Why Everyone Should Condemn the BDS Movement

By: Jacob Mezei

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a global movement started by 171 Palestinian organizations in 2005 with the goal of harming the Israeli economy by urging people, private corporations, and governments to boycott Israeli goods and services, divest funds, and establish economic sanctions on Israel. [1] Simply put, the BDS movement is bad. It is bad for the Palestinians. It is bad for the Israelis. It is bad for the world. The BDS movement harms third world countries in dire need of economic stimulus and hampers the growth of business and the development of technology. In addition, it incites hatred and discrimination, is harmful to future peace negotiations, and, as the Cour De Cassation (the highest court in France) recently ruled, it is illegal.[2]

The point of a peaceful boycott movement is to harm the entity being boycotted more than harming the ones doing the boycotting. However, the BDS movement achieves the opposite outcome.[3] BDS severely weakens the Palestinian economy and barely puts a dent in the Israeli economy.[4] Israel, which has a population of 8 million people, has a current GDP of about $307 billion, whereas Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), which has a total population of 4.2 million, has a current GDP of about $12 billion.[5] “In 2012, Israeli sales to the Palestinian Authority were $4.3 billion, about 5% of Israeli exports (excluding diamonds) less than 2% of Israeli GDP, according to the Bank of Israel.”[6] The same year, “Palestinian sales to Israel accounted for about 81% of Palestinian exports and less than a percentage point of Israeli GDP. Palestinian purchases from Israel were two-thirds of total Palestinian imports (or 27% of Palestinian GDP).”[7]

In a recent article, Bassam Eid, a human rights activist and commentator on Palestinian domestic affairs, explained that there is little correlation between the objectives of the activists abroad and the realities of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.[8] “Whereas the movement’s spokespeople live in comfortable circumstances abroad, boycotts will result in increased economic hardships for actual Palestinians.”[9] The BDS movement leaders and activists do not care about the hardships the movement will impose on Palestinian people and attempt to “justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedom.”[10] However, these words are spoken by western academics, most of whom have never stepped foot in Gaza or the West Bank and have no idea what the Palestinian people really want and need. The harsh reality is that the BDS movement is a foolish and flimsy endeavor that does nothing to the Israeli economy but substantially hurts the Palestinian economy. Eid ends his article by stating “As a Palestinian who actually lives in east Jerusalem and hopes to build a better life for his family and his community, this is the kind of ‘pro-Palestinian activism’ we could well do without. For our own sake, we need to reconcile with our Israeli neighbors, not reject and revile them.”[11] The Palestinian people need activists abroad to help their economy so that they can build a better country for themselves and their children.

A real-life effect that has recently made headlines in the news is when SodaStream, an Israeli company that operated in the West Bank and employed many Palestinians, had to relocate to Southern Israel as a direct result of the BDS movement.[12] The factory, located in Mishor Adumim, employed about 500 Palestinian workers.[13] When it officially closed in September 2015, all of these Palestinians lost their jobs.[14] One of these workers, Taqsim Mohsin, told Al Jazeera that “BDS is hurting us; many of us can’t get work in the West Bank and wages are so low. We need this work.”[15]

Even the Palestinian National Authority lauded Israel’s treatment of Palestinian workers. In a recent article in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority explained that “[w]henever Palestinian workers have the opportunity to work for Israeli employers, they are quick to quit their jobs with their Palestinian employers – for reasons having to do with salaries and other rights.”[16] The BDS movement is a movement comprised of western ideologues that tout support for human rights to mask their own personal agendas, and meanwhile the only people who suffer for it are the very people the movement is advertised to benefit. “Surveys and interviews conducted by Al-Hayat Al-Jadida clarify that the salaries of workers employed by Palestinians amount to less than half the salaries of those who work for Israeli employers in the areas of the Israel-occupied West Bank, which house factories, tourist facilities and agricultural lands.”[17]

BDS not only hurts Palestinians, but it hurts the rest of the world because it convinces educated people to abandon technology and innovation that, in some instances, is life saving, and, in other instances, is extremely important for the technological and scientific progress of mankind. Israel is perhaps the most technologically advanced country in the Middle East and brings a lot to the world in terms of innovation in science and technology.[18] The list of Israeli contributions in technology and science over the past 65 years is astounding. The list includes cancer screening technologies, drip irrigation, desalinization, drone aircraft, computer processors, Leukemia treatment, the only non-interferon Multiple Sclerosis treatment, nanowire technology, flash drives, micro-computer technology, the Centrino computer chip, tumor imaging, Parkinson’s treatment, bionic exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk, breast tumor treatment, missile defense system (or Iron Dome), type 1 diabetes treatment, the collider that detected the “God Particle,” and much more.[19] So when the supporters of the BDS movement argue for a boycott of Israeli goods and services, as well as academic and cultural boycotts, they argue to boycott the technology and science that was engineered, invented, and discovered by Israelis in Israel, including everything mentioned above and a lot more. This is a dangerous movement that benefits no one. If you truly believe in the BDS movement you should throw away your cell phone and discard your MacBook, as some of the technology in both was either invented or engineered in Israel. However, that is not what BDSers do. Instead, they choose to boycott certain things that they do not need/use on a daily basis and choose to purchase, use, sell, and enjoy Israeli products when it is convenient and necessary (which is most of the time).[20]

More than anything, the BDS movement is a vehicle for one to unleash his anti-Semitic viewpoints and hatred toward Israel, and that is why legal action is being taken in western countries to minimize the effects and strength of the movement. On October 20, 2015 France’s highest appellate court ruled that the BDS movement is illegal and stated it “‘provokes discrimination, hatred, or violence’ on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, or religion.”[21] Part of the reasoning behind banning the movement is because French BDS activists were notorious for “intimidating a number of supermarkets to remove Israeli products from their shelves, movie theaters to stop programming Israeli movies, and universities to cancel lectures by Israeli citizens.”[22] Much of these boycotts occurred “simply because of their nationality and their Jewish religion; not for the opinions they personally might have held about Israeli politics.”[23] This goes against the French Republic’s law on freedom of the press, which prohibits discrimination, hatred, or violence against “a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.”[24] The BDS movement only targeted Jewish businesses, products, and people, and therefore the French Cour De Cassation believed it necessary to criminalize promoting BDS propaganda.

France is not the only western country to outlaw anti-Israel boycott movements. The United States has taken various measures to resist the movement. Since the 1970s Congress has passed legislation, “originally designed to counteract the Arab League Boycott of Israel,” which is now applied generally to all illegal boycotts against any country including Israeli companies and Israeli goods.[25] The Export Administration Act of 1979 (EEA) “prescribes penalties that may be imposed for a violation of antiboycott regulations.”[26] The penalties include fines of at least $50,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years.[27] The Act defines participating in the boycott as “agreeing to refuse or actually refusing to do business in Israel or with a blacklisted company; agreeing to discriminate or actually discriminating against other persons based on race, religion, sex, national origin, or nationality.”[28] The Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act (TRA) also “denies various tax benefits normally available to exporters if they participate in the boycott.”[29] In addition, some states have specifically condemned the BDS movement. For instance, in Tennessee, the “Tennessee House of Representatives in an overwhelming 93-1 vote” passed Senate Joint Resolution 170 in April 2015 which condemns the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”[30] Even in our very own state, “[t]he Illinois House just joined the state’s senate in unanimously passing a  bill that would prevent the state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel.”[31]

A boycott for a good cause that achieves a good result is something worth supporting. The BDS movement is not a good cause and does not achieve a good result. The BDS movement is anti-business, anti-innovation, anti-science, anti-human rights, anti-Semitic, and, quite frankly, it is a movement that the Palestinians and the rest of the world could do without. Western intellectuals and academics should move on to something worthwhile.



[1] Palestinian BDS National Committee, http://bdsmovement.net/bnc (last visited Jan. 2, 2015).

