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BDS is about ethnic demonization, not ending the occupation

By Philip Mendes - posted Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The debate about the proposed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel came to public attention during the recent NSW state election.

One of the more contentious arguments advanced by BDS advocates is that the BDS is simply intended to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and hence will actually facilitate a two-state solution and associated Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

But in my opinion, the BDS is not intended to promote conflict resolution at all. Rather, its key advocates are nearly all anti-Zionist fundamentalists who favour the creation of an Arab State of Greater Palestine in place of Israel. Their oft-quoted suggestions that a successful BDS will facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace are at the very least fantasy, and more likely, deliberately disingenuous.


In the old days of the 1970s and 1980s, the anti-Zionist fundamentalists were quite honest about their intentions. They were so committed to the Arab boycott that they would not even utter the word "Israel", and instead used the term "Occupied Palestine" to describe Green Line Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. They often spoke of revolutionary violence and struggle to eliminate what they called the "Zionist entity". But in today's age of political correctness, they use much softer terms. They speak of non-violent strategies to persuade Israel and Israelis to do the right thing.

A number of BDS advocates actually claim that a successful BDS will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. For example, Associate Professor Jake Lynch, a self-described peace researcher and Director of the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, opined in that a BDS would be more successful than the various failed international peace initiatives in promoting a viable two-state solution.

Similarly, Joe Wakim, the founder of the Australian Arabic Council, argued that the BDS would be more effective than the two Palestinian intifadas in facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace.

And Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees from the University of Sydney also asserted that the BDS would be successful in ending decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The problem with this analysis is that the leading Palestinian proponents of BDS do not seek an end to the occupation to facilitate a peaceful two-state solution, but rather the demonization of all Israeli Jews and the delegitimization of Israel. The key statement distributed by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in July 2004 is crystal clear that the first and foremost priority is to reverse the events of 1948 that lead to the Palestinian refugee tragedy, whereas ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 is only identified as a secondary task.

The PCACB statement suggests that Israel is solely responsible for the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Yet as noted by the seminal Israeli historian Benny Morris, the exile of the Palestinians occurred during a brutal war in which the Palestinian leaders and the Arab states openly threatened to destroy the newly founded State of Israel and massacre its population. This was a zero-sum conflict which the Israelis won and the Palestinians lost. The 'notorious' Plan Dalet was not an Israeli master plan to expel the Arab population, but rather a series of military measures to defend the borders against invading Arab armies.





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About the Author

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University and is the co-author with Nick Dyrenfurth of Boycotting Israel is Wrong (New South Press), and the author of a chapter on The Australian Greens and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the forthcoming Australia and Israel (Sussex Academic Press).

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