FAQ on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

IMEU, Aug 12, 2010

What is BDS? BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. On July 9, 2005, one year after the historic Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which found Israel’s Wall built on occupied Palestinian territory to be illegal, an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society called 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.

What are the goals of BDS?  According to the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are nonviolent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

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

Who is calling for BDS?  A 2005 call for BDS was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing the three major constituents of the Palestinian people, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians living in the Diaspora. On July 13, 2005 the UN International Civil Society Conference adopted the Palestinian Call for BDS. Today, hundreds of organizations and people of conscience around the world are actively supporting the Palestinian BDS call by engaging in a variety of BDS actions and initiatives. 

What are some examples of how BDS was used during Apartheid in South Africa?

US-based Motorola was providing radio equipment to the apartheid government in Pretoria, where the police and army were using it. A US campaign calling for boycott of and divestment from Motorola products and subsidiaries resulted in Motorola’s sale of its South Africa subsidiary to Allied Technologies Ltd in 1985. 

In October of 1981, the board of the Associated Actors and Artists of America – an umbrella organization of major actors’ unions with a total membership of over 240,000 actors – took a unanimous decision that its members should not perform in South Africa. 

What is the call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel? Similar to the boycott against apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian call for boycott includes an institutional boycott of Israeli cultural and academic institutions. The website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) provides a thorough explanation of the nuanced cultural & academic boycotts, clarifying some key misunderstandings of the boycott, and providing guidelines of how to apply it.

Who are some of the people endorsing the Palestinian-led BDS campaign?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner & chairman of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa

  1. Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet
  2. Naomi Klein, Award-winning author
  3. Judith Butler, Author and award-winning philosopher
  4. Cynthia McKinney, Former US Congresswoman & presidential candidate
  5. Ken Loach, Award-winning film and television director
  6. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Founder of Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence
  7. Arundhati Roy, Award-winning author
  8. Hamid Dabashi, World-renowned cultural critic and award-winning author
  9. Ali Abunimah, Author and commentator
  10. Glen Ford, Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report
  11. Adrienne Rich, Award-winning poet and essayist
  12. Stéphane Hessel, Diplomat, former ambassador, French resistance fighter and BCRA agent. He participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
  13. Annemarie Jacir, Award-winning filmmaker
  14. Hany Abu-Assad, Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe winning filmmaker
  15. Udi Aloni, Award-winning filmmaker
  16. Emily Jacir, Artist and recent winner of the Hugo Boss prize.
  17. Ahdaf Soueif, Best-selling novelist and political and cultural commentator.
  18. John Greyson, Award-winning filmmaker
  19. Ronnie Kasrils, Former minister in the South African government
  20. Nancy Kricorian, Author and poet
  21. William Fletcher Jr., Executive Editor, The Black Commentator and immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum
  22. Michel Shehadeh, Executive Director of the Arab Film Festival
  23. Cathy Gulkin, Award-winning film editor
  24. Sarah Schulman, Award-winning novelist, historian, and playwright
  25. Saree Makdisi, Literary critic
  26. Naseer Aruri, Author & former board member at both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
  27. Joel Kovel, Author
  28. Betty Shamieh, Award-winning playwright
  29. Ilan Pappé, Historian and Columnist
  30. John Berger, Award-winning author and artist
  31. Jeff Halper, Author and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
  32. John Williams, Grammy award-winning guitarist
  33. John Pilger, Award-winning journalist and filmmaker
  34. Rev. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, M.M., Former President of the United Nations General Assembly and former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua 

Who are some of the people that have been involved in or endorsed a particular campaign of Boycott, Divestment, or Sanctions?

Noam Chomsky, Linguist, author, philosopher, and cognitive scientist.

  1. Danny Glover, Award-winning actor and film director
  2. Harry Belafonte, Award-winning musician and actor
  3. Norman Finkelstein, Political scientist and author
  4. Howard Zinn, Award-winning historian, author, and playwright
  5. Rashid Khalidi, Author and Historian
  6. Debra Chasnoff, Academy Award-winning filmmaker
  7. Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constiutional Rights
  8. Viggo Mortensen, Award-winning actor, poet, and musician
  9. Wallace Shawn, Actor, author, and playwright
  10. Nigel Kennedy, Award-winning English Violinist & Violist
  11. Vincenzo Consolo, Award-winning author
  12. Augusto Boal, Award-winning theatre director, writer and politician
  13. Gerald Kaufman, British Member of Parliament
  14. Richard Falk, Author and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights
  15. Neve Gordon, Israeli Academic & Author

What are some of the key successes the BDS movement has achieved?

