Photo from US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

-Kathy Shapiro, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine


Many journalists, politicians and Zionists today accuse people who support BDS of anti-Semitism.  In the U.S. to date, laws have been passed in 25 state legislatures and are being considered in 14 more, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, to punish persons, groups, institutions or companies advocating the boycott of Israeli products and institutions.


But what exactly is BDS? The “Call” for BDS came in 2005 from 170 civil society groups representing unions, women’s organisations, churches, political parties, refugee networks and others within Palestine. It is a non-violent strategy that asks people of conscience to take action in solidarity with the people of Palestine and put pressure on the Government of Israel until it meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and full compliance with international law.


The BDS Call:


  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; Arab lands refers to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza, not 1948 Israel.
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; For example, getting rid of the more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israeli citizens solely because they are not Jewish.
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. More than 7.25 million Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to their homes or homeland, simply because they are not Jewish, while any Jewish person even if they have no ties whatsoever to Israel, is welcomed with generous subsidies and allowed to settle there.


Boycotts have been successfully used throughout history and are protected as free speech by the First Amendment. Examples of boycotts in recent history include the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement King, the Grape Boycott for fair wages for farm workers led by Cesar Chavez, the worldwide Nestlé boycott demanding an end to the promotion of infant formula over breast milk in poor countries, and perhaps most relevant to Palestinian BDS, the boycott of the Government of South Africa to end white minority rule and apartheid.  All these boycotts were eventually successful in achieving their goals.


As BDS successes have mounted in the US, Europe and across the globe and increasing numbers of trade unions churches, academics and student groups, as well as Jewish groups, have adopted the strategy, the Israeli government and Zionist organizations have become increasingly aggressive in finding ways to discredit its proponents and smear them with charges of anti-Semitism. Israel and AIPAC  (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) have backed proxy groups to silence criticism of Israel on college campuses and in social justice movements and mobilized significant resources to fight campus divestment initiatives.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Definitions

BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support for Israel and Israeli and international companies that are involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as well as complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.

DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights.

SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfill their legal obligation to hold Israel to account including by ending military trade, free-trade agreements and expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and FIFA.

BDS is an inclusiveanti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

As far back as 2003, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, and chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky stated that “The State of Israel has decided to take the gloves off and implement a coordinated counteroffensive against anti-Semitism.”  He claimed that a “new anti-Semitism is aimed at the Jewish state.”


Anti-BDS laws in the U.S. are based on the grounds that criticism of the State of Israel for its unjust treatment of Palestinians equals anti-Semitism, despite the longstanding dictionary definition of anti-Semitism as “Opposition to,  hatred of,  or agitation against, Jews.”  (Websters New International Dictionary, second edition, unabridged).


But in this unfortunate era of twisted truths, fake news and outright lies, any criticism of the State of Israel is being said to threaten Israel’s right to exist,  especially BDS.  In 2016 the U.S. Senate passed legislation accepting a definition reluctantly adopted by the US Department of State (pressed upon them by a European monitoring group working with Sharanksy’s definition) to  allow the Department of Education to investigate claims of anti-Semitism on college campuses. According to ACLU Director Anthony Romero, the “bill risks chilling constitutionally protected speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.  We worry that the law will lead colleges to suppress speech, especially if the Department of Education launches investigations simply because students have engaged in speech critical of Israel”.


Judith Butler, University of California professor has said, “If one can’t voice an objection to violence done by Israel without attracting a charge of anti-Semitism, then that charge works to circumscribe the publicly acceptable domain of speech, and to immunise Israeli violence against criticism. One is threatened with the label ‘anti-Semitic’ in the same way that one is threatened with being called a ‘traitor’ if one opposes the most recent US war.” (London Review of Books, Aug. 21, 2003.)


Tragically, on Saturday, Oct 27, 2018 Robert Bowers entered  the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and yelling  “all Jews must die” he opened fire and killed eleven.  The focus on the “new anti-Semitism” obscures a hatred of Jews and all who are ‘other,’ roiling under the surface of movements nourished by the rhetoric of the current administration which incites white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other extremists of the far right to speak and act openly not against Israel, but Jews themselves. Conflation of support for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism provides dangerous cover for the chilling rise of this very real anti-Semitism, with tragic consequences.