Early Wednesday morning the University of Michigan's student government voted down a resolution that would have begun the process of divesting from companies doing business with Israel. It was the latest defeat for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is dedicated to fighting Israel by isolating it, particularly in the cultural and economic sectors.
Other than Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to devote a full 25 percent of his recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to condemning the BDS movement, it hasn't got very much to show for its efforts. And I don't expect it ever will.
The reason why BDS keeps failing despite the almost universal recognition that the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are illegal and immoral is that the BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is the end of the State of Israel itself.
In its view, all of historic Palestine is occupied territory; that means Tel Aviv and Haifa as much as Hebron and Nablus. Obviously, a movement dedicated to eradication of Israel as a country is never going to achieve support other than from a radical fringe.
The BDS movement tries to obfuscate its support for Israel's destruction (not its physical destruction, the end of its statehood). Whenever anyone asks about it, they are referred to its founding principles: the Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights of 2005.
And it's true: that document is the place to go for the answer to the question. Is the goal of BDS ending the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, or about replacing Israel itself with a state that although, in theory, hospitable to Jews would no longer be Israel?
The document begins by explaining the rationale for BDS.
It is that "57 [now 67] years after the state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners, a majority of Palestinians are refugees, most of whom are stateless." Additionally, Israel has "since 1948" ignored "hundreds of UN resolutions [which] have condemned Israel's colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies."
Accordingly, the only recourse is the imposition of "embargoes and sanctions against Israel" until Israel complies with the movement's three demands.
They are : "1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall. 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194."
The demands make clear that the movement's goal is ending Israeli statehood, not just the post-1967 occupation. There is no reference to 1967 nor any invocation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions (242 and 338) which require the end of the 1967 occupation while preserving Israel's right to security and self-determination.
No, there is only the demand for compliance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 which was passed in 1948 and which requires the return of all the Palestinian refugees to Israel, along with the return to them of the property left behind. In other words, millions of the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees could return not just to the West Bank or Gaza but to Israel itself, essentially reversing the independence Israel achieved in 1948. As far as Israeli towns and villages, they would be "property" returned to the Palestinians. Hence, no more Israel.
Of course, this will not happen in the real world, even if there is some justice in the demands. If refugees retain their rights permanently, my wife's family (and my kids and grand-kids) could claim the property left behind in Poland when they were forced out by the Germans in 1939. In fact, tens of millions of refugees from places as disparate as India, Pakistan, Chechnya, Cyprus, and Rwanda would be lining up to claim their old homes. But that is not how history works. Israel is not going to dismantle itself and Jews will not be the first people in the world to relinquish the right to self-determination.
The South African apartheid analogy, repeatedly cited in the BDS document, does not apply. It was the South African apartheid regime that was abolished, not the country known as the Republic of South Africa. If the BDS goals were achieved, there would be no State of Israel at all. That is why so many proponents of BDS have such a hard time even referring to Israel as a country. It's often the "Zionist entity" or the "occupying regime."
But, in fact, it's Israel, an actual country, connected by history to the place where it was established, speaking the ancient language but having created a new culture that is as legitimate as that of the Palestinians or any other people.
The BDS movement is designed to turn the clock back to the time before Israel was created. That will not happen. The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states for two peoples. If that works out, they can confederate or merge later, whatever the two peoples decide. Or not. The BDS movement is irrelevant. It doesn't do much harm. But it doesn't do any good either.