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Why BDS Should Target All Israeli Institutions


The BDS movement and its attack on SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson have been much in the news.

The BDS movement (the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli businesses and institutions) aims at ending the occupation, the settlements, Israeli discrimination against Palestinian Arabs, and Israel’s long-continuing exclusion from return to its territory of the Palestinians expelled and/or exiled by Israeli forces from that territory in the 1948 war.

Some people, although they wish to see an end to the occupation and settlements, believe that BDS should target only institutions that directly support the occupation and/or settlements. They want settlements-related business to be “disentangled” from other Israeli businesses and institutions.

For reasons given below, I believe that this view would lead to a sadly truncated “movement”, shorn of most of its potential power to effect change—that BDS should target all Israeli businesses and institutions.

The trouble involved in “disentangling” settlements businesses from other Israeli businesses is worth noting. Many businesses work on both sides of the “green-line”, Israel’s boundary from 1950-1967. How can one boycott part of a business?

It might be supposed that “disentanglement” would not be a problem if all Israeli businesses pulled out of the OPTs. But if this unlikely—and maybe impossible, see below—event should occur, it would “pull the teeth” of any BDS program targeting “settlement-businesses-only”. Meanwhile, BDS’s other goals—ending the settlements themselves and ending the occupation and ending Israel discrimination against Israeli Palestinians and Israel’s refusal to readmit the exiles—would remain.

Of course, ending Israeli business in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs) would not be so simple.

Power, water, transport between Israel and OPTs are both necessary and border-crossing. Israeli banks finance things other than business in OPTs — residences, town-structures, the university in the enormous Ariel settlement, entertainment and sports centers, etc. And the Israeli army (IDF) makes both the occupation and the settlements possible and has business relations with arms suppliers, “security” providers, etc.

But “entanglement”—whether it exists or disappears—seems to me unimportant. BDS should be aimed at all Israeli businesses, products and services, culture, sports, travel, etc., not merely at businesses and institutions with ties (“entanglements”) to the occupation and settlements.

Why? Because the entire Israeli society (or the dominating Jewish part of it) is democratically responsible for what the government does, and the government is in charge of promoting the occupation/settlement project. Indeed, it does so not only politically but with huge expenditures. Therefore the burden of BDS must fall on the entire society, not merely on a few members of the settlements communities.

To aim BDS solely at businesses operating in OPTs is not only hard to do (because of the “disentanglement” problem) but the wrong thing to do. It appears to absolve Israel and most Israelis of responsibility for ending the occupation/settlements.

Sometimes a full-court-press (the all-Israel-BDS which I propose) is said to illegitimately “delegitimize” Israel. This is hooey.

An all-Israel-BDS would certainly recognize and bruit the “illegitimacy” of the occupation/settlements, the discriminatory legal structures inside Israel, and Israel’s long-standing refusal to allow the return of those Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948—but it would in no way “delegitimize” the State of Israel (understood—as to territory—as behind the green-line).

It is up to Israel and Israelis to decide whether occupation/settlements are intrinsic to Israel (to Zionism, if you will) and necessarily — from their vantage point — permanent; or if, to the contrary, they can be abandoned as unnecessary.

If Israel’s love affair with occupation and settlements, etc., is intrinsic to Zionism, then Israel is ideologically chained to international lawlessness. Forever. Unless occupation and settlements can be unhitched from Zionism — or Israel unhitched from Zionism.

And even Zionism may not be forever. Some Israeli Jews talk about a “one-state-solution”, that is, a single multi-ethnic, multi-confessional democratic state in which both Israeli Jews and Palestinians can live together in harmony. Those Jews who talk this way have certainly abandoned much that other Israeli Jews cling to under the rubric of “Zionism”.

International law anticipates that military occupation will be brief, but by lasting 46 years (so far, and counting!), Israel’s occupation looks not like anything intended to be temporary but like a permanent land-grab, declared illegitimate by the UN Charter and UNSC 242 (the latter declaring the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”). The settlements are well-known to violate international law.

The enormous expense of Israel’s settlements-building spree, its highways building spree, etc., in the OPTs is practically a definitive signal of Israel’s intention—other things being equal—to make the occupation and settlements permanent. Yes, Virginia, so far, Israel intends to be an international lawbreaker in perpetuity.

The question is, whether “all thing are going to remain equal” and whether, for instance, BDS can change Israeli minds.

BDS should work to help Israel and Israelis decide to end the occupation and settlements program. And it will do so quickest if it has impact on every segment of Israeli life, not merely on the businesses that operate in OPTs.

That is my case for all-Israel-BDS as opposed to settlement-businesses-only-BDS. I’d be glad to read  well-argued opposing views.

Peter Belmont lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at:


Peter Belmont lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at:

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