In December of 2013, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, came out against boycotting Israel. Specifically, Abbas stated that “we do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself…We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel” (The Times of Israel, “Abbas: Don’t boycott Israel,” 12.13.2013).
The BDS movement, which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, has gained considerable ground on college campuses, being passed by student governments at universities such as Loyola and Stanford. At Vassar, this movement is gaining considerable traction, with the Vassar Student Association voting on it in the next few weeks.
At Vassar, the BDS movement has been centered on the boycott of specific companies: Sabra, Tribe, Hewlett-Packard, Ahava, General Electric, Eden Springs, Motorola, Caterpillar, G4S, Elbit Systems and, interestingly enough, Ben & Jerry’s.
Ben & Jerry’s is a particularly bizarre company to boycott considering that they don’t profit from the occupation. In fact, according to the company’s website, “the company remains committed to contributing 100% of the net licensing fee to foster multicultural programs and values-led ingredient sourcing initiatives in the region.”
In short, Ben & Jerry’s donates all of the money it receives from Israel towards multicultural efforts in order to be a voice for moderation in the region. Their withdrawal as a result of BDS could potentially have unforeseen consequences on the region as a whole.
But even this is not what is most puzzling about BDS. No, even more puzzling than its punishment of companies that do no more than disagree with them is their apparent lack of concern for the economic well-being of the Palestinian people.
As previously mentioned, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has been an outspoken critic of the BDS movement. Considering that the Palestinian leader has previously linked Zionism to Nazism and has accused Jews of inflating the number of individuals killed in the Holocaust for political purposes it is unlikely he is doing this out of any fondness for Israel (Tablet Magazine, “Mahmoud Abbas: Still A Holocaust Denier, 04.27.2014).
No, there are practical reasons why the President of the Palestinian Authority would oppose BDS that has nothing to do with being a Zionist, which he most certainly is not. Rather, the Palestinian president opposes BDS because it impacts Palestine more than Israel, at least economically. In fact, not only does BDS have the potential to negatively impact Palestine, but it already has.
Take the example of SodaStream, an Israeli company that, due to boycotts from supporters of BDS, lost enough revenue that they had to shut down a factory in the West Bank and move it to Southern Israel, thus resulting in “the loss of hundreds of jobs for Palestinians that reportedly paid between three and five times the local prevailing wage,” according to Forbes (Forbes, “Boycott Israel Movement Stunts The Palestinian Economy,” 02.22.2015).
That same article from Forbes goes on to state that Palestine is economically dependent on Israel. According to Shraga Brosh, the President of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, in an interview with Al-Monitor, tens of thousands of Palestinians works in Israel. The boycott can and, as seen with SodaStream, has resulted in an increase in unemployment among Palestinians as Israeli companies feel the need to close factories as a result of lost revenue.
And while groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are committed to anti-normalization, according to Brosh, Palestinian businesspeople are committed to just the opposite. Brosh claims that he himself has maintained good relations with businesses in Palestine, and that they believe that through economics relations they can develop a much better atmosphere that is conducive to peace.
When BDS advocates for the boycott of Israeli goods, they are obstructing both efforts for peace and the stability of the Palestinian economy. It’s not without reason that of all the people SJP has invited to speak on a campus, none were born in Palestine.
What is more prejudiced, opposing a plan that ignores economic principles because it isn’t conducive to peace, or an organization populated by white students that ignores the viewpoints of those living in Palestine because it fails to match the solution they’ve prescribed? The founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, is not Palestinian, and in fact is studying at Tel Aviv University. Yet somehow he and a group of American college students believe that they have more of right to determine the conditions for Israeli withdrawal than the Palestinian people. So, perhaps it’s time to ask, who are truly the racists here?