The repression of the BDS movement is a double-edged sword which threatens liberty in the west and promotes violent resolutions to problems in the Middle East
BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”, and is a movement which was launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organisations. It calls on people from around the world to express their solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and for justice by applying economic pressure on Israel. Inspired by the boycott movement against apartheid in South Africa, BDS is a rights-based movement, demanding that Israel implement international law. It calls for people to boycott Israeli products, cut ties with Israeli institutions involved with Israel’s violations of international law, and stop normal relations with Israel (including cultural and academic connections) until Israel withdraws from occupied Arab land, offers equal rights for all its citizens, and allows the Palestinian refugees the right of return.
The movement, so far, has achieved a tremendous impact on Israeli society. Israelis are becoming well aware that a growing number of people all over the world are refusing to buy Israeli products, while Israeli corporations are being taught that their international business suffers when they profit from the exploitation of the Palestinian economy. Many Israelis feel that international pressure will escalate with every act of repression against Palestinian resistance, until the Israeli regime itself will collapse.
The Israeli government is mindful of the growing BDS movement, but has no means to stop it except to respect the rights of Palestinians, which it refuses to do. The Israeli parliament passed a law against Israelis supporting BDS, and the government threatened to use Israel’s military intelligence and secret services to undermine boycotters around the world. The Israeli government has become accustomed to using force to repress dissenting voices, to throw in jail Palestinian political activists and use violence to disperse Palestinian demonstrations, but such means are completely ineffective against an international grassroots movement, and the Israeli public is losing faith that its government can stop BDS.
When international governments take steps against BDS, such as in the US, in France and most recently in the UK, they simply cannot force their citizens to buy Israeli products, nor can they slow down BDS with repressive government action. By repressing freedom of speech of their own citizens, they aim to show support for the Israeli government; they do not protect the Israeli economy or society from BDS, but they protect the Israeli government from its own angry public, because such moves are only credited to the Israeli government’s diplomatic efforts and make it more likely that the current bunch of Israeli politicians will be re-elected. These Israeli politicians are then likely to be cooperative in international dealings with governments who repress BDS.
Yet the reason for suppressing BDS in places like the UK is not just to win favour with the current Israeli government. It is also part of a larger policy of repressing liberties in the name of security. The countries which suppress BDS also happen to be countries that are militarily involved in the Middle East, and whose governments implement policies of surveillance, restrictions and control on their own Muslim and Arab populations. Israel calls itself a democracy, but it serves as the model for replacing liberty with security, which right-wing governments and political parties around the world seek to imitate. Glenn Greenwald recently wrote that the repression of political activism against Israel’s occupation is the greatest threat to free speech in the west. Israel / Palestine is a symbol for countless social and political movements around the word (from the left and from the right). The liberation of Palestine is in the interest of citizens of most countries in the world who are struggling for their own civil liberties and human rights.
BDS is a movement which was initiated by Palestinian civil society organisations. They believed that international pressure could give them the power and the protection they need in order to demand their rights from Israeli authorities, and win them over by marching, protesting and resisting in non-violent ways. It is no surprise that there are also Israeli activists who support BDS, because knowing the horrors of occupation and of apartheid up close, they understand that the alternative to peaceful protest is violent uprising. Indeed, there are Palestinian groups who dismiss BDS as ineffective, believing that only armed struggle can free Palestinians from Israeli domination.
The attempt to repress BDS in the US, the UK and France is a boon to the Israeli government, but even more so to the Palestinian armed resistance groups, who cannot survive when a non-violent and effective alternative exists to their armed resistance. It is also a boon to anyone who prefers to see political problems in the Middle East resolved with violence, rather than with political means. Let us not forget that the US is the world’s largest arms exporter, France is the fifth and the UK is the sixth. The weapon manufacturers in these three countries can thank their governments for fighting against BDS.
Image from: http://bdsmovement.net/files/2014/12/web-banner.jpg?1456161793582
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