The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is an important, nonviolent tool to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict under the umbrella of international law and human rights. The movement is growing in Palestine, Israel, Europe, the United States, and other countries because it is a readily available to businesses, organizations, and local activists. According to veteran Israeli journalist Uri Avnery, BDS is also Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest, post-Iran boogeyman to panic both Israeli and Diaspora Jews.
The BDS movement marks its tenth anniversary this month with a list of 100 successes. Nevertheless, Amjad Alqasis recently pointed out in Mondoweiss that “the most urgent issue that needs to be raised today is the ‘S’ in the BDS acronym, or the campaigning for Sanctions against Israel.”
We agree. It is time for the BDS movement to step up its game. In particular, Noam Chomsky recently pointed out that nearly all BDS activities are restricted to consumer boycotts (B) and institutional divestment (D). To extend his analysis, in practice the movement’s acronym is BD, not BDS, because of the lack of advocacy and activity for the U.S. government to enact sanctions (S) on Israel. In our view, this omission is unfortunate because the historical record is clear. Government sanctions are far more effective than individual or institutional actions to change the behavior of governments.
For example, in 1986 Congress overturned President Reagan’s veto to adopt the Comprehensive anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. It resulted in the U.S. government imposing dozens of tough sanctions on South Africa that soon played a major role in ending legal apartheid in that country.
Based on this precedent, U.S. government sanctions directed at Israel would dramatically change the political dynamic of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Once implemented, the United States would scale back the diplomatic, financial, military, and intelligence support that has enabled 47 years of Israeli military occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, constructing an apartheid system in those areas. It would also end the U.S. government’s resupplying of Israel with arms used against civilians in the midst of war and shielding Israel from political and humanitarian accountability at international forums.
Josh Ruebner, the Policy Director of the US Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation, and other analysts have pointed out that U.S. government support for Israel has encouraged Israel to deepen its violent occupation of the West Bank, strengthen its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, expand its immoral blockade of Gaza, and engage in discrimination against Palestinian Israelis. Enacting sanctions on Israel, that is ending the U.S. government’s unflinching support of Israel, should be the key action item for organizations leading the BDS movement, yet most of them are conspicuously silent on this topic.
Nevertheless, the call for US government sanctions on Israel has already begun. In addition to Amjad Algassis’s recent article in Mondoweiss, for years the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has called for enforcement of the U.S. Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts. That demand was reinforced by prominent Christian clergy in 2012. These laws restrict foreign U.S. military aid to legitimate defense and prohibit military aid to countries that abuse human rights. Israel fails these two tests, so the enforcement of these laws would seriously curtail the over $3 billion in annual U.S. military transfers to Israel.
Just recently Partners for a Progressive Israel, a Zionist organization, called for sanctions as a way to coerce Israeli and Palestinian officials into serious negotiations to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state.
The time is long overdue for the pluralistic BDS movement to follow the lead of these organizations and now take well-defined actions to change U.S. government policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge leaders of the BDS movement in the United States to prominently include U.S. government sanctions on Israel in all of their current BDS advocacy and actions.
So far, the successes of the BDS movement have not caused Israel to alter its policy towards Palestinians. Instead, the Netanyahu government and its hard-core American supporters, like Sheldon Adelson, have dug in their heels by devoting substantial funds to promote anti-BDS legislation and programs.
Therefore, it is now time for public demands on the U.S. government to introduce sanctions on Israel to end the occupation. President Obama said as much when he promised to “reassess” U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine and Mideast diplomacy following the March 17 Israeli elections.
LA Jews for Peace understands that the Israel lobby will strenuously oppose any U.S. government sanctions on Israel. But it is nevertheless worth waging this critical fight because sanctions would not only end U.S. government bias towards Israel, but also become a critical policy change to end the occupation. In seeking wide support for sanctions, the LA Jews for Peace statement below proposes transferring the $3 billion in annual military support to Israeli and Palestinian humanitarian projects.
The goal of the LA Jews for Peace statement is to initiate a broad call for sanctions among groups and individuals dedicated to ending the occupation and the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, so all people in the region can live a safe and secure life.
A Call for United States Government Sanctions on Israel
Decades of United States efforts have failed to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas and failed to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with both sides living in peace, security, and prosperity. For the good of all parties – Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans – we call on the United States government to impose sanctions on Israel until the conflict is resolved through compliance with United Nations resolutions.
LA Jews for Peace calls on President Obama to follow through on his March 19, 2015, comments to Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the US would reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including diplomatic protection at the United Nations. But President Obama has already stepped back from that position by shielding Israel from accountability at the UN. His administration successfully lobbied to keep Israel off the list of armies that kill and maim children, less than a year after Israel’s assault on Gaza killed 540 children and wounded 2,955 .
The U.S. should now use government sanctions to persuade Israel to permit a sovereign Palestinian state, just like the US successfully used government sanctions to limit Iran’s nuclear program and to end South African apartheid. LA Jews for Peace proposes that the Obama Administration begin these sanctions by lifting Israeli immunity at the Security Council through automatic US vetoes.
LA Jews for Peace also joins the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and prominent Christian clergy in calling for enforcement of the Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts. These laws restrict U.S. military aid to legitimate defense and prohibit military aid to countries that abuse human rights. Rather than stop arming Israel, as dictated by U.S. law, the Administration is buying-off Israeli opposition to an Iran nuclear deal with new shipments of American first-strike weapons, including the F-35 and bunker-buster bombs.
There are many other sanctions that the United States can take to change the dynamics of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and induce Israel to end the occupation. LA Jews for Peace also calls for the Obama Administration to enact sanctions on Israel that:
- Transfer funds from illegal arms exports to local humanitarian agencies and organizations benefiting both Israelis and Palestinians.
- End exemptions for US citizens who serve in the Israeli army.
- Revoke the tax-exempt status of U.S. philanthropies that donate funds to the Israeli army and to settlements.
If these sanctions do not end the occupation, then the US government should turn to the same sanctions it imposed on South Africa. For example, our government could:
- Ban visits by Israeli officials who advocate racist and militaristic policies.
- Freeze Israeli assets in US banks and limit Israeli financial transactions.
- Ban commercial trade with the United States.
* Please send questions and comments to: [email protected]
 Ha’Aretz, March 19, 2015: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.647965
 NY Times, June 8, 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/world/middleeast/israel-and-hamas-are-kept-off-a-grim-list.html
 United Methodist Church Holy Land Task Force: https://www.umhltf.org/UMs_Holy_Land_Task_Force.html#15_Leaders_Ltr_to_Congress
Note: This article is an expanded version of a recent call for sanctions by LA Jews for Peace (http://lajewsforpeace.org/Essays/2015-SanctionsStatement.pdf)