CONTRA AVNERY: A Case for Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

By Alan Sabrosky

One should never put down any weapon when one”s arsenal is so nearly empty and the struggle is so uphill.

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Avnery has written and done many good things, but on this issue I believe he is wrong. Avnery”s position on BDS reminds me of a Jewish colleague in the US who had a lot of visibility debating the AIPAC crowd on the OT (Occupied Territories) issue.

When I asked him what he would do to Israel to coerce it into changing its position and policies, he hemmed and hawed and finally came down on nothing tangible, just behind-the-scenes persuasion.

Now, any country or person who is not punished for doing something unacceptable has no reason whatsoever to change its behavior. This is why Netanyahu is essentially giving Obama the diplomatic equivalent of the “raised middle finger” (in US parlance) on the settlements issue – nothing bad happens to Israel for insultingly dismissing out of hand his only real benefactor. And this is why following Avnery”s argument also gives Israel no real incentive to do anything different. If they aren”t being hurt, they won”t change.

Defining the Context

There is also the fact that the Israeli establishment, and that includes the entire AIPAC-Hasbara-ADL crowd in the US and their counterparts elsewhere, do believe that BDS is a weapon of consequence that can matter greatly. Otherwise they wouldn”t be worried about it, or spend so much time arguing against it. No one bothers with what will be trivial, ineffective or counter-productive. They do bother with what can be significant, in the future if not now.

In part, that is because there is an upper limit to what Israel can get from the US alone without it being noticed by the American public, and possibly hurtful to it. As long as the EU (and others) largely go along with the US- Israeli line, and the Israelis can still buy and sell goods on the global market, US aid to them while large in absolute terms is still pretty trivial within the US GNP and national budget.

But if Israel couldn”t get anything important elsewhere – like oil, natural gas, a lot of consumer goods & luxury items – and if it couldn”t sell its products (especially military hardware) elsewhere – it would hurt, and hurt badly. And if this forced up the US subsidy significantly to offset those losses, that would highlight it starkly on the American public”s radar screen. Add to that another oil embargo, should even the Arab members of OPEC finally acknowledge reality and do something useful, linking the embargo explicitly to US complicity in Israeli crimes, and that would be politically explosive here.

Extending the Context

There are also collateral benefits, at least in the US, to pursuing the BDS campaign. One is that it engages some part of the American public, especially on a small but growing number of campuses where it has rising appeal, in the anti-Zionist struggle.

Another is that the entire debate on BDS (which AIPAC and its collaterals will have to force, or let BDS proceed and succeed by default – this is a fight they cannot afford to sidestep) will push Israeli policy, practices and crimes increasingly into the open for Americans to understand for the first time, which they cannot afford either.

AND THIS IS IMPORTANT. The growing BDS campaign places the brigade of Zionist organizations on and off campus in America (and perhaps elsewhere) in an untenable, and perhaps impossible, situation: If they ignore the BDS campaign, unchallenged it will inevitably gain adherents, grow in momentum, and begin to hurt Israel badly – US aid and the purchase of (usually tax-exempt) Israel Bonds cannot offset such losses.

If they challenge BDS and unleash a public debate, then the entire Zionist regimen inside and outside of Israel is compelled inevitably to slither out from under the “media blackout” rocks where it has been concealed, and its criminal misconduct – especially in Gaza and the West Bank – simply cannot stand the light of day. And they know it.

Finally, even if BDS is a long, slow way to do something to hurt the Israelis, nothing else on the anti-Zionist agenda now has a chance of achieving anything at all significant or useful. Symbolism is important, and even small gestures like an occasional truck convoy or ship trying to get into Gaza do matter, but it is like celebrating Earth Day once a year and littering the ground the rest of it.

One should never put down any weapon when one”s arsenal is so nearly empty and the struggle is so uphill. BDS is a good weapon. It did work in South Africa, and it can work on Israel. Use it.


Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is a writer and consultant specializing in national and international security affairs. In December 1988, he received the Superior Civilian Service Award after more than five years of service at the U.S. Army War College as Director of Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, and holder of the General of the Army Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research. He is listed in WHO’S WHO IN THE EAST (23rd ed.). A Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Sabrosky’s teaching and research appointments have included the United States Military Academy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Middlebury College and Catholic University; while in government service, he held concurrent adjunct professorships at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Dr. Sabrosky has lectured widely on defense and foreign affairs in the United States and abroad. You can email Dr. Alan Sabrosky at: docbrosk[at]

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