The Anti-Israeli BDS campaign: an argument in the New York Times following an article by Omar Barghouti

Omar Barghouti, Palestinian activist from Ramallah, one of the BDS founders and a leading campaign personality (
Omar Barghouti, Palestinian activist from Ramallah, one of the BDS founders and a leading campaign personality (


1.   The New York Times recently provided a platform for an international discourse on the BDS. The BDS (boycott, divestment [of investments] and sanctions against the State of Israel) is a campaign currently being waged to boycott the State of Israel, its institutions, universities, leadership, economy and culture, to withdraw investments and impose sanctions. The BDS campaign was initiated at the First Durban Conference (the so-called "World Conference against Racism"), held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

2.   The BDS' ultimate goal is to cause the collapse of the State of Israel through branding it an "apartheid state" and calling for public opinion and governments to boycott Israel and impose sanctions on it. The BDS is an integral part of the global campaign to delegitimize Israel currently being waged (mainly in the West) led by networks and activists affiliated with the far left and radical Islam. The networks collaborate closely with Palestinian activists and NGOs in Ramallah and act within the BNC, the "BDS National Committee," which plays a main role in the BDS campaign (For information about the BDS and BNC, see Appendix C).

3.   The New York Times provided a platform for Omar Barghouti following the BDS campaign's recent .pinpoint achievements, especially in Europe,  which brought the issue to public attention The debate in the New York Times began on January 31, 2014, with an op-ed article by Omar Barghouti, one of the leading personalities of the BDS and delegitimization campaigns being waged against Israel. His world view is based on striving for the collapse of the State of Israel, returning the Palestinian refugees and establishing a Palestinian Arab state to replace Israel. He tries to inculcate that worldview, which is at the root of the BDS campaign, into Western public opinion, especially in the United States, with articles, a book about the BDS and lectures, repeatedly branding Israel an "apartheid state." To that end he uses Western human rights terminology and makes extensive use of the terms "freedom," "justice," and "human rights" for the Palestinians (For a profile of Omar Barghouti, see Appendix B).

4.   The op-ed article by Omar Barghouti made vague references to the genuine objectives of the BDS campaign, while emphasizing slogans familiar from human rights discourse. The article led to a strong response from Roger Cohen, an American Jew and a columnist for the New York Times who has been severely critical of Israeli government policies regarding the Palestinians. Cohen wrote that he did not trust the BDS campaign, which, he said, had a "hidden agenda" which was the destruction of the State of Israel through the campaign's "unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate." He also wrote that "anti-Zionism can easily be a cover for anti-Semitism." Cohen's strong reply to Barghouti ignited a fierce argument between supporters and opponents of the BDS campaign in the pages of the New York Times.

5.   Roger Cohen's uncompromising objection to the BDS campaign is consistent with the broad objections voiced by governments, groups and public figures in the Western countries. Well-known American Jews join in opposing the BDS campaign, including those who strongly object to Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians (Thomas Friedman, Norman Finkelstein), as well as those who defend Israel (Alan Dershowitz). In fact, most Western politicians, administration members, media personnel and academics support the concept of two states for two peoples. However, they make a clear distinction between strong criticism of Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians and joining a campaign which seeks to subvert Israel as a Jewish state by using slogans and tactics taken from human rights discourse.

6.   During the past year the BDS campaign had limited pinpoint achievements in imposing economic, cultural and academic boycotts, which its activists are trying to use as leverage to glorify and extend the campaign. BDS activists expressed their satisfaction in a report issued in January 2014 summing up the results of the campaign in 2013 and looking forward to the achievements of 2014. They claimed that in 2014 the BDS campaign would "step further into the political mainstream and see major institutions join the boycott." However, examination of the long-term results of the campaign on Israel's economic, political and cultural development clearly indicate that its efforts to isolate the State of Israel and boycott its institutions, economy, culture and leaders have so far been unsuccessful. Quite the opposite, Israel's trade with Western Europe, including Britain, increased over the past ten years despite the BDS campaign. In addition, likening Israel to the apartheid regime in South Africa has been unacceptable to the international community and for the most part it has remained the province only of fringe groups of extremists hostile to Israel.

7.   According to the available data, the BDS campaign has not harmed Israel's economy, politics or culture, but rather has smeared its image. That is, the delegitimization discourse and branding Israel as an "apartheid state" have begun to infiltrate from extremist anti-Israeli leftist and Islamist fringe groups into the leading international media and social and political centrist strata in the West. The very fact that a public discussion about the BDS campaign was held on the pages of the New York Times, and the remarks made by the prime minister of Israel and senior figures in the United States about the BDS, are themselves an achievement for the campaign,[1]which its organizers are trying to exploit. However, Roger Cohen's strong response illustrates the limitations of the BDS's power in the United States, and in other Western countries. Those limitations are the result of its genuine objective, which is the destruction of the State of Israel, which Omar Barghouti glosses over and tries to hide. To overcome their limitations, BDS activists may try to exploit political opportunities with the cooperation of Western NGOs, for example, in a scenario in which Israel will be accused of the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.[2]


8.   This study contains four appendices:

1)  Appendix A – Argument over the BDS campaign waged on the pages of the New York Times

2)  Appendix B – Profile of Omar Barghouti, a cofounder and a leading personality the BDS campaign

3)  Appendix C – The BDS campaign and its results to date

4)  Appendix D – "Ten Reasons Why the BDS Movement Is Immoral and Hinders Peace," by Alan Dershowitz.

[1] One example was the statement of Ms. Rafif Zyada, a BNC spokesman, who said that the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a "desperate attack" on the BDS when European pension funds put Israeli companies and banks on their black lists, Israeli concert organizers are finding it increasingly hard to convince performers to appear in Israel and governments are beginning to represent is as violating international law.
[2]  The London-based Arabic paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a study of the BDS which ended by saying that "considerable time will have to pass before it is clear whether the BDS was only background noise or if it can push Israel into a bottleneck and increase its isolation. That will depend on the success or failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whose details can be expected to be made public by Kerry in the coming weeks" (El-Hasad, a weekly supplement of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 26, 2014) (ITIC emphasis).