Photo Credit: courtesy

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Beyond the Great Divide}

The Maximalist Arab position

The original Arab position was that there should be no Jewish self-rule, and Jewish refugees should not be accepted into Palestine. A boycott of Jewish businesses began in the early 1920’s. By 1930 Arabs had committed massacres against ancient Jewish communities. Much of the Arab effort of the 1930’s was spent violently protesting the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. By 1939, they had forced the British to shut the gates. The two-state solution was born as a response to Arab violence.

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From 1948, Arab State violence was also based on no acceptance of Israel behind any borders. This stance most famously displayed in the Khartoum Resolution of 1967 and the ‘three no’s’ – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with it. This position existed even when EVERY INCH of the West Bank and Gaza was under Arab control.

This unaccommodating position was rejected by everyone who sought a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. It rejects Israel’s right to exist. It sees Jews as European invaders, and will use any methods to oppose peaceful co-existence.

The BDS Movement

As the 1990’s peace process began, the maximalist position continued to surface. Groups like Hamas sought to derail the process with campaigns designed to slaughter as many civilians as possible. The end of the Oslo peace process was another example of deliberate violence to derail negotiations. However, open calls for the destruction of Israel still fell on deaf ears in western politics. To counter this weakness, maximalist Arabs coded their message in humanitarian doublespeak, and in 2005 they wrapped it all up in a package called BDS.

Even anti-Israel activists such as Norman Finkelstein have publicly criticised the idea that BDS was ever a ‘call from within’ Palestinian civil society – calling it a ‘myth’. There is video footage of Ilan Pappe, publicly stating deception was involved. A search of boycott initiatives from 2001 to 2004, show that the problems of an externally driven boycott, were an evolving theme. Global anti-Israel strategists realised that to sell the idea of destroying Israel to the west, they needed to mimic the South African call against Apartheid. BDS was devised as a strategy to make extremist Arab demands suit the western palate.

The BDS goals

BDS pushes soundbites that suggest the movement takes no position on whether Israel would exist in a post BDS universe:

‘The BDS movement as such does not adopt any specific formula and steers away from the one-state-versus-two-states debate’. – Omar Barghouti – BDS founder

This vagueness is employed to navigate the branding minefield that openly calling for Israel’s destruction would cross.

BDS has three stated goals:

  • An end to the occupation. = That Israel unilaterally and unconditionally completely withdraws to the borders of May 1967, removes all the Jews currently living in that land, and dismantles the wall that has been protecting Israelis from suicide bombers.
  • That everyone inside Israel is treated equally. = That Israel removes the Jewish character of the state from existence. For example the Israeli flag is seen as racist because it contains Jewish symbols (note that the existence of the crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick in the UK flag would also be considered racist and thus turn the UK into an ‘Apartheid state’). The official stamp of Israel contains the Star of David – also seen as a racist law. These symbols of Jewish identification, are the ‘racist’ elements that BDS demands be dismantled.
  • The ‘right of return’. – That Israel stops accommodating Jewish immigration (it defines this as a racist law) – and in turn is forced to permit millions of Palestinians to move to Israel (rather than to a Palestinian state as would occur in the two-state solution).

Conclusion: This is clearly the same maximalist Arab position as has existed since 1948. A public call for the destruction of Israel.

One strategy amongst many

If you read position statements of the central BDS figures, you soon realise BDS is not ‘the’ strategy of Palestinian resistance, it is ‘a’ strategy of the resistance. Stabbing civilians in their home is another. Hamas rockets yet another. Supporting this umbrella of resistance are also Islamic radical terror groups such as Hezbollah, and nations such as Iran.  If you oppose peace talks, if you oppose the ruling Palestinian Authority making any concessions, if you believe Israel needs to be forced to surrender to maximalist demands – then you are pro-BDS.

Marketing BDS as non-violent resistance is therefore a deceptive description. BDS is a non-violent arm under the umbrella of ‘all resistance’.  It is not part of a ‘peace camp’, nor does it suggest anywhere it seeks peace. Search the ‘about BDS‘ page for the word ‘peace’ – you will receive zero results.

BDS stands in solidarity with violent resistance. As violence erupted again in late 2015, BDS asked for support. Violence strengthens groups like Hamas and weakens those that seek negotiations and peace.

