BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – Book Review

By Theresa Wolfwood

(Barghouti, Omar. BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. 2011. Haymarket Books, USA.)

"The BDS campaign is among the most important forms of such ‘resolute struggle’ by the great majority of Palestinians, who resist the colonization of their land and minds and demand nothing less than self-determination, freedom, justice and unmitigated equality…"

Barghouti is one of the new generation of Palestinian activists, grounded in the life of a people under siege and understanding the importance of social movements and global solidarity. He writes that Palestinians through social movements have surpassed their leadership and have developed their own resistance to occupation and domination by Israel.

The BDS Campaign and the Academic and Cultural Boycott Campaign – Barghouti is a founding member of both – are highly successful and visible strategies to isolate Israel economically and culturally. They also provide a focus for action by millions of supporters worldwide.  Not everyone can take a solidarity trip to Palestine or sail in a flotilla, but everyone of good conscience everywhere can boycott, divest their own funds and also call for secondary boycotts and divestment.

Along with the obvious consumer boycotts that we can all practise, there are many ways that we can work to divest from aiding the illegal occupation; already universities, trade unions, churches and some governments have divested from companies that benefit from and support the occupation. The Swedish and Norwegian governments have divested their pension funds from these corporations. Canada still invests its pension plan in arms manufacturing who sell to Israel.

Ironically, while I write this I listen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Canada’s national radio network); a Dvorak piece is being played by the Jerusalem String Quartet whose recent tour in UK was constantly disrupted by BDS activists making the connection between classical music concerts and oppression.

Barghouti goes far beyond the important strategies and specifics of BDS to articulate the context of human rights and current global support of the occupation. This book is more than a call – it is a comprehensive action program for all who claim to be human rights supporters; Palestine needs our solidarity, but needs solidarity with Palestinian social movement goals. The author emphasizes that Palestinians, including the millions of refugees globally, who “live under a regime of legalized racial discrimination” have endorsed the BDS Call with “unprecedented near-consensus support.” He also responds to all the anti-BDS positions with powerful moral and logical arguments.

“… The BDS Call, anchored in international law and universal principles of human rights, adopts a comprehensive rights-based approach…”

The BDS Call demands: an end to the occupation of all Arab lands (occupied in 1967) and dismantling of the wall; the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and the right of return of exiles and their homes and property (stated in UN Resolution 194). No amount of sophisticated and expensive propaganda by pro-Israel lobbies has quelled the spread of the BDS campaign and support for Palestine around the world.  Nada Elia, a USA-Palestinian activist and academic, said in a recent speech that the BDS campaign has already achieved more in five years than the BDS campaign did in 20 years in South Africa.

The book examines parallels and differences between the successful anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa and the present BDS against Israel. In a thoughtful reflection of the successful South Africa campaign, Barghouti writes that white South Africans benefitted from the change to democracy as much as blacks. Israelis live in a militarized nation; they exist in fear with a siege mentality. Many liberal minded Israelis are leaving their country to escape the uncertainty and tension of a culture of war. Barghouti writes about how change would benefit Israelis, “The Israel boycott…can be a crucial catalyst for the processes of transformation that promise to bring us closer to realizing a just and durable peace anchored in the fundamental and universal right to equality.”

In a brilliant letter, written with Haidar Eid, to author Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize winner and supporter of anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa, the authors respond to her acceptance of an invitation to participate in a writers’ festival in Israel. This letter alone is worth the price of the whole book. Her specious arguments about freedom of expression and the independence of the festival are cogently demolished, and at the end, Barghouti and Eid tell her that her position is “a betrayal of her principles in defense of the oppressed.”

The BDS movement does not, Barghouti writes, take a stand on the shape of the political solution needed. “It adopts a rights-based, not a solution-based approach.” However, he does say that he personally supports a secular democratic, unitary state solution in historic Palestine and goes on to explain the weakness of the two state solution being touted now by some politicians in spite of the fact that the majority of Palestinians, including exiles, favour a one state solution.

This book is a powerful tool needed, as Lubna Masarwa says, “to mobilize our passive supporters.”  Barghouti’s analysis and information are documented in extensive appendices and references.  He ends with hope and inspiration for all principled activists seeking to understand the disgraceful disregard practised by global power systems towards Palestinians. This book is the finest guidebook I have read to the landscape of the global struggle for Palestinian rights. We all need this background, analysis, encouragement and clarity – and most of all we need to inculcate ‘sumoud’, the steadfastness of millions of Palestinians who resist daily against tyranny into our own daily lives.

In closing Barghouti declares, “Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!”

– Theresa Wolfwood is a Canadian writer and activist. Her articles, reports, book reviews, poetry, photographs and artwork can be seen on She contributed this article to

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