Standing up to the Zionist backlash against BDS

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel (BDS) has achieved significant successes since its inception in 2005. In 2016 alone, ten new BDS resolutions were passed in the United States. Internationally, the campaign to boycott or divest from G4S, the security company involved in Israeli prisons, checkpoints, police, and military, won victories this year in Jordan, Kuwait, and Colombia.1 In August, the Movement for Black Lives endorsed BDS.2 Polls in the United States show that millennials have more than tripled their support for Palestinian human rights in the past decade.3

Yet the movement faces significant new challenges. Beginning in 2015, a major counteroffensive against BDS led by Israel and with the support of Western capitalist state governments, especially France and the United States, has moved to criminalize BDS, punish individuals who participate in the movement, or smear BDS advocates as “terrorists” and “anti-Semites.” The counterattacks have pushed what has been largely an offensive campaign onto the defensive. Activists have had to spend time organizing new resolutions and campaigns defending organizations and individuals. 

In the current conjuncture, it is necessary to mount a well-coordinated response to attacks on the movement as well as expand BDS into new realms, especially workplaces and trade unions. Also needed is a sharpened analysis of how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine remains a centerpiece of US and Western imperialism, increasingly abetted by the support of Gulf capital and neoliberal Arab states. This will help the movement underscore that Palestinian liberation is part of the wider struggle for the transformation of the Middle East. Finally, the support of BDS by many organizations within the Black Lives Matter movement creates new opportunities for fighting racist violence and police brutality both within the United States and under Israeli Occupation. The endorsement points to the opportunity to deepen the fight for Palestinian freedom based on solidarity across borders.

Birth of the BDS movement

In 2005, three years after the end of the Second Intifada, Palestinian civil society, including more than 170 civic organizations, issued a call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel. The campaign was modeled closely on the movement against South African apartheid. Indeed, Palestinian leaders were encouraged toward building a BDS campaign at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, organized by UNESCO in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.4 In its founding document, PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott) described Israel as a colonial state based on Zionist ideology whose principles included:

■    Denial of its responsibility for the Nakba—in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem—and therefore refusal to accept the inalienable rights of  refugees and displaced persons stipulated in and protected by international law;

■    Military occupation and colonization of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza since 1967, in violation of international law and UN resolutions;

■    The entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which resembles the defunct apartheid system in South Africa.5

Similar to the South Africa campaign, the central planks of the Palestinian BDS call are economic divestment from Israel; cultural and academic boycott of Israeli universities; and sanctions against the Israeli state. BDS set out three demands with those conditions: full equality extended under the law to all Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Occupied Territories, including the West Bank; the dismantling of the notorious apartheid wall separating Palestinians and Israelis; and the honoring of UN Resolution 193 supporting the right of return to their homeland of refugees from Palestine displaced by the Nakba.

Israeli atrocities and BDS victories

Between 2005 and 2008 the BDS movement’s successes were incremental. Then, in late 2008, Israel undertook Operation Cast Lead, the bombing and massacre of more than 1,500 Palestinians in Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009. The massacres, widely televised and watched on the Internet in the West, coincided with the growth on many college and university campuses of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters, which led and coordinated condemnation of the massacres. The slaughter in Gaza also directly inspired a small group of US academics to form USACBI, the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.6 

Almost immediately, resolutions to divest and boycott Israeli universities became part of the organizing work of SJP chapters. Since 2012, for example, nine University of California campuses have voted to divest, the first being University of California, Irvine. Also in 2011, eleven Muslim students at UC Irvine were arrested for a nonviolent protest of the appearance of former Israel Defense Force paratrooper and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. The case became a flashpoint for SJP organizers, drew national media attention, and began to win faculty support for students targeted for their criticisms of Israel.7

The growth of SJP and BDS in tandem with the devastating Operation Cast Lead massacres reveals a recurring two-sided movement since 2009: increasing international support and mainstreaming of support for Palestinian civil rights, on one hand, and a worsening situation on the ground for Palestinians, on the other. This contradiction exploded again in 2014, when Israel for the second time in five years invaded Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, this time killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children. Public outrage at the killings brought massive pro-Palestinian crowds into the streets of cities like London and Chicago.

