BDS 10 Years On: Anti-Colonial Demands in a Liberal Framework

Mohammed Nabulsi

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched on July 9, 2005 by the Palestinian Civil Society (consisting of more than 170 Palestinian civil organizations), calls upon the international community to implement broad boycotts and divestment initiatives, and to pressure states to impose embargoes and sanctions against the state of Israel. With boycott and divestment initiatives now spanning the globe, Israel continues to experience the economic consequences of its policies towards the Palestinians. A recent UN report attributes the almost 50% drop in foreign direct investment into Israel over the last year at least in part to BDS efforts, and estimates of annual losses range from $1.4 billion to $4.7 billion.

Yet in marking the achievements of BDS after ten years, it is important to reflect on its current state moving forward. BDS is generally understood to be a nonviolent project anchored in universal principles of human rights by which the international community can affect Israeli policy, but its politics and strategic vision have been widely contested. Some activists argue that in choosing not to adopt “any specific political formula,” BDS can remain flexible to account for, in Omar Barghouti’s words, “context particularities, political conditions, and the readiness in will and capacity of the BDS activists.”[2] But this lack of political direction makes BDS politically incoherent—specifically on the question of the one-state-two-state solution. To this point, international relations scholar Lee Jones argues that because BDS “lacks consensus on the end goals, and the mechanisms by which BDS is meant to contribute to their achievement … it neither focuses on activating these mechanisms, nor does it evaluate ‘success’ sensibly.”[3]

At the Socialism 2011 conference, Barghouti explained that he considers BDS a “liberal agenda” insofar as it is grounded in principles of “freedom, justice and equality.” Though this characterization, understandably, acts as a means to garner wider appeal, it presents a serious danger for the Palestinian cause: it ultimately provides that the Western liberal framework—a framework that (purposely) fails to properly account for and asses the realities on the ground—is the framework by which solidarity activists can advance the Palestinian cause.[4]

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