BDS Movement Hopes To Go Mainstream

National Boycott Israel Conference Uses Language of Left

Showing ‘Human Face’: Organizers encourage boycott Israel activists to frame their push in the language of the mainstream American left. They hope to avoid being marginalized as a radical fringe group.
peter tobia
Showing ‘Human Face’: Organizers encourage boycott Israel activists to frame their push in the language of the mainstream American left. They hope to avoid being marginalized as a radical fringe group.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published February 10, 2012, issue of February 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — long painted as a fringe group by the Israel advocacy community — is seeking to wrap itself in the mantle of the mainstream American left. At the movement’s first-ever national conference, presenters and attendees compared BDS to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, the Cesar Chavez grape boycott and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, from which it draws inspiration.

They also worried about how to brand themselves in easily accessible sound bites.

“Palestine has to become part of the American vocabulary in the way Americans learn about and digest information, like in the kinds of magazines you read in the laundromat,” said Sarah Schulman, a professor of English at the City University of New York who spoke at the conference, held at the University of Pennsylvania the first weekend in February. “We have to brand BDS as something alive, progressive, increasingly available, with a human face, something Americans can relate to.”

But Penn’s Israel advocacy community greeted all this with a cold shoulder. Rather than protest the event, Rabbi Mike Uram, director of Penn Hillel, urged the group’s pro-Israel member organizations to steer clear of the program, lest they legitimize the BDS movement by drawing attention to it.


Click to view a slideshow.

“On Penn’s campus, people don’t know what BDS is,” Uram said. “To engage in a conversation is to raise them to a level that they are not at.”

“Spending our time and resources and efforts standing outside, protesting the event, says that this is mainstream political discourse,” added Noah Feit, a sophomore who is president of Penn Friends of Israel. “We decided not to stage a protest, because we prefer not to legitimize radical political discourse. We think there are better and more effective forums to express our opinions.”

This contrast — a nascent pro-Palestinian movement craving legitimacy, with the Jewish establishment ignoring it — was a surprising outcome of what some had expected to be a volatile few days on an Ivy League campus with a large percentage of Jewish students and graduates. Area Jewish leaders had signed on to advertisements decrying the conference; some criticized the university for even allowing it to occur.

For the Israel advocacy community, BDS represents a threat to Israel’s sovereignty as a Jewish state. The movement was founded by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 after the International Court of Justice, the judicial body of the United Nations, deemed Israel’s separation barrier to be illegal. The barrier, which Israel justifies as a security measure, departs at numerous points from Israel’s pre-1967 border to take in land deep in the occupied West Bank. BDS centers on three demands: an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and the dismantling of the barrier, the recognition of rights of Palestinians living in Israel proper and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.