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The History of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement

Dr. Mitchell Bard

Is BDS Anti-Semitic?
Palestinians Oppose BDS
Cultural Boycott
The Academic Boycott
Legal Responses


Almost every statement by BDS exponents claim that the movement originated in a July 9, 2005, “call… by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and for academic and cultural boycott of Israel.” This followed the establishment of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in Ramallah on April 6, 2004. The “Call” is portrayed as a response to Israel’s unwillingness to submit to a “ruling” of the International Court of Justice condemning Israel’s security barrier (that ruling was an advisory opinion that Israel was under no obligation to accept).

In truth, the boycott campaign predates the establishment of Israel. The Arab boycott was formally declared by the newly formed Arab League Council on December 2, 1945:

Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries.” All Arab “institutions, organizations, merchants, commission agents and individuals” were called upon “to refuse to deal in, distribute, or consume Zionist products or manufactured goods.

As is evident in this declaration, the terms “Jewish” and “Zionist” were used synonymously. The objective of the boycott has been to isolate Israel from its neighbors and the international community, as well as to deny it trade that might be used to augment its military and economic strength.

Is BDS Anti-Semitic?

While the focus after 1948 was Israel, the fact that the Arab League singled out Jews for special treatment was an indication it was fundamentally anti-Semitic. This became even clearer when the forum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) convened in Durban, South Africa in August and September 2001, at the same time as the UN World Conference against Racism. The forum was marked by repeated expressions of naked anti-Semitism by NGO activists and condemned as such by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who chaired the Conference.

The Forum’s final declaration described Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” that was guilty of “racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.” The declaration established an action plan – the “Durban Strategy” – promoting “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state…the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel” (para. 424).

In November 2007, the first Palestinian BDS conference convened in Ramallah and established the BDS National Committee (BNC) as the Palestinian coordinating body for the international campaign. The BDS movement seeks to link Israeli policies with the racial segregation practice in South Africa from 1948-1994. By making a specious comparison, BDS proponents hope to convince the international community to adopt the same type of boycott and sanctions campaigns that contributed to the downfall of that despicable system. The ultimate objective of the BDS movement was articulated by As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor at California State University Stanislaus:

The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel... That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.

The BDS movement rejects the peace process and the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Its leaders routinely dismiss peace efforts ranging from the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords to the Oslo Process to President Barack Obama’s peace initiatives. Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, for example, has said:

Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial, and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral, and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution. 1

With their zero-sum approach to everything Israeli, they make no attempt to address issues of reconciliation and coexistence. Moreover, they do not acknowledge any Palestinian responsibility or accountability.

The boycott advocates have targeted stores that sell Israeli products, entertainers who plan performances in Israel, Israeli artists performing abroad, unions, professional associations, and any other individual or group with some tie to Israel that they believe they can intimidate. These efforts have had minimal impact in the United States but have been more successful in Europe and a few other countries, such as South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress Party (ANC) has declared its full and unequivocal support for the BDS movement. The ANC adopted BDS as its official policy in October 2012, approving a resolution that included a specific call to the South African people to, “support the programs and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”21

BDS advocates insist they are not anti-Semitic. The German government, knowing the history of anti-Jewish boycotts under the Nazis, has no difficulty declaring that BDS is fundamentally anti-Semitic. Major cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich have banned or legislated against BDS activity. On May 17, 2019, the German Parliament became the first nation in the European Union to designate the BDS movement anti-Semitic. Members of the Bundestag said the campaign to boycott Israeli products, along with the movement’s “Don’t Buy” stickers, recalled “the most terrible chapter in German history” and revived memories of the Nazi motto “Don’t buy from Jews.” The resolution said, “The pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic” and called for an end to funding any organizations that question Israel’s right to exist, call for a boycott of Israel or actively support BDS.24

Since some BDS supporters are Jewish, proponents often say, “Even Jews support boycotting Israel; therefore, we cannot be anti-Semitic.” Most of the Jews who are involved in the campaign, however, are on the far-left fringe of the Jewish community. Far more representative was a statement signed by 136 international Jewish organizations representing the major religious streams of Judaism, Republicans and Democrats, women’s organization, and a cross-section of political views. They condemned academic, cultural, and commercial boycotts. While acknowledging criticism of Israel is legitimate, the statement said, “Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”

