BDS: Resisting Israeli Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid in Palestine

Progressives must channel their moral outrage about Israeli apartheid into strategic pressure that can finally end the ongoing Palestinian Nakba.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, reflects on the situation in Palestine and calls on progressives around the world to challenge state, corporate, and institutional complicity with Israel’s apartheid regime.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, reflects on the situation in Palestine and calls on progressives around the world to challenge state, corporate, and institutional complicity with Israel’s apartheid regime.

In her video message celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the European settler-colony of Israel atop the ruins of Palestine, president of the European Union Commission Ursula von der Leyen gave voice to the EU establishment’s darkest colonial racism. “You have literally made the desert bloom,” she said — a racist trope that both erases the flowering Indigenous Palestinian society that predated Zionist settler-colonialism, and whitewashes Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of its people.

Von der Leyen’s colonial hypocrisy is rooted in half a millennium of European hegemony over the world, a brutal legacy that includes transatlantic slavery and multiple genocides across every inhabited continent. Her cavalier celebration of Zionist colonialism — which currently includes a vicious occupation and siege that have brought two million Palestinians in Gaza to the verge of starvation — carries dark echoes of 1930s Europe. Europeans “legitimated” and “exonerated” genocide perpetrated by European colonial powers against “non-European peoples” in the colonies, as Aimé Césaire puts it, but were shocked to soon after see the genocidal instruments of their colonialism turned against racialized communities in Europe.

But as Western hegemony finally begins to wane, so will the prospects for Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Indigenous people of Palestine. 

Palestinians who see the writing on the wall are not delusional. We understand the current Israeli government — the state’s most far-right, racist, fundamentalist, authoritarian, corrupt, sexist and homophobic ever — as both a decisive indicator of this creeping demise and its strongest catalyst to date. 

This fanatic government, with its powerful fascist and genocidal tendencies, constitutes an unmasked continuation of Israel’s ongoing regime of colonial oppression and, simultaneously, a rupture with the status quo in its far-reaching plans for judicial, social, and cultural “reforms” predominantly affecting Jewish Israeli settler-colonial society. 

These policies, in the context of an ongoing Palestinian resistance, have drastically impacted the financial and economic sectors. Capital flight, high-tech migration, Moody’s credit outlook downgrade, disappearing investments, and collapsing investor confidence all prodded former chair of Israel’s National Economic Council to predict two scenarios for Israel’s economy, “a heart attack or cancer.” 

Israel’s Chief Economist Shira Greenberg estimated that Israel’s reduced credit rating would eliminate half of its growth in GDP over the next five years, and over 250 Jewish American business leaders warned of the “destruction” of Israel’s economy, saying they may be compelled “to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment.” 

All this provides Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian liberation worldwide with an unprecedented opportunity to further our struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. But opportunities alone do not lead to change; they only provide the fertile ground for it. We still need to maximize our morally-consistent work, building people’s power and strong intersectional alliances that integrate the struggle for Palestinian liberation within the global struggles for racial, economic, social, gender, Indigenous, and climate justice. 

With its theory of change that focuses on cutting the links of state, corporate and institutional complicity with Israel’s regime, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, led by the largest Palestinian coalition ever, is the most effective form of international solidarity with our struggle to dismantle settler-colonialism and apartheid. 

Launched in 2005 by the absolute majority in Palestinian society, in historic Palestine and in exile, BDS calls for ending Israel’s military occupation and system of apartheid as well as for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and receive reparations. Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BDS movement categorically opposes all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and antisemitism. BDS targets complicity, not identity. A growing number of anti-colonial Jewish-Israeli BDS supporters play a significant role in the movement, and a 2022 poll shows that 16% of all Jewish Americans support BDS, with the percentage rising sharply for those under 40. 

Over the last 17 years, the BDS movement has built a massive network worldwide, supported by trade unions, farmers’ coalitions, as well as racial, social and climate justice movements, together representing tens of millions of people worldwide. It has made large multinationals, like Veolia, Orange, G4S, HP, and others totally or partially end their involvement in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. Ben and Jerry’s last year removed Israel from the locations in which it does business.

Giant sovereign funds in Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and elsewhere as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have divested from Israeli or international companies and banks that are implicated in Israel’s occupation.

Dockworkers unions in Oakland, California, and Durban, South Africa have refused to handle Israeli ships.

Mainstream churches in South Africa have endorsed BDS, while major churches in the United States have divested from complicit companies and Israeli banks. 

Days ago, the Belgian city of Liège voted to end all ties with Israel. It cited Israel’s regime of “apartheid, colonization and military occupation” against Palestinians, following the example set by Barcelona’s mayor, who suspended all ties with apartheid Israel earlier this year. 

All the above reflects a growing understanding that Israel has become a model for much of the world’s far-right, harming not only Palestinians but also millions of others around the world. It partners with fascist groups in the West, most of whom are antisemitic to the core, and with far-right and authoritarian regimes. It sells its military-security technologies and colonial doctrines as “battle-tested.” For instance, Israel exports its military doctrines and weaponized spyware technologies, like NSO's Pegasus, and other cyberwarfare and disinformation and election-rigging services as a diplomacy tool worldwide. 

Yet, many states, corporations, and institutions remain deeply complicit in Israeli apartheid. Meaningful solidarity with our struggle must therefore start with ending complicity. This requires principled and strategic, gradual, goal-oriented boycott and divestment campaigns in all fields, based on broad coalitions, designating Israel as an apartheid state and, accordingly, pushing for lawful, targeted sanctions against it, starting with a comprehensive military-security embargo. 

Pressure must be applied on city councils and public institutions to divest from and exclude from procurement all companies involved in grave human rights violations, including in Israeli apartheid.

Palestinians are calling on progressives worldwide to channel their moral outrage about Israel’s regime of oppression into strategic pressure and building people’s power that can contribute meaningfully to finally ending the Nakba that has now plagued our people for 75 years.

Omar Barghouti is the co-founder of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights and co-recipient of the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award.

Photo: Joe Catron / Flickr

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