Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Boycotting the Boycott: BDS Means “No” to the Two-State Solution

The BDS campaign against Israel continues to grow, but its efforts are, at best,
misguided and stifle dialogue and, at worst, negate Israel's right to exist.

By: Susan Maishlish

Organizations and private entities supporting a two-state solution would be wise to reconsider their endorsement of boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israel (BDS)

The Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions campaign against Israel is highly counter-productive, favoring bullying over cooperative activities that promote dialogue and the humanization of the "other." Trust-building initiatives such as joint economic ventures, dialogue groups and cooperative healthcare require a concerted investment of time, resources, and genuine determination; however, the link between action and effect, whereby such activities will result in a tangible benefit for both parties is verifiable. BDS disregards the necessary cognitive shift that must take place within the collective consciousness of Israelis and Palestinians alike - the move from pessimism to hope - for sustainable resolution to be capable of materializing. 

According to the Global BDS Movement website for “freedom, justice, and equality,” Palestinian Civil Society calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” The group posits that continuous, punitive measures will force Israel to comply with the demands of the Palestinians and, ultimately, the Arab world. The overarching issue of how Israel would comply with BDS demands is at best ambiguous, and at worst, posits Israel should forfeit its right to exist. The movement discounts the notion that any viable solution should be a negotiated final status agreement, whereby the issues of permanent borders, Jerusalem, economy, freedom of movement, and refugees can be examined in a comprehensive and realistic manner intended for avoidance, rather than provocation of future conflict and accompanying violence.
This is not a new idea. The Palestinian bid for independence at the UN was disputed, as the issues listed above cannot be determined or enacted by a single party. In this scenario, cooperation is preferable to force. A unilateral declaration for a Palestinian state is not sustainable because it undermines many of the relevant issues that should be negotiated, they will only resurface later on by presenting greater difficulties for all parties.

The BDS movement has attracted significant media and political attention by exploiting the language of human rights in addition to the mounting frustration resulting from the continuing conflict. The movement simplifies reality by presenting a partial and selective narrative, underestimating the inquiring public's propensity to seek a balanced account representative of both parties’ histories, narratives, and accompanying interests. There must be accountability. 

Those entities in support of BDS campaigns are responsible for the eventual consequences of their actions, and thus should ensure they have adequately understood the complex reality prior to lending their names to destructive punitive measures. What is glamorous today may prove nefarious in the future, and if the needs of only one party are considered, then a biased and unjust course of action has ultimately been endorsed. Considering one side of the story is irresponsible, and casting judgement based on incomplete information is illustrative of inadequate research on the Israeli-Arab conflict, preexisting bias, or worse still, ulterior motive. 

The movement replaces optimism with pessimism
The BDS Movement is counterproductive, discouraging a return to negotiations by promoting a continuing pessimism towards the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Such regrettable actions may be likened to violent terrorism, as they are similar in motive and intended consequence- actions intended to punish or hurt the other, provoking demoralization and encouraging the eventual abandonment of the peace process. Such activities serve as perpetual reminders that renewed attempts at negotiation will be met with increased punishment - bringing attention to Israel’s supposed failure at satisfying the Palestinian’s positions on the assortment of interwoven issues rendering effective resolution so tricky.

Indeed, the reticence of Israelis towards renewed negotiations is supported by the notion that the cost of seemingly inevitable failure and resultant punishment is too high to be justified. Instead of being credited for attempts to reach agreement, Israelis are instead penalized for attempts to. Is it any wonder that the current situation has materialized? BDS activities, much like violent terrorism, do not encourage a fertile environment for negotiation, but rather continuously poison the soil, ensuring that nothing of value takes root.

Additionally, the intended message of BDS is lost on its target audience, as many rightfully draw the linkage between this new campaign and the Arab League’s historic boycott of Israel which I touched upon in my previous article. The historic boycott has been rebranded under the trendy “humanitarian” banner - designed to appeal to a concerned and well-meaning international audience. Since 1948, the original Arab boycott has stated its purpose to discourage immigration to Israel and curtail the country’s social and economic development. Of course, this boycott was established far before humanitarian language was able to provide it with deceptive new packaging of the BDS movement.

The movement doesn’t provide a “way out”
To trust in the efficacy of any future negotiations, Israelis, Arabs and the international community must perceive that a “way out” of the current stalemate exists. A “way out” provides hope that discussions will eventually yield a desirable outcome, rather than a renewal of violence, political sanctions or other forms of punishment. The concept is derived from the Theory of Ripeness.

