An old saying attributed to Gandhi goes: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.” This saying is, broadly speaking, the right way to understand Israel’s response to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, since it was first founded by Palestinian civil society in 2005.
As of 2019, Israel is deep into the “fight you” phrase – with decidedly mixed results.
Back in 2005, when BDS was first getting off the ground, it was ignored. Later it was mocked. However now, Israel’s combative phrase has taken on all sorts of forms, from the millions of dollars poured into failing Israel lobby propaganda efforts and astroturf front groups, to the covert operations that Israeli spies are currently running across the world.
As I’ve extensively covered in my reporting – and as the mainstream media has gone to great lengths to ignore – Israeli spies are subverting the democratic process around the world, in order to influence election results in its favour. Israel is also attempting pass laws – in the US and in the UK, among other countries – which would have the effect of outlawing BDS.
Yet as the record shows, Israel is not quite as powerful and influential as it would like to portray itself to be. Its influence over the globally hegemonic imperial power – the USA – is, to a large degree, quite illusionary. US politicians’ support for Israel as a sort of imperial attack dog is by now a sort of article of faith. If the political will was there, however, this could be quite easily reversed.
More importantly, Israel’s popular legitimacy among the populations of the democratic western nations is at an all-time low – even in the US. As the less-shambolic Israeli propagandists privately admit, the BDS movement is on a historical vector which will lead to ultimate victory – freedom, equality and return for all Palestinians.
There was a veritable buffet of BDS victories in 2018, as my colleague at the Electronic Intifada, Nora Barrows-Friedman, recalled in an article last month. In fact, these days, there are so many successful BDS campaigns, it’s hard to keep up.
Certainly one of the most significant pieces of BDS news was the giant multi-national bank HSBC dropping its substantial investment in Elbit – an Israeli arms firm heavily involved in drones and other deadly materiel. Although there was little media focus on this huge news outside of Palestine solidarity movement press, HSBC’s divestment is actually a massive achievement.
It took less than two years to achieve this result. It was only in 2017 that HSBC became a major target for BDS campaigners, who organised protests in HSBC branches and shareholder meetings. It was not that HSBC suddenly grew a conscience. It is a thoroughly disreputable bank, for which the term “ethnically dubious” is a positive understatement. They simply did not want the trouble.
For all that Israeli propagandists like to boast about the supposed “miracle” of the “start-up nation” and the number of high-tech firms that have branches there, the reality is that Israel is actually small fry in terms of global capitalism. Many in the political establishment secretly see the state as, to use the term of the former French ambassador to London, “that shitty little country”.
So it’s actually very little water off the back of a rather large duck when HSBC divests from from a single Israeli arms firm. If it saves them some negative headlines and a few local troubles with some protestors, then why not? Or so their thinking likely goes.
But from our point of view, it is yet another concrete, tangible victory. It means more bad publicity for the Israeli arms trade and less investment in the habitual murder of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere throughout occupied Palestine.
There were many other significant BDS victories throughout 2018, and it’s worth reading Nora’s article in full to get a good sense of them. Several high-profile pop stars cancelled gigs, for example, after BDS activists requested they did so. These included Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Shakira.
The momentum is all with BDS. Despite Israel’s attempts to sabotage, attack, ban, infiltrate, subvert and destroy it, the movement goes from strength to strength. This seems likely to continue in 2019.