With Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl commercial for Israeli company SodaStream costing her a position with British charity Oxfam, and John Kerry’s warning that increasingly “there are talks of boycott Israel “, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has lately been making waves, causing debate and furrowing brows.
But what is BDS? And how extensive is the boycott Israel movement around the world?
Here with the answers is Jspace’s guide to BDS around the world.
What Is BDS?
Depending on whom you ask, BDS is either a nonviolent response to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories that originated in Palestinian civil society as a peaceful alternative to the religiously inspired, traditionally violent resistance movement—or a strategy to delegitimize Israel with the endgame of not just halting the occupation of the West Bank but destroying the very existence of the Jewish State.
The BDS movement is led by Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti who supports a single democratic state in what is now Israel and the West Bank; in other words, a one-state solution to the issue of Israel/Palestine rather than two states, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish country.
However, while this is the aim of the leader of the movement, “BDS does not take any position on the political outcome or resolution of the question of Palestine,” Barghouti said. Nevertheless, the BDS movement’s stated aim that all Arab refugees from pre-state Israel return would result in the de facto end of the Jewish homeland.
While this is the position, or lack thereof, of the official BDS movement, it is fair to say that different companies and organizations around the world promoting an Israel boycott may have their own views on a just resolution to the conflict in the Middle East. What they all share is the view that boycotting Israeli companies and organizations will further their agenda.
So here is how the BDS movement has manifested itself around the world.
America is Israel’s strongest ally and home to the largest Jewish population outside of the Jewish State. But the BDS movement has gained some traction stateside, particularly in academia.
In the last year both the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian-American Studies have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, which calls on US universities not to cooperate or collaborate with Israeli academic institutions.
There have also been instances of American musicians boycotting Israel. To cite just one example, which no doubt upset Israeli rap fans, Snoop Doggy Dog canceled a gig in Ramat Gan in 2008 after pressure from pro-boycott activists.
Home to over 500 million inhabitants, the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner. But in 2013 the EU published new guidelines for trade between its member states and Israel. The guidelines forbade “all 28 member states” from “any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
In addition, the European Parliament did not renew a contract with private security company G4S after BDS campaigners complained that the company’s work with the Israeli prison service made them complicit in the detention of Palestinian political prisoners.
The UK has strong culpability when it comes to the mess in the Middle East. The Brits promised a Jewish State to the Jews in 1917 and self-determination to the Arabs in the then British colony, before removing its presence prior to the end of the 1948 War for Independence.
Now many British organizations are involved in BDS, most notably the charity OxFam, which parted ways with Johansson because it is “opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements.” The anti-famine nonprofit previously axed “Sex and the City’s” Charlotte, also known as Kristin Davis, as an ambassador because she had taken a job with Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, which has a West Bank factory.
The second largest trade union in the UK, Unison, suspended relations with their Israeli comrades, the Histradut, in support of BDS in 2012. In 2010 the Methodist Church of Britain voted to boycott Israeli-produced goods and services from the West Bank because of Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.”
Meanwhile, the Co-operative Group, which has a diverse range of retail businesses—most notably banking and supermarkets—has a policy of boycotting companies that source produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Musicians from the UK have been among the most prominent boycotters of Israel with Roger Waters a recent outspoken example. And in 2010, Elvis Costello cancelled concerts in Israel as “a matter of instinct and conscience.”
And Britain’s most popular cultural export since the English language, the Premier League, has been linked to BDS with Chelsea’s signing in 2014 of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah, who refused to shake hands with Israeli footballers under pressure from “extreme groups” in his home country.
The $200 billion Dutch pension fund PGGM recently decided to divest from the five largest Israeli banks because of their involvement in Palestinian territory.
In a country known for its bacon and butter, this year Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, declared Israeli Bank Hapoalim unkosher. Danske Bank added Bank Hapoalim to a blacklist of companies in which it will not invest because of the Israeli bank’s funding of settlement construction. The Danish bank has also divested from Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus because of the companies’ involvement in building settlements.
In 2012, the Romanian government refused to allow construction workers from the country to work on building settlements in the West Bank or any territory considered under international law to be occupied Palestinian lands.
The government of Norway’s pension fund was one of 13 European finance institutions to exclude the Israeli military technology company Elbit from their portfolios. The Norwegian Ministry of Finance also excluded Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus from its pension fund. And Norwegian pharmaceutical retail chain VITA in 2012 stopped “all sales of products originating from settlements in occupied territories,” including Ahava beauty products.
In 2012, the general agent for Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories in Japan DaitoCrea announced they would no longer be distributing Ahava products manufactured in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.
Of all world leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is probably the most outspoken friend of Israel, where he received a hero’s welcome in January 2014. But not all Canadians share his views and in 2011 the Hudson Bay Company succumbed to pressure from the BDS movement and stopped selling Ahava cosmetics.
BDS campaigners like to liken Israel to Apartheid South Africa, where sanctions and boycotts helped to bring about the end of the racist old regime. Although the parallel is by no means accurate, South African academics were among the most prominent supporters of BDS, and the University of Johannesburg severed ties with Ben-Gurion University in 2011.
What Can We Learn From This?
Although it has yet to gain large-scale traction, the BDS movement is scoring victories of varying sizes around the world. But in singling out Israeli companies BDS can help those against boycotting Israeli firms by highlighting what companies to patronize in defense of the Jewish State. It seems that in 2014 consumer spending and pressure is trying to succeed where negotiations and violence have failed.