The same year was also significant for the BDS movement: on the heels of the American Studies Association vote to boycott Israeli universities in December 2013, the African Literature Association, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the University of California, Los Angeles student government, and DePaul University student government all voted for boycott or divestment.9 A significant BDS event of 2014 was the December vote by the University of California Student-Workers Union (UAW Local 2865) calling on the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies that are allegedly profiting from or aiding in the Israeli occupation. The resolution also called for an end to US military aid to Israel and for the UAW International to divest from the same corporations.10

Israel organizes the Zionist backlash

The combination of world criticism of Israel for its massacres in Gaza and the growing success of BDS triggered Israel and its allies to counterattack. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a 2014 Knesset resolution to establish a special task force to combat the effects of BDS. The task force, standing at some 100 million Israeli shekels (roughly $25.5 million) and covering ten new job positions, was approved in June 2015 as part of the budget of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs headed by Minister Gilad Erdan. In early 2016, Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz, called upon his government to conduct “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders.11 

In the United States, leading Zionist mega-donors summoned pro-Israel activists for a meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, strategies for countering the wave of anti-apartheid protest on college campuses. In June 2015, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a long-time Republican Party backer and Donald Trump supporter, organized a meeting with several other top Zionist funders, including Hollywood entertainment mogul Haim Saban, Israeli-born real-estate developer Adam Milstein, and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman. The summit reportedly raised 20 million dollars to combat BDS.12

In France, meanwhile, the Francois Hollande government in 2014 formally criminalized Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions under the “Lellouche law,” which was used in 2015 to convict twleve protestors advocating BDS.13 The repression was part of the French state’s sharp Islamophobic turn after the horrendous Charlie Hebdo attacks. The assault on BDS also followed legislation outlawing the wearing of the hijab by Arab and Muslim women.

As might be expected, it has been the United States and the Obama administration—Israel’s most devout backers—that have led efforts to suppress BDS activity. The primary tactic used has been federal and state-level legislation to punish or strip funding from businesses or individuals who participate in BDS activity. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), finalized in February 2016, includes provisions that entities engaged in boycott or divestment activity against Israel would be bypassed or deprioritized in trade agreements.14 Indiana passed its own version of such a law, requiring the state retirement system to divest from any entities taking part in boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity against Israel.15 To date, more than fifteen US states have passed legislation which imposes economic penalties on BDS or labels it “anti-Semitic.” 

Defending the legal right to boycott

The new tactics against BDS present the movement with a new set of distinct challenges demanding strategic response. One of the key battles is confronting anti-BDS lawfare and defending the legal right of the movement. New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s use of executive authority in early summer 2016 to remove state funding from any groups involved in BDS work represents a new stage of the backlash. As Cuomo bluntly put it, “If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.” 

Though blatantly unconstitutional, since political boycotts are protected under the First Amendment, Cuomo’s action was meant to have a chilling effect on BDS organizers.16 Activists have resources at their disposal for challenging such legislation: Palestine Legal, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have already filed Freedom of Information Act requests with New York State on behalf of BDS activists. In a June Nation article, Palestine Legal attorney Dima Khalidi rightly called Cuomo’s executive order a “blacklist” and indicated the likely legal challenge to the order that is forthcoming: 

Fundamentally, boycotts that are designed to “bring about political, social, and economic change” involve protected First Amendment activities of speech, assembly, association, and petition. The Supreme Court confirmed this in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. in 1982, a case brought by boycotted white business owners against the NAACP and other activists in Mississippi at the height of the civil-rights era in 1969. In its unanimous decision, the Court found that state action “against a nonviolent, politically motivated boycott designed to force governmental and economic change and to effectuate rights” could not be justified. Targeting the BDS movement, which has as its end forcing governmental action to achieve freedom and equality for Palestinians, similarly cannot be justified.17

While it is unclear how the courts will respond to legal challenges to anti-BDS legislation, such repressive tactics must not intimidate the movement. BDS activism is a constitutionally protected right and attacks on it are an opportunity for us to rally more people to the cause. BDS is on the side of democracy against state repression from the United States to Palestine.

Resisting repression on campus

Because they have been the base of so much BDS activity, university campuses have been at the forefront of much of the counteroffensive. University administrations have led the way. After the American Studies Association boycott resolution passed in December 2013, more than 250 university presidents signed a statement rejecting the ASA vote. Simultaneously, state legislatures in Maryland, Illinois, and New York attempted to pass legislation to strip funding support from academics or universities that engage in boycotts.18 Because boycott is protected under the First Amendment, all of these legislative efforts failed or were withdrawn. 

