It has become a sort of knee jerk reaction by Leftists concerned about the Israel-Palestine issue to compare the issue to South Africa and say how “we need a BDS program along the lines of South Africa.” Let me preface the following article that I believe what Israel does within the Occupied Territories and even within its own state are Apartheid by the internationally recognized definition. The definition is as follows “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” There are many similarities between the two cases but they are not the same case and comparing them as absolutes, in addition to being academically lazy, is factually incorrect and hurts the Palestinian cause. There are some ways that apartheid was worse than what is happening in Palestine and in some ways what is happening in Palestine is far worse than what happened in South Africa. In addition the South African whites had a very different relationship with the indigenous population than the Israelis currently have with the Palestinians. The Whites (13% of the population)needed the local population for labor as opposed to the Israelis (50% of the population of Historic Palestine, not including refugees of course) do not. They got themselves off of this dependency following the First Intifada and Oslo and rely on foreign workers for the labor that Palestinians used to do.
It seems to me, a student, reader and blogger on Israel-Palestine, that the BDS movement attempting to garner support for a replication of South Africa is going to fail miserably. As Finkelstein states (in the question and answer portion) when a gentleman generically asks about the BDS movement and his support or non-support of the movement, he, being the gentleman, of course prefaces and tries to bring in the South African Apartheid as a movement to be replicated. It seems to be lack of originality and/or academic discourse that leads to this framing. Supporters of the Palestinian cause seem to try and bring as much connections and theories as possible, some better than others, in explaining the conflict and trying to get converts to the cause. I personally feel this is the wrong way to go about it. As Finkelstein notes (paraphrasing from this video and others of his latest ones) “facts are on our side, there is no reason to make all these large theories about Zionism or other terms…you simply ask people ‘do you support ethnic cleansing? do you support the demolition of homes? do you support housing for Jews only?’ If you get them to answer no to these three you already have gotten them further than you would telling them all the ills of Zionism from 1881-2011. It is a game of mutual consensus and patience. There is an international consensus on how to deal with the issue, so let us go by it.” I do not disagree with the overall message on a practical level and think it is very befitting…but on an ideal level I disagree with the latter pieces.
It seems to me that BDS wishes to more of less snub its nose at the international consensus Finkelstein talks about, and fill the uncertainty with slogans, rhetorics, and analogies. From the BDS publications I have read they do not even have a coherent argument of whether they support 1 state or 2 states which I feel is very relevant to the debate. If BDS fully pledges to the 1 state it will, in addition to fighting Israel and its supporters, have to fight against the international consensus which is already on the Palestinian side. If it favors 2 states then its purpose gets watered down into nothingness once that second state came about. The BDS movement would have a better time achieving two states (pending that was their goal) by going another approach, such as organizing against US arms shipments to Israel which are illegal under international and domestic US law (such as those used in Operation Cast Lead). They would organize against settlement products in Europe, and weapons from the US, plain and simple. Yet the BDS movement covers so many aspects which do not fall under these categories it would seem they are taking the one state solution on their back and going against the world. If this is their case, I applaud them for trying, but think there are better ways to go about it. In addition to Europe, Israel’s huge importer of goods happens to be the Occupied Palestinian Territories themselves. So they would have to come here to make the basic most fundamental change to Israeli economic prowess, those of which who are essentially forced to buy the products. Most of the people in BDS are not Palestinian (in the sense of being born and growing up here) and have most likely visited the Occupied Territories. Which means they flew into Israel or crossed a border and had to spend money in these places, hence negating/watering down their message, or possibly have never been which takes away from their possible knowledge (books can do a great job about the subject, but first hand knowledge always supersedes it). I personally fell into this latter category until I decided to take a heavily subsidized scholarship to study at Hebrew University in the Middle East department. I felt that if they knew my politics (which they did) and were still offering me money to come to their university and use their resources against them, then why not?
This is the problem of the BDS movement essentially, too many absolutes, too little proof. They effectively separate themselves from dissent of their point of view and simple sit in agreement circles complaining about Israel. If you ever wish to change the minds of people, especially ones who have no vested interest in the subject, you can not do it in a leftist academic circle. You can talk to people in these circles and get facts and figures to help your case, but doing just that will help solve nothing except artificially making you feel better about yourself. You do not have to boycott any and all things of an entity to make a change, but strategic boycotts can be very effective and garner more support. There are many Israeli academics who are non-Zionist, anti-Zionist, or Post-Zionist and do extensive research and writings to pursue these goals, but an organization like BDS would boycott these people because they have Israeli citizenship, this is wrong to me (although I am sure Ilan Pappe is not on the list of boycotted persons, rightfully). BDS movements talk about academic boycotts and divestments from pension reforms and these seem to be mostly symbolic or feel good manuevers. How will some Norwegian pensioner not getting a piece of his pension from an Israeli company suddenly end the occupation or make one less child’s life less oppressed?