This month, Norway’s KLM fund announced its divestment from 16 companies which are part of a list of 112 entities published by the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) last year that do business with illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. In May, another Norwegian fund, the sovereign wealth fund, also announced its divestment from two such companies. The UN list of companies, known as the ‘Wall of Shame’, was a result of persistent campaigns led for years by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement which completed 16 years of existence on July 9.
BDS is a non-violent movement of global solidarity based on appealing to individuals, groups and governments across the world to boycott and sanction Israel and divest from institutions sustaining its occupation in any form. With growing acceptance of its call to recognize Israel as an apartheid regime, the BDS movement stands at a very crucial juncture in its history amid increasing hostilities by the Zionist state and its allies.
Statement of Principles or BDS call
The BDS movement was formed in 2005, inspired by the global movement against the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s and prompted by Israel’s failure to abide by an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling against its separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territories. The movement has tried to achieve larger Palestinian solidarity and global action against Israel in order to pressure it to end its occupation and dismantle the apartheid wall, provide equal rights to all Palestinian citizens of Israel and respect the right to return for all Palestinian refugees as per the UN resolution 194. BDS works through persistent campaigns in the media, demonstrations, and academic activities.
The BDS movement was formed at a time when the second intifada was ongoing and the Palestinian movement was transitioning after the death of Yasser Arafat and the failure of the Oslo Accords. Israel, using its advantage of superior armed power and control over international media, was trying to reduce the Palestinian resistance and label it as a terrorist activity. In spite of this, supported by 170 different unions, organizations and professionals from both sides of the 1967 green line, BDS has gradually emerged as a key pillar of Palestinian resistance.
Talking to Peoples Dispatch, Apoorva, the Asia Pacific Coordinator of its National Committee, said that in past 16 years, BDS has not only grown inside historical Palestine, but has been able to “bring together and powerfully lead effective and meaningful solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self determination” across the world.
Israel’s attempts to silence the movement
Israel has tried very hard to delegitimize the BDS movement. Writing in The Guardian in 2018, Nathan Thrall argued that sensing the possible effects of “delegitimation” of the Zionist state, Israel has termed BDS as a “strategic” and “existential” threat and devoted significant human and economic resources to “deal with it.” The Israeli counter-campaign has called the movement “anti-semitic and racist,” he observed.
As a result of sustained Israeli pressure and campaigns, several State governments in the US and some in Europe have tried to make BDS activities illegal by passing certain laws and issuing decrees. A global smear campaign to paint its activities as hateful against Jews has led to polarization among intellectuals and given birth to litigation in certain countries, prominently in the UK. Israeli lobbying has also led to counter campaigns against BDS sympathizers.
In complete violation of their own declared commitment to freedom of speech and expression, several liberal governments and bodies across the world have tried to suppress BDS, leading to debates in those societies. However, BDS has persevered and fought against these pro-Zionist governments’ attempts to takes away the Palestinians’ right to resist occupation and discrimination. In May this year, a US court found one such anti-BDS law unconstitutional.
Major achievements and future challenges
Israel has tried to threaten BDS activists with jail terms and litigation. One of its co-founders,Omar Barghouti, as well as other activists, have been repeatedly arrested by Israeli authorities, and still, as Apoorva underlines, the BDS movement has been able “to pressure companies and institutions to end complicit ties with Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”
BDS has a long list of achievements from cancelled concerts to recognition of Israeli policies as apartheid. BDS chapters all across the world are leading their own subsidiary campaigns for boycott in their respective countries. However, the biggest achievement of BDS has been to create a new hope among Palestinians by gaining widespread acceptance across all ideological divides. As Apoorva claims, BDS “has been able to build a wide, intersectional alliance with faith based groups, as well as with gender, racial, economic and climate justice movements.” While these groups may differ on the ideal solution to the Palestinian question – a one state solution or two – they agree that apartheid is practiced by Israel against the Palestinian people and that there is a need to create international pressure to bring an end to it.
The growing acceptance of Israel as an apartheid regime is a major step forward. In recent months, groups such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, and prominent figures such as former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, have openly called Israel an apartheid state. This means a growing popular consensus against Israeli actions and discriminatory policies.
According to Apoorva, “powerful supporters of apartheid Israel, apart from maintaining its impunity, are intensifying their anti-Palestinian repression.” However, she claims that this will not work as “they are face-to-face with a nonviolent, anti-racist human rights global movement where people have identified the complicity of their oppressors, and are united in their pursuit of a future of justice, freedom and dignity.”