But violating the law or their own institutional procedures has not deterred the university bosses. Steven Salaita, a public proponent of BDS, was fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his criticism of Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza, a firing supported by Illinois state legislators and pro-Israel donors to the university. More recently, the University of California Board of Regents chose to hear a motion brought by pro-Zionist forces in California that equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The hearing was a deliberate attempt to silence criticism of Israel on university campuses. Ultimately, the Regents voted to approve a modified statement that anti-Semitism has “no place” on college campuses but refused to take action on a statement on anti-Zionism.19 Their refusal was likely due to organized faculty pressure across the state and shows of faculty solidarity around the right to criticize the state of Israel.

SJP chapters who consistently champion BDS on campus remain the leading targets of repression by campus administrations. In 2014, the SJP chapter at Northeastern University was suspended for distributing “mock eviction” flyers criticizing Israel for evicting Palestinian residents to build settlements. This recurred in 2015. Eventually, in both cases, the suspension was overturned.

Northeastern SJP won its struggle for reinstatement by organizing large-scale public solidarity events. Ali Abunimah, author and cofounder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada, spoke at the campus in support of the chapter. The chapter also held protests, picket lines, petitions, and phone calls demanding reinstatement.20 In both instances at Northeastern, public displays of strength and solidarity and a refusal to cave in to administration harassment were keys to victory. 

Activists may also turn to Palestine Legal for support in battles with university administrations; the organization has created a “Legal and Tactical Guide” for activists detailing how universities risk legal action if they suppress Palestinian organizers on campus.21 It is essential that SJP chapters learn their rights and fight to defend them against the repressive administrations.

Since the Salaita case, two new defense campaigns have also formed to assist faculty targeted for their Palestine solidarity work or BDS activism. The first, Campus Defense Committee for Palestine (CDC4P) is a coalition made up of USACBI, Jewish Voice for Peace, the International Jewish Anti-
Zionist Network (IJAN), and Palestine Legal. CDC4P’s website22 includes legal information about how faculty can defend themselves from attack. A second resource is an “Academic Defense” link at the USACBI homepage.23 The link includes PDF copies of Palestine Legal’s “Palestine Exception to Free Speech” and links to resources for building and defending academic boycott campaigns.

Refuting the false charge of anti-Semitism

The BDS movement has from its inception declared its opposition to all forms of racism. BDS cofounder Omar Barghouti was a signer to a 2012 public statement declaring that the struggle for Palestinian freedom is “incompatible with any form of racism or bigotry,” including anti-Semitism.24 This has not stopped its opponents from declaring support for BDS anti-Semitic. 

Both AMCHA and Canary Mission, two of the most virulently pro-Israel “watchdog” groups in the United States, include support for BDS as anti-Semitic activity. Canary Mission has revived blacklist tactics not seen in the United States since the Cold War. Its website includes a video which ends with the statement, “It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals aren’t tomorrow’s employees.”25 Canary Mission’s website includes profiles of more than 500 students in the United States, many of them Muslim or Arab, accusing them of “terrorism” or anti-Semitism for their support for Palestinian human rights. 

The new “anti-Semitism” campaign against BDS includes efforts to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The charge is based on a false equivalence of Zionism with Judaism, an equivalence long rejected by anti­Zionist leftists, anti-Zionist Jews, communists and socialists as well as by more liberal organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. In an important article on the history of Zionism, Lance Selfa notes that though Zionism began as a response by Jewish national leaders of the nineteenth century to anti-Semitism, it is a distinctly reactionary ideology:

Early Zionists made no secret that they hoped the Jewish state to be what Herzl called “a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”Herzl’s writings abound with praise for the leading imperialist powers in Europe. Herzl admired the German Kaiser’s dictatorship: “To live under the protection of a strong, great, moral, splendidly governed and thoroughly organized Germany is certain to have most salutary effects upon the national character of the Jews.”In 1902, he wrote to Lord Rothschild, a British Zionist with connections in the highest reaches of the British state: “So far, you [the British empire] still have elbow room. Nay, you may claim high credit from your government if you strengthen British influences in the Near East by a substantial colonization of our people at the strategic point where Egyptian and Indo-Persian interests converge.” Zionism’s founders exuded pro-imperialist racism against what they considered the “backward peoples” of Asia and Africa.26 

