BDS is a tactic, not a principle

Submitted by AWL on 30 September, 2014 - 6:25 Author: Omar Raii

Last month the National Union of Students voted to support the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

This campaign has seen increases support by student unions around the country, but the controversial vote by the NUS is a major step forward for the BDS campaign.

The regrettable rise of “boycott Israel” politics is due to a confusion that has developed on the left in general. BDS has increasingly come to be seen as a principle for activists rather than a tactic.

To many, being a supporter of the Palestinian cause means supporting a boycott of Israel and vice versa. But of course boycotting Israel, whether right or wrong, is a tactic, and should be treated as such.

The principle is supporting the right of oppressed people (in this case the right of the Palestinians) to self-determination. Socialists should therefore be seriously thinking about whether or not their tactics are helping or harming the principled cause.

Sincere advocates of an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be willing to think critically about the consequences of boycotting everything Israeli, from its goods to its universities.

Many students, wishing so desperately to carry on the tradition of the anti-apartheid movement that boycotted South Africa, have ended up seeing links between the two situations. The situations are very different. South African apartheid was based on a narrow white caste holding down a super-exploited black working-class. Israelis are not a narow caste but a nation with a ruling class and a workingm class.

As well-meaning as BDS is, it based on false conceptions.

A further example of how badly the politics of the left in the NUS has degenerated is shown by the fact that the National Executive Council also very recently voted down a resolution to support the struggle of the peoples of Iraq against the Islamic State, for the nonsensical reason that this stance could be potentially supportive of western intervention.

A student movement that finds it easy to boycott a country like Israel (including its trade union movement, peace movement and left) but cannot bring itself to support the Iraqis and Kurds is in a pretty sorry state politically.