Michael Harris
Mar 12, 2017 · 5 min read

For those who are not familiar with the acronym, BDS stands for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Let’s examine its history and its goals.

The BDS strategy against Israel was formulated at the ironcially misnamed UN Conference on Racism in September 2001 in Durban South Africa. The preparatory conference for this was held in Tehran, which should give you a clue about its ideological orientation).

This meeting was notable for a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) which conducted anti-Israel demonstrations and issued a statement labeling Israel a “racist apartheid state.” That document also called for a program of boycotts of Israeli goods and companies doing business with Israel; divestment by churches, universities and governments from companies doing business with Israel; and international sanctions against Israel. These were directed not at Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza, but at all of Israel.

One journalist noted ,“On the grounds of the U.N. conference itself, the Arab Lawyers Union distributed pamphlets filled with grotesque caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis, spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money nearby. Attempts to have the group’s U.N. accreditation revoked were refused. In a Palestinian-led march with thousands of participants, a placard was held aloft that read “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.” Nearby, someone was selling the most notorious of anti-Jewish tracts, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The late Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, wrote “Jewish leaders and I who were in Durban were shocked at this blatant display of anti-Semitism. For me, having experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first hand, this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period.”

This was one flyer circulated inside the NGO conference at Durban:

Palestinian groups then built on this foundation by issuing in 2004 a call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel followed in 2005 by a call for a comprehensive BDS program against Israel. The latter document had 3 demands issued against Israel:

“1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

The first one is, no doubt deliberately, vague. What constitutes “Arab lands”? Is it just the West Bank and Gaza, or is it all of Israel? After all, the Hamas charter states “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.” And who is the first group listed in support of this BDS Call? The “Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine”, a group which includes Hamas. They’re probably a more politically influential group than the dozens of other NGO’s listed, most of whom (such as the Union of Palestinian Farmers) probably aren’t more than a mailbox at Ramallah’s equivalent of the UPS Store.

The second demand — for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel (in other words, Israeli Arabs) — is not unreasonable on its face. But again the wording is deliberately vague — what type of equality? Israeli Arab citizens have the right to vote, they have civil rights, and they have the right to petition the courts to uphold those rights. Should the 25% of Israel’s population that is Arab be granted an equal say in the country’s decisions as the 75% that is Jewish? Should an Arab’s vote be worth 3 times as much as a Jew’s? Wouldn’t that be, instead, UNEQUAL?

Can Israel’s Arab towns receive better funding, and can their socioeconomic status be improved? Can steps be taken to end the racism that exists in Israel (just like it exists in every country in the world)? Of course. But given the situation of Arabs across the Middle East, an Arab citizen of Israel has far more rights and is far better off economically than most of her fellow Arabs, in addition to not being subjected to honor killings and female circumcision.

Finally, of course, we get to the heart of the issue, the demand for a non-existent “right” of return for descendants of the Arab refugees — refugees created by the failed Arab attempt to annihilate Israel at its birth. In this the BDS movement gives up any pretense that it is about peaceful coexistence; it’s just another tactic in their ongoing refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

The source cited for this demand, UN resolution 194, was nonbinding as it was passed only by the UN General Assembly, it doesn’t contain the word “right” anywhere in the sentence about refugees, and all the Arab states voted against it.

Why does the “right of return” mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state? In 2015, Israel was comprised of just over eight million people: 6.2 million Jews, 1.7 million Arabs and a third of a million others.

In 2014, Gaza and the West Bank had just over four million people (about half of whom are considered Palestinian refugees by UNRWA despite the fact that international law does not provided for inherited refugee status except for children, only while they are still minors.).

As of 2015, Palestinian refugees living outside of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, who under this “one-state” plan would be given the “right to return,” numbered about three million people.

Put them all together in one dystopian entity and you have a state with eight million Arabs and six million Jews. The sad truth is the world has had extensive experience with states where rival ethnic groups continue to live together in intermittently erupting fury (consider Lebanon, Bahrain, Nigeria, and Georgia for starters) or fall apart in bloody civil war (not just Syria, but also the former Yugoslavia, and its progeny Bosnia and Serbia), or have explosions of savage genocide (remember Rwanda?). Other such countries have fallen apart relatively peacefully into new states based more on national, ethnic or religious grounds (think Czechoslovakia or most of the former Soviet Union). But whether peacefully or violently, the trend is for individual national or ethnic groups to seek to determine their own destiny in their own nation-states — and the modern experience of Jews in Arab lands hounded en masse into emigration between 1947 and 1967 shows that Jews cannot consider themselves safe and secure as minorities in the Middle East.

The bottom line is this: no organization supporting peace between two states for two peoples endorses BDS. And no organization that endorses BDS accepts the right of the Jewish people to a state in the Jewish homeland — within any borders at all. As such, BDS is not only anti-Semitic, but also anti-peace and anti-coexistence.

    Michael Harris

    Written by

    Pediatrician, public speaker, author (Winning a Debate with an Israel Hater, Shorehouse Books, 2015)