Herzl, who is generally regarded as the father of Zionism, is now infamous for his statement made early in the development of the Zionist movement: “I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.”27 The founders of Zionism were even prepared to ally themselves with the most vicious anti-Semites. Herzl approached Count Von Plehve, the sponsor of the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia, and wrote him: “Help me to reach the land sooner and the revolt [against tsarist rule] will end.” Herzl and other Zionist leaders offered to help guarantee tsarist interests in Palestine and to rid Eastern Europe and Russia of those “noxious and subversive Anarcho-Bolshevik Jews”—in other words, to get rid of the people who wanted to fight anti-Semitism rather than capitulate to it.28

It is in this context that BDS activists should recall PACBI’s own 2013 statement on the relationship of anti-Semitism to Zionism. In a statement entitled “BDS—against Zionism and anti-Semitism,” PACBI wrote:

Understanding Zionism and anti-Semitism as racist political twins—sometimes even partners in crime—underpins the Palestinian call for BDS. Its anti-racist aims—freedom from occupation, justice for refugees denied their right of return and equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel—are best served by targeting Israel as a racist state aligned with the political-economic interests of the Western powers.29

BDS activists must also point out that accusations of BDS as anti-Semitic is part of a bait-and-switch to take attention away from resurgent racism in the West against Arabs and Muslims. Typically, this takes the form of accusations of “terrorism” for any support for Palestinian human rights, including BDS. The notoriously reactionary David Horowitz Freedom Center, for example, recently took credit for posters at UCLA and University of California, Santa Cruz which accused pro-Palestinian students and faculty of allying themselves with “terrorists.” The posters referred to BDS as a “final solution” and to critics of Israel as “Jew haters.” 

In addition to targeting national leaders of the Students for Justice in Palestine movement like Rahim Kurwa at UCLA, the posters named distinguished UCLA historian Robin D. G. Kelley and legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis. UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion did send an e-mail to students criticizing the posters as “personalized intimidation.”30 At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), an SJP student leader, Haneen,31 was smeared as a “terrorist” and “enemy of the state” by anonymously placed posters, blog posts, and a WordPress website. 

Students at IUPUI pleaded for the administration to act on Haneen’s behalf. Indianapolis faculty members circulated a public petition defending Haneen, forcing the University Chancellor to release a statement, albeit tepid, asserting the rights of students to peaceful activism. Similarly, students at San Diego State University encircled the car of University President Eliot Hirschman demanding that he defend students targeted by Horowitz fliers that smeared members of the campus SJP and Muslim Student Association.32

These episodes hold several important organizing lessons for campus supporters of Palestinian liberation and BDS. First, they point out that organizers must be vigilant in standing up to racism on campus in all its forms. Second, they underscore the continuing racist and Islamophobic double standards shared by states and universities against Palestinian and Muslim students who can wantonly be accused of virtually anything. Third, it underscores the importance of political education—arming ourselves with the facts necessary to challenge the spurious claims that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are twins.

This is an aspect of what Palestine Legal has called the “Palestine exception to free speech,” the title of a critical document showing more than 250 attacks on Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists and organizers in the United States in the past two years.33 Campus organizers can use the Palestine Legal document to demonstrate to university administrators both their constitutionally protected right to advocate for Palestinian human rights and BDS, and their right to free speech. The document also distinguishes between criticism of the state of Israel and anti-Semitism. 

BDS organizers must constantly expose the blacklisting tactics used by groups like Canary Mission and build mass support against such tactics. Because both students and faculty on university campuses are being targeted, such campaigns provide valuable spaces for collaboration.  In late September, more than one thousand academics from around the world signed a petition denouncing Canary Mission’s tactics, the first significant pushback against it. The petition is available to view and to sign at

BDS in a time of counterrevolution

All of this organizing for BDS must see itself as part of the larger struggle for the transformation of the Middle East. The oppression of Palestine is maintained not only by the state of Israel but also that state’s relationship with American imperialism and the surrounding Arab dictatorships and monarchies. As a result, the Palestinian struggle is wrapped in the wider struggle of the Arab masses for their own emancipation. Indeed, as the phrase goes, the liberation of Palestine runs through streets and factories of Cairo.

