Is the BDS Democratic?

Open letter to Omar Barghouti, Co-founder, PACBI

Dear Omar,

Let me start by saying that you have done a lot for BDS and that BDS has done a lot for the Palestinian cause.  It is perhaps for this reason that we should all be concerned with potential corruption of the movement, and you most of all.  I refer to changes of wording, changes of direction and changes of priority within the movement.

The change of wording is the infamous four words “occupied in June, 1967″ inserted into the first of three objectives in the mission statement portion of the 2005 BDS Call signed by 173 Palestinian organizations, such that the statement now demands of Israel:

“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall…” (added phrase in italics)

I understand your argument that this phrase only clarifies the meaning of the original statement, and that it changes the meaning not at all.  Even so, who gave you the right to make the change without consulting and getting the approval of the signatories to the original call?  Why was it inserted without even telling anyone, such that no one but you even knows when it was done?  If it is so uncontroversial, why not get it approved?

Why is the phrase needed, anyway?  You argue that it results in no change of meaning.  Why, then, is it not superfluous?  Since it is a bone of contention, just remove it and be done with it.

I also understand that the offending phrase occurs only in the “Introducing the BDS Movement” section of the website and that the original wording is preserved elsewhere.  However, this is at best misleading and at worst disingenuous.  The “Introducing the BDS Movement” section reproduces the three demands from the 2005 Call completely verbatim, except for the added four words, and then proceeds to make the claim that this wording is endorsed by the signatories of the 2005 BDS Call.

This is deceptive and even fraudulent and must be corrected.  The altered wording has even been mistakenly quoted by Max Blumenthal in his book Goliath as being the wording of the original BDS Call.  Your misrepresentation has led directly to his error.

However, the wording is not merely a technical problem.  The wording is apparently important to you.  But why?  Could it be that the wording was needed in order to satisfy individuals or groups or interests that demanded this wording?  Was it meant as an assurance that BDS would not demand the return of all lands stolen from Palestinians but only those lands that were stolen outside the Green Line?

If this is the case, it would explain why many “soft” Zionists, who want to maintain a Jewish state but give back the West Bank, now participate in BDS, but only against institutions that support the Israeli presence in the West Bank.

In fact, that is the current priority of the movement, with little or no Boycott, Divestment or Sanctions aimed at institutions that deny equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel or the Right of Return to Palestinians in the shatat (“diaspora”).

Is this a coincidence or is BDS headed in a different direction than its origins would indicate?  Is it no longer a Palestinian movement, but rather a “soft” Zionist movement?

Obviously, people join movements for different reasons, and if Zionists want to boycott organizations that do business with Israel – even if only in the West Bank – their contribution is welcome.

However, it is quite another matter to effectively turn over the reins of the movement to them or to accommodate them by changing the wording of the mission statement.  A Palestinian movement that welcomes Zionists that have limited objectives is quite different from a Zionist movement that wants to limit its mission but accepts Palestinians that have wider goals.

Is that what is going on?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps my concerns are exaggerated.  But in that case, please dispel all doubt by removing the four words.

Paul Larudee

Paul Larudee is one of the founders of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements and an organizer in the International Solidarity Movement. Read other articles by Paul.