The use of boycotts as a strategy to bring about equal rights and an end to oppression has long been recognized as an effective and nonviolent method for bringing about change. In the United States, the black civil rights movement achieved national and international attention with the 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott that helped end segregated seating on that city’s public transportation. In the 1960s, Hispanic and Filipino farmworkers called on consumers across the country to boycott grapes and lettuce until California growers recognized the right of farmworkers to organize into unions.
The time-honored use of boycotts to protest racism goes back much further in history. It includes, for example, the 1933 anti-Nazi boycott against products made in Germany to protest the rise of anti-Semitism there under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
Why Boycott Israel?
More than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations have called on people around the world to boycott Israeli exports as a nonviolent method to pressure the Israeli government to end its military occupation, its apartheid laws, and its refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes. This effort is known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and is modeled after a similar international human rights campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, a victory that was achieved in 1994 when black South Africans voted in national elections for the first time and the white minority government agreed to dismantle its system of apartheid.
Why Boycott All Israeli Products? Why Not Just Boycott Israeli Settlement Products?
Some people object to the idea of boycotting all products made in Israel. They argue that the boycott should target only those products such as Ahava cosmetic products and the SodaStream carbonation kits that are made in Israel’s illegal settlements. They fear that targeting all Israeli products would appear anti-Jewish.
This argument ignores the fact that Israel also practices apartheid within its internationally recognized borders with more than 50 laws that either explicitly or implicitly discriminate against non-Jews, who make up more than 20 percent of Israel’s population. It also overlooks the Israeli government’s refusal to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes and land. This official government policy has kept the rights of citizenship from millions of Palestinian refugees. Indigenous Palestinians are denied the right of return while Israel’s Law of Return guarantees citizenship to anyone claiming to be Jewish.
Israel’s entire economy benefits from the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel profits from using Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as a captive market for Israeli goods. Israeli banks help finance the settlements, and Israel’s domination ensures that the Palestinian economy is crippled and underdeveloped. The Israeli government subsidizes the illegal settlements and continually approves their expansion.
Since the purpose of the boycott movement is to bring pressure on the Israeli government to end its discriminatory and oppressive policies, its impact is far more effective if it targets all Israeli products, not just those made in the West Bank.
Israeli products are targeted not because they are made by Jewish-owned businesses, but because they are part of a system of apartheid and injustice. Many Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, endorse the BDS movement. They recognize that Judaism cannot be equated with Zionism, the narrow ethnonationalist ideology that proclaims the Israeli state is for Jews alone.
Why Does the Israeli Government Oppose the Boycott?
BDS has so frightened the Israeli government that it is spending millions of dollars annually in a propaganda campaign to discredit BDS, in part because it knows how effective this nonviolent strategy can be. BDS is grounded in the concepts of international law, international humanitarian law, and equal rights. It is directed at Israel’s apartheid policies and actions, not at Jews or any other ethnic group.
But Israel is doing more than simply spending money on propaganda. It has revealed the essentially antidemocratic character of its government by outlawing BDS efforts within Israel. It is also using its pro-Israel lobbies in the West to promote legislation that would penalize BDS campaigns in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. The pro-Israel Lobby in the United States is also attempting to influence a trade agreement with the European Union to prevent the EU from taking measures against Israel’s illegal settlement products. In doing so, the Israeli government is attempting to criminalize the basic democratic rights of free speech of Israelis, Palestinians, and the global Palestine solidarity movement.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that boycotts are a form of free expression and therefore are entitled to the free speech protections of the First Amendment. The Israeli Supreme Court, however, recently upheld a 2011 law that subjects people who advocate for BDS to extremely large fines. The Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace condemned the ruling, saying “The anti-boycott bill is one of a host of racist and anti-democratic legislation aimed at silencing opposition and curtailing the rights of the Palestinian minority.” The coalition noted the racist underpinning of the Supreme Court’s ruling because it only singled out boycotts that advocate for Palestinian rights. Other types of boycotts remain legal.
The Israel Lobby in the United States is now attempting to bring the same type of racist and discriminatory legislation to this country to curtail free speech rights here, much as it did when it successfully censored SeaMac’s bus ads in Seattle.
The Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
Jewish Voice for Peace Statement on BDS
“Israel’s anti-boycott law will hit Palestinians hardest, rights group warns,” Electronic Intifada, April 16, 2015.
“EU must take stronger action to sanction Israel following high court decision banning boycott,” Mondoweiss, April 24, 2015.
Israel’s Discriminatory Laws http://www.adalah.org/en/law/index