Unless you visit a college campus regularly, chances are that this may be the first time you’ve heard of the so-called boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to change its policies toward Palestinians. The BDS movement has the backing not only of campus student groups across North America, but also of assorted professors, academic associations, and nongovernmental organizations. Granted, it may seem like a marginal, inconsequential phenomenon, particularly if you judge it on the basis of the actual boycotts, divestments, and sanctions it has helped bring about (a modest number). But that assessment fails to understand the movement and its pernicious impact.
What this movement seeks is to make people believe that Israel (the only free society in the Middle East) is somehow a vicious oppressor, the region’s worst regime. When you look around at the region, though, on the face of it the BDS line is preposterous. Observe how the Assad dictatorship of Syria, a notorious violator of rights before the civil war, now commits industrial-scale massacres of its own people. And yet the BDS narrative is taken seriously, and it works to shape the debate over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
So how does the BDS movement make its case? What to make of its claims? What explains its appeal? And what kind of impact has it had so far?
To answer these and related questions, I interviewed Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, a scholar who tracks and writes about the BDS movement. He is a historian and analyst of the Middle East, and it just so happens that he is also an expert on one of the thornier issues within the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that the BDS crowd protest over: the issue of Palestinian refugees. In 2013, he co-authored the book, Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (Palgrave Macmillan). Finally, he also serves as executive director of an organization called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.