Two College Kids Debate BDS

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Sami Rahamim is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Ravil Ashirov is a junior at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Sami is against BDS, while Ravil is a supporter. Here are there thoughts.

By Ravil Ashirov and Sami Rahamim
August 7, 2017


BDS is a set of tactics, not an ideology or a vision of a particular political resolution. These tactics are meant to force the negotiation of meaningful resolutions by putting a cost on the occupation. The ultimate details of such resolutions can only be decided by the relevant Israeli and Palestinian actors. It would be foolish and paternalistic for international activists to assert specific resolutions.


SR: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply complex. Yet, one basic truth holds: Israelis aren’t going anywhere, Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, and it is in both of their best interests to come together and work to arrive at a solution that peacefully ends the conflict.

For decades, the framework of this solution has involved the creation of an independent Palestinian state beside a secure Israel. This is the dream of a majority of Israelis and many of Israel’s supporters around the globe, myself included.

One of several disturbing facets of the BDS movement is that it deceptively simplifies this conflict to exclusively assign the Palestinians the role of perpetual victims and Israel as oppressors. While this may fit a convenient narrative for pro-Palestinian activists, it distorts reality to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.

I understand that we both care deeply about this conflict, but there must be a more productive way forward. When will we move in that direction?

RA: BDS is a set of tactics which seeks to put a cost on Israel for maintaining the occupation, an occupation it has been able to maintain relatively cost free, in order to compel it to recognize Palestinian sovereignty and human rights.

For BDS to have legitimacy, it must uphold two burdens. The first burden is prudence; BDS has to show gains in the achievement of Palestinian human rights or the potential to make gains. The second burden is that BDS must be able to refute the moral criticisms against it by the opposition, or otherwise point out their irrelevancy. These are burdens which can be upheld.

SR: Before we examine the burdens you mentioned, neither of which can be upheld in my opinion, I think it’s important to define some key terms so we can both understand the meaning behind the terms we are using.

What does “occupation” mean as you use it? Is it just the West Bank? Jerusalem? Tel Aviv? The founders and leaders of the BDS movement have intentionally refused to make this distinction.

RA: Occupation means what it has always meant — those territories that Israel occupied after June 1967. I understand where you are getting at: “BDS wants to destroy Israel.” It’s a point I will answer fully when upholding the moral burden. But first I’d like to go into the burden of prudence, since it’s the basis of all tactical action within activism and the more immediate imperative.

In understanding the rationale of these tactics, we have to discuss the history of previous tactics used by Palestinians to end the occupation, and how they stand in relation to BDS. Before BDS, Palestinians mostly used diplomacy and armed struggle to further their goals.

The historical record shows diplomacy in and of itself is not a viable means of resolving the conflict, even though the PLO and the Arab world adopted what is now considered the international consensus on resolving the conflict back in the 1970s. These include the right of national self determination for the Israeli and Palestinian people, a return to pre-June 1967 borders with mutual modifications and security guarantees, as well as a just resolution to the problem of Palestinian refugees — in other words, the Two State Solution.

But Israel rejected a long list of resolutions put forth by the PLO and the Arab states, with the help of a UN Security council veto from the United States. Arab initiatives continued, evoking from Israel consistent alarm and rejection. The voting record in the UN over the past 25 years has the same results every year. 165 countries vote for the Two State Solution, while the same six countries always oppose it: the United States, Israel, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and either Australia or Canada.

Armed struggle has likewise proved futile for resolving the conflict. I don’t seek to dispute the moral and legal right of Palestinian armed resistance against occupation; such a right is ingrained in international law under the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Fourth Geneva Convention. But I believe armed struggle has shown itself not to be prudent in achieving Palestinian freedom.

In the face of these failures, the present day requires a new set of tactics, and BDS offers itself as just that. In the face of the exhaustion of those methods, BDS stands as a legitimate, non-violent, and forceful alternative to compel Israel to accept a just resolution to the conflict.

[Read the full article here . . . ]

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