[2] Ghislain Poissonnier, According to the Court of Cassation, freedom of expression does not authorize the call to boycott Israeli products, Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine, (Nov. 7, 2015) http://www.aurdip.fr/according-to-the-court-of.html?lang=fr.

[3] Carrie Sheffield, Boycott Israel Movement Stunts the Palestinian Economy (Feb. 22, 2015, 4:20 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/carriesheffield/2015/02/22/boycott-israel-movement-stunts-the-palestinian-economy/.

[4] Id.

[5] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2195.html#is See also The World Bank Group, West Bank and Gaza (2014), http://data.worldbank.org/country/west-bank-gaza.

[6] Carrie Sheffield, Boycott Israel Movement Stunts the Palestinian Economy (Feb. 22, 2015, 4:20 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/carriesheffield/2015/02/22/boycott-israel-movement-stunts-the-palestinian-economy/.

[7] Id.

[8] Bassam Eid, The Palestinian Case Against BDS (June 25, 2015), http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-palestinian-case-against-bds.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Kate Shuttleworth, SodaStream Factory Shows Palestinian Bedouins’ Plight, Al Jazeera (Sep. 25, 2015, 7:17 GMT), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/sodastream-factory-shows-palestinian-bedouins-plight-150910100606371.html.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, Official PA Daily Lauds Israel’s Treatment of Palestinian Workers, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Sep. 21, 2014), http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=12696. See also Lazar Berman, Palestinians Better off Working in Settlements, says PA daily, The Times of Israel (Sep. 24, 2014, 6:24 AM), http://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinians-better-off-working-for-israelis-says-pa-daily/?fb_comment_id=783799905014673_784348048293192#fac75de8.

[17] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, Official PA Daily Lauds Israel’s Treatment of Palestinian Workers, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Sep. 21, 2014), http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=12696.

[18] Tamar Pileggi, PM to Italy’s Jewish leaders: Israeli innovation will defeat BDS, Times of Israel (Aug. 28, 2015, 11:02 PM), http://www.timesofisrael.com/pm-to-italys-jewish-leaders-israeli-innovation-will-defeat-bds/.

[19] Marcella Rosen, 65 years of innovation, from Rummikub to the ‘God Particle’, Times of Israel (April 15, 2013, 5:24 AM), http://www.timesofisrael.com/65-years-of-innovation-from-rummikub-to-the-god-particle/.

[20] Jack Prescott, You couldn’t make it app: BDS activists reliant on Israeli technology, Spiked.com (Aug. 13, 2014), http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/you-couldnt-make-it-app-bds-activists-reliant-on-israeli-technology/15614#.Voh3ZYROLzI.

[21] Karina Piser, France’s problem with BDS, Al Jazeera America (Dec. 8, 2015 2:00 AM), http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/12/frances-problem-with-bds.html.

[22] Max Gelber, French High Court Rules BDS is a form of Incitement and a Hate Crime (Oct. 28, 2015), http://unitedwithisrael.org/french-high-court-rules-bds-is-a-form-of-incitement-hate-crime/.

[23] Id.

[24] JTA, French High Court: BDS Activists Guilty of Discrimination, Times of Israel (Oct. 23, 2015, 11:18 PM), http://www.timesofisrael.com/french-high-court-bds-activists-guilty-of-discrimination/.

[25] Martin A. Weiss, Arab League Boycott of Israel, Congressional Research Service Report (June 10, 2015), https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33961.pdf.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Sean Savage, Tennessee General Assembly Becomes the First State Legislature to Condemn BDS, JNS.org (April 21, 2015), http://www.jns.org/news-briefs/2015/4/21/tennessee-general-assembly-becomes-first-state-legislature-to-condemn-bds#.VolvbYROLzI=.

[31] Eugene Kontorovich, Illinois Passes Historic anti-BDS bill, as Congress Mulls Similar Moves, The Washington Post (May 18, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/05/18/illinois-passes-historic-anti-bds-bill-as-congress-mulls-similar-moves/.