Consumer and Corporate Boycott Success:

July 2010: U.S.-based Olympia Food Co-op (two grocery stores) voted to stop selling all Israeli goods with the exception of a single brand called “Peace Oil.”

June 2010: Responding to appeals from Palestinian civil society after Israel’s attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, dockworkers in Oakland – California, Sweden, and Norway all refused to dock and unload Israeli ships, imposing a blockade so-to-speak on Israeli goods. Similar historic action was taken by South African dockworkers in February of 2009. 

July 2009 – 2010: As part of a CODEPINK campaign against Israeli settlement-based and settlement-owned Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics, Kristen Davis was suspended from her post as Oxfam spokesperson after it was revealed that she also represented AHAVA Beauty Products. Davis later ended her contract with Ahava. CODEPINK also confirmed with Costco that it would no longer carry Ahava products after a letter-writing and calling campaign by activists across the U.S. Finally, the Dutch government is currently investigating Ahava and its practices.

2006 – 2010: The “Derail Veolia” campaign against French corporation Veolia, for its involvement in the construction of a light rail train from Jerusalem into Israeli settlements or colonies on Palestinian land, led to a loss of over €7 billion for the company across several countries. Israeli news daily Ha’aretz reported that after the losses Veolia had decided to withdraw from the project.

November 2007 – 2010: A global campaign against Israeli billionaire, diamond mogul, and settlement-builder Lev Leviev initiated by US-based Adalah-NY has led to his renunciation by UNICEF, denunciation by Oxfam, the removal of a promotional section of his website featuring actors like Salma Hayek, Drew Barrymore, and Halle Berry at some of their requests, a UK government decision not to rent embassy space from his company.

Cultural and Academic Boycott Success:

July 2010: According to festival organizers, Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman canceled plans to attend the Jerusalem film festival following Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine dead.

June 2010: California-based folk artist Devendra Banhart canceled two shows he had been set to play in Tel Aviv just hours before his scheduled arrival in Israel.

June 2010: Rock band The Pixies canceled their first ever concert date in Israel just after the Gaza flotilla incident, blaming “events beyond our control.”

May 2010:  Elvis Costello pulled out of two concerts in Israel, saying that his appearance there could have been “interpreted as a political act.”

May 2010: The University and College Union in Britain, with well over 100,000 members, voted to sever all relations with the Histadrut union in Israel and commence looking into the boycott of Ariel College.

April 2010: Gil Scott-Heron announces that he will not play an upcoming show in Israel.

March 2010 – Award-winning novelist, historian, and playwright, Sarah Schulman, chose not to accept the invitation to participate in a conference at Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Universities. 

February 2010: According to Israeli producers, guitarist Santana canceled his concert in Israel due to pressure not to play there. This was after letters directed at him, including one from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. 

2008 – 2009 included: The Government of Spain’s exclusion of an Israeli university in the illegal settlement of Ariel from a prestigious international university competition for sustainable architecture in the world, organized by both the Spanish Government and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid; rapper Snoop Dogg’s cancellation of a concert in Israel; The Yes Men withdrawing their film from the Jerusalem Film Festival; Roger Waters of Pink Floyd refusing to play in Israel again until it removes the wall it built largely on Palestinian land; and film director, screen writer, and critic Jean-Luc Godard canceling plans to attend a Tel Aviv film festival. 

Divestment Success: 

July 2010, Jewish Voice for Peace activists presented over 15,000 petitions and postcard signatures to one of the world’s largest retirement funds, TIAA-CREF, asking them to divest from companies documented as profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. 

June 2010: Students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, voted to divest the college foundation’s funds from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation.

September 2009: The Norwegian Pension Fund announced its divestment from one of the most important Israeli defense contractors, and constructor of Israel’s wall, Elbit Systems. 

August 2009: British bank Blackrock divested from the West Bank settlement projects of Lev Leviev and his company, Africa Israel Investments Limited. This was especially significant since Blackrock was the second largest shareholder of Africa Israel.

February 2009: Hampshire College, a pioneer in the 1970s by becoming the first U.S. university to divest from apartheid South Africa, decided to divest from some 200 companies that “violated the college’s standards for social responsibility,” including six companies with close connections to Israel’s occupation.       

Sanctions Success:

February 2010 – The European Union court in Brussels ruled that products from Israeli settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not Israeli and are therefore not eligible for the trade benefits between Israel and the European Union. 

July 2009 – Britain blocked the sale of spare parts for Israel’s fleet of missile gunships because they were used in the 2009 bombing of Gaza, revoking five of Israel’s arms licenses with the UK.

January 2009 – The European Parliament managed to halt negotiations on strengthening the trade relationship between the EU and Israel in the framework of the Association Agreement and there are new, emboldened efforts to try and get the Association Agreement suspended altogether.

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