On Monday, July 19th, the ice cream retailer Ben & Jerry’s announced an end to sales in East Jerusalem and the Israeli colonies in the West Bank, after years of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). The move was welcomed by Mahmoud Nawajaa, a coordinator for the BDS National Committee, who stated, “This announcement is so important and came after years of pressure on the company to end its involvement in the Israeli violation of the international law and our Palestinian rights.”
In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, that the government will move “aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians,” and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, due to take office as Prime Minister in 2023 under the rotation agreement with Bennett’s Yamina party) condemned the boycott as a “disgraceful capitulation” to anti-semitism.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement was founded by Omar Barghouti and Ramy Shaat in 2005, as a grassroots, Palestinian-led civil society movement, with the aim of using international economic pressure as a means to pressure Israel to, among other goals, withdraw from the West Bank, end the siege on Gaza, achieve full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel proper, and “respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties,” taking inspiration from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
Critics allege that BDS is a veil for promoting anti-semitic hate against Israel, and the U.S. Israeli lobby has sought to silence the movement through the passage of anti-BDS laws on both the state and federal levels. In essence, BDS works to combat Israel’s human rights abuses through nonviolent direct action, which to its critics represent “demonization, delegitimization, [and] a double standard” towards Israel. Despite the movement’s recognition of the difference between action against institutional racism perpetrated by an ethnostate and hatred directed towards a group of people, as well as the movement’s frequent explicit rejection of anti-semitism, critics of the movement remain unmoved.
While Ben & Jerrys’ announcement is certainly cause for celebration, there is still much work to be done in order to hold Israel accountable. For example, companies such as HP, G4S, Caterpillar, and AXA continue to provide Israel with technologies and funding used to retain control over the Palestinian population. Coupled with the United States’ seemingly perpetual support for Israel, there is still a long way to go before the movement can exert effective pressure on Israel.
After decades of occupation, economic suffocation, apartheid, and diaspora, the Palestinian people continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience in the face of the ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign in the land between the river and the sea. In past decades, Palestinians have adopted the largely symbolic action of rock-throwing as a form of resistance, in an homage to the biblical David’s fight against the warrior Goliath. Sadly, this analogy has indeed proven timeless for the Palestinian people, who continue to be denied the right to live in peace in the land they call home. But movements such as BDS provide a platform for the Palestinian people, whose cries have gone unheard for decades, and, therefore, the boycotts must be continued until from the river to the sea, Palestinians can be free.