Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel: Civil Society in Search of Ways out of the Diplomatic Impasse

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel
Civil Society in Search of Ways out of the Diplomatic Impasse

For Immediate Release

No. (E/14/06) 6 June 2006



Israel is waging a broad international campaign for sanctions and boycott against the elected government of the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with the United States, the European Union and many European states. Civil society organizations, however, propose a different campaign: Just as in the case of Apartheid South Africa, they say, a comprehensive regime of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel is not only the most politically effective but also the most morally sound strategy for bringing about Israel's compliance with international law and universal principles of human rights. Only through such effective pressure will there be hope for a just peace in the Middle East, based on equality and dignity for all.


As Palestinians commemorate the 39th anniversary of Israel's June 1967 occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, the civil society-driven BDS campaign continues to gain important allies. On 27 May, for example, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) voted unanimously to conduct an educational campaign about Israel's apartheid policies and to urge an economic boycott of Israel until it meets its obligations under international law, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. CUPE is Canada's biggest labor union, the Ontario branch has more than 200,000 members.


Two days later in Britain the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) voted to recommend that its 67,000 members consider severing ties with Israeli professors and academic institutions that do not publicly disassociate themselves from continuing Israeli apartheid policies. The Canadian and British unions' votes are only the most recent in a series of similar decisions taken since 2004 by churches, members of the World Council of Churches, Norwegian and South African trade unions, political parties in Norway and the United States, NGOs and the global Palestine solidarity movement. The campaign is supported by Jewish peace and human rights activists in Israel and abroad; most initiatives refer to the BDS Call issued by over 170 Palestinian Civil Society Organizations on 9 July 2005. [1]


Israel and its supporters have spared no means to undermine the emerging civil society campaign claiming that it inadvertently promotes anti-Semitism and obstructs ongoing efforts at Israeli-Palestinian peace. This, although it is is widely recognized, especially in Israel, that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer to enter into negotiations with the Palestinian leadership on the basis of the 'Road Map' is no more than lip service to the diplomatic community which would like to maintain the illusion that there is still some form of 'peace process' in the Middle East. Moreover, as Israeli journalist Gideon Levi has argued, Israel cannot claim that the boycott weapon is illegitimate. It makes extensive use of this weapon itself, most recently by leading the boycott of the elected Palestinian government and, by extension, of the Palestinians under occupation at large. (Gideon Levi, Ha'aretz, 4 June 2006)


Levi also correctly states, “the occupation is not just the domain of the government, army and security organizations. Everything is tainted: institutions of justice and law, the physicians who remain silent wile medical treatment is prevented in the territories, the teachers who do not protest against the closing of educational institutions and the prevention of free movement of their peers, the journalists who do not report, the writers and artists who remain mum, the architects and engineers who lend a hand to the occupation's enterprises, [...] and also the university teachers, who do nothing for their imprisoned colleagues in the territories, but conduct special study programs for the security forces. If all these boycotted the occupation, there would be no need for an international boycott.”


In the meantime, Israel is implementing its “convergence” plan; Israel continues its illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands, denies Palestinian refugee rights and discriminates against all Palestinians under its effective control. Israel's violations of international law and universal principles of human rights - all too real to be ignored – are the fundamental motive behind the expanding civil society BDS initiatives worldwide.




[1] Over 170 Palestinian political parties, unions, associations and NGOs issued a call for a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel similar to the campaign against South African Apartheid. The Palestinian Civil Society BDS Call was issued on 9 July 2005, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel's illegal Wall in the OPT. BADIL is a signatory of this BDS Call. For more information about the Palestinian BDS Campaign, see for example: