Boycotting the boycott

The BDS movement seeks to create a situation in which peace cannot be achieved. By breaking the morale of the people who try for peace, BDS makes it so they will not want to try again.

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Organizations and private entities supporting a two-state solution must reconsider their endorsement of boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israel. The BDS movement discourages a true and lasting resolution by prompting pessimism among the hopeful and punishing, rather than praising, attempts at peace. Can we get back to the optimism felt in 1993 with the Oslo Accords? The Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel’s activities are highly counter-productive, favoring bullying over cooperative activities promoting dialogue and the humanization of the "other." BDS activities do not address the cognitive shift from pessimism to optimism necessary to break the impasse.
In spite of this fatal flaw, the BDS Movement has attracted media and political attention by exploiting the concerned public’s frustration at the protracted conflict, applying the language of human rights out of context. The BDS Movement also simplifies a highly complex reality by presenting a one-sided and selective narrative, trusting that, through repetition of a consistent message, the public will merely accept what they are told. This strategy has been somewhat successful – depicting the real power of a well-planned and consistently-executed advertising campaign.
According to the Global BDS Movement website for “freedom, justice, and equality,” Palestinian Civil Society calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” The group theorizes that continuous, punitive measures will force Israel to comply with the demands of the Palestinians and, ultimately, the Arab world. The overarching issue of how Israel would realistically comply with BDS demands is, at best, ambiguous and, at worst, posits that Israel should forfeit its right to exist. This runs counter to the wisdom that resolution will be best sustained through a collaborative problem-solving approach, where the issues of permanent borders, Jerusalem, economy, freedom of movement and refugees are discussed in a genuine manner.
Reflecting the notion of collaborative negotiation, the Palestinian bid for independence at the UN was disputed as the above listed issues cannot be determined or enacted by a single party. A unilateral declaration undermines the relevant interests that must be negotiated to avoid future violent manifestations arising from consistently unmet needs.
With this in mind, those who support the BDS movement’s call to action must be held accountable for the consequences arising from the movement. If a decision to offer support is based on the reliance upon one narrative, preexisting bias or, worse still, ulterior motive, this will surely be revealed in time. When that happens, they should be ready to answer for their actions.
The movement replaces optimism with pessimism
BDS activities are identical to violent terrorism in motive, in that they are actions intended to punish or hurt the other, provoking demoralization and the eventual abandonment of the peace process. Analogous to this comparison is the distinction between violent and verbal abuse – both are motivated by the same misguided motives, but only one leaves readily identifiable physical traces, while the other is more easily concealed and may, therefore, continue for longer before wrongdoing is identified. Although violent terror has subsided, the restraint of Israelis towards renewed negotiations is intensified by BDS because the cost of failure and resultant punishment is perceived as being too high to be justified. Instead of being credited for attempts to reach agreement, Israelis are instead consistently reprimanded for trying.
The movement doesn’t provide a “way out”
To trust in the promise of impending negotiations, all parties must believe that a “way out” exists. Oslo and Camp David were supported by optimism that a genuine and viable resolution was possible. The perception of a “way out” results from optimism that discussions will eventually yield a desirable outcome, rather than violence and/or BDS. The Peace Index’s January 2011 findings reported that a clear majority (68%) of the Jewish Israeli public believed that even if a peace agreement were signed, the Palestinians would continue to struggle to create a Palestinian state in the entire land of Israel. It is clear that Israelis, as well as Palestinians, increasingly lack hope in the viability of a negotiated settlement. This further supports the idea that BDS is counterproductive – discouraging a return to negotiations by promoting pessimism and distrust. Needed are activities that instead counter this sense of futility.
Instead of BDS, there exist numerous practical and accessible solutions for encouraging renewed faith. Such initiatives address a root psychological state, as opposed to a consequence of distrust. BDS is truly self-renewing as it feeds upon the reaction it engenders. It is the fuel for its own fire.
Encourage optimism, not BDS
Practical and targeted alternatives to BDS aim to create a support system for peace and reconciliation, encouraging the involvement of both peoples to promote socio-economic development, cooperation and familiarity with the “other”. Initiatives encourage peace-building by creating platforms for socio-economic initiatives, promoting a culture of peace amongst youth, providing venues for open dialogue amongst families of victims on both sides and humanitarian responses (such as the provision of healthcare), amongst many others.
Initiatives free of the sensationalism, demonization and demoralizing activity inherent to BDS are necessary so the conflict may graduate from a source of surface-level intrigue, so that advocates for peace may truly contribute to the creation a promising future.
The writer is a Canadian-Israeli journalist focusing on Middle East affairs. She received her M.A. in Conflict Resolution and Mediation from Tel Aviv University and is a regular contributor to the social/political site,