viewpoint: ben cohen

For BDS, life after the boycott


BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, may clinically die in 2016.

State legislatures are passing bills that outlaw state authorities from investing public funds in, and entering into contracts with, companies and other entities that engage in a boycott of Israel. This doesn’t mean that engaging in a boycott of Israel is illegal, but for anyone who cares about their bottom line, the legislation should provide a powerful incentive against its adoption.

These anti-boycott bills are properly be seen as anti-discrimination measures, and should be welcomed on those grounds. As we’ve learned over several years, however, in the inverted world of the boycotters, this same discrimination is regarded as justified resistance. Hence the BDS movement’s depiction of the anti-boycott bills as a conspiracy of “special interests” aimed at crushing free speech for Palestinian advocates.

The truth is that, unlike France, which in October 2015 determined that BDS, as a form of discrimination, is outlawed in speech and in action, in America the advocacy of a boycott of Israel remains protected speech. Yet at a certain point, the smarter inhabitants of the BDS movement will figure out that they are campaigning for a set of demands that, in effect, cannot be implemented, because the sanctions that potentially come with implementation are too great. So where, then, will this movement go?

It will not, sadly, disappear. Instead, BDS will adapt. To start with, the movement can now portray itself as a victim, so expect to read lines like “Zionist oppression in Palestine has been extended to those of us in America who wage solidarity with the Palestinians under occupation. What this means is that, rather than campaigning for the actual implementation of a boycott, the BDS movement will now campaign for the right to implement a boycott—in our understanding, an act of discrimination.

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