For example, in his 2011 book The Egyptian Revolution: A Political Analysis and Eyewitness Account, Sameh Naguib of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (RS) describes the “electrifying effect” of the 2000 Palestinian intifada on the social movement that became the Egyptian Revolution. The intifada, Naguib writes, both exposed the shameful role of the Mubarak regime in pressuring the Palestinians to make concessions to Israel after the 1993 Oslo Agreement, while radicalizing university and school students across the country who collected donations, food, and medicine for convoys to the besieged Palestinians. 

This awakening broadened with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which drew 40,000 people to an antiwar demonstration in Tahrir square. Naguib makes clear that both events helped trigger the workers’ strike wave that began in Egypt in December 2006, starting at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla, but soon spreading from public sector to private, from textile to engineering, and “to sectors that do not have a culture of protest, such as teachers, doctors and civil servants.”34 

Naguib demonstrates that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is tied to the fate of the wider working classes of the Middle East. Reem Abou-El-Fadl has similarly shown that support for Palestinian self-determination gave momentum in Egypt to public opposition to Mubarak’s neoliberal economic policies in the early stages of the Revolution.35 Egypt’s own economic immiseration under Mubarak was seen by many activists as comparable to the stranglehold economic conditions Palestinians endure under Israeli Occupation. 

The Occupation, in turn, financed and funded by Gulf capital, the EU, and the United States, was for many a symbol of the recolonization of Middle East economies. Ali Abunimah and Adam Hanieh have both shown, for example, how Oslo paved the way for the neoliberalization of the West Bank, where Palestinian workers now compete with migrant labor from South Asia, resulting in increasing unemployment rates, contingent employment, and deterioration of basic economic indicators.36 

Israel’s current economic dependence on foreign capital and neoliberal economic policies makes the Occupation different in many ways from South African apartheid. South Africa’s Black majority constituted the prime base of economic exploitation, a fact which gave rise to the African National Congress and the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) both of which played critical roles in supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement there. Strikes, labor disruptions, walkouts, and stayaways within South Africa also spread to international labor; as early as 1962, the International Longshoreman Workers’ Union in the San Francisco Bay Area staged a boycott of South African cargo and remained active in boycotts and public protests throughout the 1970s and 1980s.37

Israel consciously attempted to make itself independent of Palestinian labor. On top of that, the Arab nationalist movement, which once at least mouthed support for the Palestinian cause, has largely abandoned it, as they adopted neoliberalism and in so doing struck deals with American imperialism and the Gulf monarchies.38 As a result, the Occupation now grows from capital from the Gulf states as well as the EU and United States, further isolating Palestinians and bolstering Israel’s political and military stranglehold; but, at the same time, connecting Palestine’s oppression with the exploitation of workers throughout the region.

BDS’s rise in popularity has in some ways come as a response to these conditions, indexing the weakening of mass street-level and workplace resistance under the Occupation, but it will need to combine with labor movements in the Middle East and elsewhere to inflict significant damage on Israel’s economy. The widespread solidarity with the Palestinian cause expressed at the height of the Arab Spring is a precedent to remember and build on for the future, even in this current moment of counterrevolution in the Middle East. Inevitably a new phase of class struggle will erupt and with it the potential of the Arab working classes to undermine the Arab dictatorships, the Israeli state, and the region’s imperial overlords, especially the United States. That power offers hope for Palestinian liberation. 

But that will also require solidarity from workers around the world. And we can see the initial stirrings in the international labor movement to build solidarity with Palestine. In May 2016, the Uruguayan Federation of Workers of Services and Commerce (Fuecys) called for the boycott of Israeli products and for companies in Uruguay to break their ties with Israel’s apartheid regime. Some of the largest trade unions in the UK have joined the call to divest from G4S. But class struggle will be necessary to end the Occupation. As Anne Alexander documented in her book Bread and Freedom on the Egyptian Revolution, even militant trade union radicalism minus international labor support and a coherent plan for taking state power, will leave in place the most brutal of counterrevolutions; this includes Israel.39

Solidarity from Ferguson to Palestine 

Here the BDS movement might draw lessons and inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically its success in bridging solidarity through a combined analysis of the conditions of capitalism, colonialism, and racism for oppressed peoples. A turning point in both movements was the 2014 Ferguson protest. Palestinian activists observing police and National Guard attacks on Black protestors used Twitter to share instructions for coping with tear gas manufactured by the same US supplier and used against their street protests in the West Bank and elsewhere. 

