Boycotting the boycott: The problem with the BDS movement

A Muslim organization in Chi­ca­go recently invited Israel’s consul general to participate in a “Friends in Faith” series—and then rescinded the invitation. The Niagara Foundation denied that it had succumbed to pressure from Palestinian groups, but it was hard to draw any other conclusion.

The silencing of conversation is one of the most disturbing aspects of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel, which is designed to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The United Church of Christ recently jumped into this movement, voting overwhelmingly at its General Synod in June to divest from corporations involved in the business of occupation. The financial impact of the UCC’s action on Caterpillar or Hewlett Packard may be negligible, but the symbolic impact remains.

The deep message of BDS is that interaction with Israel is tantamount to collaboration with the oppressor. Though this approach has mostly symbolic meaning in the West, it has tangible effects in Israel-Palestine, where it discourages Palestinians from everyday cooperation with Israelis on education, commerce, political administration, and the management of natural resources. The movement posits that a just future for Palestinians lies first of all in disengagement from and resistance to Israel.