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Boycott, divestment, and sanctions explained

A panel on economic activism in Philadelphia. Photo: Bryan Vana/AFSC 

AFSC and BDS

AFSC’s Israel-Palestine work is guided by its “Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in Palestine and Israel.” These principles support the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law and call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, support self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians, implementation of refugees’ right of return, and equality for Palestinians and Israelis.  In the context of Israel and Palestine AFSC supports the use of boycott and divestment campaigns targeting only companies that support the occupation, settlements, militarism, or any other violations of international humanitarian or human rights law. Our position does not call for a full boycott of Israel nor of companies because they are either Israeli or doing business in Israel.  Our actions also never focus on individuals.

Our support for the use of boycotts and divestments is contextualized by Quakers and AFSC's long support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as economic tactics that appeal to human conscience and change behavior. In the 1800s, Quakers helped lead the “Free Produce Movement,” a boycott of goods produced using slave labor. In recent times, AFSC has participated in boycott and divestment campaigns connected to the in the civil rights, anti-apartheid, farm worker, and prison rights struggles. Since 1948 AFSC has worked with both Palestinians and Israelis to achieving a just and lasting peace and we remain committed to supporting nonviolent activism designed to achieve this end. Taking into account AFSC principles and history, AFSC supports all nonviolent efforts to realize peace and justice in Israel and Palestine including the strategic use of boycott, divestment, and sanctions tactics.

What is BDS?

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. In the Israel-Palestine context, BDS  refers to a call issued by over 170 Palestinian organizations in 2005 asking that the international community implement boycott and divestment initiatives to bring change in Israel and Palestine. The initial Palestinian call was signed by a broad coalition that included unions, academics, political parties, cultural groups, and civil society organizations. 

BDS is a form of economic activism that is premised on the idea that violations of Palestinians’ rights result not only from Israeli government policies and actions, but also from corporate and institutional policies and actions that support and sustain Israel’s occupation and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Boycott and divestment actions therefore target institutions and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from or are complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights with the goal of changing corporate/institutional and Israeli actions. In all cases, BDS actions target institutions—not individuals—for their complicity in Israel’s occupation and/or human rights abuses. 

What does BDS hope to accomplish?

The Palestinian BDS call requests that international civil society groups and individuals target Israel using boycott, divestment, and sanctions tactics until Israel meets its obligation under international law to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and:

  1. Ends its occupation of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall
  2. Recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
  3. Respects, protects, and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

Who leads the “BDS movement”?

The “BDS movement” is made up of an informal coalition of international, national, and local groups that include faith-based organizations, peace groups, solidarity and student activists, and other coalitions of concerned individuals. Supporters of the Palestinian BDS Call hold in common a commitment to using nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions tactics until Israel ends its occupation and complies with the rights outlined above.

What does BDS look like?   

Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are nonviolent tactics used by activists to help realize specific changes. They are not ends unto themselves.  For this reason, BDS is not a one-size fits all movement but rather is a movement that recognizes the importance of carrying out customized actions targeted to local contexts and political realities. In this sense there is no leadership within the BDS movement that dictates what actions activists should take to help realize the three core BDS rights. However, the Boycott National Committee was set up in 2007 by the Palestinian signatories to the 2005 BDS Call and plays a core role in coordinating and building awareness about BDS actions and successes around the world. 

BDS campaigns take many different forms. Groups around the world have organized street protests, board room lobbying, shareholder actions, lawsuits, strikes, teach-ins, and other actions to call attention to corporate and institutional complicity in occupation. Among others, targets have included arms manufacturers, agricultural exporters, cosmetic manufacturers, cultural groups, investment firms and academic institutions. What links these disparate campaigns is their common goal of ending corporate and institutional complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. 

Are you invested in companies involved in the occupation? 

Visit AFSC's Investigate website to screen your investments to see if they include companies that profit from the occupation and other forms of state violence. Knowing what you own is the first step to aligning your investments with your values. You can access AFSC's original research and more than 150 company and industry profiles. Then use this knowledge to create change.