Some Thoughts as the BDS March Continues

PGGM-logo-BE9F491EDE-seeklogo.comStep by step, the BDS movement inexorably marches on. Now the news has just come down that PGGM, the largest pension fund management company in the Netherlands, has decided to withdraw all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks (Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, the First International Bank of Israel and Israel Discount Bank) because they have branches in the West Bank and/or are involved in financing construction in the settlements.

I’m struck that whenever we hear this kind of news, BDS opponents invariably claim that this is “one isolated incident” that will not have any real effect or influence. But of course, this is not one isolated incident – it is but a part of a growing pattern occurring throughout the world. This latest news is but one more indication that the BDS movement is quickly gaining momentum.

And there is every indication that Israel’s leaders understand this. In the wake of the PGGM decision, Knesset member and Bayit Hayehudi party chairwoman Ayelet Shaked called for an Israeli response to the BDS movement, adding that “it was the greatest threat faced by the country.”

I’m also struck by one paragraph from the Ha’aretz report on the PGGM move:

The Israeli banks responded that Israeli law doesn’t allow them to cease providing service to entities connected to the settlements. Nor, given the daily reality in which the banks operate, would this even be feasible, they added.

This is an enormously telling comment – particularly as a response to those who advocate for BDS within the Occupied Territories only but not in Israel proper. Perhaps the most prominent advocate of this approach is Peter Beinart, who has long spoken of a difference between “Good Israel” and “Bad Israel:”

(We) should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.

Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it. We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel. We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities. Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.

But a settlement boycott is not enough. It must be paired with an equally vigorous embrace of democratic Israel. We should spend money we’re not spending on settler goods on those produced within the green line. We should oppose efforts to divest from all Israeli companies with the same intensity with which we support efforts to divest from companies in the settlements: call it Zionist B.D.S.

This is, of course, an utterly artificial distinction, as the recent comment by the Israeli banks makes clear. The “daily reality” is that the Occupation is facilitated and fed by Israel itself. They are, quite simply, inseparable from one another – as Israel’s own economic establishment openly admits.

As the BDS movement inevitably amasses more gains, we will likely hear louder and and louder calls to “take this threat seriously.” But I believe the inexorable growth of this movement suggests something more fundamental: the world is increasingly taking Israel’s oppression of Palestinians seriously.

7 thoughts on “Some Thoughts as the BDS March Continues

  1. Howard Gordon

    Rabbi… in good conscience can you applaud this BDS thing…how can you seriously expect Israel to step down their security,with all the hate ,death and turmoil loose in the entire region….?