Protests on the ground in Ferguson included a contingent from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Meanwhile Palestinian students from Birzeit University in the US on an organized delegation, and Black protestors from Ferguson, connected the attacks to the bombings in Gaza just months before. “Ferguson to Gaza” became the new rallying cry to express the symmetry of violence, occupation, racist policing, and mass protest against those conditions.

Out of that moment also came the magnificent Black Solidarity With Palestine statement signed by more than one thousand African American writers, radicals, cultural workers, and activists. The statement read in part: 

Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries. Soldiers, police, and courts justify lethal force against us and our children who pose no imminent threat. And while the US and Israel would continue to oppress us without collaborating with each other, we have witnessed police and soldiers from the two countries train side-by-side. 

US and Israeli officials and media criminalize our existence, portray violence against us as “isolated incidents,” and call our resistance “illegitimate” or “terrorism.” These narratives ignore decades and centuries of anti-Palestinian and anti-Black violence that have always been at the core of Israel and the US. We recognize the racism that characterizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is also directed against others in the region, including intolerance, police brutality, and violence against Israel’s African population. Israeli officials call asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea “infiltrators” and detain them in the desert, while the state has sterilized Ethiopian Israelis without their knowledge or consent. These issues call for unified action against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and Zionism.40

In addition, the statement endorsed BDS and called for an end of US economic and diplomatic aid to Israel. The robust internationalism of the statement, its emphasis on solidarity, and its openly anti-imperialist politics helped to shape the more recent, fully elaborated platform of the Movement for Black Lives.41 In addition to reiterating a call for BDS, the statement recommended free public health care, fully funded public education, divestment from fossil fuels, and the right for workers to organize in public and private sector jobs. In doing so Black Lives Matter has attempted to move from a single-issue focus on police violence and state-sponsored racism to a broader campaign for social justice. 

To date, the Palestinian-led BDS movement has been remarkably disciplined in projecting BDS into a variety of national arenas, human and civil rights forums, and academic settings. It is also a well-developed international movement, with major BDS campaigns ongoing in Canada, most of Europe, Latin America, South Africa, and Asia. This carefully laid infrastructure could become the platform for a broader analysis and program for winning support for BDS. 

A program linking support for BDS to an end to police violence, to promotion of labor rights, to ending support for Islamophobia and drone strikes in Arab states, for support for refugees, for free public health care, and for a redistribution of social and economic goods could strengthen its capacities in places like union halls, classrooms, mosques, and other settings. The arguments for these linkages are already implicit in BDS’s core tenets as they relate to Palestinians under Occupation: full civil equality, an end to segregation and apartheid, a right of return of refugees. 

A broadened BDS platform is also consistent with the wide range of associations in Palestinian civil society that endorse BDS. Current members of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee include the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions, Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), General Union of Palestinian Women, General Union of Palestinian Writers, Union of Palestinian Farmers. Creating peer-to-peer solidarity between these groups and their counterparts in the rest of the world remains a central challenge of the BDS movement. A more elastic set of social principles anchored around BDS could help to build it.

BDS’s long-term success, in short, depends upon its response to the backlash the movement now faces. The likelihood of the election of Hillary Clinton, who has already promised to make combating BDS a “priority,” raises the stakes even further. A Clinton or Trump presidency will likely double-down against supporters of Palestine, and make Israel the centerpiece of a new long-term “War on Terror.” In this context, maintaining offensive strategies, building new solidarities, and exposing the imperialist nature of counterrevolution and Occupation remain the central tasks for the movement.

