What is BDS

BDS is a peaceful and non-violent means to pressure the State of Israel to end the illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade of Gaza; to allow the internationally recognized Right of Return to Palestinian refugees to the land and homes from which Israel forcibly expelled them in 1948; and to ensure equal rights for all Palestinians living in Israel according to international law and human rights conventions.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a strategy initiated in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s government and those entities which support and benefit from its actions in relation to Palestinians, until such time as the Israeli government abides by international law and Palestinians are given the rights and freedoms they are entitled to. It is based on the successful South African anti-apartheid boycott movement of the 1970s and 80s.

BDS is now a vibrant, global movement supported by unions, academic associations, church and grassroots organisations throughout the world.

BDS is having a major impact with significant and ongoing successes and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism. Due to this success, Israel has identified BDS as a major threat and has allocated large amounts of funding to government and non government agencies to discredit it as a legitimate form of opposition to the Israeli government’s policies.

One of the key methods used to attempt to discredit BDS is to conflate it with antisemitism and terrorism. These claims have no basis and are used to silence critics of the state of Israel who support Palestinian rights under international law. BDS calls for equal rights for everyone in or with a right to live in Palestine-Israel and opposes all forms of discrimination

1) BDS calls for equal rights for both Jews and non-Jews. antisemitism is prejudice against Jews and a form of racism. BDS does not target Jews, but the Israeli government, and Israeli and other companies, institutions and entities which support and benefit by the State of Israel’s ongoing dispossession and oppression of Palestinians.

It is a non violent, peace based international campaign which since its inception in 2005, has gained significant international support, including from many Jewish people. Key targets have been global companies such as Caterpillar, Veolia, HP, Puma, Paypal, G4S, and the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019, as well as Israeli cultural and academic organisations and individuals who are sponsored by the Israeli government. These Israeli companies and cultural and academic organisations which are supported by the Israeli government and/or benefit by the ongoing occupation, apartheid laws and dispossession of Palestinians from their lands are legitimate BDS targets.

2)  BDS is opposed to all forms of discrimination including racism, islamophobia, antisemitism and sexual discrimination.

3)  BDS does not take a position in relation to the legitimacy or not of Israel  – it does not seek to ‘destroy Israel’ but rather to support and demand the internationally recognised inalienable Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees. It is important to remember that many Jews, including religious ones, were and are opposed to Zionism. 

The BDS campaign is endorsed by a large range of unions, churches and religious organisations, universities and professional associations, local government councils and other organisations internationally, including Jewish organisations.

Thousands of academics in South Africa, US, UK, India, Sweden, Ireland, Brazil, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere have signed statements in support of the institutional academic boycott of Israel. National trade union federations in South Africa, UK, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Basque Country, Brazil and other countries across Latin America, in addition to scores of national and local unions, including the Maritime Union of Australia, also support BDS.

Institutional investors including the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church (UMC), the Dutch pension fund PGGM and the Norwegian, Luxembourg and New Zealand governments have divested from companies over their role in Israeli violations of international law. Major European private banks including Nordea and Danske Bank and wealthy individuals including George Soros and Bill Gates have also divested from BDS targets.

Some critics claim BDS is antisemitic because it shows selective concern for Israel/Palestine over other situations of oppression. This is completely unjustified. BDS supporters do not just want to see an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and racially biased laws that discriminate against Palestinians; they support campaigns in favour of oppressed peoples everywhere – West Papuans, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Kashmiris, Rohingyans, Sahrawis. But no effective campaign can take on all injustice, so like any other campaign, BDS is  selective, and it has a single objective – the end of oppression and injustice against Palestinians. It is a serious distortion of the truth to discredit this as antisemitic. No one criticizes the struggle for the rights of Tibetans or Kashmiris or Rohingya as illegitimate; no one should criticize the campaign for boycotts in favour of Palestinians as illegitimate or antisemitic.

In brief: Why BDS is not antisemitic

  • BDS does not target Jewish people or Jewish businesses. It focuses on the Israeli government and national and international companies and organisations which are complicit in the Israeli state’s violations of international law.
  • BDS is not a call for the elimination of Israel. Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees dispossessed of their homes and lands from 1948 onwards, from exercising their inalienable right to return as enshrined by UN resolution 194.
  • Not all Jews are Israeli and Israel does not represent all Jews. 
  • BDS calls for equal rights for both Jews and non-Jews.