Trending Topics:

BDS: The best hope for a true peace

on 36 Comments

Unarguably, one of the most notable achievements of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress was that they were able to dismantle the apartheid structure of law in South Africa without the destruction of the colonial population. Though their dominance of the political system has ended, the white community, both British and Afrikaner, remains firmly ensconced within the cultural and economic life of the nation. It is hard to overstate how unusual this is.

During the course of the Decolonization movement, there were two other African countries that faced the problems of South Africa–democratic rule by a minority population of European settlers. Neither of those situations ended well. In Algeria, when the FLN achieved victory in 1962 and the French government agreed to independence, the entire community of French Algerians, many of whom had roots going back 130 years, departed en masse, destroying their infrastructure behind them. In Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, the 1979 agreement that ended the civil war and led to the fall of the Rhodesian apartheid government included provisions for the protection of the white minority. But by 1999, all but a handful of these citizens had fled. The question must be asked, why was South Africa so much more successful in its rapprochement than its contemporaries? Even more that than, why was rapprochement even a possibility?

boycottapartheidPart of the answer, I am sure, rests with the skill and humility of Mr. Mandela and the leaders of the African National Congress, but there is another explanation as well. Algeria, Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, and South Africa all faced rule by white minorities. However, the manners in which those racist governments fell was very different. In Algeria, it was a combination of internal French war-weariness and the military pressure of the FLN insurgency. In Rhodesia, isolation from the international community played a part, but it was the white government’s inability to suppress the incessant guerrilla warfare tearing the country apart that forced them to the negotiating table. In both of these cases, armed insurgency along ethnic lines was the key to victory. Now, in South Africa, the violence of groups like Spear of the Nation certainly was an element in the collapse of the Apartheid Regime. But it was the mass array of sanctions, boycotts, and divestment aimed from nearly every nation on earth at South Africa until it was a totally isolated pariah state that truly brought down the Regime. While Algeria and Zimbabwe/Rhodesia were battles fought in the language of the anti-colonial independence movement, South Africa was fought in the language of justice and equality. In essence, the former were ethnic conflicts, and the latter was a human rights issue.

sa-anti-apartheid-posterThat statement may seem trite and over-simplistic, and in many ways it is. Obviously, those fighting against the tyranny of the French and Rhodesian governments were fighting for their human rights, even if they didn’t use those terms, and the struggles in South Africa were still fought along mostly ethnic and racial lines. But this is a matter of language and perception. And not just the perception of observers, but the perception of participants as well. Ethnic conflicts are bloody and brutal. They lead to feuds and lingering hatreds, atrocities and genocides, massacres and counter-massacres. Once people have been convinced that their group of people is inimically opposed to another group of people, the end result is inevitable. And even if the conflict has its roots in actual grievances, the reaction of most people is likely to be to throw up their hands, sigh, and say that while of course it’s tragic, there’s not much you can do if they just hate each other. In a conflict based around human rights issues, the perception is very different. In South Africa, the fact that the impetus of the movement was located internationally meant that it become much more than a simple Blacks vs. Whites ethnic conflict. It was instead about a specific entity, the government of South Africa, that was being held to account for it’s violations of objective human rights. This strategy focused the attention of the anti-Apartheid movement on ending a distinct set of laws and customs in South Africa, as opposed to a more general ethnic struggle between oppressors and oppressed. The use of international sanctions and the language of human rights meant that the victory conditions demanded by the ANC required only the deconstruction of the specific political regime targeted, while allowing reconciliation and rapprochement for the population at large.

