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BDS and the Charge of Apartheid: What You Need to Know

Rolene Marks, WIZO's Executive Member for Public Diplomacy, provides her view on the phenomenon of BDS as well as several relevant questions and answers.

March 27, 2016
BDS and the Charge of Apartheid: What You Need to Know

Dear Chaverot,

BDS (boycott, divestment & sanctions) - three letters that are synonymous with a movement that attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel. During the month of March, this movement makes its way onto university campuses around their world with a campaign titled, "Israel Apartheid Week," and attempts to spread anti-Israel information to as many young people as possible.

In order to better equip you, our WIZO ambassadors, to engage BDS activists or talk to your children about anti-Israel propaganda, I am proud to present the first installment of BDS - What you need to know.

Rolene Marks

What is BDS?

  • BDS is the name given to the movement that supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel. Note: no other country is a target for the BDS movement.
  • BDS has become an international movement and is prevalent on university campuses around the world.
  • BDS has been accused of bringing into disrepute the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state rather than simply focusing on issues of civil/human rights.

Where did BDS originate?

  • The BDS movement entered international consciousness at the 2001 United Nations Conference against Racism which was held in September in Durban, South Africa.
  • This was hugely symbolic as the central charge BDS has laid against the Jewish State, is that it is an “Apartheid state” as South Africa once was and therefore should be treated with the same contempt and strategy that brought that regime to its knees.

What are BDS's main charges?

  • While many accusations are made against the State of Israel, the central charge is that Israel is an Apartheid state comparable to pre-Mandela South Africa. The rationale is that if Israel is treated like a pariah and isolated like South Africa was, policies will change. It should be noted that during the Apartheid era in South Africa, the right of the African state to exist was never questioned – just the racist policy of Apartheid.

Who is funding BDS? (Source: NGO Monitor website)

  • The largest governmental funder for BDS is the European Union (EU). Under the guise of human rights, democracy, and good governance, EU support is transferred to Israeli, Palestinian, and European NGOs that promote anti-Israel BDS.
  • Individual governments, primarily but not exclusively from Europe, transfer millions of dollars annually to pro-BDS groups. In many instances, this is in direct contradiction to the foreign policies of these countries, which explicitly oppose boycott efforts and support a two-state solution.
  • Private foundations contribute millions of dollars and euros to NGOs from across the globe for BDS campaigns. This funding is sometimes supplemented by government funds, occasionally unknowingly. As there are limited legal requirements for public reporting of private donations, in many cases, there is no information regarding the funding provided by foundations.
  • In distributing funding to NGOs, religious charities claim to fight poverty, distribute development aid, and operate in the spirit of good deeds and improving the world. Instead, by funding BDS, they are conducting divisive political campaigns that increase tension and do not promote peace and mutual understanding. This betrays the important and universal values they claim to embrace. Many times, these campaigns embrace anti-Semitic theological themes.

What was Apartheid?

  • Apartheid is an Afrikaans words and the literal translation is “the state of living apart.”
  • Apartheid was a state of racial segregation that was legislated into South African law by the ruling National Party from 1948 to 1994.
  • The system of Apartheid ensured the rule of a minority “white” population over a majority “Non-whites” citizenry.
  • The Apartheid laws governed all aspects of life from education, to freedom of expression and movement, where you could live, who you could marry and many more.
  • South Africa’s racist Apartheid policies resulted in the African state being isolated internationally through campaigns of boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

Why does the BDS movement compare Israel to Apartheid South Africa?

  • The BDS Movement claims that the situation in the West Bank (Judaea & Samaria) shares characteristics with South African Apartheid.
  • BDS' campaign has elements of de-legitimatization in it: it must be noted that while South Africa’s racist laws were opposed, the right of the country to exist was not questioned, unlike the arguments of the current BDS movement.
  • The BDS movement only targets Israel

What about the “Apartheid” wall?

  • The sole purpose of the security fence, as stated in the Israeli Government decision of July 23, 2001, is to provide security and NOT keep two populations apart.
  • The Security Fence is a central component in Israel’s response to the horrific wave of terrorism emanating from the West Bank, resulting in suicide bombers who enter into Israel with the sole intention of killing innocent people.
  • The Security Fence is not a formal border as that still needs to be negotiated.
  • The route of the fence has changed many times and Palestinians have recourse at the Israeli Supreme Court, which has often ruled in their favor if it cuts through Palestinian land. Rent is also offered to land owners for loss of land or crops.
  • Maintaining humanitarian standards is a priority of the IDF.
  • Since the inception of the fence, suicide bombings have dropped dramatically and very rarely, if ever occur.

Is the term “Jewish State” racist?

  • The most important principle in the U.N. Charter is the right to self-determination. Jews who want autonomy, as well as Palestinians, have that right.
  • Nobody questions the right of Iran to be called the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Articles of interest:


The Israeli Ministry of Defense: www.securityfence.mod.go