    1. Lisa Kosowski

      Howard, I know you directed your question directly to Rabbi Brant so I hope you don’t mind if I provide a response. Clearly, you care about Israel and that is why you asked this question. But it is also clear that by asking the question, you don’t have realistic view of what is really going on. I say this because I don’t understand how anyone who claims to care about Israel wouldn’t be strongly supporting BDS if they did have a good basic knowledge of the facts on the ground. Entire books have been written on this subject, and I don’t want to write a book here, so I am just going to provide a few facts and then also provide you with some links for further reading and recommend you read the new book by Max Blumenthal, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.”
      What you refer to as “security” is actually a system of oppression and persecution of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza that subjects several million human beings to daily violence by the IDF and the settlers under the protection of the IDF. It is commonly called “The Occupation.” These civilians have no freedom of movement due to the separation wall and multiple checkpoints that make it often impossible to get to work (for those lucky enough to still have jobs), reach their farmlands, get to school, and reach doctors and clinics. Villages deal with almost daily violence by settlers who set fire to their olive trees, beat farmers trying to harvest their olives, and throw stones at them. Just yesterday, one of these pogroms was captured on video which clearly showed that the settlers were escorted by the IDF, who, when the villagers tried to defend themselves, began shooting them with tear gas and coated steel bullets. You can watch the video and read about it here:
      According to B’Tselem, the prominent Israeli human rights organization,, and reported in the Jewish Daily Forward here:, the number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank in 2013 tripled since 2012. And this only tells part of the story. There is also the issue of violent responses to the Palestinian Popular Resistance Movement by the IDF in a number of Palestinian villages who conduct nonviolent civil disobedience demonstrations every Friday to protest the separation wall and the ongoing theft of their lands by the Israeli government for new settlements and ongoing settlement expansion. And there are the issues of “night raids” during which the IDF takes minors out of their beds in the middle of the night and takes them into custody without any protection of their rights: no lawyers, no parents, and they are often verbally and physically abused. You can read more about this at the Military Court Watch site,, and at another excellent new site, Room No. 4, These are just some of the things that are going on while supposedly the Israeli government is negotiating “in good faith” for a peace agreement based on a 2 state solution.
      In addition to the above, the Israeli government is conducting home demolitions and ongoing restrictions on Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem in order to force them out. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, but the Palestinians who live there were never given Israeli citizenship. Of course, there is the ongoing siege on Gaza which has created a humanitarian crisis of increasing tragic proportions. You can read more about that on the B’tselem site as well.
      In summary, it is clear by the actions of the increasingly right wing Israeli government, elected by the people of Israel, unflinchingly supported by the U.S., that there is a system of ongoing ethnic cleansing taking place with the goal of eventually making any kind of just creation of a Palestinian State in the Occupied Territories impossible. The human rights abuses by the militarily and economically strong Israeli government are getting worse, not better and that is what led to the Palestinian call for BDS – a non-violent tactic to force Israel to comply with international law. It worked to help end apartheid in South Africa, and the hope is that it will bring about the end of the Occupation. Because clearly, Israel is not going to do that on its own volition. As Martin Luther King said, “”Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” And I, for one, support any and all nonviolent resistance strategies to bring about the end of this conflict and a just solution for everyone to live in peace and security.
      And I will (finally) end this with a quote I love by Paulo Freire: ” Although oppression dehumanizes both parties and stifles their humanity, the oppressed has to lead the struggle for a fuller humanity for both. The oppressor, who is himself dehumanized because he dehumanizes others, tries to hang onto his power and dehumanizing practices. When the oppressed seek to regain and deepen their humanity, they must not in turn oppress the oppressors, but rather help to restore the humanity of both. The contradiction between the two classes is resolved by the appearance of a new kind of human being, one in the process of liberation. It’s not possible to eliminate oppression just by a shift of roles in which the oppressor becomes the oppressed and vice-versa. In such change we can’t say that one person liberates himself, or another, but that people in communion liberate each other.”

      1. Howard Gordon

        Lisa…the problems you bring up,did not happen in a vacuum…do you not think that the Palestinians have some responsibility for the turmoil you so aptly describe

      2. Lisa Kosowski

        Howard, I’m not sure what responsibility you are referring to. I don’t see how it is constructive for a better future to dissect the past (since ’48? since ’67?) and continue to collectively punish subsequent generations – on both sides. I look at the political realities on the ground now. That reality is that Israel is an extremely strong nation politically, economically, and militarily and they are ruling over a largely unarmed, politically and economically weak civilian population. The Occupation, which was supposed to be temporary, has not only gone on for 47 years, but is actually becoming more entrenched and more brutal as time goes on. Israel continues to steal more land, build new settlements, and expand the already existing settlements. That is the reality. And I find it shocking that instead of analyzing the situation as it actually stands and recognizing the cataclysmic course Israel is on, most American Jews are either silent, or close ranks in a misguided sense of tribal loyalty instead of joining with the many Israelis and Palestinians who are fighting against the tide for a just peace with equal rights for all. Lisa

  2. Brad sez...

    The BDS is a tool of the extreme left to attempt to de-legitimize Israel. BDSers turn a blind eye towards the most dreadful regimes as long as those regimes are against Israel. My guess is Europe will follow the U.S. and Canada in rejecting the follies of the extreme left.

  3. Sam Neff

    My wife and I are just finishing a 90 day stay at Mar Elias Schools at Ibillin, Israel. Three days ago we talked with Amos Gvirtz about the prospects for an end to the occupation. Amos is a long-time activist and a loyal Israeli who is deeply worried about the way the country is heading. He said that “Existential Zionists” like Bibi will only negotiate when Super Power support is on the line. He thinks that the only way to get to that place now is through BDS.


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