Besieging is Believing

This is a guest-post by Jon Haber of the blog Divest This!

Omar Barghouti’s celebration of the boycott movement (Comment is Free, August 12) finally crossing the Atlantic – with the boycott of Israeli goods at a food co-op in Olympia Washington – seems to have missed the fact that BDS jumped to this side of the pond nearly ten years ago with boycott and divestment campaigns at US colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, cities and unions dotting the landscape starting in 2002.  Perhaps the fact that all of these BDS measures failed miserably is why he wants to restart his campaign’s US premiere nearly a decade later.

And speaking of restarts, what’s with the 2005 start date for the BDS “movement?”  After all, BDS began in 2001 at the now-notorious Durban I UN “anti-racism” conference where NGO’s met and chose to pursue their “Apartheid Strategy” of de-legitimization, with BDS as the primary tactic.  Perhaps a 2005 start date lets Mr. Barghouti flush the first half decade of BDS failure down the memory hole, although he may simply be conflating the start of any significant political project with the beginning of his involvement with it.

I know it’s fashionable to cite the July 9, 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel” (Mr. Barghouti’s “170 Palestinian political parties, unions, mass movements and NGOs” led by his own BNC organization) as the origin of a BDS campaign that actually began years earlier.

Given its importance to the BDS mythos, I decided to check out just who made up this list of 170.  And, lo and behold, who tops the list but the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, a coalition that includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some of the more violent sub-sets of Fatah. Call me a cynic, but I suspect that it must be much easier for this Islamic Forces Council to get the Palestinian Dentist’s Association to agree to its agenda than vice versa.

After a decade of tireless effort by BDS activists around the globe, one would think their list of success stories would consist of more than a few symbolic divestment gestures by unknown Scandinavian retirement funds or the occasional aging celebrity choosing to cancel an Israeli appearance rather than have Mr. Barghouti’s friends protest their concerts for years to come.

This list of triumphs seems particularly paltry, given that during the decade when BDS activism has been in the ascendant, Israeli exports and the Israeli economy as a whole have both doubled in size.  In the US, Israel’s popularity has shot up twenty percentage points despite (or possibly because of) BDS attempts to drag the Middle East conflict into ever civic organization in the land.  And even in Europe, the continent now invests more venture capital into Israel than it does into any European state.

Mr. Barghouti does cite one area where BDS has had an impact: inside the Palestinian territories themselves.  Within this region, boycotts have been particularly effective in identifying individuals and organizations that involve Israelis and Palestinians working together to find common ground and targeting them for punishment.  While the “movement” has not yet asked Mr. Barghouti to boycott himself for running his various campaigns from the comfort of his University of Tel Aviv sinecure, others have not been so lucky.

Getting back to the Olympia Co-op boycott that triggered the most recent BDS triumphalism, last night hundreds of members gathered at Olympia to grill the organization’s board as to why this measure was taken behind the backs of the membership, many of whom vehemently reject the co-op’s new role as Omar Barghouti’s poster child.  Now on the Olympia agenda are requests to rescind the boycott decision and revise rules that allowed such a controversial decision to get made without members knowing about it.

Stay tuned…

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