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April 10, 2017 5:19 pm

How BDS Harms the Palestinians

avatar by Ariel Behar


A protest in support of the BDS movement. Photo: FOA/Facebook.

When Israel enacted a new policy last month banning the entry of BDS advocates into the Jewish state, some of the strongest criticism came from a group that touts itself as pro-Israel.

That group, J Street U, says that the Israeli policy is “unhelpful and counterproductive.”

J Street U is the student wing of J Street, which claims to be pro-Israel, yet incessantly criticizes Israeli policy in the West Bank and other disputed territories. And it’s not just Israel’s West Bank policy that J Street opposes, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren argued. “It’s all policies of all Israeli governments” which positions J Street “significantly out of the mainstream.”

J Street says that it opposes the BDS campaign against Israel, but when it comes to territory obtained during the 1967 war, all bets are off. And J Street U thinks Israel’s travel ban is not the answer.

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“Tactics and messages that seek to censor, target and ban opponents of the settlement movement do not win Israel new friends on campus,” a J Street U statement said. Instead, it is up to Israel “to end the occupation and live up to Israel’s founding values of democracy, equality, and social justice. Ultimately, only a two-state peace agreement can bolster Israel’s security and its international standing, marginalizing those who seek to isolate and delegitimize it.”

This recommendation ignores Israel’s repeated offers to resolve the conflict, which Arab states and Palestinian leaders rejected. And it overlooks the harm that BDS does to Palestinian workers who often depend on, and prefer, Israeli employers to support their families.”

According to the BDS movement, “BDS aims to end international support for Israeli violations of international law by forcing companies, institutions and governments to change their policies.” BDS supporters argue that, “As Israeli companies and institutions become isolated, Israel will find it more difficult to oppress Palestinians.”

But when BDS secures a victory, Palestinian workers and the Palestinian economy suffer.

“There is no connection between the tactics and objectives of the BDS movement and the on-the-ground realities of the Middle East,” says Palestinian human rights advocate Bassem Eid. “BDS spokespeople justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedoms.”

A Forbes analysis by Carrie Sheffield reached the same conclusion. “The numbers speak for themselves,” Sheffield writes. “Israel (Population 8.3 million) has GDP of $291 billion, the Palestinian Territories (population 4.1 million), $11.3 billion. … In 2012, Palestinian sales to Israel accounted for about 81% of Palestinian exports and less than a percentage point of Israeli GDP.”

Boycotting Israeli goods, therefore, does minimal damage to Israel’s gross domestic product, but momentous harm to the Palestinian economy. In addition, “The BDS movement inflames rather than enlightens global dialogue around the peace process. Israel invests heavily in Palestine; the rest of the world doesn’t bother,” Sheffield writes.

For example, SodaStream suffered major losses after it was forced to relocate from the West Bank town of Mishor Adumim following intense targeting by BDS activists. More than 500 workers were laid-off when the plant closed its doors. That number included 74 Palestinians, who lost their jobs because they could not obtain permits to work at the new location inside Israel.

“All the people who wanted to close [SodaStream’s West Bank Factory were] mistaken. … They didn’t take into consideration the families,” said Ali Jafar, a Palestinian shift manager for SodaStream.

BDS activists also spent seven years targeting the Dead Sea cosmetics company, Ahava, which — in 2016 — decided to relocate its plant from Mitzpeh Shalem, a West Bank settlement, to inside Israel’s formal border.

To truly shed light on the BDS movement’s impact, it is crucial to call attention to the Palestinian Authority’s praise of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian workers in 2014. Given a choice between Israeli and Palestinian bosses, many Palestinians were quick to take jobs with Israelis, the PA’s official daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported and Palestinian Media Watch highlighted. “The only cases in which a Palestinian worker does not receive the salary his Israeli [employer] determined for him are those cases in which the middleman is Palestinian.”

“There are no job opportunities in the West Bank,” Nahida Fares, a Palestinian woman employed by SodaStream, told The Times of Israel. “Even the jobs that do exist pay no more than NIS 1,500-2,000 ($430-570) a month.”

And what J Street U fails to mention in condemning Israel’s response to the BDS economic extortion campaign are the numerous examples of Palestinians refusing to make peace with Israel.

Immediately after 1967’s Six-Day War, Israel offered a land-for-peace process that would ultimately address the West Bank. Arab states rejected it. Former President Bill Clinton has detailed Yasser Arafat’s 2000 failure to accept a peace deal that integrated 96 percent of the West Bank, including the Temple Mount. Instead, Arafat initiated the Second Intifada, using his own forces to launch a series of terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Eight years later, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected another offer from Ehud Olmert, which included nearly all of the West Bank and other land swaps.

Yet BDS and its J Street U supporters still think the responsibility for the lack of peace should fall squarely on Israel alone. There is little to no pressure from these groups for the Palestinians to end their incitement against Israel — by glorifying terroristsdemonizing Israel and encouraging violence.

J Street stresses “that for the sake of Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, Israel needs to take steps to reach a negotiated two-state solution and end the occupation.” But J Street also asserts that, “At the same time we recognize that many well-intentioned people have turned to BDS out of a deep sense of frustration with the conflict and the decades-long occupation.”

But Israel’s right to exist is not conditional. BDS efforts and victories have not, and will not, change Israel’s policies. And when BDS efforts do succeed, Palestinians unquestionably suffer.

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