Israeli Ambassador Dani Dayan was blunter, “If you are non-Jews who like to tell Jews what is and what isn’t anti-Semitism, you are most probably anti-Semites.” He added, “If you are a Jew collaborating with them, you are most probably their useful idiot.”25


A group of anti-Israel activists has led repeated campaigns to convince the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from corporations operating in Israel. In July 2004, the church approved targeted divestment directed at “businesses that it believes bear particular responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians,” but before selling their shares, the companies were to be given “a chance to change their behavior.” 2

The American Jewish community opposed the Church’s decision and, ever since, has tried to prevent a further deterioration in relations between the community, the Church, and Israel. Partly in response to the furor, the Church adopted a new resolution in June 2006 to supersede the previous one. Instead of calling for divestment, the resolution called for the Church to invest only in companies that are involved in “peaceful pursuits” in Israel and Palestinian territories. 3 Divestment was raised again in 2012 but was voted down. The BDS activists were more successful two years later when the Church agreed to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions because of their involvement with “demolition and surveillance activities against Palestinians in the West Bank.”4

In June 2015, the United Church of Christ, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, voted to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s “occupation” or control of Palestinian territories and to boycott products from Israeli settlements.5

In January 2016, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the United Methodist Church’s investment agency, announced that it would no longer invest in Israel’s five main banks under the pretext that they did not meet their standards for sustainable investment. A spokeswoman denied the decision had anything to do with the BDS campaign and pointed out that funds remained invested in “approximately 18 Israeli companies that meet our investment criteria.”6

The Mennonite Church of the USA voted at their national conference in Orlando, Florida, on July 6, 2017, to sell its holdings in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.  The measure instructs the managers of the church’s over $3 billion in funds to regularly screen holdings and avoid any investment in companies or organizations that provide economic support for Israeli activities in the occupied territories.  A similar resolution was rejected at the national Mennonite conference in 2015. 23

Other mainline churches have debated the subject of divestment, but most have not succumbed to pressure from BDS activists and either voted down divestment proposals or approved positive resolutions calling for peace. The Episcopal Church, for example, rejected divestment when it was raised in 2015. Most Christians, such as evangelicals, not only object to the BDS campaign, they are active supporters of Israel.

Palestinians Oppose BDS

BDS proponents want to convey the impression that their actions are endorsed by all Palestinians, but this is not true. In fact, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, told South African journalists, “We do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself.…We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”7

Despite the tensions between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, there has been a parallel story of dialogue and cooperation. For example, in 2008, the Histadrut (Israeli labor union) and the Palestine General Federation of Trades Unions (PGFTU) signed an agreement to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue, and joint initiatives to advance “fraternity and co-existence”. Palestinian Arab Universities – despite being hotbeds of anti-Israel activity – maintained links with their Israeli counterparts. Artists, doctors, and businesspeople were amongst those who – despite the very real divisions between Palestinian and Israeli society – formed bonds of mutual benefit, cooperation, and even occasional friendship across the divide of war.

The severing of these ties was not an objective that Israelis or Palestinian Arabs sought, and the move to isolate the two sides did not spring from popular opinion on the Palestinian Arab side. Rather it was a strategy of a self-appointed vanguard that expressed itself through a network of NGOs that put pressure on other elements in Palestinian Arab society to fall in behind the “Durban strategy.”

The BDS movement, which is run largely by non-Palestinians outside of the disputed territories, has also done real harm to Palestinians. The most notable example is the case of the company SodaStream, which was targeted because of its factory in Mishor Adumim, adjacent to the “settlement” of Ma’ale Adumim. The company was the largest employer of Palestinians in the territories, with nearly 600 workers who received the same salary, medical insurance, and conditions as the other workers. BDS activists protested outside stores, intimidated shoppers, and vandalized SodaStream products. As a result of financial losses, partly due to the BDS attacks, but mostly a result of the U.S. market moving away from sugary drinks, the company closed the West Bank factory and replaced it with one in the Negev Desert.