I said earlier that there were there were two other countries facing the same problem as South Africa. In fact, there were three. The last one is Israel, which enjoys democratic governance by its Jewish population, while millions of Palestinians in the West Bank have spent 46 years under military occupation, watching as their land is steadily confiscated for the use of Israeli settlers. Right now, most people see the Israel-Palestine conflict as an ethnic one. Even people with sympathy for the Palestinian position all too often dismiss the whole situation by lamenting the fact that the two groups “just hate each other so much”. This is because, for all intents and purposes, it has been an ethnic conflict. The Palestinians have used the weapons of terrorism, of insurgency, of popular insurrection, all aimed at Israel (and often the Jewish people) in general. It has been, for all intents and purposes, a war fought between two ethnic groups. This has contributed greatly to the international perception that the whole thing is just an unsolvable mess. But this is starting to change. The Palestinian Civil Society call for a Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel utilizes the language of international justice and human rights. It calls for specific changes in Israeli policy and governance, and it does so on the basis of specific, quantifiable actions taken against the Palestinian people in violation of international law and basic human rights. In effect, it transforms the conflict from a war to the death like Algeria or Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, and into South Africa-style campaign to bring about the end of a government dedicated to racial dominance.

Some people may wonder, does it really matter the manner in which the struggle against Israeli oppression is fought? After all, all three of those countries did eventually gain victory. And to be honest, I agree. If the BDS movement collapsed tomorrow, Palestinian resistance would continue. And I believe it would eventually succeed. But let’s be clear. If the BDs movement collapsed tomorrow, the struggle would almost certainly return to the methods of violent insurrection and terrorism. And if and when they achieved victory, the results would look far too similar to the post-independence chaos and bloodshed of Algeria or Zimbabwe for comfort. This is why we must support BDS. Building a Palestinan freedom campaign built on the precepts on justice, human rights, and international coordination is the only way to ensure that when the Israeli Apartheid regime falls, what emerges truly will be a democracy of all its citizens, and not the ascendency of the blood-stained and vengeful victorious opposition.

Nathan Goldwag
About Nathan Goldwag

Nathan Goldwag is a sophomore at Brandeis University and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

36 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    January 14, 2014, 12:36 pm

    Just look the past year, many artists, companies boycotted this regime. BDS works. Finkelstein should recognize.

    • W.Jones
      January 14, 2014, 1:50 pm

      Finkelstein says his main teacher is Chomsky, now that he is no longer Maoist. This is why Finkelstein talks this way.

      Chomsky’s interview with Coauthor Frank Barat

    • yrn
      January 14, 2014, 3:56 pm

      many artists, companies boycotted this regime.

      Artist like ……. name them ?
      and name those who stood against the BDS and performed in Israel.

      • Justpassingby
        January 14, 2014, 5:15 pm

        Google BDS in 2013, and youll see the latest success.

        Btw how could this be this way? You are sitting on internet day out/day in to defend apartheid?

      • yrn
        January 15, 2014, 10:45 am


        Sorry, looked in Google, NO artist canceled their performances in 2013.
        there were more international artist performances in Israel in 2013 then ever.
        Not Just that, do you remember the Pixies, BDS big success.
        Well go target them quick, as they perform in Israel in July 2014.

        Sorry . just hate to read your Lies.

      • James North
        James North
        January 15, 2014, 10:51 am

        yrn: If BDS is a failure, why do you spend so much time fighting it on Mondoweiss? I don’t visit and try and talk them out of their illusions.

    • Dutch
      January 14, 2014, 6:13 pm

      In the Netherlands a petition was launched by students/professors of several universities to put pressure on the ABP pension fund to divest from Israeli companies. Please support it if you agree (text in English), and help us to spread the word. Thanks!

      ABP is one of the largest pension funds in the world with an invested capital of 292 billion euro’s. Also see Alex’s post (and comments) on PGGM of January 8:

      • just
        January 15, 2014, 11:25 am

        Responding to James North above– excellent question and statement.

        And why, then, are some groups hustling to bring suit(s) against BDS?

        Because it works, will gather steam, and will succeed. It’s the new steamroller vs the old bulldozer. It changes minds, it changes practice, it changes everything. It hits the pocketbook.

      • yrn
        January 15, 2014, 11:39 am

        James North

        You are wrong, I don’t fight BDS as there is nothing to fight against, only to read the Lies over and over again about their supposed “success”.

        If they would succeed so much, you & MW wouldn’t have to spend the majority of your time declaring how great they do.
        As success speaks for itself.

