BDS leader explains how the movement is meant to manipulate Western liberals
The Badil Center, a Palestinian Arab organization that is a major force behind the BDS movement, has published an extensive analysis in Jadaliyya magazine of their perspective on its progress and shortcomings over the past eight years.
The magazine reprints what appears to be a seminal 2011 piece by Nimer Sultany of SOAS in London, one of the theoreticians behind today’s BDS movement.
A careful reading of his article reveals the pure hypocrisy that underpins the entire anti-Israel movement.
Sultany brings up three points and potential pitfalls about BDS.
His first point is about the role of pacifism and violence in Palestinian Arab discourse:
Palestinian history oscillates between two dogmas: the new dogma of nonviolence and the old dogma of violence and armed struggle. …Given its apparent failure to achieve its declared objective, armed struggle has given way to nonviolence, which has become more fashionable today since it resonates with Western perspectives. Given that stereotypes cast Palestinians as violent, aggressive, and irrational Arabs or Muslims, Palestinians are forced to declare their pacifism before being admitted to the world of legitimate discourse or given a hearing of their views.
…But nonviolence should not now become the new dogma. Westerners ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” They ignore the fact that Western practice and discourse have always vindicated violent resistance to unjust foreign occupiers. Thus, it is hypocritical for Westerners to dismiss violent means altogether in the Palestinian case.
…The legitimacy of the struggle and the justness of the demands need not necessarily correlate with the character of the means. The fact is that violent and nonviolent tactics have always co-existed as forms of resistance and they are likely to do so in the future. Therefore, in order to choose nonviolent means, one need not necessarily be a pacifist. The choice of the means depends on historical and political circumstances; they need not become the end. The means should not be deployed for their own sake but for the purpose of achieving noble political goals. The ability of violent or non-violent means to achieve them in a concrete, prudential form should be constantly critiqued and re-examined.
So while BDSers swear up and down that they are against violence, we see that the truth is quite the opposite. The movement is meant to sway Westerners, but it is not meant to mirror how Palestinian Arabs think. Amongst themselves, violence is considered quite acceptable – but not prudent at this time. Next year, it is possible that violence might come back into vogue. He even refers to the current Palestinian Arab pretense of nonviolence as “fashionable.”
There is no morality here except the “noble” goal of destroying the Jewish state, and for that, all means are on the table. Pretending that they embrace non-violence for moral reasons is simply a scam to fool clueless Western liberals.
Sultany’s second point is about international law:
The boycott movement speaks the language of human rights and international law. It is intended to pressure Israel to abide by international law. By doing so, it risks falling into the trap identified by critical legal scholars. The risk has two aspects. First, there is a danger in conflating law with justice; there is no intrinsic connection between law and justice. The gap between them may not be apparent to those who equate the attainment of justice with the application of law. Second is the belief that applying international law can produce self-evident, concrete consequences; this belief presupposes that applying law is a mechanical operation. But law-application involves inevitably normative interpretations that are not independent of power relations and hegemonic understandings. In addition, law (whether local or international) is not a monolithic entity nor a gapless system. Rather, it contains gaps, ambiguities, and contradictions…
This is not to say that the language of universal human rights and international law should be rejected or that it lacks a positive value. I only wish to caution that this rather limited discourse could produce unintended consequences. One should be cognizant of the detrimental ramifications of this discourse.
Sultany understands that while the anti-Israel movement uses the language of international law and human rights, they don’t really mean it – if they can be interpreted in ways that is detrimental to the cause.
If, for example, the definition of “refugee” is standardized so that Palestinian Arabs have the same definition as the rest of the world, that would be quite supportable under international law – but it would be catastrophic for a movement whose intent for decades has been to use millions of people as pawns to help destroy Israel. The same can be said for the definition of “occupation” – if Gaza or Areas A is not occupied, the Israel-haters lose a great deal of their rhetorical power. Ditto for the mythical “right of return,” one of BDS’ cornerstones, which has no basis in international law in these circumstances.
Beyond that, Sultany makes it clear that human rights and international law have no value to Palestinian Arab nationalist thought. They are only concerned with what they call “justice.” And who decides whether justice is served? Why, they are! And there can be no justice, in their minds, while Israel exists.
This is not compatible with international law, and Sultany knows it. But he figures that using the fig leaf of international law, with luck, can weaken Israel enough that the “justice” part of the equation can then have a chance of succeeding.
Sultany is saying, in effect, that while they use the language of international law and human rights, it is just a scam to fool clueless Western liberals. To be sure, they work tirelessly to ensure that NGOs adhere to their definitions of terms like “occupation”, but in the back of their minds they know that international and humanitarian law is not nearly as supportive of their movement as they pretend it is. Sultany is warning the BDSers that they just might end up on the wrong end of the law before they finish their goal of making Jews as weak and marginalized as Christians are in the Middle East.
His third warning is about being too serious about boycotting everything that is “Zionist:”
Transforming every aspect of the political struggle to a boycott-orientation reduces the range of political means and vocabulary. Not every adverse discourse or initiative should be addressed through the boycott prism. Surely, these initiatives, to the extent that they warrant criticism, can and should be critiqued. However, the discourse of boycott is inapplicable when the object of the critique is not a state-sponsored activity, nor an Israeli or foreign institution involved in sustaining the occupation militarily or economically. The boycott campaign should be based on credible evidence of targeted institutions’ role in sustaining the apartheid regime’s practices.
Additionally, boycott should not be seen as merely the manifestation of an unguided, blind moral outrage. Its primary purpose should neither be moral preaching nor vengeance and punishment. Rather, it should be applied as a political tool for achieving political ends through political mobilization of activists, constituencies, and consumers. Therefore, there should be some considerations of efficacy. For boycott to be effective it should not be reduced to trigger-happy tactics. If one cries wolf all the time, one risks losing credibility and political currency.
Overplaying the boycott card can discredit it, even when directed against worthy targets. …Consider the example of the New York Times which is blatantly pro-Israel; it does not follow that it should be boycotted by a writer commissioned to represent a pro-Palestinian position.
The argument can be extended to make sure that Apple or Google or Microsoft aren’t boycotted, since that would be counterproductive. As he says explicitly, boycotting Zionist products is not a moral position but a political tool. That’s why Sodastream and Max Brenner are perfect targets but Intel isn’t.
Yet BDS positions itself to the West as if it were a moral movement, using moral arguments!
For the third time, Sultany is saying that BDS is a scam to fool clueless Western liberals by using language they can identify with, while the movement itself is actually anti-liberalism. It has no ethical problem with murdering Jews, it is willing to discard international law if that contradicts its idea of “justice,” and it couches its goal in terms of a morality that it explicitly discards.
This is not an essay that BDSers want thoughtful Western liberals to read.