Ali Jafar, a shift manager from a West Bank village who had worked for SodaStream for two years, said: “All the people who wanted to close [SodaStream’s West Bank factory] are mistaken... They didn’t take into consideration the families.”8

Only 36 Palestinians who worked at the SodaStream plant in the West Bank were rehired to work in the new facility in Israel. Bassam Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist, met with some of the people who were fired because of the move. “They told me they were earning an average of NIS 5,000 a month there, and that today they are being offered salaries of just NIS 1,400 in the PA.” He added that “people there are deep in debt because they have taken on long-term commitments based on the understanding that their work at the plant would continue; but reality has slapped them in the face because of the pressure created by BDS movement. Today, they are running between the courts and the bailiff offices and is anyone taking any notice of them? Do you think the boycott movement cares about them at all?”9 

In May 2017, it was reported that all employees of the SodaStream factory who wanted their jobs back were rehired at the new facility in Israel. Altogether, 74 Palestinian workers were rehired. SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum stated in an interview with the Jerusalem Post on May 20, 2017, that the company is delighted to welcome back our 74 devoted Palestinian employees, who are able to join their 1,500 friends at our Rahat facility in the Negev.22

In an example of how extreme the BDS movement is in its campaign to ostracize Israel, the Palestinian BDS National Committee denounced Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh for meeting with the Moroccan prime minister. “We strongly condemn Haniyeh’s meeting with the Moroccan prime minister, which betrays our people and furthers normalization with the occupation and its continuing crimes,” the committee said.26


Cultural Boycott

One aspect of the BDS campaign that has attracted publicity has been the effort to persuade, and often intimidate, prominent artists not to perform in Israel. A few high-profile cancellations have occurred, such as Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Coldplay, Pete Seeger, and Gil Scott-Heron. On the other hand, the artists who have defied the boycott are a far more impressive lineup, which includes Paul McCartney, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and many more.

The Academic Boycott

One component of the BDS campaign has focused on boycotting Israeli academic institutions. One of the first instances occurred in April 2005 when the Association of University Teachers (AUT) Council in the UK voted to boycott the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. This decision caused an uproar, and a special meeting was called a month later that led to a decision by the AUT to cancel the boycott because of the damage to academic freedom, the hampering of dialogue and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and the lack of justification for only boycotting Israel.

In 2007, the UK National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. NAFTHE, however, merged shortly thereafter with another academic union to form the University and College Union (UCU). The UCU announced that a “boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented.”10 Nevertheless, two years, later the UCU passed a boycott resolution. This was subsequently annulled when the union’s legal advisors warned that “a boycott of that kind could trigger legal action against the union.”

Local governments and publicly funded institutions in the United Kingdom have been banned by the British government from participating in Israel boycotts. Publicly funded bodies affected by this ban include universities, councils, and National Health Service trusts.

In 2015, the Graduate Student Union of the University of California vote to boycott Israel, but that decision was overturned by the United Auto Workers International, with which the graduate student union is affiliated, “on the grounds that it inevitably implicates the international union, hurts members and violates elements of the UAW constitution. The decision reinforced the UAW’s 2007 policy of opposing sanctions against Israel.11

Professors in the United States have also begun to try to convince their professional associations to boycott Israeli universities. In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott all Israeli academic institutions, making Israel the first nation ever boycotted by the ASA in its 52-year history. The same month, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association adopted a similar boycott resolution.

In November 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) went beyond boycotting Israeli universities and called for the “boycott, divestment and sanctions of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.” By condemning Israel for “sexual and gender-based violence” Palestinians and other Arabs, NWSA “not only created a fictional claim about the only Middle Eastern country with relatively full gender equality, roughly comparable to that of America…but also ignored the real violence against women and repression of women’s rights throughout much of the Arab world.”12

After these professional associations voted to boycott Israel, some feared an avalanche of similar measures would be taken by other groups. The ASA vote, however, created a tremendous backlash, with at least six universities withdrawing membership in the association and dozens of others condemning the association and denouncing the boycott. Subsequently, boycott efforts have been defeated by the American Anthropological Association (2016), the American Historical Association (2016), and the Modern Language Association (2017). Representatives of no fewer than 250 universities have rejected the idea of boycotting Israel or Israeli academic institutions.

