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BDS is a war Israel can’t win

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Israeli think-tank fellow Yossi Klein Halevi, writing recently in the Los Angeles Times [“Why the anti-Israel boycott movement is an immoral threat to peace”] would have American readers believe that the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement is “immoral” and threatens the peace of “the region’s only intact society”, while simultaneously boasting it can’t touch Israel’s health and global economic integration.

Yet his reasoning from “morals” rings hollow, and amounts to little more than the shilling of the professional apologist industry deployed on Israel’s behalf throughout the Western media, in the never-ending defence of the oppressive status quo in Palestine.

Halevi excoriates BDS, disingenuously, for making the Jewish state “the world’s most pressing problem” today, while extolling Israel’s freedoms and national righteousness. Of course, his complaint manages to engage in both self-pitying and craven boosterism at the same time – a kind of perverse humble-brag.

No, Mr Halevi, Israel is not the world’s greatest problem – rather, Israel is Palestine’s great, existential, enduring problem for a people who have lived their whole lives under the constant, brutal and de-humanising occupation of this enlightened state.

Palestine’s ordeal

Most of the world has been content to overlook Palestine’s ordeal – fatigued by 68 years of this conflict, and understandably inured to the epic suffering of its people, who understand that their tragic condition can only hold its attention briefly.

The endless failed international “peace” efforts, the vicissitudes of negotiations, and periodic spasms of violence have become like the weather – always there.

This is precisely why the BDS movement has come to figure so prominently in Palestinian hopes – it side-steps the moribund “peace process” and banks on people-power as leverage against state and institutional power, applied against a responsive economy, such as Israel’s.

In the view of Palestinians, the state of Israel has never possessed legitimacy, not by international standards, as it was founded on expulsion, land-theft and military occupation. The BDS movement approaches this abstract issue by offering practicable action for citizens in the West, while the official international community dithers away the decades, leaving Palestinians worse off than ever before.

That such leverage should be applied to Israel is entirely justified. After all, autocratic dictatorships with closed economies, lacking – in Halevi’s celebratory words – “an independent judiciary, a free press, universal healthcare and religious freedom” are not typically responsive targets to protest campaigns for justice, like that of the BDS movement.

Citizens in America don’t propose a boycott of North Korea – the US government does that for them, making it illegal to do business with that outlaw state: yes, the very same US government which blocks every effort by the United Nations and international courts to address the illegality of Israeli settlements, military occupation, collective punishment, economic enslavement, and wholesale destruction and murder of a captive population.

Advantages of civil society

If America’s obstruction of international law did not shield Israel from accountability, there would be no need for BDS.

Because Israel possesses all the institutions and advantages of civil society, then presumably its economy and citizens would therefore be responsive to an effective grassroots campaign of boycott and economic push-back.

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot to launch stones at Israeli troops during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the border between Gaza strip and Israel [EPA]
And if the campaign were to succeed, this same society might be expected to search its collective soul over its choices – and challenge its government’s policies.

This obvious point seems to have escaped Halevi, and others, who brand the movement as “immoral, because it perpetuates the lie that Israel is solely or even primarily to blame” for the Palestinian condition. Yet if we look around the room, who else is there?

Who attacks Palestinians’ cities with warplanes and tanks, walls them in, isolates them from contact with the world, cuts off their electricity, destroys their infrastructure, takes their water, and builds on their land after evicting them?

Who puts their teenagers in jail, takes their farms, cuts down their olive trees? It isn’t North Korea; it isn’t Putin’s Russia; it isn’t a rapacious China. Israel is the author of the present Palestinian condition, as it has been for decades, with its American backers, and there isn’t much point rehashing the failure of Camp David, or Oslo, or the Palestinian leadership since 1936, or 1948, or 1967.

BDS leaves that debate to “think-tank” intellectuals like Halevi and others. Justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved through debating societies.

BDS offers to its supporters a non-violent, crowd-sourced, material response to the intransigence of Israel and her rampant, continuing illegality. Israel’s apologists would call the campaign “immoral”, but the slander is laughably false.

The logic of justice

BDS compels no one to join it; it constrains no one but by force of reason, and the logic of justice.

In Halevi’s topsy-turvy morality, it is the BDS movement that sins against moral law, in persuading people, institutions and governments to vote with their wallets and their consciences on the rights of Palestinians – rather than Israel, which claims legitimacy to the world, even as it continues to build new settlements on Palestinian land, and subjugates its people to military occupation, dispossession and violence, in violation of international law.