BDS boycott solidarity resistance

Conclusion: Clearly, BDS aligns with the violence. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to suggest BDS is the diplomatic corp of a violent army. As the terrorists use violence, BDS is on the global stage, building diplomatic support. Like all extremist cults then, it seeks hardship, it needs suffering, *it wants violence* – because these are the primary methods of recruitment. A true peace movement would be anathema to BDS – just as Oslo was anathema to Hamas.

The hard-core

When the maximalist Arab demands are placed inside the ‘humanitarian’ packaging, it is given airtime on media outlets such as the BBC or the Guardian, as if BDS is a legitimate humanitarian movement. Even then, some media outlets still have problems openly promoting a movement that apparently calls for the end of Israel. Ambiguity rules, with many journalists understanding there is something uncomfortable about BDS, whilst not having enough understanding to counter the ‘it’s no different from boycotting South Africa’ statement.

Therefore the voice given the widest platform is one that sidesteps elements of BDS, and suggests some parts of the boycott are more legitimate than others. It comes across as far more accommodating and professional and doesn’t openly attach final status demands to the statement.

Soft sell

As an example, Andrew Smith from ‘Campaign Against Arms Trade’ (CAAT) wrote a piece in 2014 about the UK ‘ending its arms trade with Israel’. The article appeared in the Guardian. No mention of any other element of the boycott, nor of BDS, appears in the article. In a 2015 letter, also in the Guardian, over ‘100 artists announce a cultural boycott of Israel’ – there is a call for support, and again, there is no reference to the ultimate aims of the boycott, nor of the wider BDS movement.

Perhaps the most outstanding example is the academic boycott. This article (yes, again it is in the Guardian) runs with a headline that suggests the boycott initiative is over the 1967 lands:

boycott israel guardian

Nowhere in the article does it align this academic boycott initiative with the wider aims of the BDS movement. An academic who has issues with Israel’s settlement policy is therefore enticed to add his name to the petition. That signature is then counted towards those who support BDS. When voices are raised in opposition, many academics does not fully understand the objection. They signed because of opposition to some Israeli policies, and see criticism of the boycott from that perspective.  This in turn reinforces the idea Zionists oppose all criticism of Israel. For BDS it is a win-win.

All of those organisations behind each of these initiatives (CAAT, War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Artists 4 Palestine and activist academics such as Jonathan Rosenhead), fully support the entire BDS platform, yet when it comes to pulling in signatures, they use methods that fail to mention each initiative is part of the wider movement that seeks the destruction of Israel.

Pick ‘n’ mix

Most people supporting a ‘partial boycott’ would in theory oppose a call to destroy Israel. Lorde recently cancelled her upcoming concert in response to the cultural boycott – I would wager she does not support the bloody destruction of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

The idea of a partial boycott argument is built as if BDS is a political pick’n’mix, through which individual activists can choose which elements of the boycott to support. BDS is designed to play on this naivety:

BDS is all about context sensitivity. This means that supporters of BDS in any particular context decide what to boycott or divest from, how to pursue their local goals, how to build alliances, and how to campaign–with sensitivity to their own political, cultural and organizational contexts. Partners may decide to boycott only companies implicated in Israel’s occupation, and that is perfectly fine if done tactically, not out of a principled rejection of a full boycott when the circumstances allow it. This is the strength of BDS; it is not a centralized, dogmatic or command-driven movement.

Relate this back to the adverts we saw earlier calling for cultural, academic or arms trade boycotts. None of the initiatives explicitly stood aside from the wider BDS context – so there was no ‘principled rejection’ – and yet each only sold itself as if it were dealing with specific elements of Israeli policy. ‘Tactically’ chosen – it is a con.

Most people on the left – certainly newer elements of the Labour Party, the unions, Church groups, and professional organisations, are played by this type of game. Very few of those voting for the boycott would want to see it bring about a deteriorating political environment. They are driven by the idea that pressuring Israel will lead to negotiations and peace. Some push the absurdity of it being a boycott ‘in support of Israel’, as if boycotting Israel saves Israel from itself. This absurdity was labelled a ‘Zionist’ boycott. Some left wing Zionists, promote the boycott of settlements under this umbrella.