These votes have little practical effect since the associations cannot tell their members what to do, and the associations themselves have no direct contact with Israeli institutions but votes to boycott do tarnish Israel’s image.

Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh has opposed the campaign to boycott Israeli universities: “If we are to look at Israeli society,” he said, “it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals....If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”13

Earlier, Al-Quds University and Hebrew University issued the following joint statement opposing the BDS campaign:

Our position is based upon the belief that it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than through boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved. Bridging political gulfs—rather than widening them further apart—between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism. Our disaffection with, and condemnation of acts of academic boycotts and discrimination against scholars and institutions, is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals.14

Students have also joined in the campaign to boycott Israel. For example, in March 2014, in the NUI Galway Students’ Union in Ireland endorsed the boycott. A few months later, the UK’s National Union of Students Black Students conference did the same.

In the United States, a divestment campaign was launched on college campuses in 2001 by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group at the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with the San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A year later, following the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s first conference, which was held in Berkeley, the movement began to spread to other universities, including the University of Michigan, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Since then, student governments are typically lobbied to adopt resolutions calling on their universities to divest their holdings in Israeli companies or companies doing business with Israel. The first divestment vote in the United States took place in 2002 at Wayne State University. Although the vote was successful, nothing resulted from it, and the only people who remember that it happened at all are the boycotters themselves. The Wayne State administration immediately responded to the vote by telling the students that they would not be boycotting Israel, and the issue was not discussed again for another decade.

Campus divestment has failed miserably since then. A huge blow came in 2002, when Harvard University President and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers spoke out against divestment, declaring, “Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities... Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.” Soon after, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger echoed this view, saying, “I want to state clearly that I will not lend any support to this proposal. The petition alleges human rights abuses and compares Israel to South Africa... an analogy I believe is both grotesque and offensive.” Subsequently, many other university heads have rejected student and faculty BDS efforts.

Some students believe that pressure must be applied to stimulate the parties to make concessions that will make a peace agreement possible. While this is a debatable tactic, students genuinely interested in peace recognize that any pressure would have to be directed at both parties. BDS proponents, however, are interested only in pressuring Israel and holding the Palestinians blameless for the conflict.

The BDS movement has grown on campus, but it is not sweeping the nation, and it definitely is not winning. Student government resolutions have no impact on university financial decisions, and officials have consistently said they have no intention of divesting from Israel. In fact, many of the schools where resolutions were adopted dramatically increased cooperation with Israel after the votes.

BDS activists are not bothered by their failures because they are publicizing the plight of the Palestinians through these measures. In the short term, they hope to confuse students about Israel’s policies and cause them to question whether it is a true democracy that is interested in peace and respects human rights.

Most students have no idea what BDS means and oppose it once they are informed. In a student survey conducted by AICE and The Israel Project in 2011, for example, opposition to BDS increased from 34% to 49% once respondents received a description of the campaign’s objectives; only 13% voiced support. The same poll found that while Israel’s image may be tarnished, there is no increase in support for the Palestinians.


Intersectionality“ refers to the idea that race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap, and that all injustices are interconnected. The BDS movement attempts to link the Palestinians’ plight to “the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.”14a Supporters of those movements then often parrot the language of Israel’s detractors.

BDS organizations have sought, for example, to express “intersectional solidarity” with the anti-racism agenda of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Some leaders of BLM, in turn, adopted the rhetoric of the BDS movement. Patrisse Cullors, for example, referred to “Palestine as the new South Africa.”14b

Dan Diker notes that the “BDS-BLM convergence…has removed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from its territorial framework” and portrayed it as a racial issue. He argues this is not new as Israel has often been cast as a “white oppressor.”14c

Several BDS groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, circulated a petition accusing Israel of using the same tactics against Palestinians that American law enforcement has used against Blacks. “The knee-to-neck choke-hold that [Derek] Chauvin used to murder George Floyd has been used and perfected to torture Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces through 72 years of ethnic cleansing and dispossession.”14d

Groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace have also attempted to link training U.S. law enforcement officers have received in Israel with acts of police brutality. In what they refer to as “deadly exchange,” JVP asserts that the U.S. and the Israeli governments “exchange methods of state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protest and dissent.”14e The Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a statement that said, “The system of structural racism in the U.S. is violently enforced by paramilitary police departments, many trained by Israel, including the Minnesota police. These police forces have been tasked with doing whatever it takes to protect this rotten system of white supremacy and Black, Latinx and Indigenous disenfranchisement.”14f

Whatever valuable ideas for law enforcement visitors may glean from their Israeli counterparts, the Americans determine their own standards and tactics and are responsible for their actions. The officers involved in the alleged Floyd murder and other cases of police abuse were not trained in Israel. Had they been part of an exchange, no one in Israel would have instructed them to put their knee on the neck of suspects.

