What Is BDS?

Questions Answered – Myths Dispelled

By BDS Pittsburgh Coalition

Are you feeling less informed about Israel and Palestine, than you’d like? Are you wondering what BDS is and if Ben and Jerry are anti-Semites? Don’t let the swirling narratives intimidate you. The story is only complicated if historical facts are omitted, twisted, or made up to serve a particular point of view.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. 

The BDS movement was called in 2005 by Palestinian civil society. The aim of BDS is equal rights for everyone who lives in Israel/Palestine, and for Palestinian refugees. There are three demands on Israel:

  1. End the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the wall. The wall was and is being built between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, yet is constructed on Palestinian lands and separates many Palestinian families from their land. It also encircles numerous Palestinian neighborhoods and towns, thus cutting them off from the surrounding areas. Approximately 14 percent of Palestinian land lies on the Israeli side of the wall.
  2. Recognize the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality. Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians or their descendants who remained within the armistice lines in 1948, when Israel declared its statehood. Currently 50 laws are on the Israeli books that affect the lives of those Palestinians. Israel continues to displace Palestinian communities within Israel from their lands.
  3. Respect, protect, and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated by the UN.

Until these demands are met, BDS calls for boycotting any product coming from Israel, any product benefiting from the occupation, and any interaction that promotes the continuation of the occupation.

You may ask:

“If Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews are both equal under the law in Israel, and if Palestinians can return to the homes they left in 1948, won’t Israel cease to be a Jewish majority state? And don’t the Jews deserve their own state?” 

The Jewish people deserve to live free of anti-Semitism everywhere in the world. The Palestinian people deserve to be afforded the same human rights as the rest of humanity. The people who lived and live in Palestine were not responsible for the worldwide horrors of anti-Semitism that culminated in Nazi Germany. A state in Israel/Palestine can exist in which Jews and non-Jews are both afforded the same civil and human rights. Zionism is an ideology and a movement that supports a Jewish state in what is now Israel. In practice, it is a colonial enterprise that settled mostly European Jews on land taken from dispossessed Arab Palestinians. The support that Israel receives from the Western world is based more on the asset of having a Western-facing entity in the oil-rich Middle East than it is on any concern for the well-being of Jewish people. Zionism in that sense can be seen as a tool of Western society, and visa versa.

“Don’t the Jews have an historic claim to the land?” 

Israelites lived in antiquity in Israel/Palestine along with many other peoples; Canaanites, Philistines, Phoenicians- the list goes on. And the ancient Kingdom of Israel lasted about 300 years, give or take a few. The ancient history of the region also saw other kingdoms in dominance: Egyptians, Assyrians, and Persians, among others. The Kingdom of Israel was one of many. The exclusivity of the Jewish history in what is now Israel/Palestine is a biblical construct. Centering Jews in the history of the area is the same as centering white people in the history of the world—as in the history you’ve been hearing since first grade. And you see where that has gotten us.

“I’ve heard BDS is anti-Semitic, what about that?” 

BDS is unfairly accused of wanting to destroy Israel. What BDS wants to destroy is the denial of humanity to Arab Palestinians inside Israel, in the occupied West Bank and in the Palestinian Diaspora. It is argued that BDS wants to deny the Jews, “the only people in the world without their own country,” the right to live in a country in which only Jews have rights. BDS maintains that Jews and Arab Palestinians should be able to live with equal rights within that country. The backlash against BDS includes equating anti-Zionism, or a belief that Palestinians can have equal rights in Israel/Palestine, with anti-Semitism. This is the same tactic the Mafia used in the 1970s when it equated anti-Mafia law enforcement with an anti-Italian conspiracy (FBI=Forever Bothering Italians). Thirty-five states have anti-BDS laws in place. (Ben and Jerry decided not to sell their ice cream on land that international law declares was stolen from Palestine. The ice cream is still sold in Israel proper, but Arizona has canceled all its contracts with them.)

“Why is BDS needed, can’t both sides just negotiate to a peaceful solution?” 

United States-brokered negotiations have been taking place since 1991 and as a local Palestinian woman once explained, “Palestine is offered smaller and smaller plates of food.” Israel will not agree to even the bare minimum conditions set by international law, and the Palestinians are accused of not negotiating because they refuse to accept these extremely one-sided conditions. In the meantime, Israel continues to flaunt international law by illegally obtaining more and more Palestinian land and transferring Israelis to Jewish only settlements there—also in violation of international law. To make matters worse, the United States continues to fund Israel to the tune of about $3.8 billion per year, unconditionally, regardless of any violations of international law. If the United States won’t put pressure on Israel, it is up to us to bring economic and political pressure to bear via BDS.

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