Renewed Focus on BDS Movement Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict

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The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been around for years, as shown by these demonstrators outside the Eurovision song championships in Tel Aviv in 2019. But recent events in the Middle East have drawn new attention to the movement and fresh boycotts of companies. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has brought renewed attention to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as consumers and corporations engage in boycotts and protests related to the conflict. According to CBC News, the BDS movement, which began around 2005, aims to exert financial pressure on Israel to comply with international law and address human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Origins and Ideology of BDS

The BDS movement draws its ideological roots from the South African anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. Similar to the actions taken against South Africa, the BDS movement involves boycotting goods from Israel and divesting shares from Israeli companies. Michael Bueckert, vice-president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, supports the BDS movement as an effective tool for change, stressing that the efforts “don’t target any person, any company based on their identity or their nationality alone.”

Activists hold a sit-in organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement at Scotiabank’s headquarters in Toronto last month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Recent Incidents and Reactions

Recent events have seen various businesses caught up in the conflict. Indigo bookstores faced vandalism due to its CEO’s connections to a charity supporting Israeli military personnel. Similarly, Scotiabank faced protests for its investment in an Israeli weapons manufacturer, though the bank clarified its indirect involvement through “independently managed funds.”

Impact on Jewish and Palestinian Communities

The BDS movement has had repercussions beyond its intended targets. Noah Shack, vice-president of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, noted that Jewish businesses and schools unrelated to the state of Israel have faced attacks and threats, as have many Palestinians. He cited an incident at a Starbucks in Toronto, where anti-Semitic imagery was used, despite the chain not being on official BDS target lists.

Effectiveness and Ethics of Boycotts

While BDS and similar campaigns aim to effect change, there is debate over their effectiveness. Marketing professor Rhia Catapano from the Rotman School of Management suggested that boycotts often do not achieve their aims, with consumers frequently not following through on their intentions. She highlighted that boycotts tend to succeed when they are well-organized and embedded within concerned communities.