken control of the government in Gaza—had brought “some renewal of hope” to the prospect for peace in the region, only to have that hope crushed by Israel’s alleged intransigence.

More than once, UMC has lauded the anti-Israel, Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In 2006, UMC’s Rev. John C. Wagner praised CAIR-Ohio “for their credible, gracious and courageous witness to the Muslim experience” in that state. And in 2011, the Central United Methodist Church’s 7th Annual Peace and Justice Banquet presented its “Pastor’s Award” to CAIR-Michigan executive director Dawud Walid, who once accused the FBI of “manufacturing their own terrorism suspects to give the appearance that they’re actually doing something tangible in the so-called ‘War on Terrorism.’”

In January 2013, UMC’s Holy Land Task Force endorsed a “No Blank Check for Israel” march in Washington, DC, where the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination CommitteeJewish Voice for Peace, and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace urged the American government to thenceforth make its aid to the Jewish state conditional on the latter’s “compliance with U.S. and international law”—particularly as regards Israel’s “Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”

In January 2016, UMC’s investment agency announced that it would no longer put any money into Israel’s five leading banks, on grounds that they allegedly failed to meet acceptable standards for sustainable investment.

4. Presbyterian Church: Historically, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has had a highly acrimonious relationship with the state of Israel. Indeed, a 1998 Presbyterian Church General Assembly Overture called for a suspension of all American aid to the Jewish state. In July 2004, PCUSA approved divestment measures that targeted “businesses that it believes bear particular responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians.” But in June 2006 the Church adopted a new resolution canceling that call for divestment and pledging, instead, to thenceforth invest only in companies engaged in “peaceful pursuits” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

PCUSA contemplated the issue of divestment again in 2012, but voted it down.

In January 2014, PCUSA’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) published Zionism Unsettled, a congregational study guide condemning “the injustice and oppression perpetrated under the mantle of Zionism by the government of Israel against the Palestinian people.” In conjuction with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the IPMN has been one of PCUSA’s leading advocates of BDS.

In June 2014, PCUSA’s Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment placed three corporations—Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions—on the denomination’s “divestment list.” The trangressions of those companies included the sale of bulldozers, surveillance technology, and other equipment used by Israel to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.

According to a federal complaint filed in 2014 by the legal advocacy group Shurat HaDin, PCUSA has had repeated contacts with the Islamic terror group Hezbollah, which is committed to Israel’s destruction. In October 2004, for example, a delegation of 24 Church officials met with Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon, where PCUSA elder Ronald Stone said during the proceedings: “As an elder of our church, I’d like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders.” “We treasure the precious words of Hezbollah and your expression of goodwill towards the American people,” Stone added.

A year later, another PCUSA delegation met with Nabil Qaouk, a senior Hezbollah commander in Lebanon. When Qaouk complained that U.S. policies in the region were being dictated by Israel, the delegation concurred with him.

Jewish & Israeli Anti-Zionists Involved in BDS

Among the more influential promoters of BDS are Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists like biologist Steven Rose and his wife, sociologist Hilary Rose; professor and revisionist historian Ilan Pappé; professor/filmmaker Haim Bresheeth; academic architect Eyal Weitzman; author/environmentalist Naomi Klein; literature professor Judith Butler; and International Solidarity Movement founder Adam Shapiro. Individuals like these seek to provide perceived legitimacy to the global BDS movement by emphasizing that they support it as Jews.

Funding of BDS

The international, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs that actively promote BDS are supported by hundreds of millions of dollars and euros from governments, religious institutions, and private foundations and donors around the world. European Union members collectively constitute the largest governmental benefactors of these NGOs. The governments of Norway and Switzerland also contribute significant sums of money.

Islamist Groups & BDS

Though “Islamist groups have not been at the forefront of the global BDS campaign,” writes Dan Diker, “they have provided the ideological framework that energizes politically-minded Western Muslims who are often the most vigorous and enthusiastic participants in BDS activity.” For example, soon after the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, a number of fundamentalist Muslim clerics issued religious rulings forbidding the purchase of Israeli goods:

  • In May 2001, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, published a fatwa stating: “The purchase of any item which helps strengthen Zionism is not permissible unless it reaches the point of necessity.”
  • In April 2002, a fatwa by Muslim Brotherhood scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi declared: “It is Jihad to liberate the Islamic lands from those who attack or conquer them. These are enemies of Islam. This Jihad is an absolute obligation and a sacred duty…. Each riyal, dirham…etc. used to buy their goods eventually becomes bullets to be fired at the hearts of brothers and children in Palestine. For this reason, it is an obligation not to help them [the enemies of Islam] by buying their goods.”

Notwithstanding authoritative theological pronouncements like these, relatively few Western Islamist groups have devoted significant energy and resources to BDS activities. A notable early exception was the UK-based Friends of Al-Aqsa. In more recent years, numerous Muslim Students Associations—many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood—have actively promoted BDS in North America, South Africa, and Europe.

The Palestinian Authority & BDS

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the BDS movement were initially very suspicious of, and hostile toward, one another for several years. In 2009, for instance, BDS leader Omar Barghouti condemned the PA for “conceding Palestinian rights and acting against the Palestinian national interests”; accused it of a “betrayal of Palestinian civil society’s effective [BDS] campaign against Israel”; and suggested that “the PA must be responsibly and gradually dismantled.”

By 2011, however, the PA had begun to understand how BDS could actually help to advance Palestinian Authority agendas. As senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz: “We are learning how to co-exist with popular struggle. To tell you the truth, this wasn’t at the beginning in the mind of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. He is gradually starting to see it—popular struggle and international activism. Abu Mazen at the beginning was scared of the idea of BDS. But if you want to put real pressure, this is the way…. The BDS groups meet here in my office…. Unarmed struggle does not mean that I have submitted to Israeli occupation but that I am looking for other ways of making pressure, not armed, not violent. One of them is BDS.” Fatah now supported “the BDS movement all over the world,” Shaath added. And by 2014, three PA ministers sat on the board of directors of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, a BDS-supporting NGO.


As Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2016, the connectionsbetween BDS and the Hamas terrorist organization are deeply rooted and masked by a labyrinth of various entities and subgroups. Particularly significant are two organizations: American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and its fiscal sponsor, the Americans for Justice in Palestine Educational Foundation (AJP). AMP is extremely active on college campuses and is one of the major driving forces of the BDS movement. Writes Schanzer: “AMP is arguably the most important sponsor and organizer for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is the most visible arm of the BDS campaign on campuses in the United States. AMP provides speakers, training, printed materials, a so-called ‘Apartheid Wall,’ and [financial] grants to SJP activists. AMP even has a campus coordinator on staff whose job is to work directly with SJP and other pro-BDS campus groups across the country. According to an email it sent to subscribers, AMP spent $100,000 on campus activities in 2014 alone. AMP partners with a wide range of BDS organizations, and openly calls for Congress to embrace BDS.”

Seven individuals who currently are AMP officials or are otherwise tied to the organization, were formerly members of groups that were shut down or held civilly liable by the U.S. government for funneling money to Hamas. These include: (a) three individuals—Hossein Khatib, Jamal Said, and Salah Sarsour—who previously belonged to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a Hamas front group that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, contributed approximately $12.4 million in money, goods, and services to Hamas; and (b) four individuals—Rafeeq Jaber, Sufian Nabhan, Abdelbasset Hamayel, and Osama Abuirshaid—who gravitated to AMP from the Islamic Association for Palestine (which, until its dissolution in 2004, served as the chief U.S. propaganda arm of Hamas). Before joining AMP, Hamayel also had ties to KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, whose assets were frozen in 2006 by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its fundraising activities on behalf of Hamas.

Additional Ties Between Islamic Terror Groups & the BDS Movement

* FDD’s research further shows that AMP’s donor list includes groups and entities whose members, affiliates, or associates maintained ties to various terrorist groups including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Qassam Brigades (the military arm of Hamas), and al-Qaeda.

* Hamas’s Gaza leadership has endorsed international BDS activities against Israel. According to Middle East Monitor, Hamas issued a statement on February 14, 2014, saying, “We in Hamas appreciate and welcome these economic boycotts against the Zionist occupation and we consider it a step in the right direction toward pressuring the occupation to stop its settlement activities and its Judaization of the Palestinian land.”

* The top-listed signatory on the 2005 Call For BDS was the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (CNIF), a BDS National Committee member that was established by Marwan Barghouti and Yasser Arafat in 2000-01, early in the Second Intifada, to coordinate the terrorist activities of Hamas and various nationalist PLO groups.

* Several of the signatories to the 2005 Call For BDS were known front organizations for the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Among these signatories were Addameer, the Union of Health Workers Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees (the latter two of which were charities run by PFLP members).

* In November 2008, the BDS National Committee (BNC) produced a position paper titled “United Against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation: Dignity & Justice for the Palestinian People.” Among the organizations that endorsed this paper was the London-based Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which is part of Hamas’s European section. Another endorser was the Swiss-based Alkarama for Human Rights, whose president was later identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” who had helped to fund the activities of various al-Qaeda groups.

* Gaza-based professor Hadar Eid has stated that “[Hamas] is represented in the BNC’s secretariat within the national and Islamic action committee.”


[1] Excerpted and adapted from David Horowitz, “Why Israel Is The Victim And The Arabs Are The Indefensible Aggressors In the Middle East,” (January 9, 2002).

Additional Resources:

Unmasking BDS: Radical Roots, Extremist Ends
By Dan Diker
December 2014

BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions)
By NGO Monitor

Anti-Semitism: History of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement
By Dr. Mitchell Bard
February 2016

Israel Imperiled: Threats to the Jewish State
By Jonathan Schanzer
April 19, 2016

The BDS Movement’s Terror Ties
By Ari Lieberman
April 27, 2016

Ten Reasons Why BDS Is Immoral and Hinders Peace
By Alan Dershowitz
February 12, 2014

The Ideological Foundations of the Boycott Campaign Against Israel
By Ben Cohen
September 2007

Divestment Unmasked: The Truth Behind the Divest-from-Israel Campaign
By Fred Taub

The Anti-Semitic Divestment Campaign
By Jewish Virtual Library
February 9, 2006

[The] Inner Workings of BDS
By Lee Kaplan
April 14, 2016

The Hate and Hypocrisy of the BDS Movement
By Joseph Puder
November 11, 2013

Combating Anti-Israel Divestment Resolutions on Campus
By Julie L. Bernstein
September 2010

The BDS Perversion of Reality
By Joseph Puder
March 30, 2014

The Big Lie: Divest from Israel
By I.J. Mansdorf
November 29, 2002

The Moral Incoherence of the Israeli Scholars Boycott Movement
By Richard L. Cravatts
October 21, 2013

Why the Origins of the BDS Movement Matter
By Alex Joffe
September 1, 2016

The Hidden Agenda of the BDS Movement
By Elysia Martin
November 17, 2016

What American Jews Don’t Understand About BDS
By Daniel Greenfield
August 20, 2019


The BDS War Against Israel
By Jed Babbin and Herbert I London


BDS: The Attempt to Strangle Israel
By Alan Dershowitz
July 14, 2014

The Case for Israel
By Bill Whittle
July 23, 2014

Does Israel Discriminate Against Arabs?
By Olga Meshoe (Prager University)
September 25, 2017


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