      • talknic
        January 15, 2014, 12:02 pm

        yrn “As success speaks for itself”


      • Cliff
        January 15, 2014, 12:24 pm

        yrn said:

        As success speaks for itself.

        If this is true, then why does IsraHell hire pro-Israel fanatics to troll blogs and news websites, pushing the Zionist POV?

        Why does Israel need constant media blackout in the mainstream American press?

        If Israel and Zionism need to explanation (since as you say, ‘success speaks for itself’) – then why so much effort in preventing others from speaking as well as making sure only pro-Israel partisans do the speaking, where people can hear them, the loudest?

        Why hire Michael Oren, a former Israel ambassador? Isn’t Zionism ‘self-evident’?

        I think you’re on MW because you have no life, yrn. You’ve got the presence of a gnat. Being a pro-Israel troll makes you feel good about yourself and from your POV, lifts you from the mediocrity of your existence.

        Just look at the obtuse neckbeard loser, OlegR.

        You guys are literally the bottom-of-the-barrell for Zionism.

  2. pabelmont
    January 14, 2014, 1:16 pm

    BDS can motivate countries — the people and the national governments — to take action of a SANCTIONING nature.

    Trade sanctions against Israel have begun. some UK supermarkets refuse Israeli produce. Dutch Pension funds took their money out of Israeli banks.

    One hopes that all this will increase into a cascade. It does not need to be 100%. It only needs to hurt enough Israeli trade enough for the Israeli business community to tell the government to “shape up”. That is the purpose of BDS — in my opinion.

    My hope is that BDS wil become sufficiently wide-spread before its effects cause close dowen of the settlements, that the countries practicing BDS will CONTINUE — thereby giving a possibility of solving the other two problems (after settlement eradication) — democracy/non-discrimination within Israel and PRoR for the exiles of 1948.

    The danger (in the event of success) is that the momentum will dry up after the initial success that the secondary goals will not be met.

  3. Cliff
    January 14, 2014, 1:35 pm

    Those ads are anti-afrikaner.

    Why single out South Africa when there are plenty of human rights violators around the world?

    South Africa is surrounded by a bunch of hostile countries.

    This issue is too complex for the boycotters to understand.

    Peace will come when the ANC recognizes the right to exist of White South Africa.

  4. W.Jones
    January 14, 2014, 1:56 pm


    I appreciate your article, your insights, and how you see the struggles as similar and their methods as both possible.

    I disagree with juxtaposing the two struggles and their methods, however.

    A struggle for human rights can also be a struggle for a group’s liberation. If the group is liberated it can protect their rights, and vice verse.

    BDS is not necessarily different from resistance either. Much of the intifada for freedom was civil disobedience, failing to pay taxes, etc. Without any violence it still would have been resistance for freedom. There is also, by the way, an Arab boycott of the State, in existence for a very long time. It’s distinguishable from BDS, because the latter is home grown. However nonetheless the tactic was the same, even if BDS is more limited to the issue of settlements. This is why neither the tactics nor the goals nor the framework of resistance (a group’s liberation vs. human rights) are in contrast to eachother.

    However, I could see supporters of the State’s system as declaring they are very different and that they support one over the other. Namely, the supporter of the system could say he agrees with the subject people’s human rights, but does not want a liberation where they all return to their homeland- as if the two ideas were so vastly different.

    I also see a wide range of tactics- on one hand JStreet’s tactic of talking to the governments in the US and Israel and thinking it is a matter of rhetorical persuasion alone, for the system to see that the survival in the long term political arrangement is best served by ending occupation of some territories. This of course is a failed tactic when taken alone because the state has major material interests in settlements. This is why the State has been so aggressive.
    On the complete opposite hand there is a tactic of promoting some kind of invasion, which practically nobody supports anyway.

    Thus a supporter of the state can claim they want one tactic and not the other. In reality however, no tactics are in complete contradiction as to their goal (as if one tactic went with one goal only- rights vs. freedom)- even though of course not all tactics are wise.

  5. Xpat
    January 14, 2014, 2:40 pm

    Thank you for this thought-provoking analysis. I’d be interested to read comments from people who are more knowledgeable than me about Algeria and Zimbabwe.

  6. mondonut
    January 14, 2014, 3:06 pm

    True Peace = Eliminate Israeli Apartheid regime = No Jewish State = No Israel

    • talknic
      January 14, 2014, 3:53 pm

      If you say so donut.

      Seems your formula is based on Israel being an apartheid regime

    • Cliff
      January 14, 2014, 4:09 pm

      A Jewish State means Jewish ethnocracy means second-class citizenship for non-Jews and continued colonialism in the OPT means permanent masada mentality.

      A Jewish State such as it is – and not in some fairy-tale hypothetical – has no right to exist.

      A Jewish State was always going to end up this way because there was no natural Jewish majority in Historic Palestine.


      Do you still deny the findings of various human rights groups and the UN, stating that the IDF abuses Palestinian children systematically?

      I forgot if you ever answered my question. I recall you being a coward and remaining silent on the matter. I expect more of the same from you.

    • Justpassingby
      January 14, 2014, 5:18 pm


      So Israel can only be apartheid lol?

      Fix your hasbara boy haha.

    • RoHa
      January 14, 2014, 8:07 pm

      “True Peace = Eliminate Israeli Apartheid regime”

      Eliminating the Israeli Apartheid regime is certainly necessary for peace.

      ” = No Jewish State”

      And good thing too. As Cliff has pointed out, a Jewish State is an evil idea.

      ” = No Israel”

      Well, if Israel can only be a apartheid Jewish state, better that there isn’t an Israel. There certainly is no need for any sort of Jewish state. There is a need for a reasonably just state in Palestine, whether it be called “Israel” or not.

      • goldmarx
        January 15, 2014, 10:58 am

        Roha: “…a Jewish State is an evil idea.”

        Are there any other States that are evil ideas in your judgment, or just a Jewish State?

      • RoHa
        January 15, 2014, 7:39 pm

        Any state that implies, as part of its basic conception, unequal treatment of minorities, is an evil idea. If the unequal treatment of Baha’is is built in to the concept of the Iranian Islamic state, then that is an evil idea. If not, it is still evil in practice.

        If it is possible to have a Jewish State which does not imply a Jewish ethnocracy (perhaps one that runs according to Jewish moral principles, assuming there are any which do not give preferential treatment to Jews) then such a state would not be an evil idea on that account.

        (And I should have written “an apartheid Jewish state”.)

      • puppies
        January 17, 2014, 7:31 pm

        “If it is possible to have a Jewish State which does not imply a Jewish ethnocracy (perhaps one that runs according to Jewish moral principles, assuming there are any which do not give preferential treatment to Jews)….”
        Absolute logical impossibility. The use of the word is already relegating the non-Jew to non-citizen status, period.

  7. hophmi
    January 14, 2014, 3:44 pm

    “If the BDs movement collapsed tomorrow, the struggle would almost certainly return to the methods of violent insurrection and terrorism”

    Oh gawd. Another megalomaniac BDSer. You must not think very much of the Palestinians if you think that all that holds them back from violence is the BDS movement.

    • Justpassingby
      January 14, 2014, 5:17 pm


      You wouldnt know since you propose violence above all.

    • Cliff
      January 14, 2014, 6:08 pm

      More proof hophmi supports terrorism by as well as against Israel.

      • hophmi
        January 15, 2014, 11:15 am

        “You wouldnt know since you propose violence above all.”

        “More proof hophmi supports terrorism by as well as against Israel”

        Um, no. As usual, you’re making stuff up. More proof that you guys can’t tell fiction from fact. Typical of cultists.

      • Cliff
        January 15, 2014, 12:19 pm

        Neither of us are guilty of that.

        You have gone on record as saying the Jewish terrorists of the Mandate era were fighting British imperialism (hence, it’s ok that they were Jewish terrorists).

