The global BDS movement for boycotting Israel is overwhelmingly wedded to a one-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means racially stereotyping all Israeli Jews as an inherently evil oppressor nation, and advocating the replacement of Israel with an exclusivist Arab state of Greater Palestine. Not surprisingly, many of the key BDS activists such as Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah are fundamentalist opponents of a two-state solution based on recognising both Israeli and Palestinian national and human rights.
In his 2011 book, BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (Haymarket Books, Chicago), Barghouti demonizes left-wing Israelis who oppose Israel’s West Bank occupation and support two states, but still defend Israel’s existence. Barghouti denounces leading figures of the Israeli peace movement such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and Uri Avnery precisely because they refuse to surrender their right to national self-determination.
Genuine Israeli and Palestinian peace activists demand compromise and concessions from both sides. They are rightly critical of Israeli barriers to a peaceful two-state solution such as the continued philosophical endorsement of a Greater Israel perspective by leading Israeli Government Ministers, and the ongoing building of West Bank settlements that seriously undermine the prospects for the creation of an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel. But they also recognize significant Palestinian barriers to peace such as continued demands for a so-called Right of Return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel rather than to the Palestinian Territories, and the ongoing prominence within Palestinian politics of Hamas, the racist religious fundamentalist group which opposes any co-existence with the State of Israel. In contrast, the BDS movement is one-eyed, and censors only Israeli actions and attitudes. That is why there cannot be common ground between supporters of two states, and the BDS movement.
But whilst Barghouti and other BDS leaders are ideological fundamentalists in terms of the objectives they seek, they are far more pragmatic when it comes to the use of tactics to achieve those ends. Consequently, they are opportunistically willing to accept support from moderates who endorse selective or targeted boycotts of Israeli settlements, but oppose blanket boycotts of Israel per se.
What is surprising is that some advocates of two states have fallen into this “useful idiot” trap. For example, a number of trade unions in Australia and beyond have endorsed a limited boycott of settlement goods whilst also reiterating their support for a two-state solution. They do not seem to acknowledge that two of the three core parameters of the BDS movement –demanding a coerced right of return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel and insisting that Israel transform itself into a Jewish-Arab bi-national state – are completely incompatible with two states. One can no more be a two-stater and a BDS supporter than it is possible to be a two-stater and a Greater Israel supporter.
One of the most naïve examples of this phenomenon is that of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS). Formed in 1984, AJDS was historically a strong supporter of a two-state solution, and firmly rejected both the extreme Greater Israel and Greater Palestine perspectives.
However, in August 2010, AJDS voted in favour of a limited boycott of Israel. The motion was full of ambiguities. It rejected any blanket BDS campaign against Israel including the core BDS demand for a Palestinian right of return, but nevertheless still used the language of the BDS movement to endorse selective campaigns aimed at ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The motion was passed following an invited address to AJDS members by Samah Sabawi, a representative of the hardline pro-BDS (and one-state solution) Australians for Palestine group. One prominent member of the AJDS Executive later resigned due to his concern that the motion had aligned the ADJS with the global BDS movement’s agenda for eliminating Israel.
ADJS maintained an ambiguous approach to the BDS. In September 2011, the organisation denounced local BDS protests held against the Israeli-owned chocolate company, Max Brenner. AJDS argued that the aggressive nature of the protests was reminiscent of the Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses in the 1930s. They also questioned the random targeting of one specific Israeli business, arguing that there was no connection between Max Brenner and either the manufacturing of military equipment or the production of goods in West Bank settlements. This statement was in turn bitterly attacked by the above-mentioned Samah Sabawi of Australians for Palestine who affirmed the morality of BDS protests against Max Brenner.
But in March 2013, AJDS once again advocated a limited boycott campaign aimed at settlement products. They denied that the campaign was in any way linked to the aims or objectives of the global BDS movement, or hostile to Israel per se. But equally, a member of the AJDS Executive Committee, Jordy Silverstein, emphasized that she did support the three core aims of the BDS agenda which are intended to delegitimize and ultimately eliminate Israel.
AJDS’ perceived alignment with the BDS agenda – intended or otherwise – will no doubt be welcomed and exploited by the BDS movement. But regardless, it highlights the absurdity of trying to marry a position based on promoting mutual compromise (two states) and a position based on demonizing and ultimately eliminating one side of the conflict (the global BDS movement).
There are plenty of actions that genuine supporters of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation can take to progress their agenda. For example, there are numerous joint Israel-Palestinian projects dedicated to enhancing national-ethnic and religious tolerance, defending civil liberties, eschewing violence and protecting the environment which deserve support. Equally, the unofficial Geneva Peace Accord signed in 2003 by leading Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and the associated ongoing Geneva initiative suggest a practical and detailed pathway for achieving a two-state solution. These activities and proposals are the opposite of the path of enmity and hate favoured by the BDS movement.