The Oslo Accords and Camp David were inspired by a prevailing optimism that a genuine and viable resolution was possible. Those negotiations were spurned by belief that a “way out” of the violence and hatred existed. When negotiation and implementation attempts resulted in disappointment followed by mounting terror, hope and optimism was replaced by an intensifying pessimism and futility observable today. BDS nourishes, encourages and justifies pessimism, proving that optimism is reckless and blindly idealistic- a risky gamble with life-threatening consequences.

The Peace Index - an ongoing public opinion survey initially inspired by the optimism following the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 - published its January 2011 findings, in which a clear majority (68%) of the Jewish Israeli public believed that even if a peace agreement were signed, the Palestinians would continue to struggle until Israel was eradicated. It’s clear that Israelis, as well as Palestinians, increasingly lack hope in the viability of a negotiated settlement.

The above findings support the argument that BDS is counterproductive – discouraging a return to negotiations by promoting pessimism and distrust. There are more practical and targeted options for encouraging renewed faith that are as easy to support as BDS, and most importantly, aim at a root cause as opposed to a mere symptom of the problem.

Encourage optimism, not BDS 
A working, observable illustration of a project addressing pessimism is that of the Peres Center for Peace, aiming “to build an infrastructure of peace and reconciliation by and for the people of the Middle East that promotes socio-economic development, while advancing cooperation and mutual understanding."

This innovative center provides a realistic alternative to BDS by encouraging peace building through socio-economic cooperation and development, as well as people-to-people interaction by nurturing Palestinian-Israeli relations. They focus on five main areas: (a) people-to-people dialogue and interaction; (b) capacity building through cooperation; (c) nurturing a culture of peace in the region’s youth; (d) business and economic cooperation and (e) humanitarian responses - cooperating with Palestinian partners to provide real-time responses to humanitarian crises.

The Peres Center for Peace is funded by donations from governments, corporations, foundations, organizations and private individuals. Why invest resources into disputable BDS initiatives when they can be diverted into projects yielding positive dividends for both peoples? Examples of projects hosted by the Peres Center include: business-to-business events, providing individuals from both sides the opportunity to make connections in a peaceful and structured atmosphere; the “twinned peace theater and cinema schools” program linking Palestinian and Israeli high school students in a creative and artistic peace-building program; and the “Saving Children” project facilitating the referral of Palestinian babies and children to hospitals for a variety of procedures and services currently unavailable in the Palestinian Authority.

Another excellent example of a cooperative venture is that of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, established to present an alternative to hatred and revenge. According to former US president Bill Clinton, “the parents circle’s work is praiseworthy. They unite hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones as a result of the Israeli-Arab conflict. These families understand the cost of the continuing violence in the Middle East more than anyone else, and they work to end the fighting through peaceful means. Those who truly support a two-state solution should consider allocating their resources towards supporting such noteworthy efforts, which provide evidence that there CAN be goodwill and dialogue, reminding both sides that reasonable individuals do exist, and are worth knowing. 

Simply stated, there remains no excuse for continuing to support BDS activities when opportunities exist to address the root cause of pessimism vis-à-vis continued negotiations and the perception of a “way out.” With the above being presented well-meaning individuals not previously aware of such existing methodologies for encouraging tangible change can divert their resources into productive action. Such might include brain-storming ideas for joint initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians, constructing business plans, or simply conducting further research on the variety of cooperative organizations existing for the authentic purpose of enabling positive advancement for real people on the ground.

Such would be free of the sensationalism, demonization and demoralizing activity inherent to BDS, so that the conflict can stop being a source of entertainment, but rather, the honest intention of creating a better future for those individuals affected by the conflict can be fulfilled. With such support from the international community, we may once again reestablish the optimism that made the Oslo process possible, and the groundwork will be laid for continued negotiations.


  1. Very good article. Glad someone is willing to expose these hypocrites! I hope this makes its way to the NYT editorials...

  2. The BDS is a joke which has never attempted to hide its true intentions: complete delegitimization of the State of Israel. Although many of the ideas in this article are wonderful, the people behind this campaign have no intention of compromising.

  3. With so many great alternatives to the BDS campaign, it makes me wonder how people who claim to be lovers of peace, freedom and equality can exclusively target Israel in such a despicable and one-sided manner.


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