The Roots of the Boycott-Israel BDS Movement

, Spencer Irvine, 3 Comments

Photo by Stephen D. Melkisethian (Flickr)

The rise of the anti-Israeli movement, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), has roots dating back to 2001 and possibly back to the 1970s, suggested Cary Nelson in his book, “Dreams Deferred: A Concise Guide to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & the Movement to Boycott Israel.” Nelson, with 24 academic colleagues, rebutted anti-Israeli pro-BDS narratives.

Nelson works as a professor of English at the University of Illinois-Champaign and is a former president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and has led the effort to defeat anti-Israel BDS resolutions at the Modern Language Association annual convention the last several years.

According to Nelson, the BDS movement originated at an United Nations-sponsored World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, where “the event developed largely into a focused attack on Israel and promoted the claim that Israel was an ‘apartheid state.’” A similar meeting was convened by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the same city a couple months later. Both conferences equated, in Nelson’s mind, Zionism with racism and apartheid.

When was the first BDS campaign? A February 2002 petition “urging the University of California to sell (divest itself of) stock held in companies deemed as benefitting from their relationship with the Jewish state.” Nelson added that Harvard and MIT saw similar BDS petitions that year, with no success at the time.

Also, the BDS movement spawned the anti-Israeli Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), at the University of California-Berkeley in 2001. But, Nelson pointed out that others have pointed out that the SJP’s “roots go back to anti-Israel organizing at San Francisco State University in the 1970s.” Since their founding at Berkeley, they have disrupted pro-Israel campus lectures by occupying lecture halls, campus buildings and holding anti-Israel rallies.