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PACBI | 4 May 2014

Criteria for choosing the optimal BDS target

As the BDS movement continues to grow at a fast pace, many activists around the world, including in Palestine, often wonder what institution or corporation to target and how. Whether it is an academic, cultural, economic, sports or other BDS campaign, selecting the boycott or divestment target is often not as straightforward as many may think, particularly if the overall BDS strategy of mainstreaming is taken into consideration. Here we focus on cultural and academic boycott targets specifically.
Every Israeli academic and cultural institution -- and we regard choirs, orchestras and dance groups as institutions -- is complicit in Israel's regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid unless they publicly denounce Israel’s violations of international law and accept the full and equal rights of Palestinians. According to the guidelines for the international boycott of Israel [1] adopted by Palestinian civil society, the mere fact that an Israeli institution receives state funding is not a sufficient condition for calling for a boycott against it. But receiving state funding certainly makes it more incumbent upon the institution in question to take a public stand against the state’s regime of oppression against the Palestinian people.
As in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, an institution cannot claim to be “above” politics [2] simply because it produces art or science. The institution is complicit and therefore subject to the boycott so long as it benefits from the unjust order that exists and chooses to remain silent about it. If an international forum invites such a complicit institution, it in turn becomes complicit and boycottable.
However, the BDS movement, and PACBI as part of it, does not actually boycott every boycottable event, product or institution, as that would make it impossible to achieve concrete results. To be strategic, we carefully select our targets and how we intervene in each case. If a demonstration can win us more enemies than friends, we skip it. If a dignified "artistic" protest works better, then we do it. An example of the latter is the brilliant musical disruption, including a soprano number, by our British partners against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in London in 2011, part of which was aired on BBC before the station realized what was happening[3]. If only a statement is deemed best, we issue it. If ignoring the boycottable event altogether and focusing instead on more important targets helps us raise more awareness and garner more support in the general public, then we do that. After all, BDS is all about movement building from the grassroots up.
Regardless of the tactics of intervention, to be strategically worthy, the process of selecting a BDS target would benefit from considering the following three criteria:
1) The level of complicity involved: The deeper the complicity, the easier it is to mobilize support for BDS action against any given target. For example, the fact that Tel Aviv and Technion Universities are deeply involved in developing military products and doctrines that are used by Israel in its perpetration of war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians makes the two institutions perfect BDS targets.
2) The potential for forming a broad, cross-movement coalition against the target: A boycott of security giant G4S, for instance, makes much more sense than boycotting a company that only infringes on Palestinian rights, as G4S infringes on immigrants' rights, is deeply involved in the privatization of vital public services in many countries, etc., making it an ideal target that encourages the formation of a wide coalition against (unions, anti-privatization groups, artists, asylum seekers' advocacy networks, among others).
3) Possibility of success: Even if the above two conditions are met, we do not launch a campaign against a target unless we have a reasonable chance of success. Success, at times, merely means reaching a wide mainstream audience and winning their support, rather than actually succeeding in cancelling an event, convincing a supermarket to stop buying from some company or another involved in the Israeli occupation and apartheid, or having an exchange program with an Israeli university cancelled.
But symbolic victories alone are not sufficient. We are involved in BDS to achieve Palestinian rights, ultimately, and not to make points and feel good about symbolic gestures alone. Only through sustained, cumulative, growing and mainstreaming successes can BDS achieve its objectives—freedom, justice and equality.
[1] Academic boycott guidelines:
Cultural boycott guidelines:

Posted on 05-05-2014

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