Why the BDS campaign is futile - opinion

The more one is attacked and vilified, the more defensive modes of operation take over.

 AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest takes place in Amman in 2014. (photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)
AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest takes place in Amman in 2014.

The popularity of the BDS (Boycott and Divestment and Sanctions) movement in recent years, especially in universities and colleges across the US, can be understood and even coveted from the ingenuous and naive perspective. After all, what could be more justified and worthier than alleviating the misfortune and suffering of innocent people?

But this is precisely where the double-edged sword of this initiative lies: boycotting Israel cannot and will not assuage the genuine ongoing misery of the Palestinians. Sanctions and divestment will only serve to augment their anguish rather than lessen it.

There are several reasons why the BDS effort is futile and counter-productive. First, the old and recurrent psychological pattern of rally-around-the-flag and circle-the-bandwagon is acutely reawakened: the more one is attacked and vilified, the more defensive modes of operation take over. Instead of admitting culpability, the blamed side invests its resources in trying to vindicate itself or charge back. Israel is not different in these natural instincts that any other nation or culture. On the contrary, its long historical experience of persecution renders it more trained and more capable of staving off such assaults.

Secondly, Palestinian well-being is intertwined with the Israeli economy. A Rand Corporation Report on the “Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” published last week stated among other things that “A two-state solution provides, by far, the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms – $123 billion (NIS 421 b.) versus $50 billion (NIS 171 b.) over 10 years. But the Palestinians would gain more proportionately, with an average per capita income increasing by approximately 36% over what it would have been in 2024, versus 5% for the average Israeli.”

The report adds that “A return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis; per capita gross domestic product would fall by 46% in the West Bank and Gaza and by 10% in Israel by 2024.” Economic sanctions against Israel are bad for the Palestinians and the BDS logic here is as sound and as reassuring to the Palestinian cause as the Iranian promise a few years ago to “end the occupation of Palestine by throwing an atom bomb on Israel.”

BDS MOVEMENT supporters protest outside the Tel Aviv venue of the Eurovision Song Contest final, in May 2019. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)BDS MOVEMENT supporters protest outside the Tel Aviv venue of the Eurovision Song Contest final, in May 2019. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

Third is conflict resolution and in its wake, mutual recognition, reconciliation and collaboration to sustain a bearable future for all parties is feasible only through constructive communication and open channels of interaction. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are the antitheses of the peacebuilding mindset. These are belligerent and confrontational techniques, which might cause one side to feel morally superior and comfortably just but have nothing to do with cutting a protracted conflict shorter or with mitigating afflictions.

Palestinians could have gained independence

THE PALESTINIANS would have gained independence a long time ago had they not succumbed again and again to extremism and violence as representing their plight. Many Israelis, who see the occupation as a stain on their conscience would have joined them in their struggle but terrorism and vehemence have alienated them and severed the collaboration between good-willed people on both sides. The BDS campaign has the same impact of undermining rapprochement and encouraging intransigence and defiance. Many Palestinians lament this campaign done on their behalf but fear expressing their opposition.

Fourth, the BDS endeavor is not wholeheartedly genuine. There are certainly many frank and unpretentious devotees, who are honestly abhorred by the Palestinian predicament in the West Bank and Gaza. Their motivation and stamina are not to be doubted, but so are their lack of historical perspective and a more multifarious realization of where their actions might lead.

But some of their leaders, the instigators of this enterprise, know better. They know that their strategies would not eradicate poverty in Gaza; they know that their incentive to attack Israel is more intricate than the misfortune of the Palestinians; and they know that their enthusiasm for human rights and human dignity is painstakingly selective for they rarely ever bother to demonstrate against savagery and torment inflicted daily by ISIS against Muslims of any persuasion, or against the systemic obliteration of precious historical heritages in the bleeding Cradle of Civilization.

They also know that the time and energy they invest in condemning Israel and reducing the Middle East conflict to a unidimensional caricature of good guys versus bad guys clash is self-serving and deceiving. It might consolidate their status and resumes, and it could also catapult them into future leadership positions but it would not benefit their Palestinian brethren.

Fifth, and most regretfully, the BDS effort has made rapid strides due to the fabricated and distorted analogy of Israel and South Africa. Some of the BDS advocates recruited supporters using the ostensibly convincing comparison of South Africa Apartheid’s regime that was vanquished by worldwide boycotts and sanctions. This historical experience has shown, the logic goes, that such policies do work.

This is a powerful and sophisticated strategy, as it is simplistic and deceptive. Apartheid is a highly effective catchword and racism, as it was exhibited by the white minority in South Africa, is indubitably inculcated in the collective historical memory. As such, it is a remarkable mobilizing platform for aspiring BDS supporters. But is such a comparison really valid? South Africa was isolated by the entire world at the height of the endeavor to bring down Apartheid.

EVEN THE USSR and the US, albeit belatedly, joined forces to eradicate a minority regime that legally, structurally and systematically oppressed the vast majority of the population. Is this the situation in Israel? Are Israeli Palestinians legally and systematically oppressed by a tiny minority of Jews?

In 1948, two documents were published: The Sauer Report in South Africa, which operationalized the segregation laws of the ruling party and set the Apartheid regime on its way, and the Declaration of Independence of newly established Israel, calling “to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Furthermore, in the midst of an all-out war against its Arab neighbors, the Declaration makes a plea to “all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

Can two more different documents ever be juxtaposed? This is not to belittle the sufferings of the Palestinians or to ignore the abomination of the occupation. The occupation must be terminated as soon as possible and the Palestinians must be treated justly and equally. However, all these wrongs came about by misconstrued relationships, patterns of destructive communication, cultural barriers and global and regional political intrigue. In other words, the Middle East contention, like many others in the world, was fueled and sustained by misguided interactions between two national movements, Jewish and Palestinian, aggravated by historical, geographical and psychological circumstances.

The only way to make amends for the continuing woes both sides experienced is by rebuilding and reconstructing their relationships and setting them on the right course: a vision and a work plan the BDS movement does not understand.

The writer is the director of the International School at Oranim College.