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Eight Years of the BDS Movement: Where Have We Come Since 2005? (al-Majdal, Autumn 2013)

[Palestinian flag waves at a pro-BDS event in Victoria, Australia, September 10 2011. Image by Kate Ausburn.] [Palestinian flag waves at a pro-BDS event in Victoria, Australia, September 10 2011. Image by Kate Ausburn.]

BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights Announces the Autumn 2013 Edition of al-Majdal

As the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement passes the eight year point since the 2005 Call, the 54th issue of al-Majdal evaluates its progress and remarks on areas for development, and spotlights current initiatives attempting to build an effective practice of the BDS tactic. The principal challenge for those seeking to wield the tool is connecting BDS to domestic practices of resistance and maintaining a cohesive moral position. 

Eight Years in Context: BDS Indicators

Eight years since the 2005 BDS Call, the principal question for the movement is if the tactic is being incorporated into a common Palestinian vision and political commitment? It is important to cultivate a culture of ‘internal’ resistance (within the homeland) that feeds into actions on ‘external’ levels (internationally). Several factors contribute to the current condition of political inaction among the Palestinian populace: pending reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization, fractured Palestinian political factions, the reign of the Palestinian Authority and logic of Oslo, the widespread disappointment with the Palestinian leadership’s performance and the growth of an ‘NGO culture’ oriented towards donors’ agendas rather than collective concerns. As a result, Palestinian national values of struggle for liberation have receded.

We expect, and hope, that the BDS movement will play a significant role in reviving the resistance values marginalized by the Oslo approach. However, the impact of ‘internal’ BDS may not be a determining factor in ending apartheid and ensuring justice, since the ability of separating oneself from the system is in many ways impossible.2 Rather, boycotts, divestment and sanctions will succeed by garnering traction abroad – motivating third state governments, public institutions, the private sector and the international populace to act on their responsibility to fight against injustice. At the same time, while BDS feeds off of and evolves with external support, it must drive from Palestinian activism itself, from a Palestinian constituency. Thus, Palestinian commitment and participation in BDS campaigns remains as the keystone for mobilizing effective international solidarity.

On the international level, however, the question of whether the BDS movement has moved from organizing acts of symbolic support to affecting policy makers and public opinion is not yet clear. Although community awareness-raising and advocacy initiatives targeting specific products, events or corporations are increasingly prolific, these activities have not reached the point where states and governments find themselves compelled to align their policies with human rights in significant ways. Small shifts, such as the European Union’s funding guidelines for 2014, point to the potential influence BDS could have. The BDS movement’s success will be evaluated by its ability to put Palestinian rights on the agenda of local and public elections internationally.

In addition to causing policy changes internationally, the impact of the BDS movement will be evaluated by Palestinian commitment to the movement and if BDS is able to support a revival of national values and the culture of resistance among Palestinian communities. Moreover, the effectiveness of BDS is closely related to maintaining Palestinian priorities – namely, the three core principles outlined in the 2005 BDS Call– over pressures to compromise them from international stakeholders, even the good intentioned solidarity activists, third states and NGOs.

Advancing BDS with political consciousness and a moral compass is a struggle in need of regular evaluation and constructive criticism. Such habits will help to ensure that BDS remains one of the leading tools for promoting Palestinian rights and achieving liberation.


This issue of al-Majdal features four analyses of BDS as a tactic followed by four examples of BDS campaigning in progress.

Manar Makhoul outlines characteristics of the BDS discourse in the past eight years with a few suggestions on goals for the movement in the future. Complementary to Manar’s article, Amjad Alqasis wonders where did the ‘S’ in the BDS go expanding on BADIL’s presentation at the BDS annual conference held in Bethlehem earlier this year. Steven Friedman relates South Africa’s experience with the anti-apartheid struggle, that ultimately led to state sanctions on the apartheid regime, to Palestine. After building the centrality of a popular base to the boycott campaign, Friedman offers two avenues to focus the Palestinian BDS campaign on “effective politics”: broad appeal and well-developed organization. In a reprint of Nimer Sultany’s critique from 2011, the commentary details three intellectual potholes to watch out for and repair on the road to a collective boycott.

Academics from around the world launched a BDS campaign against the oral history conference to be held at Hebrew University in 2014. Rosemary Sayigh details the University’s role in ongoing human rights violations and demonstrates the academic’s responsibility to refrain from such complicity. Aneta Jerska, a coordinator for an all-Europe BDS committee, maps the challenges and opportunities for BDS activism throughout the continent. In particular, Jerska evaluates the recently published European Union guidelines that will require the EU to distinguish the occupied Palestinian territory in post-2014 funding budgets. In her article, a Belgian activist, Sophie Abdellah referred to “hitting a brick wall” in BDS campaigning. The ‘brick wall’ refers to the resistance among some Western publics to hearing about Israel’s pariah status within the international legal community. Abdellah outlines the formula that some activists applied to penetrate this barrier. The author demonstrates the adaptiveness of BDS activists in Belgium and their use of effective targeted messaging. Finally, Bisan Mitri appraises the potential for implementing BDS through the Palestinian tourism sector in the occupied Palestinian territory. Mitri documents the recommendations from a workshop on BDS and Palestinian tourism held in Bethlehem.

To further advance a shift in public opinion, the priorities of the BDS movement must be anchored in the needs of the Palestinian people. A challenging task, one step forward is to clearly demarcate the way non-Palestinians can fulfil a supporting role – principled solidarity. At the same time, in this moment of a void in Palestinian representation, the BDS movement must restrain itself from overstepping boundaries between its role as a tactic of resistance and a representative of Palestinians.

Eight Years of the BDS Movement: Where have we come since 2005? 

Issue #54, Autumn 2013


Eight years in context: BDS Indicators, Badil Staff


Home and Away: a review of BDS discourse, Manar Makhoul

What happened to the S in BDS?, Amjad Alqasis

Lessons From the Campaign for Sanctions on Apartheid South Africa, Steven Friedman

Three Comments on the Boycott Movement, Nimer Sultany

The Hebrew University and ‘Hasbara’, Rosemary Sayigh

Campaigning for Palestinian Rights in Europe, Aneta Jerska

Complicity and Apartheid: On campaigning for Palestinian Rights in Belgium, Sophia Abdellah

What to do about colonial tourism?, Bisan Mitri

Jayyous: a view through the gate in the Wall, Badil Staff

[The announcement and contents above were originally published in the Autumn 2013 edition of al-Majdal.]

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