Facts notwithstanding, BDS advocates attempt to glom onto other social justice movements to gain sympathy and entice those movements’ advocates to support the BDS agenda.


Overall, Israeli exports have grown from around $5 million in 1948 to more than $47 billion in 2014. Israel’s largest single trade partner remains the United States, despite tensions between the political leaders. The total volume of trade in 2014 was $36 billion. In addition, each of the 50 states benefit from their ties with Israel. In 2014 alone, 21 states exported more than $100 million worth of goods to Israel, led by New York with exports of more than $5 billion.

Israel’s political relations have been even more strained with the European Union, and yet trade with the EU exceeds that of the U.S. Roughly one-third of Israel’s imports and exports are a result of trade with the EU. Moreover, total trade with the EU has grown from approximately $21 billion in 2003 to $34 billion in 2013.

Countries outside of the EU, the EFTA-bloc countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, have taken, or seriously considered economic sanctions against Israel. Still, Israel enjoys a free trade agreement with EFTA-bloc countries and business with these nations remains robust.

The central hub of the BDS movement is in England, but the various votes by academic and trade associations for boycotts have had virtually no tangible impact. In fact, total bilateral trade amounted to a record $6 billion in 2014, an increase of more than 7 percent from the previous year.15 Universities and other public institutions are barred from participating in boycotts of any country, as the UK is a signatory to the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement, which mandates that all member countries treat trading partners equally. Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers of products would therefore be a violation of this agreement. The UK released a new set of guidelines for the procurement of items by public authorities on February 16, 2016, which made it clear that “boycotts in public procurement are inappropriate, outside where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government... Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries.”

The biggest economic story is the exponential expansion of Israel’s trade with Asia, which will overtake the U.S. as Israel’s second-biggest export destination this year. China is already Israel’s third-largest trading partner; in fact, since formally establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1992, trade has increased 220-fold from $50 million in 1992 to $11 billion in 2014. In addition, total trade between Israel and Japan reached $2.3 billion in 2014.

Israel’s relations with India have been steadily improving, as evidenced by the 2015 visit of Narendra Modi, the first Indian prime minister to go to Israel. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel in 1992, bilateral trade and economic relations have grown from $200 million in 1992 to $6 billion in 2013. Between Modi’s election in May 2014 and November 2014, Israel exported $662 million worth of Israeli weapons and defense items to India. This export number is greater than the total Israeli exports to India during the previous three years combined.

Israel is also expanding ties with Latin America and has been granted observer status in the Pacific Alliance, an economic trade organization of several major Latin and Central American countries. One country that Israel has had testy relations with because of the bombing of the Israeli embassy in 1992, and the government’s failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, is Argentina. Still, economic relations are growing as evidenced by the Argentine army’s $111 million contract with Israel in 2015 to upgrade 74 tanks made in Argentina.

Israel’s discovery of a large reserve of natural gas off its Mediterranean coast has also opened new opportunities for expanding trade with its neighbors. Jordan, for example, signed a $15 billion deal for Israeli natural gas, and a $1.2 billion agreement was struck with Egypt.16

While the anti-Semitic BDS movement has worked to promote a boycott of Israel, U.S.-Israel economic relations have been unaffected and remain robust with imports and exports totaling over $38 billion. In addition, each of the 50 states benefit from their ties with Israel. In 2015, 22 states exported more than $100 million worth of goods to Israel, led by New York with exports of more than $5.3 billion. More than 10,000 U.S. companies do business in Israel, including all major high-tech companies. Eighty-six Israeli companies are listed on U.S. stock exchanges as of March 2016.

