Considering growing political normalization with Israel, has the BDS movement lost its impact?
In the recent weeks, the United Arab Emirates became the third country in the Arab world to reach a deal on normalizing relations with Israel. This deal has received different reactions from states and people alike, with one side, including states such as France and Jordan, applauding the deal and viewing it as a move towards establishing peace between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories, and another side, with states such as Turkey and Ghana, denouncing the deal and viewing it as a betrayal of the Palestinian people.
The Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), arguably the most vocal group for Palestinian rights, has issued a statement denouncing this deal, deeming it a “sell out” of Palestinian Rights and calling on all supporters of the BDS movement around the world to continue and further strengthen their efforts of support for the movement.
The BDS movement, launched in 2005, is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality of the Palestinian people, its calls are aimed to urge action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Their demands include ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, recognizing the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The BDS movement urges people and organizations to act through targeted campaigns that focus on pressuring companies, commercial events, and political figures to distance themselves from Israeli collaboration, specifically the ones that take place in illegally occupied territories, an example of this would be the recent #BoycottPuma campaign which sought to end Puma’s financial association with the Israel Football Association.
However, considering growing political normalization with Israel, one is left to wonder whether the BDS movement is losing its impact. This journal pegs the following question by assessing the effectiveness of the BDS movement in its pursuit to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“Is the BDS movement ineffective?”
Arguments suggesting that the BDS movement is in-fact ineffective
Products and services are difficult to avoid
For the every-day consumer looking to purchase quality goods and services at an affordable price, it is difficult to avoid several of the companies considered to be Israel-friendly. Airbnb for example, a business included on the UN’s list of companies that have ties to illegal Israeli settlements, also provides a quality easy-access service for many travelers. Another example would be Puma, a sportswear company that provides convenient luxury items and is a strong competitor in the sportswear market. Such companies provide items and services of luxury and convenience, their availability and ease of access makes them an easy choice for many consumers, a choice many consumers don’t hesitate to make. Furthermore, figures show that 40% of Israeli exports can be classified as intermediate goods, meaning they are goods used in the productions process of other goods. This makes them harder to target in boycotts as they are products hidden within products. Take Intel for example, a tech manufacturing company that produces computer chips found in the majority of the world’s computers, and which invested billions of dollars in the Israeli economy, is not a target of BDS campaigning due to “its near monopoly status in its sector, making a consumer boycott of the company hard to achieve at present.” For many, this perspective presents a pessimistic view on the ability for consumer boycotts to enact effective change towards ending the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.
International normalization creates a roadblock for change
Soon after the creation of the Israeli state, the Arab League issued boycotts which disallowed Arab states from trading with Israel, going so far as to create a Central Boycott Office and blacklisting companies that do business with Israel in order to boycott them as well. In 1973, the Arab oil embargo which lasted five months and targeted states believed to be supporting Israel in the October war, caused a global financial crisis. Several examples throughout history show the power of political and economic BDS against Israel and the effect it can have on ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The reality of Israeli normalization taking place around the world today, however, proves that the world is slowly shifting away from such tactics altogether. This creates a roadblock in the face of the BDS movement, a roadblock that cannot be resisted by consumer-driven boycotts alone. In this regard, the BDS movement has not done enough to reach the standards of its own demands, which require an end to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, a demand that can hardly be achieved without the presence of an international boycott. The BDS movement’s campaigns, which target specific events and companies, do not have the far-reaching power that they need to achieve the end of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories that they hope to get to.
Arguments suggesting that the BDS movement is effective in achieving their goals
People can be conscious consumers if they want to
Ethical consumerism is buying products which were ethically produced and/or which are not harmful to the environment and society. To be an ethical consumer, one must make a conscious decision to avoid such products, and to find alternatives to readily available goods and services, as a form of protest. This can be as simple as buying free-range eggs or as complex as boycotting goods produced by child labor.
Ethical consumerism is not a new concept, in fact it can be observed in several areas of business and throughout different political and social causes, such as only buying cruelty-free make-up or even participating in sustainability campaigns like investing in metal straws and utensils to avoid the use of plastic. The presence of online resources such ethicalconsumer.org have made ethical consumption easily accessible to many people, in fact one markets report made by Ethical Consumer indicates an overall continuing increase in the culture of ethical consumption, adding that boycotting certain food and drink products has withheld £1.21 billion from corporates. Such figures indicate the capability of consumers to make conscious and ethical choices and find alternatives to readily available goods and services. In other words, more and more people are becoming aware of the role their consumption plays in the market and are making active choices to be more ethical in their consumption. Such growing behavior indicates the ability of people to also participate consciously in BDS campaigns and seek out more ethical alternatives to luxury products, regardless of their ease of access. To many people, the effect of the boycott is not the goal, but rather, making the morally righteous and ethical choice is the main driver to participating in boycott campaigns such as those created by the BDS movement.
Furthermore, the BDS movement urges people’s action through targeted campaigns, the reason for this being the awareness that boycotting all possible Israel-affiliated goods and services is incredibly difficult, as is attested to on the official BDS movement, and so by creating specific boycott campaigns, the BDS movement can focus their efforts more and enact more change, for example, in March 2018 the BDS movement website issued a call to Adidas to end its sponsorship of the IFA -a similar call to the one being made to Puma today- which was successfully achieved in July of the same year. Adidas had also previously ended its sponsorship of the “Jerusalem Marathon” which had routes that ran through illegal settlements in Palestine. These targeted campaigns allow the BDS movement to focus its energy and resources into achieving such wins for their overall demands and provide a platform that allows for individual participation. Demanding an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories includes a constant effort to block the use of those territories for Israeli events and campaigns, and the BDS movement’s efforts have been effective in creating such an obstruction.
The BDS movement plays a role unlike any other
The Global BDS movement is arguably one of the most vocal movements for Palestinian rights today, yet even with the popularity they possess, the BDS movement has never claimed to be the sole voice of Israeli occupation resistance, nor do they claim to be. The BDS movement’s demands to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories stand next to those of many other groups and organizations such as the UNHRC and Jewish Voices for Peace -who are avid supporters of the BDS movement- and so, the BDS movement is part of a larger effort that does its part in journey towards ending occupation.
Moreover, the BDS movement plays a distinctly specific role in keeping the Palestinian voice alive and active, its far-reaching branches allow for international awareness and solidarity. With branches around the world including Canada and Malaysia that control the targeted BDS campaigns in their regions, the movement provides accurate information on unethical companies, creates boycott campaigns, and promotes panel discussions and lectures in academic spheres. The BDS movement created a community of people around the world to whom the Palestinian cause is not far or isolated, but rather a cause worthy of attention and support. Such efforts have seen results around the world, for example, in 2014 the United Methodist Church’s pension board sold its stock in G4S, a company that was targeted by the BDS campaign for providing security equipment to Israel, the board also added Israeli banks on a do-not-invest list. With such efforts present around the world, one could argue that the BDS is doing its role in a larger picture to achieve its demands of ending the illegal occupation of Israel, and in doing so through its successful campaigns, it has achieved effectiveness.
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