Logical dependency

The argument over whether to boycott Israel is dependent on several key elements:

  • Firstly, there is one of guilt. To want to boycott Israel, we have to assume that Israel is the guilty party.
  • Secondly there is one of ability. All of this is dependent on the idea that Israel has it within its power to further the cause of peace and chooses not to do so.
  • Thirdly there is one of integrity. BDS has to seek to achieve what those participating in the boycott believe it is seeking.
  • Finally, there is one of achievement. BDS has to be able to work.

Yet we have already uncovered major problems with the integrity of the movement.

The peace potential

More worryingly, the entire conflict has been perpetuated by the Arab maximalist position. Even if you see injustice in some of Israel’s actions, or would like the Palestinians to have their own state, that underlying feature of the conflict remains a truism. In other words, no agreement has ever been signed because Arab leaders have not had all their wishes met. Those wishes include the end of Israel’s existence. Those wishes are all reinforced in the position of BDS.

There are those who suggest that this is not true – that the Arabs do want peace. That is a straw-man position. The argument is not that many Arabs would not prefer peace, it only maintains that they cannot deliver it. It remains true that even if some are willing to negotiate on land swaps, even if some are willing to recognise Israel’s rights to exist, even if some would accept a settlement over refugees – there is enough violent dissent, and too little political cohesion. Any perceived negotiating weakness is preyed on by other groups seeking additional power. Look at the rise of Hamas during the Oslo process and Second Intifada. The result creates pressure towards a more conservative and less accommodating negotiating position.

In other words, if BDS supports the maximalist Arab position, and the Arab Maximalist position is responsible for perpetuating the conflict, then a central function of BDS is to oppose negotiated settlement.

The hostages and the hostage takers

This situation is made even more complicated because BDS, and the maximalist Arab position, deliberately unite separate communities (the Palestinian Arabs, the Israeli Arabs and the refugees) as a way of creating a problem that cannot be unraveled. The Palestinian refugees were created in 1949 as hostages, pawns, to be used against Israel. For many years the Arab world perpetuated and nurtured that hatred. In Lebanon, they still live under an Apartheid regime, and are denied their basic rights. Today these people are used to tie the hands of more moderate Arab leaders. No Arab leader can tell these refugees their wishes will not be included in any peace deal.

In reality they are not a unified group at all and have no voice. Their numbers are greatly exaggerated. Extremists speak in their name and anyone who crosses their position is betraying the cause. These political hostages have in turn become hostage takers themselves.

This from a Guardian article by Ghada Karmi:

‘The right of return is an individual right, and no one except the refugees themselves can negotiate it away. In any case, the current Palestinian negotiators, unelected and unrepresentative of the refugees, cannot legally speak for them. If they do, and this passes muster, it will only compound the gross injustice committed in 1948, and perpetuate the conflict for decades to come.’

Everyone is a hostage of someone else, and nobody can break the circle. He who dares would not live to see out the year. This means Palestinians who seek peace – cannot deliver it – and the three central BDS aims cannot be separated.  It is a position deliberately designed to make *all attempts* at negotiating fail.

The fallacy of the ‘just’ boycott

All this exposes the central flaws of BDS, and they are intentional flaws.

Firstly, that there is no clear end goal. Each of its aims are subject to the interpretation of those that align with it.  Naively, people who want Israel to change policy direction join hands with those who seek Israel’s destruction.

So, whilst it may make a claim it ‘seeks justice’ – it becomes an unsupportable claim.  This from Barbara Beck of the Pew Charitable Trusts on the subject of boycotts:

‘A successful campaign, no matter how we define it, has to begin with clear, realistic, measurable goals,’ 

When we place this against the Blueprint of BDS, the problems become highlighted: the BDS campaign is deliberately vague – it’s aims are clearly not realistic – and the goals are not measurable. All of the things that any definition of ‘justice’ would demand as basic necessities.