  1. Palestinian Boycott National Committee, “Eleven Signs That BDS Continues to Grow Despite Israel’s War of Repression,” .
  2. “Black Lives Matter Endorses BDS: Israel is ‘Apartheid State,’”  Haaretz, August 2, 2016,
  3. Ben Norton, “Support for Palestinians Grows Among Young, Progressive Americans, Pew Survey Finds,” Salon, May 6, 2016,
  4. Tom Hickey and Phil Marfleet, “The ‘South Africa Moment’: Palestine, Israel and the Boycott,” International Socialist Journal, October 13, 2010,
  5. Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, “Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel,”
  6. Bill V. Mullen, “Throwing Stones in Glass Houses: The ASA and the Road to Academic Boycott” American Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 4, 1075-83.
  7. “UC Davis Faculty Members Want Charges Dropped Against Muslim Students Who Disrupted Speech at UC Irvine” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2011, .
  8. “Thousands of Chicagoans March for Palestine,” Chicago Reporter, July 21, 2014,
  9. Sarah Irving, “More US Academics Join Boycott of Israel,” Electronic Intifada, July 22, 2014,
  10. “Historic: UAW 2865, UC Student-Worker Union, Becomes First Major U.S. Labor Union to Support Divestment from Israel by Membership Vote,” December 4, 2014,
  11. “Netanhayu Government Ramps Up Effort to Combat BDS,” Mondoweiss, June 11, 2015,
  12. Mark Mondalek, “Who’s Afraid of BDS?” Jacobin, April 1, 2016,
  13. Glenn Greenwald, “Anti-Israel Activism Criminalized in the Land of Charlie Hebdo and ‘Free Speech,’” The Intercept, October 27, 2015,
  14. Rachel Ida-Buff, “Lawmakers are Using Trade Rules to Blacklist Critics of Israel,” Foreign Policy in Focus, June 24, 2015,
  15. “Indiana General Assembly 2016 Session: House Bill 1378,”
  16. Andrew Cuomo, “If You Boycott Israel New York State Will Boycott You,” Washington Post, June 10, 2016,
  17. Dima Khalidi, “Andrew Cuomo’s BDS Blacklist is a Clear Violation of the First Amendment,” The Nation, June 23, 2016,
  18. “American Studies Association Attacked for Boycott,” Palestine Legal, March 10, 2015,
  19. Theresa Wantanabe, “UC Regents Say Anti-semitism Has ‘No Place’ on Campus But Reject Blanket Censure of Anti-Zionism,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2016,
  20. “Victory for Student Speech Rights: Northeastern SJP to be Reinstated,” Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine,
  21. Palestinian Human Rights Advocacy in the U.S.: Legal and Tactical Guide,
  22. Campus Defense Coalition for Palestine,
  23. USACBI, “No Palestinian Exception to the First Amendment and Academic Freedom,
  24. “The Struggle for Palestinian Rights is Incompatible with Any Form of Racism or Bigotry: A Statement by Palestinians,” Electronic Intifada, October 12, 2012,
  25. Elizabeth Schulte, “How Do You Stop A Blacklist?” Socialist Worker, August 4, 2016,
  26. Lance Selfa, “Zionism: False Messiah,” International Socialist Review, Issue 4, Spring 1998,
  27. Quoted in Ralph Schoenman, “The Hidden History of Zionism,” ch. 6; available at
  28. Ibid.
  29. PACBI, “Zionism and Anti-Semitism Racist Twins,” January 19, 2013,
  30. Madeleine Paulker, “UCLA Officials Denounce David Horowitz Posters as Intimidation,” Daily Bruin, April 19, 2016,
  31. Haneen’s last name has not been used to protect their privacy.
  32. Kristina Bravo, Quinn Owen, “SDSU President Apologizes to Students Protesting His Response to ‘Islamophobic’ Flyers,’” KPBS, April 27, 2016,
  33. Palestine Legal, “The Palestine Exception,”
  34. Sameh Naguib, The Egyptian Revolution: A Political Analysis and Eyewitness Account (London: Bookmarks, 2011), 10.
  35. Reem Abou-Al-Fadi, “The Road to Jerusalem through Tahrir Square: Anti-Zionism and Palestine in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution,” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 41, no. 2 (Winter 2012), 6–26. 
  36. See Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), especially ch. 4, “Neoliberal Palestine”; and Adam Hanieh, Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013).
  37. “Bay Area Longshore Workers Fought Against Apartheid.”
  38. See Hanieh, Lineages of Revolt
  39. Anne Alexander, Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: Workers and the Egyptian Revolution (London: Zed Books, 2014).
  40. “Black for Palestine.”
  41. “The Movement for Black Lives,”

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Issue contents

Top story