File photo: A supporter wears a T-shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' at the Palestinian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, during a rally against Israeli air strikes on Gaza. Image Credit: AFP

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) grassroots movement has become a form of resistance to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands and a struggle to defend the national rights of the Palestinian people. Launched in 2005 from the heart of civil action in Palestine and expanded to include a growing number of countries in the world, it plays an important role today in the international arena. Indeed, the BDS activists have succeeded in recent years in focusing attention on the violations perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.

It has mobilised large segments of international public opinion to call for boycotting, divesting and punishing Israel. Such moves were considered alarming and a strategic threat by successive Israeli governments. The Israeli Knesset passed a law banning the entry of BDS activists into Israel and placed them on a blacklist.

It is well known that the BDS movement, seeking the boycott of Israel, is not centred only in the economic sphere alone. In the face of popular and political pressure, Argentina — for example — cancelled a friendly preparatory meeting of the 2018 World Cup in Russia which was scheduled to bring together the Argentine team and their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem.

Major achievement

Most recently American singer Lana Del Rey cancelled her performance in Israel because of her “inability to schedule a show for her Palestinian fans equally.” Along with increasing similar sports and cultural successes here and there, the BDS is active mainly in confronting international companies that assist and support Israel in its violations of Palestinian human rights, including through contracting with its army and government, working in Jewish colonies.

Over the years, the movement’s campaigns have succeeded in forcing large companies to withdraw their investments from Israeli projects altogether, which led to the withdrawal of a wide range investments from Israeli companies, as well as from international companies complicit in such businesses. But a major achievement, the biggest in BDS history, came with the announcement by the HSBC Bank, the world’s seventh largest, of divesting in full from Elbit Systems, the Israeli defence electronics company known as one the largest arms and civilian use equipment manufacturers.

The company promotes weapons that have been used against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The movement also pledged “to continue campaigns against the bank until it withdrew all its investments from 12 other companies that sell military equipment and technology to Israel, the most important of which is BAE Systems, as well as Caterpillar, which makes bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes and property.”

These successive achievements of the BDS movement came despite the fierce campaign led by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and its desperate attempts to whitewash Israeli crimes. The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced the allocation of millions of dollars to improve Israel’s image abroad after being affected by the activities of the boycott movement.

An Israeli study prepared by journalist Nathan Thrall confirmed that the boycott movement angered Israel and complicated its position, especially in the United States. In a recent piece he notes: “It has shamed the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah by denouncing its security and economic collaboration with Israel’s army and military administration.”

The study added that the boycott movement “contributed to changing the environment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as it reduced the ability of Israel to benefit from regional transformations, and damaged its relationship with the Jews of the world.”

As Airbnb, a major American home rental company, cancelled its listings in Jewish colonies, US vice-president Mike Pence moved to defend Israel’s position on the issue, saying the BDS action is wrong and “it has no place in the American free market.”

But an Israeli journalist viewed the movement as a struggle against occupation and oppression. Yuli Novak wrote: “The BDS monster is one of the glorious creations of the government of Israel. By means of a propaganda machine with abundant resources and frightening messages, a legitimate and non-violent Palestinian protest movement has been turned into an anti-Semitic plot.

“How were we so quick to bite the bait that serves only those who want to preserve the regime of occupation and apartheid in Israel?”

She went on to say “The Israeli government doesn’t want opposition or criticism regarding the policy of occupation, and the easiest way to prevent support for this opposition is to single out every criticism as a tentacle of the anti-Semitic monster”.

“The boycott movement,” she went on to say, “represents a form of non-violent struggle by a people that is being oppressed.”

The boycott movement has many achievements in terms of investments being withdrawn from companies that support the Israeli occupation. It has also succeeded in preventing the sale of products of the Jewish colonies in shops worldwide, and convinced international artists to cancel cultural activities in Israel. What the movement needs is more Palestinian, Arab and Islamic support to achieve its full objectives.

Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.