Ten years after Palestinian civil society issued the call for Boycott, Divestment from, and Sanction of Israel (BDS), people around the world have taken heed, building an international campaign for human rights that is acknowledged by supporters and foes alike as an increasingly powerful force.
“Effective grassroots BDS campaigning has forced some of the world’s largest corporations, including Orange, G4S and Veolia, to gradually withdraw from Israeli projects that violate international law,” reads a statement released this week by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, comprised of 27 Palestinian organizations, including the General Union of Palestinian Women and Federation of Independent Trade Unions.
“From major U.S. churches to private European banks, divestment from Israel is becoming acceptable and understood as necessary to bring about freedom, justice and equality,” the statement continues. “In Latin America, major state contracts with Israel companies have collapsed after grassroots pressure.”
What’s more, the academic boycott of Israeli institutions is gaining steam, bolstered by the formal support of prominent associations, including the American Studies Association. Also, increasing numbers of student and campus communities are joining the movement, as exemplified by the British national student union’s alignment last month.
Well- and lesser-known artists and musicians are joining in the effort in response to grassroots pressure. “Lauryn Hill, Thurston Moore and other prominent performers have recently cancelled scheduled performance in Tel Aviv, adding their names to a growing and illustrious list of artists, including Roger Waters, Faithless, Elvis Costello, among many others, who refuse to perform in Israel,” notes the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
The call for BDS was issued by more than 170 Palestinian-led organizations on July 9, 2005 in a bid to win self-determination and freedom from occupation, using tactics similar to those levied to transform apartheid South Africa. The declaration invokes “fundamental human rights” in the face of colonialism and apartheid—including the rights of refugees to return.
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The BDS movement’s large roster of international supporters includes the rapidly growing U.S.-based organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which argues that BDS is more important now than ever.
“After the collapse of peace talks last spring, the assault on the people of Gaza last summer, and the recent re-election of the most right-wing government in Israeli history, it is clearer than ever that outside pressure will be needed to create change in Israel,” said Ariana Katz, a rabbinical student, youth educator, and Philadelphia-based organizer with JVP, in a press statement released Tuesday. “More and more students, churches and especially young Jews, are turning to the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as a way to take action for justice.”
The BDS call has also attracted considerable support from organizations and people in South Africa, including prominent and unsung anti-apartheid heroes. “People who are denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings,” declared Archbishop Desmond Tutu last year. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
The growing movement has also captured the attention—and angry rhetoric—of U.S. and Israeli policy makers.