        You then whitewashed their acceptance and assimilation into the Israeli army (which also committed mass ethnic cleansing and atrocities).

        You have put Palestinian militancy and terrorism on a pedestal – whether it be actual violence or hypothetical violence.

        You have downplayed violence by Israel against the Palestinians or ignored it completely even though said violence is constant, and institutionalized.

        You have repeatedly raised the spectre of suicide bombing as a justification for the Apartheid Wall (even though annexes Palestinian land; in spite of the well-known ruling, etc.).

        In other words: you prefer Palestinian violence. It makes you all warm and fuzzy inside.

        It’s a language you understand.

        BDS is non-violent and grassroots. It’s the only show in town. There are no other viable options left because Jewish terrorists have been clamping down on free speech and protest movements against their terrorism.

        You are a Jewish terrorist. You support terrorism by Israel as well as AGAINST Israel – because it is an essential component of your worldview (poor little Israel singled out by an Arab horde).

    • amigo
      January 15, 2014, 10:54 am

      “Oh gawd. Another megalomaniac BDSer. You must not think very much of the Palestinians if you think that all that holds them back from violence is the BDS movement.”put through hopknee

      Well it,s not as if Israel is not doing it,s utmost to get a violent reaction.

      Attacks on Gaza,midnight raids on Palestinian villages in the WB, Standing by while illegal settler scum attack Palestinian Farmers and destroy their olive trees,arresting Palestinian Children and holding them in outside pens in inclement weather etc , etc , etc, all so Israel can pretend it,s the victim.

      Go back to your day job beating up unarmed men women and children you odious zio turd.

    • goldmarx
      January 15, 2014, 11:01 am

      Hophmi: “Oh gawd. Another megalomaniac BDSer.”

      Well, Hophmi, I am a Zionist BDSer, and I’d like to think I’m not trying to conquer the world. So please explain what other non-violent options Palestinians have apart from BDS that have not yet been tried.

  8. Inanna
    January 14, 2014, 6:24 pm

    The last one is Israel, which enjoys democratic governance by its Jewish population, while millions of Palestinians in the West Bank have spent 46 years under military occupation, watching as their land is steadily confiscated for the use of Israeli settlers.

    No Mr. Goldwag, the problem goes back to 1948 and earlier with the ethnic cleansing of nearly 800,000 Palestinians and the denial of their right to return home. By framing this as a 1967 problem rather than a 1948 problem, you are missing a huge part of the injustice done and the redress that needs to occur before a real peace can be possible.

    • ritzl
      January 14, 2014, 8:09 pm

      It’s heartening that the acknowledgements and/or debates, even within Zionism, are increasingly shifting to ’47-’48 as opposed to being confined to post-’67 on this. It’s where it should be given an Israel that keeps gobbling up the WB. Israel set the terms, could have had a pre-’67, self-determined state, but could not settle for less than it all.

      Now it’s back to ’47 and those shifting terms, which means one state to me, is completely on them and their short-sighted greed.

      Great, in rhetorical terms. Much difficulty to come in the shifting struggle’s effect on the daily lives of real people (yearning to be free, if you permit the poetic cliché).

      Still, now it’s all probably/finally pointing toward a real and durable and just solution however long it takes.

    • goldmarx
      January 15, 2014, 11:07 am

      Inanna: Or perhaps one could go back a bit farther and frame this as a 1929 problem, starting with the anti-Semitic Hebron Massacre. Hillel Cohen’s books, particularly the new one (alas not yet in English, previewed on the pro-BDS 972 website) contains quite an indictment of the notion of collective Palestinian innocence that has fueled much of the anti-Zionist narrative.

      • RoHa
        January 15, 2014, 7:44 pm

        Or perhaps go back still further, and frame it as a nineteenth century problem, when European Zionists decided to create a Jewish State in Palestine regardless of the desires or interests of the native Muslims, Christians, and Jews of Palestine.

      • puppies
        January 17, 2014, 8:05 pm

        Innocence, of course. It’s their land that has been invaded, not the other way around. The cheek.

Leave a Reply