The propagandists of Israeli power understand all too well that BDS is the first clear-eyed, internationalist movement of people – not governments, not Western “quartets”, not the UN Security Council – to look at Palestine with fresh eyes and accurate information. It demands that until Israel ceases its occupation and oppression of millions of Palestinians, there cannot, and should not, be any “business as usual” with the regime.

If Israeli critics want to smear BDS as “bigoted” – a dog-whistle for “anti-Semitic” – because of its endorsement of the Palestinian Right of Return, let them address the historical truth: at least 800,000 Palestinians were expelled en masse, in the creation of the Israeli state – that number has since grown to 7,000,000 stateless refugees with another 4 million internally displaced within their own nation.

No effort has ever been made by official Israeli society to acknowledge and address this simple reality – that many elderly Palestinians living in UN camps, or Gaza City slums, or the West Bank, remember their homes in places such as Jaffa, Yibna, or the numerous towns and villages erased from the map.

It serves no use to deny this fact – perhaps a good starting point for intellectuals like Halevi would be in saying, yes, it is not too late to admit those rights and seek redress, together with the Palestinians.

BDS is brave enough to put the Right of Return up front, as a moral position; if Israel were ready to move forward, it could do the same. Who knows – perhaps good things could come from starting from the truth.

And what of Israel’s boast of its progressive freedoms? They do not withstand scrutiny in the slightest – religious freedom, for example, is under clear attack for every Muslim who wishes to worship at al-Aqsa, or travel to Jerusalem, or leave Gaza and return again, with access routinely denied.

Through Israeli military travel bans on Palestinians, families are separated, unable to worship or observe religious rituals together, or attend the mosque of their choice.

Likewise, any progressive Reform Jew or Jewish American visiting will tell you that Orthodox Judaism does not welcome them, either – Israel’s Rabbinate monopolises official control over the very legitimacy of being Jewish, and denies marriage rights to thousands of couples, even going so far as to jail couples marrying illegally, or rabbis conducting such ceremonies.

Orthodox cultural control

Under Orthodox cultural control in Jerusalem and elsewhere, women are subordinated literally to a “back of the bus” status, and segregated without access to full social freedom and the right to work.

As for an independent judiciary, Palestinians never see it, instead enduring the injustices of military courts and the state security apparatus leaving thousands of them including children as permanent political detainees denied the most fundamental rights, while its civil courts refuse jurisdiction over Palestinian complaints.

And Israel’s “free press” leaves much to be desired. Halevi appears to be ignorant of the targeting of Palestinian journalists in recent years for arrest and prosecution in military courts under “incitement” laws; or the Israeli Defence Forces’ censoring of social media in the Occupied Territories.

We are all free to argue for justice as we see it, and BDS has had over a decade of mounting success …

The absurd equivocation of Halevi and his colleagues in the “Love Israel” industry hits a shrill note, asking American readers to accept that the BDS movement “is itself a crime”.

But free and open debate of the true status of Israeli occupation in Palestine, and the organising efforts to convince states, businesses and people to stop investing in Israel’s bloody enterprise, is hardly criminal. In America, it is known as “the marketplace of ideas”.

We are all free to argue for justice as we see it, and BDS has had more than a decade of mounting success because its arguments convince reasonable people of the truth – no one is buying any more the tired, old brand of “Israel, the Enlightened Democracy”.

BDS is the brave and steady labour of people of conscience to move the stalled, bogus “peace process” forward by applying economic pressure, plain and simple.

The old narrative of a blameless Israel, fighting off Palestinian “terrorists”, is a hard sell, and BDS will continue to build on its successes because Israel’s defenders can no longer suppress the truth, or sweep it under some wishful fantasy of a benevolent, progressive Israel that doesn’t exist, and never has.

This piece first appeared on Al Jazeera’s website. Stanley Cohen gave us permission to repost. 

Stanley Cohen

Stanley Cohen is an attorney with an extensive international and criminal law practice, working on Palestinian rights issues, who has represented, among others, Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouq.

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32 Responses

  1. Kay24 on July 11, 2016, 2:08 pm

    No doubt BDS IS affecting Israel’s economy. If it was not, they would not be pouring in thousands of shekels, train their mindless minions on websites, or twist the arms of American politicians, and those in Europe, to ban BDS groups from operating, and trying rather stupidly to make it out to be “anti-Semitic”. You have to be a bit mentally challenged to even think so, especially when you are in the land of free speech. We all know that we can call President Obama all sorts of nasty names, yet to criticize Israel and call for boycotts and sanctions is going against our rights, seems to be okay with zionists pets like Clinton and Chris Christie.
    Stanley Cohen is right, this movement is only going to get louder, and the attempts by the zionists to ban and stifle it, will only make it stronger and should spread around the world.

    It is up to the BDS movement to take advantage of social media, timely warnings during the
    month of Ramadan, spread the message to the over 1.5 billion Muslims, and other nations, to boycott the world’s notorious occupier. The Palestinian people have suffered for too long and need help desperately.

    • REALITY CHECK 101 on July 12, 2016, 4:56 pm

      $26 MILLIONS of shekels…COVERTLY

      ‘Covertly, Israel prepares to fight boycott activists online’….
      The Israeli government recently allotted nearly $26 million in this year’s budget to combat what it sees as worldwide efforts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state’s right to exist. Some of the funds are earmarked for Israeli tech companies, many of them headed by former military intelligence officers, for digital initiatives aimed at gathering intelligence on activist groups and countering their efforts. -‘Covertly, Israel prepares to fight boycott activists online’ 2/17/2016

  2. wondering jew on July 11, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Stanley Cohen- I knew that there were rabbis and couples who broke the law and could be sent to prison, but you are saying that the jailing has actually occurred. If true, please link. If untrue, please correct.

    “even going so far as to jail couples marrying illegally, or rabbis conducting such ceremonies.” – See more at:

    • Mooser on July 11, 2016, 7:57 pm

      ” but you are saying that the jailing has actually occurred – See more at”

      “Yonah” what kind of people even threaten people with jail for marrying the “wrong” person?
      Yes, the jail penalties are still in effect, and just upheld.

      (Yet “Mikhael” always got the quickie get Hmmmm…)

  3. Talkback on July 11, 2016, 5:45 pm

    If a regime/state needs people of a certain faith/heritage expelled to maintain a certain national character it has no moral right to exist. Period.

  4. Les on July 11, 2016, 6:15 pm

    CUNY Responds To BDS Activism On Campuses With Move To Control Free Expression

    11 Jul 2016 Brandon Jordan

  5. John Douglas on July 11, 2016, 7:10 pm

    Les raises an issue that needs developing. The anti-BDS forces in the US, US citizens almost entirely, are willing to have basic citizen rights – free speech and academic freedom – challenged and perhaps lessened permanently through the precedents they set – in order to protect Israel’s program of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Think New York’s illustrious governor. This is Israel-firstism in the extreme.

  6. silamcuz on July 12, 2016, 6:10 am

    The lowly tent-dwelling Arabs knew Israel won’t last the very day the state was established in the grandeur of European Imperialism, 60 years ago. The things they knew about Israel is the exact same thing we are finding out today, through each grainy mobile video shot in the occupied territories, through each damning article against every aspect of the nation, through the testimonies of each Israeli broken free of the Zionist indoctrination and brainwashing.

    And at the end, we will end up with millions of people who made a bet against justice and liberty, and lost spectacularly. What will be of become of this folks is something I wonder each day. Some will certainly relieve their shame and humiliation in the most practical manner possible, but how about the rest? Would they go incognito and pretend they never were in the losing side, and live happily ever after?

    • amigo on July 12, 2016, 9:24 am

      “The lowly tent-dwelling Arabs” silamcuz

      The anti white people silmacuz turns into a racist bigot who maligns POC.

    • on July 12, 2016, 9:54 am

      Good point, silamcuz. As to the important question you pose in your last paragraph and in specific reference to BDS, here’s one long-term scenario rearing its head via BDS and the unfavorable publicity being garnered by Israel and the Israel Lobby through their push for unconstitutional restraint of BDS voices:

      BDS as a tool to influence Israel’s policies, although growing and a good start, is only part of an initial skirmish in the war Mr. Cohen discusses.

      As the benighted American populace learns more about BDS, what it represents and is fighting and the power the Israel Lobby exercises to the detriment of the American people, this populace and those who vote will increasingly believe that the U.S. tried to be reasonable and give Israel a reality check in a nice way through BDS, but it didn’t get the message.

      So we will increasingly send a more unvarnished message, along these lines. No country, not even the U.S., has a right to exist. It exists because it has taken steps to protect itself. That’s what the U. S. has done. That’s what Israel should do, instead of hiding behind the U.S. and private supporters like AIPAC and the Israel Lobby.

      Now there is a real existential threat to Israel: It has shown for decades it is unreasonable by not solving one of the greatest problems in the Middle East and threats to security worldwide, the Palestinian situation, in a way which recognizes the rights of and protects the Palestinians, thereby working toward Israel’s own long-term viability.

      Israel needs the stick as well as the carrot. Israel is feasting on carrots from the U.S. to the tune of billions and almost unlimited affirmation and media support. They have no incentive to work out a framework for resolution of the conflict, even one which will benefit it in the long run.

      So the U.S. will have to cut off monetary aid, weapons sales, trade and other things until Israel give the Palestinians their rightful land, including pulling back the settlements. Then security for all parties could be maintained by Israel’s own defenses and international peacekeepers on the Palestinian side, all at a much more reasonable cost, because the threat of an apocalypse in the region will have been materially diminished.

      True, Israel might try to go it alone, but so be it. The U.S. can use all that money at home. Let the Zionists and Israel Lobby fund its isolation and pipe-dream in the desert.

      This is what I believe it’s going to come to unless Israel and the Israel Lobby wake up and smells the coffee.

      • Emory Riddle on July 12, 2016, 11:56 am

        “So the U.S. will have to cut off monetary aid, weapons sales, trade and other things until Israel give the Palestinians their rightful land, including pulling back the settlements..”

        Why is this considered the most progressive and just position? This is the Jill Stein view.

        The US should stop all aid to Israel. Period. Why should they receive any? Shouldn’t we indeed demand repayment of the tens of billions of dollars in gifts that have been extorted from us taxpayers by The Lobby over the past several decades?

    • diasp0ra on July 12, 2016, 10:23 am

      “The lowly tent-dwelling Arabs”

      What the flying hell?

    • Mooser on July 12, 2016, 12:14 pm

      “Would they go incognito and pretend they never were in the losing side, and live happily ever after?”

      Of course! They will say: azoy vert dos kichel tzekrochen!,
      and all leave slowly singing “Anatefska” in mournful tones.

      • RoHa on July 13, 2016, 2:52 am

        “azoy vert dos kichel tzekrochen!”

        Are you being authentic again?

      • Mooser on July 13, 2016, 12:18 pm

        “Are you being authentic again?”

        Could you please be serious, “RoHa”?
        I’ll be Roebucks, and we’ll start a store!

        And if it fails, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  7. Kay24 on July 12, 2016, 6:37 am

    Here is why BDS must go on.

    It is arrogance and disregard for international laws, that make these zionists think spending millions in shekels can give them legitimacy to the lands that belonged to those they occupy, hate, and kill.

    I call it blatant robbery and their sense of entitlement.

    “Israeli cabinet approves $12.8 million to ‘strengthen’ Kiryat Arba squatter settlement on Palestinian Land”

  8. Boo on July 12, 2016, 11:58 am

    BDS: What we term a “movement”, Israel calls a “war”. This allows them to apply the dictum “All’s fair in war” and act accordingly. They believe “taking off the gloves” will gain them the upper hand, much as they believe their asymmetric assaults on Gaza and individual Palestinians will bring them victory.

    Obviously the Israeli government fails to see or understand that unrestrained warlike tactics, when used against moral movements, historically strengthen rather than destroy such movements.

    They’re determined, it seems, to discover that truth the hard way. And they shall.

  9. aloeste on July 12, 2016, 1:47 pm

    there is a thin line between virulent anti-zionism and anti-judaism. while the lawyer writes to condemn claims of democracy , he is really condemning judaism . by definition O judaism=judaism. it is a slippery slope to slide over to judaism hatred from the anti-zionist diving board….

    • eljay on July 12, 2016, 2:43 pm

      || aloeste: … it is a slippery slope to slide over to judaism hatred from the anti-zionist diving board…. ||

      It’s a slippery slope and Zio-supremacists grease it up every chance they get by:
      – proclaiming Israel as a “Jewish State”;
      – conflating it with all Jews; and
      – intentionally and unapologetically committing (war) crimes in their names.

      I simply can’t understand why Zio-supremacists hate Jews so much.

    • Shmuel on July 12, 2016, 2:51 pm

      there is a thin line between virulent anti-zionism and anti-judaism

      Is there a fine line between using the adjective “virulent” to describe anti-Zionism and advocating/condoning racism against Palestinians?

    • Mooser on July 12, 2016, 3:54 pm

      “there is a thin line between virulent anti-zionism and anti-judaism.”

      That’s what happens when you bet your religion on gaining a “homeland”. But what’s a few people getting mad at Jews in comparison to owning Palestine?
      Obviously worth it.

    • Mr.T on July 12, 2016, 4:43 pm

      “there is a thin line between virulent anti-zionism and anti-Judaism”

      Oh, BS. There is no connection between the two save for the 1/100 of 1% kook, fringe haters who are opposed to Zionism BECAUSE it’s specifically Jews who are to benefit. The rest are people who simply reject the notion that one set of people get to make a ethno-religiously restrictive state on someone else’s land and to impose Apartheid conditions thereafter, regardless of the identity of the group in and out of power.