A final piece of evidence

For those who believe in pick’n’mix BDS, see how Omar Barghouti responds to and rejects ‘partial boycott’ initiatives:

‘The problem with this new attempt, although it is certainly more intelligent, is that it still ignores the huge elephant in the room. Ending the 1967 occupation, even if it included East Jerusalem, at best addresses most of the rights of only 38% of the Palestinian people — those living in the OPT. What of the UN-stipulated rights of the remaining 62% of the Palestinian people (12% are citizens of current Israel and 50% are in exile, who are entitled to their right of return)?’

Machinery of war and the failure in logic

Thus, there is a dangerous flaw in the logic of those supporting the boycott. This failure in logic borders on catastrophic negligence. If successful boycott’s must have measurable goals – how and when does the BDS boycott end? Because this is the real question that can never be answered.

Does it end when Israel unilaterally and unconditionally completely withdraws to the borders of May 1967? Dismantles the wall? Takes everything Jewish from its identity? Stops allowing Jews to immigrate? Permits millions of Arabs to stake claims to its lands? Who decides?

If you have been following the argument properly – then the answer is clear. The BDS movement aligns with the maximalist Arab position and is part of a movement that will *NEVER* allow *ANY* negotiated progress – it cannot – because peace talks are anathema to it. These groups will never alleviate the pressure by permitting a solution to any element of the conflict.

In other words, the central forces behind BDS will not permit an environment that rewards withdrawal – even if one could be created. Gaza is evidence of this, Oslo is evidence of this. Negotiations with Israel are used to ‘grab’ power, and turn it into an additional piece of the machinery in the war against Israel. .

Gaza is a perfect example of how Israeli withdrawal was used to further the maximalist position. Those supporting a partial boycott are setting everyone up for an increase in violence.

Humanitarianism upside down

In other words, BDS strengthens the hands of those who do not seek to negotiate, and in return they will ensure violence is a constant presence. For as long as the Arabs maintain the violence, the Israelis have little choice but to conduct conflict management. Thus ensuring that the Israeli military presence continues. How then, can we assume Israel is guilty?

Worse still – the stronger BDS becomes, the harsher Israel’s response must be. If, as has been shown, BDS is a movement that aligns with the position of the extremist groups and seeks Israel’s eventual destruction, then at no point can Israel show weakness to it. BDS demotivates peaceful initiatives on both sides.

So if you align with any part of the boycott movement only until Israel withdraws, and Israel cannot withdraw because the Arabs will maintain violence until all the aims of BDS are met – then you are adhering to the entire BDS movement – in full – regardless of your own political arguments. You align with and strengthen the call for the destruction of the state of Israel. In return BDS will never permit an environment where your partial boycott can be completed.

Churches, unions, academics, professional organisations, student groups, even some Zionist parties – all support separate sections of a movement that logically will need to increase violence, will hinder any peace moves, and will not rest until Israel has been destroyed. If you seek an end to Israeli control of 1967 lands – by adhering to a strategy of boycott, you are ensuring this can never come about. You have climbed aboard a train that will not allow you to arrive at your station – and one designed and destined only to bring further bloodshed.

The final logical flaw

The only question really for a humanitarian that has been duped into supporting BDS is this: Can it work? Having already decided Israel is guilty, and having already been duped by BDS propaganda, all that remains is one of achievement. People will suffer so it is not a zero-sum game. There has to be a positive conclusion.

Yet Jews, non-Jewish Zionists, and Israel see BDS as antisemitic. We see antisemitism spreading everywhere that BDS does. BDS activists may argue that it is not antisemitism at all, but the only relevant issue here is how it is perceived by the target.  If BDS is perceived as antisemitic, EVEN IF IT IS NOT, then at what point is it logical to suggest the Jews will EVER surrender to antisemitism? When they think there are more antisemites? When the antisemitic world looks bigger and meaner to them?

The inevitable result is that Israel will build bigger walls and no other response is logical.

Which is why BDS is not only doomed to fail, it is destined to make everything a lot worse for everyone involved. Yet if you can see BDS for what it is, a movement of extremism designed to support the maximalist Arab stance, then this is exactly what it is designed to do. Demotivate peace initiatives, radicalise opinion, increase hatred of Jews, and perpetuate a conflict.

Who would want to support that?

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David Collier has been writing on the subject of Israel for years and is currently researching anti-Zionist forces on the university campus. During the Oslo years, he coordinated projects between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and published his own newspaper which was printed in Ramallah.