Israel, Palestine and the Fallacy of the BDS Movement 

By David Heimowitz

A 2017 protest in Washington, DC
Image Credit: Ted Eytan/Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become an emotionally heated conflict, with the radicals emerging as the primary arm of each respective side. 

One movement that will putatively resolve the radicals on the Israeli side is BDS. BDS is a movement that seeks to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel for “freedom, justice and equality.” 

It has three purported aims: “to end Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and to respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” 

Some have heeded the calls from the BDS movement. Sally Rooney, an Irish author, refused to provide an Israeli company with translation rights to her book. Ben and Jerry’s adopted some BDS aims by ceasing to sell their products in the occupied West Bank, while not boycotting Israel as whole. 

The issue with BDS is that it may pressure Israel to comply with international law, but it disregards the other half of the equation. That would be the ruling authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

BDS fails to account for the irreconcilable differences between Fatah, the organization which controls the Palestinian National Authority of the West Bank, and the group not under Fatah rule, Hamas of the Gaza Strip. 

Both groups see Israel as a force occupying historic Palestine, yet they differ in their approaches. Hamas is committed to armed struggle, primarily in the form of rockets fired at Israel and terrorist attacks. Fatah is determined to establish a peace agreement with Israel that establishes a Palestinian state among 1967 lines. The Palestinian National Authority cooperates with Israel on matters of security, whereas Hamas is committed to a policy of not normalizing ties with Israel. 

Hamas and Fatah have irreconcilable philosophies on the Palestinian question, and Israel complying with international law will not resolve them. A detailed look at the philosophy of Hamas is particularly useful for understanding why BDS will fail to satisfy, even if it is successful in its aims. 

Hamas has never been interested in a peaceful resolution. The 1988 charter of Hamas explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and execution of all Jews. Their 2017 revised charter calls for the destruction of Israel and views 1967 borders with Israel as a “temporary truce,” but purports that Hamas has no quarrel with Jews in general.

In May of 2020, Senior Leader of Hamas Mahmoud Al-Zahhar was interviewed on the Arabic TV station MEMRI TV. Mahmoud said that one of the reasons relations with Israel cannot be normalized is because “normalization with prophet slayers is treason,” which is a ridiculously antiquated anti-Semitic canard that Jews slayed Jesus.  

Additionally, Hamas held their September 2021 ‘Promise Of The Hereafter’ Conference (planning for after the ‘Liberation’ of Palestine and the ‘Destruction’ of Israel). The conference detailed plans that, once Israel is crushed into the sea, all Jews that have acquired useful skills in fields like medicine and cybersecurity will remain within Hamas-controlled Palestine, without the freedom to egress from the country. 

And the other Jews? Any Jew that “collaborated” with the Israeli government will be executed. In a county with mandatory military service, a significant portion of the population will be executed. Notably, Ultra-Orthodox Jews within Israel are not associated with compulsory military service. 

Considering Hamas aligned themselves with the Taliban for “the defeat of the American occupation” and its “courageous leadership on the victory,” the remaining Jews would most likely not fare well in a Hamas-controlled state regardless of type. 

Another massive question mark on the BDS movement is how Palestine and Israel are inextricably linked via labor. Palestine is heavily reliant on Israel, with 55% of all Palestinian exports entering Israel and 82.5% of all Palestinian imports arriving from Israel. 40% of Palestinians have been employed in Israel at one point in their lives. 

Israeli-Arabs, sometimes referred to as “Palestinian citizens of Israel,” constitute 21% of Israel’s population. If BDS persuaded companies to initiate a series of successful boycotts, or even embargoes, Israel and Palestine would witness a drop in their standard of living. 

It is a facile resolution to boycott Israel while disregarding how the future of Palestine cannot be disentangled from the future of Israel. The BDS movement leaps over any of the nuances of the Israel/Palestine or Israeli/Arab conflict for an easy resolution. 

Hence, the fallacy of the BDS movement emerges. Its calls for justice, equality, and freedom may resonate with people, but it is a hollow resonance. Even if BDS is successful in its aim, it will immiserate all people, whether Israeli or Palestinian, and will batter an already battered area. 

BDS efforts unreasonably imply Israel can by itself resolve an irremediable conflict. It is as if, with enough economic pressure, Jerusalem could finally be motivated to strongarm the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas into a peace agreement. It is possible for Israel to accomplish an incredible amount, but they cannot invoke a spell to usher in an era of peace in the region. 

The BDS movement overlooks the divide among the Palestinian leadership, ignores the economic reliance of Palestine on Israel, and downplays the Islamic fundamentalism that is part and parcel of some of the Palestinian leadership. In sum, any realistic policy to secure a solution in this conflict will avoid the BDS movement. 

David Heimowitz is a new contributor for the Review. He studies Political Science at Hunter College in New York.

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