    • REALITY CHECK 101 on July 12, 2016, 5:16 pm

      It is not a moral transgression to criticize Judaism anymore than it is to criticize Islam or Catholicism.

      Read Israel Shahak..or better yet some of Israel’s leading rabbis..

      Ovadia Yosef: “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the people of Israel.” …800,000 israeli jews attended his funeral…
      -Times of Israel/10/9/2013

      or Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh who declared, “We have to recognize that Jewish blood and the blood of a goy are not the same thing.” (NY Times, June 6, 1989, p.5).

      or Menachem M. Schneerson: “The Gentile does not want anything. He waits to be told what the Jew wants!”

      or Rabbi Kook, the Elder (might this be where we get the contemporary usage of the term “kook”) who said “The difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews…is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

      Or maybe Chief Israeli Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu: Eliyahu proposed “hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.”

      Or Rabbi Manis Friedman: I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle). -Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Manis Friedman in Moment Magazine (May/June 2009). “Ask The Rabbi”

      • echinococcus on July 12, 2016, 8:22 pm

        Without even wasting time with the rabbies, go directly to their boss, who ordered the genocide of Amalekites and Canaanites and Moabites etc. in a signed Testament.
        “.. slay both men and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”… “kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”… “smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself.”… “thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them, namely, the Hittites, and the Amorities, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.” Now all these worthies have experienced it, what’s a few Palestinites?

  10. amigo on July 12, 2016, 7:37 pm

    Republican platform drops commitment to 2SS and declares war on BDS .Also states Israel is not an occupier.

    No paywall.

    • oldgeezer on July 12, 2016, 11:52 pm


      If there is an upside it is that both parties have abandoned the lie that they are in any way a neutral party in any negotiations. For too many years the pretense existed despite the protestations of individuals who care abput justice and human rights. The US has announced it’s place as a territory of Israel.

    • echinococcus on July 13, 2016, 12:39 am


      Perhaps the US news don’t make it over the basin: Republicans are the same party as the Democrats and of course have the same “platform” as the Mafia.

    • REALITY CHECK 101 on July 13, 2016, 4:22 pm

      It was with gratitude that we watched the Republican platform committee approve the Israel plank of the Republican platform expressing unequivocal support for Israel. We were also very pleased to see the members of the committee rise for a standing ovation upon the approval of the Israel plank of the platform.
      We wish to express our deep appreciation to the members of the subcommittee for their tireless efforts in crafting this plank. We would especially like to thank Representative Alan Clemmons, a true champion of Israel, for his work.

      We are also pleased that the committee has recognized that BDS is a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism. The BDS movement is not interested in promoting peace and coexistence, or in forging a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. BDS hurts Israelis, Palestinians and the hope for peace.
      We stand resolutely with Mr. Trump in his belief that no country should pressure Israel into making peace…

      Jason D. Greenblatt is an EVP and Chief Legal Officer of The Trump Organization

      Trump names Arutz Sheva columnist David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm as Israel advisor (Arutz Sheva is an Israeli media network identifying with Religious Zionism)

  11. DaBakr on July 13, 2016, 2:37 am

    Maybe it’s a “war Israel can not win ” but bds is also a movement which can not defeat Israel, not economically, politically, militarily or democratically. Not for lack of trying. But for lack of curiosity, the fear of asking questions that don’t hew close to what the group think leadership has put out as the acceptable, the mediocre process through which the true believers come to their impassioned conclusion that all zionists are evil supremacists because that’s what they are expected to chant at their organized rallies

    • annie on July 13, 2016, 3:42 am

      fear of asking questions that don’t hew close to what the group think leadership has put out as the acceptable

      if they could all be collaborators — what a wonderful world this would be.

    • eljay on July 13, 2016, 7:47 am

      || DaBakr: … all zionists are evil supremacists because … ||

      … every single one of them believes in Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.

  12. Ossinev on July 13, 2016, 9:59 am

    “Maybe it’s a “war Israel can not win ” but bds is also a movement which can not defeat Israel, not economically, politically, militarily or democratically. Not for lack of trying”

    BDS is about informing. Specifically it is about informing the ordinary man in the Western street about the true nature of the Land of Desecration . Information is the qualitative edge weapon which is most feared by Zionists. You can`t buy it out of existence. You can`t create an Iron Dome to intercept it.

    BDS is slowly and surely informing the world. Zionists are starting to panic , wet their pants and resort to the usual knee jerk tactic of spending money and twisting the arms of their bought and bent minions in the US to condemn and criticize it but at the end of the day there is SFA they can do about it.


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