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September 20, 2016

Greens Debate BDS

Reuel S. Amdur

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There was a vigorous debate about BDS at the Green Party convention on August 7. BDS, that's boycott, divestment, and sanctions aimed at Israel. While party leader Elizabeth May opposed the resolution for BDS, it passed. According to the Globe and Mail, she called BDS ineffective. Is it? Here we must get some background in order to make a judgment.

To begin, Sabeel, an ecumenical Israeli Christian organization, and other civil society groups called for BDS as a way of moving an intransigent Israeli government to end its anti-Palestinian program.  Around the world, various Christian churches and other organizations have responded to the appeal.

Israel, meanwhile, continues is program of colonizing the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem.  In East Jerusalem, Palestinian homes are raised or seized for Jewish occupancy.  In the West Bank, they are raised.  Israel and its apologists refer to the West Bank as “disputed territories,” while the rest of the world refers to the area as “Occupied Territories.”  What a difference a word makes.  Under international law, the occupying power may not colonize the land or displace the inhabitants, hence the euphemism of “disputed.”

The goal of the Israeli government is to create “facts on the ground” in the form of significant clusters of settlements that would make it impossible for a Palestinian state to exist in any contiguous fashion.  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has in fact stated that there would be no Palestinian state so long as he is in power.  Israel supplies services such as public transit to the various settlements in the West Bank, even to some that it declares to be illegal.  Of course, being in occupied territory they are all illegal. 

In promoting Jewish colonization, Israel continues to build housing developments in the West Bank.  These developments provide housing at bargain rates.  Many people moving into these houses are not attracted by ideology.  Rather, the housing is just seen as a good deal.  Israel attempts to develop the West Bank as an extension of Israel itself, at least for Jews living there.  The Jews are Israeli citizens, while West Bank Palestinians are not.  And as part of the colonization process, Israel-centered economic development takes place.

Here we need to discuss two BDS’s.  The original BDS called for Israel as the target.  However, some people are focusing on the economy in the West Bank.  Take the example of Peter Beinart, former New Republic editor and now contributing editor for the Atlantic.  He proudly proclaims his love of Israel.  He attends an Orthodox synagogue and sends his children to Jewish schools.  Yet, he sees the colonization of the West Bank as wrong and self-defeating.  Can Israel remain Jewish and democratic while continuing to act as an occupier?  And if the occupation continues indefinitely, Israel-Palestine may well end up with a Jewish minority.  So Beinart, like many others, focuses his BDS on business in the West Bank. 

Elizabeth May says that BDS is ineffective, but the facts do not support her.  Here are some companies that have moved businesses from the West Bank into Israel proper: Unilever, General Mills, Teva, Ahava, and Soda Stream.  Israel is not happy about this trend, and when Soda Stream attempted to take Palestinian workers with them to their new location, Israel said no.  The unhappiness is exhibited as well by Israel boosters in Canada.  That is why Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Jewish National Fund denounced the Green Party resolution.  Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs—note the priority for Israel.  Perhaps the organization would not want too much attention paid to Judaism, with its prophets such as Isaiah and Amos.

There are some implications of the impact of BDS on West Bank developments.  For one, should not the pro-Palestine movement reward companies that move from the West Bank, rather than continue to boycott them?  And to promote further exit of Israeli firms, the Palestinian Authority should issue tax bills to such companies and those in East Jerusalem.  These bills should be cumulative and interest-accumulating.  Business likes nothing less than uncertainty, and such a program helps to instill such uncertainty.  Who knows, perhaps in spite of Netanyahu, peace might eventually break out. 

But basically, Elizabeth May is wrong.  BDS is having some positive effects.

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