STUDENT ACTIVISTS from more than 50 states attended the first National Campus Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Conference, held at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA from Nov. 20 to 22.
Initiated by Palestinian civil society groups in 2005, the BDS campaign calls for "broad boycotts and divestment initiatives" against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa during apartheid, until the Jewish state complies with international law and the universal principles of human rights. Although the initiative has had some success in Europe, momentum in the U.S. has been slow. But that could change, if the Hampshire event is any indication. The 160 participants at the weekend conference represented 40 campuses and at least a dozen organizations already involved in boycott or divestment efforts.
Co-hosted by the Hampshire chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the Palestine Freedom Project, participants focused on ways to share skills and resources. Workshop topics included media training, the how-to's of launching a campus-based divestment campaign, and ways to connect the U.S.-based BDS movement to grassroots efforts within Palestine as well as Israel, where Israeli feminists have recently launched WhoProfits, a project calling for the boycott of companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Its Web site, , provides consumers with an extensive list of products manufactured in Jewish-only settlements located in the Palestinian territories.
Literature tables at the conference displayed flyers advertising burgeoning boycott and divestment campaigns within the U.S. In Connecticut, for example, more than 60 unionists have signed a letter asking the CT AFL-CIO to divest its Israel bonds, which reportedly total $25,000. In 2008, the letter noted, "the Israeli Air Force blew up the headquarters in Gaza of the trade union federation, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions," and in January of this year "attacked the building of the University of Teachers Association, causing severe damage."
The conference's emphasis on the practical impressed Riham Barghouti, a Palestinian American involved with the BDS movement since its inception.
"The questions arising from the workshops were very specific, intelligent, related to actual campaigns or to developing campaigns," she noted, adding that the program at Hampshire represented "a shift in the paradigm for BDS...Before we were focusing on 'why boycott?'-now it's about 'how do we do it?'"
Barghouti, who gave the opening talk at Hampshire, is working on the BDS projects of Adalah-NY: the Coalition for Middle East Justice. For the past two years, the organization has targeted Israeli real estate mogul and jeweler Lev Leviev, whose diamond-mining company, Africa-Israel, subsidizes the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. …