Commentary Magazine

The “Nonviolence” of the BDS Movement

Among the strategies the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement uses to disguise its extremism from unsuspecting potential converts is to insist on its nonviolence. As Corey Robin of Brooklyn College, a leading American academic advocate of BDS explains, “the Palestinians have tried four decades of armed revolt, three decades of peace negotiations, two intifadas, and seven decades of waiting. They have taken up BDS as a non-violent tactic.”

Tactic is the key word. It is hard to claim that nonviolence is at the center of one’s movement when your foremost spokesperson is Ali Abunimah, whose support for Hamas is well-documented. But no one has been more explicit about the relationship between nonviolent BDS and violence than Leila Khaled. BDS-South Africa is now advertising her “fundraising tour” on its behalf (h/t Haaretz). Khaled, a member of the “Political Bureau” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is still living off of the vapors of two hijackings, one successful, she participated in 45 years ago. An old glamor photo of Khaled, machine gun in hand, graces the BDS-South Africa ad. Although Khaled insists she was instructed not to hurt anyone during the hijackings, the PFLP has been committed to violence, including violence against civilians, not only in Khaled’s youth, as in the Lods Airport Massacre, but also more recently, as in November’s murder of four worshippers and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue, dubbed a “heroic operation” by the PFLP. But if you find yourself in South Africa next month, you can have dinner with, as the ad put it, this “wife, mother, hijacker, and Palestinian freedom fighter.”

However that may be, Khaled reveals to anyone who cares to listen exactly how she understands the role of BDS. BDS “of course, on the international level [is] very effective. But it doesn’t liberate, it doesn’t liberate land. If there’s BDS all over the world, and the people are not resisting, there will be no change.” In apartheid South Africa, she claims, boycotts “helped the people who were holding arms. But if they were not holding arms it may have affected them politically, but it would not have liberated, not on the ground.” BDS is a way of supporting an armed resistance. As Khaled sees it, BDS is the propaganda arm of groups like her own PFLP.

Rather than distancing themselves from Khaled and the terrorist organization for which she continues to labor, the purportedly nonviolent BDS-South Africa celebrates what they plainly regard as her praiseworthy legacy. Rather than denying that they happily march arm in arm with the likes of PFLP, they quote approvingly an unnamed source that calls Khaled the “poster girl of the Palestinian struggle,” and invite us to dine with her.

You might almost think that they are auditioning for the role—of propagandists to ease the way for the people with guns—Khaled has assigned them.

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