Legal Responses

Due to free speech guarantees, it is very difficult to take any legal action against BDS proponents in most countries. One exception is France, where boycotts of Israel have been made expressly illegal. High courts in France have found BDS activists guilty of inciting hate and/or discrimination against Jews and Israelis on multiple occasions, and the Paris City Council has adopted two resolutions against the BDS movement specifically.

Nevertheless, the BDS movement has created a backlash in the United States. In February 2016, Congress passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which contained a provision requiring the United States to oppose efforts by the European Union to engage in any form of BDS against Israel. In addition, within 180 days after the bill becomes law, the administration is required to provide a report to Congress on global BDS activities, including the participation of foreign companies in political boycotts of Israel. The law also calls on the administration “to prevent investigations or prosecutions by governments or international organizations of United States persons on the sole basis of such persons doing business with Israel, with Israeli entities, or in Israeli-controlled territories.” The president has indicated he would not enforce this provision because it implies recognition of Israeli settlements.17

Anti-BDS legislation is also being adopted by state legislatures, with South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Illinois in the vanguard. Each state has slightly different language in its bills, but they resemble the law adopted in South Carolina, which bars public entities from contracting with businesses engaging in the “boycott of a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade.” Though Israel is not mentioned, the impetus for the law was the belief that BDS discriminates against the people of Israel and weakens the economy of South Carolina. 

Following Airbnb’s decision in November 2018 to delist rentals belonging to Jews living in the West Bank, Illinois became the first state to accuse the company of violating state laws barring the economic boycott of Israel. Airbnb never implemented the boycott and later reversed the decision. 

In January 2019, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit the Arkansas Times had filed challenging that state law. On June 22, 2022, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Arkansas anti-boycott law did not violate the First Amendment, reversing an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the court. The decision was challenged and went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in February 2023, leaving intact the lower court’s ruling and putting to rest the free speech argument against anti-boycott legislation. “Anti-Israel boycotts will now be seen for what they are: discriminatory conduct rather than political speech,” noted Kenneth Marcus, chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.27

Elsewhere, Great Britain is now also planning legislation that will allow the government to prosecute universities, local government, councils, and student unions that back the BDS movement.18 In addition, the EU announced that it is opposed to the BDS movement.19


Adam Shay summarized many of the key points related to BDS:

Under the guise of advancing the cause of human rights, humanitarian law, peace, and justice, the BDS movement is, in effect, advocating the delegitimization of the State of Israel, with the support and leadership of elements within the Palestinian leadership, including elements connected with terror organizations.
The nature of the campaign is not the freedom of association and freedom of speech. It is the denial of the basic and inherent liberties of members of the general public to freely choose the products that they wish to purchase, the stores in which they choose to enter, the performances to which they choose to attend, and the companies with which they wish to trade….
It is aimed at manipulating members of the general public, people of conscience who have a bona fide, innocent, and genuine inclination to help the more unfortunate elements in international society, into supporting a cause of which they are generally ignorant and thus reliant on the propaganda disseminated by the BDS people.20

When the Palestinian issue faded from the headlines because of the Arab Spring and the shooting wars around the region, the BDS campaign managed to focus attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially on college campuses. Activists’ success in generating publicity has been inadvertently aided by some BDS opponents who have overreacted to BDS campaigns and exaggerated their influence.

BDS activists have had success in using the “Big Lie” technique, that is, saying something that is untrue but ultimately comes to be accepted through sheer repetition. The reiteration of specious accusations against Israel has taken some toll on Israel’s image as a democracy that cares about human rights but has not generated greater sympathy for the Palestinians – at least in the United States.

In terms of accomplishing its principal objective of turning Israel into a pariah and mobilizing international sanctions against Israel in the hope of destroying the Jewish State, the BDS movement has been a complete failure. It has had no impact on Israel’s policies and an insignificant effect on Israel’s economy and political relations. Moreover, the boycott campaign has generated a backlash, with large amounts of money being invested into fighting BDS and various legal measures being adopted to discourage and prevent boycotts against Israel.

Today, a consensus exists that the end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require face-to-face negotiations to reach an agreement that results in two states for the two people. The BDS campaign undermines this goal and seeks an alternative one-state solution in which Palestine replaces Israel.


