Darren Cohen uncovers why the BDS movmenet is not only ineffective, but harmful to peace.
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is harmful to both sides in the long term. I think it is detrimental to peace and demonises and delegitimises Israel. I condone the notion that it is of an inherently ‘peaceful’ nature. I believe as a general rule that boycotts are inherently harmful to people, peace and democracy. Engagement is the only way.
The BDS movement, initiated by Omar Barghouti and as a response to calls from some parts of Palestinian civil society, is detrimental to peace. Boycotts in general harm people not governments. I do not believe that a boycott can damage an economy to sufficient levels to really make an impact on government policy. The main issue is that, as can be seen in Ahava in London, real, ordinary people get harmed. Indeed, if a specific product was targeted enough, it could be forced to cut its workers. With regard to Israel, these workers are likely to be working class Jews and/or non-Jews. This is inherently unfair and damages the livelihoods of people who are already subjugated and exploited. The people damaged here are innocent workers who merely want to earn a living. This isn’t justice.
In the case of Israel, boycotts simply create a sense of isolation, disengagement and a siege mentality. Israelis already feel demonised by the world by the disproportionate nature of criticism, UN resolutions and sheer hatred they receive. They are very harmful to Israeli society and the chances of peace. It will allow for extremists and those on the far-right to, perhaps irreversibly, deposit into Israeli society an ‘everyone is against us’ culture of fear. The belligerent rhetoric of Israel’s right-wing coalition that only leads to war-mongering and further isolation will become even more commonplace.
Israelis need to be engaged with, understood and most importantly listened to. There is only so much dictating to a people can achieve. Furthermore, when Israelis are subjected to missing out on their favourite musicians, their sportsmen being disallowed from competing and their universities and academics ostracised, they will not feel a need to engage.
I think by nature of the harm it does to Israeli society, the harm it does to Arabs within Israel and the territories is equally clear. The occupation will become more prolonged and intense and Israeli Arabs will suffer from more discrimination and suspicion. A call for a boycott of a country and its subsequent isolation and alienation from the international community is a collective punishment that the world rightly accuses Israel of in relation to Gaza.
One thing that must be said about boycotts is that they are a non-violent form of resistance. I think they are ineffective and for the reasons I have stated above, damaging to peace, but they perhaps can draw attention to the situation in Israel and create a sense of urgency that we do need to make moves towards peace. The fact some, albeit a tiny minority, of Israelis themselves have called for a boycott demonstrates this notion. Non-violent resistance to oppression is not in itself a negative thing.
We do have to end the status quo. We cannot continue blindly and passively ignoring the deadlines upon us. However, the sense of urgency must be a symbiotic one. Society needs to want a lasting peace and government needs to lead society towards it. It is time for engagement and dialogue. Compromise and sacrifice. Isolation and punishment do not work.
Overall, I think boycotts are extremely harmful to both sides. They isolate Israeli society and take it to a place which becomes embittered and entrenched. It enhances a siege mentality. It is economically and politically unfair and is a huge double standard. There are many other oppressive crimes happening in the world. I do recognise and salute its non-violent nature but it is still ineffective and counter-productive. Engagement must be the way forward.