Rise of BDS worldwide is worrying Israel

The non-violent BDS campaign has raised awareness and generated support for the Palestinians but it remains to be seen if it ends the injustice and discrimination against Palestinians.
Saturday 13/07/2019
Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement call for the boycott of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 18. (AP)
Ongoing pressure. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement call for the boycott of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 18. (AP)

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is gaining momentum. There is no doubt about this.

The educational, cultural and business boycott is a Palestinian-led movement for justice, freedom and equality and was initiated by Palestinian academics in 2005. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid efforts, the movement, known by its initials “BDS,” urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law, mainly by ending its prolonged military occupation and colonisation.

Although it is considered by Palestinians as a means of non-violent resistance and struggle, it is seen as an existential threat by Israelis, who claim BDS’s aim is to delegitimise their existence.

The global movement, which includes academics, unions, associations and grass-roots operations around the world, claimed several recent successes. Last year, 20 singers and artists, including Lana Del Rey, pulled out of a festival in Israel, following a similar move by New Zealand singer Lorde months before. Scores of artists and stars in film, theatre, literature and music have supported the movement.

Israel expressed its worries about BDS and urged its allies to curb the growing movement.

Germany was the latest country to respond to Israel’s wishes and moved to outlaw the BDS. Germany’s Bundestag became the first parliament in Europe to declare the BDS anti-Semitic. That move effectively labelled supporters of Palestinian human rights as anti-Semites, saying their actions were reminiscent of the Nazis’ campaigns against Jews.

The resolution came days after the BDS called for artists to boycott the Eurovision song contest, which took place recently in Tel Aviv. BDS supporters argued that Israel’s hosting of the event amounted to a “whitewashing” of its occupation policies and treatment towards Palestinians.

In Israel, the German move was hailed, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcoming it as an “important” decision.

In a statement in response to the German parliament, BDS reiterated that “the academic and cultural boycott of Israel is strictly institutional and does not target individual Israelis.”

“The German parliament’s equation of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism is based on outright lies,” the movement posted on Twitter. “It’s not only anti-Palestinian McCarthyism, it is a betrayal of international law, German democracy and the fight against real anti-Jewish racism.”

Palestinians in the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip said they felt insulted by the German move against BDS.

Sami Abu Salem, a Gaza resident, said it was sad that Germany alienated itself to the illegal and inhumane Israeli occupation. “Germany’s decision is very shocking because it means it does not support justice and international law,” Salem said.

Abed Nasser, another resident of Gaza, said the accusation of anti-Semitism is being used to silence criticism of Israel. “The term serves as a scarecrow to intimidate those who dare to criticise the actions of Israel towards the Palestinians,” he said.

Palestinian BDS activist Majed Abusalama, in Germany, said Palestinians seeking justice should not be falsely accused of being anti-Semitic. “This (parliament) decision is wrong and completely disrespectful to our struggle for justice and equality, completely disrespectful to civil rights in Europe. At this moment, we are stronger and more united in the BDS movement in Germany and Europe,” Abusalama said.

International pro-justice and pro-Palestinian activists vowed they won’t be silenced or deterred following the German resolution.

“It was an outrageous attack on free speech. Human rights activists in Germany will continue to struggle for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people. BDS is an explicitly anti-racist campaign striving for justice. It’s an attempt to silence criticism of the apartheid state of Israel by parliamentarians of a state which continuously ignores the oppression of Palestinians,” Irish BDS activist Zoe Lawlor said.

Although the German parliament resolution is symbolic and non-binding, some BDS supporters said they were concerned that other countries might follow suit. Such moves would curb peaceful resistance to occupation.

The non-violent BDS campaign has raised awareness and generated support for the Palestinians but it remains to be seen if it ends the injustice and discrimination against Palestinians under Israeli colonisation, as it did in apartheid South Africa.

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