As US Senate passes anti-boycott bill, the Palestinian BDS movement remains strong

New York City demonstration for the right to boycott
Tom Anderson

Right-wingers claimed a victory in the US Senate last night. A bill passed that aims to make it easier for public authorities to divest from organisations that support a boycott of Israel.

The bill was designed to undermine the campaign for ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ (BDS), against the Israeli state. It will now go to the US House of Representatives for further debate.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, told The Canary the bill was “McCarthyite”. He said:

Suppressing free speech on Palestine will only exacerbate the isolation of Israel’s far-right apartheid regime in the mainstream and grow our BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality.

The same Senate bill authorised $3.3bn of US military aid to Israel, every year for the next 10 years.


Palestinian grassroots groups made the BDS call in 2005, as a response to the Israeli military’s continued colonisation and occupation of Palestinian land, the Israeli state’s discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and the denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees. Since then, BDS has become a global force to be reckoned with.

Check out the BDS movement’s top successes of 2018.

Attempt to silence the movement

The Israeli state and its supporters have been trying hard to undermine and criminalise the BDS movement. Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has branded the movement a “first-rate strategic threat”.

In 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld Israel’s own anti-boycott law. Originally enacted in 2011, the law prohibits calls for a boycott of Israel and its colonies in the West Bank (known as ‘settlements’). In 2017, the Israeli state made moves to deny tax benefits to Israeli citizens donating to Amnesty International, because of the organisation’s campaign against companies working in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group, represents the interests of the Israeli state in the US. AIPAC has been lobbying in support of yesterday’s anti-boycott bill.

Going from strength to strength

Meanwhile, the BDS movement’s success shows little sign of slowing down. For example, in December 2018, HSBC bank announced it was divesting its shares from Elbit, Israel’s largest private-sector weapons manufacturer. The bank cited human rights concerns. HSBC’s decision came after activists held pickets of local branches, and more than 24,000 people emailed HSBC their concerns.

In summer 2018, Lana Del Rey and 19 other musicians pulled out of Israel’s Meteor music festival, after pressure from Palestine solidarity activists.

As BDS grows stronger, it’s likely that it will face increasing attempts to repress, undermine and criminalise the global movement. The intensity of the attacks against the movement is an indicator of its success.

Ongoing war crimes

It’s important to remember the urgency of the situation. In Gaza, the Israeli military has carried out repeated massacres of protesters over the last year. At the time of writing, 181 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed while demonstrating since the beginning of the Great March of Return protest movement last year. In the West Bank, the Israeli military regularly bulldozes Palestinian homes and property, destroying 461 structures in 2018. On 31 January, The Canary reported that the Israeli military had shot four Palestinian children with live ammunition. During 2018, Israeli soldiers killed an average of one Palestinian child a week.

Politicians and governments have repeatedly let down the Palestinian people. The Palestinian popular struggle’s power comes from its support. Not from politicians or states, but from ordinary people around the world.

Featured image via Facebook – Jewish Voice for Peace

Get involved

  • Learn more about the BDS movement.
  • The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest is scheduled to be held in Israel. Palestinians are calling for a boycott of the event. Learn how to support the campaign.
  • Take action against British company JCB, which manufactures bulldozers used by the Israeli military to demolish Palestinian homes.

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

The Canary Support us