1 Omar Barghouti, “Relative Humanity: The Essential Obstacle to a Just Peace in Palestine,”, (December 13–14, 2003).
2 Alan Cooperman, “Israel Divestiture Spurs Clash,” Washington Post, (September 29, 2004).
3 Nathan Guttman, “Church adopts compromise resolution on Israel,” Jerusalem Post, (June 19, 2006).
4 “‘We cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,’ Presbyterians say,’” Times of Israel, (June 21, 2014).
5 Rick Gladstone, “United Church of Christ Approves Divestment to Aid Palestinians,” New York Times, (June 30, 2015).
6 Rick Gladstone, “U.S. Church Puts 5 Banks From Israel on a Blacklist,” New York Times, (January 12, 2016).
7 Yoel Goldman, “Abbas: Don’t boycott Israel,” Times of Israel, (December 13, 2013).
8 “SodaStream leaves West Bank as CEO says boycott anti-Semitic and pointless,” Guardian, (September 2, 2015).
9 “CEO calls BDS boycott ‘hateful’ and ‘anti-Semitic’; Affecting hundreds of its Palestinian workers,” i24News, (September 3, 2015).
10 “Israel boycott illegal and cannot be implemented, UCU tells members,” University and College Union, (September 28, 2007).
11 “UAW Nullifies California Grad Students’ BDS Vote,” Inside Higher Ed, (December 18, 2015).
12 Cary Nelson, “The Intersectionality Muddle,” Inside Higher Ed, (February 15, 2016).
13Associated Press, (June 18, 2006).
14 Statement on Academic Cooperation, signed in London, (May 22, 2005).
14a Ziva Dahl, “‘Intersectionality’ and the Bizarre World of Hating Israel,” Observer, (March 15, 2016).
14b YouTube.
14c Dan Diker, “The Alignment of BDS and Black Lives Matter: Implications for Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” JCPA, (July 16, 2020).
14d Aaron Bandler, “Israeli Police Spokesman Says Israel Didn’t Teach U.S. Officers Knee-on-Neck Move,” Jewish Journal, June 9, 2020).
14e About Deadly Exchange, Jewish Voice for Peace, accessed June 22, 2020.
14f ;“We can’t breathe until we’re free! Palestinians stand in solidarity with Black Americans,” BNC, May 30, 2020).
15 Sandy Rashty, “UK-Israel trade hit record high in 2014,” Jewish Chronicle, (March 26, 2015).
16 Marissa Newman, “Israel signs $15 billion gas deal with Jordan,” Times of Israel, (September 3, 2014).
17 Thomas Lifson, “White House opposes bipartisan trade bill because it is anti-BDS,” The American Thinker, (February 12, 2016).
17a Adam Kredo, “Illinois Board Cites Airbnb for Violating Law Over Israel Boycotts,” Washington Free Beacon, (December 12, 2018).
18 “UK to advance legislation to block Israel boycotts,” Times Of Israel, (February 14, 2016).
19 “EU backs down from product-labeling bid,” Israel Hayom, (February 14, 2016).
20 Adam Shay, “Manipulation and Deception: The Anti-Israel ‘BDS’ Campaign,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (March 19, 2012).
21 Ali Abunimah, “In historic decision, South Africa’s ANC makes support for Israel boycott its official policy,” Electronic Intifada, (December 20, 2012).
22“SodaStream’s Negev Plant Rehires Palestinians Laid Off Due To BDS Pressure,” Forward, (May 23, 2017).
23“Mennonite Church to divest in protest of Israeli policies,” Washington Post, (July 6, 2017).
24Ben Knight, “German parliament condemns ‘anti-Semitic’ BDS movement,” DW, (May 17, 2019).
25@AmbDaniDayan, (November 20, 2020).
26“BDS says Hamas leader ‘betrayed’ Palestinians by meeting Moroccan PM,” Al-Monitor, (
27Max Brantley, “Arkansas Times loses challenge of state’s Israel boycott law,” Arkansas Times, (June 22, 2022); “Supreme Court Declines to Review Challenge to Law Restricting Israel Boycotts,” ACLU, (February 21, 2023); “Brandeis Center Statement on Supreme Court Action Letting Arkansas  Anti-BDS Law Stand,” Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, (February 21, 2023).