For a while now activists have used the phrase ‘third intifada’ to describe the growth of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s involvement in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
The term intifada describes the ‘up-risings’ against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. It derives from the Arabic ‘intifāda’, literally, the act of shaking off.
What is curious though about this ‘third intifada’ is that it so many have chosen to use the word ‘intifada’ at all.
Consider that both the first and second intifada were marked by barbaric levels of violence. Consider also that the second intifada saw the wide-spread use of suicide bombings and is widely held up as a key reason many in the international community lost interest in the ‘Palestinian cause’. One wonders why so many activists are so keen to refer to this non-violent form of resistance as an intifada at all?
One theory, that certainly holds a degree of weight, is that this third intifada of non-violent resistance is much more active outside of Palestine than in. Just recently we have heard of Dutch and Danish banks removing funds from Israel because of activities occurring in the settlements.
The world’s media in recent weeks has been focused around Hollywood actress Scarlet Johansson’s drawn out decision to break away from the International NGO Oxfam because of their disagreement about boycotting business in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Although of course the BDS movement stems from calls within the West Bank, it largely operates in an international global environment. It is feasible that this disconnect is felt by activists campaigning for BDS and by labelling it an ‘intifada’ it roots the campaign back to the Palestinian population it aims to help.
Many that chose to use BDS though do not limit their campaign to organisations or individuals who operate in the occupied Palestinian territories but focus on Israel as a whole reasoning that it is the state of Israel that has the power to change their policy of on-going occupation.
Increasingly however I am coming to think that the chances of the BDS movement succeeding (that is, contributing to a lasting peace) rests heavily on just focusing on the trade and interaction with illegal settlements with a goal of bringing about the end of the occupation – not targeting Israel as a whole.
The reasoning for this is my belief in the importance in moving the silent majority inside Israel to feel both strategically secure and supported but also outraged at the immorality of the occupation. At the moment a large number of Israelis feel insecure and do their best to get on with life without thinking about the immorality of the occupation.
Forms of resistance in the past that have failed to acknowledge this have also led to a failure to bring about peace.
Writing recently in the New York Times Thomas Friedman makes what I feel to be an astute observation saying:
“You cannot move the Israeli silent majority when you make them feel strategically insecure and morally secure, which is what Hamas did with its lunatic shelling of Israel after it withdrew from Gaza; few Israelis were bothered by pummeling them back.”
In contrast Friedman goes onto argue:
“the Third Intifada is based on a strategy of making Israelis feel strategically secure but morally insecure”.
Regarding his latter point I would argue that this latest form of resistance has the potential to do this, but could also slip into a diplomatic equivalent of an all-out attack on Israel. Its success rests on its ability to ensure the majority of Israelis feel strategically secure. At the moment I feel that the BDS movement is failing to do that.
The BDS movement has the potential to shine a light on those profiting from the occupation without putting an ounce of doubt around the future of Israel as an independent state. When the price of occupation becomes too high (both economically and politically) the chances of a lasting settlement between two states becomes more possible.
In contrast however, when aimed at Israel as whole, the BDS movement (however well intentioned) can be seen as being simply anti-Israel – or worse, anti-Semitic. This perception is fuelled by the critics of any BDS campaign that look to label it as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ultimately anti-peace.
This accusation remains a slur on many involved in the campaign but holds a worrying degree of weight for others. Israel always has had opponents that literally wish it to be wiped off the map. Those who hold those views now see the BDS campaign as the latest way to attack the state.
Equally, there are those who do hold genuine anti-Semitic views who see the BDS movement as a way of targeting Israel (note that this doesn’t mean that all attacks on Israel are anti-Semitic).
In my mind then, following on from Friedman’s analysis, the success of a non-violent ‘third intifada’ rests on three points that the BDS movement must act upon:
- Ensuring that a zero tolerance approach to violence is taken and applied across the board to avoid any association with the atrocities of the first and second intifada.
- Focusing the campaign on the occupation with the end goal being the end of the occupation. This will hopefully ensure that Israelis feel secure and able to join in the movement but that the immorality of the on-going occupation is raised in day-to-day life.
- Distance itself from the slightest whiff of anti-Semitism.
There are many people that I respect who advocate for a full boycott of Israel and also many that would oppose any boycott. For me, this approach seems a sensible pragmatic middle-ground.
I would be interested in your thoughts though.
3 responses to “The third intifada and the role of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS)”
A friend directed me to your blog. I used to derive a few questions for advocates of BDS from a techinique for delivering psychotherapy known as Brief Solution-Focused Therapy. “How will you know when you can stop boycotting?”
“What will be happening, which isn’t happening now, telling you that you can stop BDS?”
“Or what, of the things that are happening currently, will have to have stopped occurring, which will tell you it’s OK to stop BDS?”
“How will you know when you’ve succeeded (with BDS)?”
I have acquaintances who sometimes berate me for being at best ambivalent about BDS, at “worst” for not advocating it. What I should say to them is, “OK, you want me to join BDS on the grounds that Palestinian civil society has asked supporters of Palestinians to show solidarity in that way: if I do as you ask, please tell me when I may stop boycotting?”
When I have tried this question, it has occaionally stumped my colloquors, but more often it has been met by a range of responses that are reciprocally negating.
This author articulated my reply much better than I could do:
I find the use of the term ‘Intifada’ pretty challenging. I think if activists want to reassure Israel, they might drop it. You engaged with many of the concerns I have about Israel boycotts. One remaining point might be that even a precise focus on settlement goods alone still represented a disproportionate focus on Israel – unless of course one boycotts other places as well. I suppose one response might be that the threat of settlement boycotts, at this particular juncture, by making Israel somewhat concerned about the economy (but not so beleaguered as to feel utterly isolated and insecure), might be helpful to the peace process.
So – I’m not sure whether or not I agree with you on the issue but I welcome your careful engagement with all the problems you identify with BDS.