Anti-Israel campaigns to get big organizations to divest from the
Israeli economy may make headlines, but their questionable tactics
don't appear to be working - and they don't promote peace.
After three years of relative quiet, Boycott, Divestment, and
Sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been making a comeback in the past 12
months. The BDS movement demands that organizations divest from
Israel's economy as a protest against claims of human-rights
violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Certainly, loud divestment protests on well-known college campuses
and boycott decisions by aging pop stars may make sexier headlines
than the quieter work of peace negotiations. But it is worth asking:
1) How much have BDS campaigns actually affected attitudes and
behaviors over the last decade, and 2) Have such efforts advanced
the cause of peace or conflict in the Middle East?
An anti-Israel hate-fest
The seeds of the modern BDS movement were planted in 2001 at the
now-infamous United Nations "Anti-Racism" conference in Durban,
South Africa, which degenerated into an anti-Israel hate-fest,
leading to walkouts by both Israel and the United States. At a
meeting of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) there, a wide range
of anti-Israel organizations - meeting face-to-face for the first
time - developed an "Apartheid Strategy." Let's be clear: This was a
long-term propaganda campaign to declare Israel the new South
Africa, with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as their
The campaign first made its appearance in 2001, with campus
petitions demanding that colleges and universities divest their
endowments and retirement funds from companies doing business with
the Jewish state.
Despite an initial surge of media attention, campus-based BDS
campaigns faced the double bind of university administrators and
fund managers universally hostile to divestment requests, and
counter-petitions denouncing divestment outpacing pro-BDS petitions
at Harvard and elsewhere by a factor of at least 10 to 1.
Little support for divestment
Just as BDS was facing credibility issues after two years of
noise with virtually no results, the program got new momentum in
2004. That's when the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUSA) voted to
begin a process of "phased, selective divestment" in companies doing
business with Israel. This led to a proliferation of similar
divestment requests at other mainline Protestant churches, as well
as new institutions such as unions and municipalities.
As with campuses, however, support for divestment within these
organizations turned out to be extremely shallow. When the
Presbyterians met again in 2006, they revised their 2004 divestment
decision by a vote of 94 percent to 6 percent. The resolutions ended
the policy of divestment in Israel and shifted to a policy of
investments in "peaceful pursuits."
False claims of BDS groups
After five years of defeats, with internal struggles confounding
the BDS organizers, the campaign went into suspended animation from
2006 to 2009. The movement got a fresh round of press, however, in
February 2009 when media reported claims that Hampshire College in
Massachusetts became first US campus to divest from Israel. …