Palestine, Boycott, and Beyond: The Time is Now


The following appears reprinted from Tidal Occupy Theory

We present this pamphlet at an historic moment in the United States, and by extension the broader geopolitical order over which the United States presides. In recent months, the shackles that have constrained discussions of Israeli Apartheid in this country are beginning to break. The decisions by the Association for Asian American Studies and American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli Universities in line with the principles of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) have created an unprecedented momentum in spreading the movement and opening our sense of political possibility. This sense of momentum has in turn been compounded by the passionate international backlash against Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson for her unwavering embrace of the Sodastream corporation, which operates its main factory in the occupied territories in violation of BDS principles. Meanwhile, world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, not typically known for his political engagements, has broken ranks with his colleagues and voiced support for the Boycott of Israeli research institutions.

These recent developments in the fields of higher education, scientific research, and popular culture are only the most visible cracks in the great edifice of support for Israeli Apartheid in the United States. People are recognizing that the regime of Israeli Apartheid should not be granted an exception to the collective judgment applied to other instances of oppression. The situation in Palestine is not exceptionally “complicated,” as we are often told by those in the United States who still wring their hands and grind their teeth about joining the BDS movement. A basic truth is spreading: far from an exception, Israeli Apartheid in fact exemplifies the broader global patterns of racial economic injustice that so many educators, artists, and other concerned citizens claim to oppose.

Apartheid is a black-and-white issue. Increasing numbers of people are beginning to ask: which side are you on?

Now is the time to summon our powers of refusal and withdrawal from a system that legitimizes the oppression of Palestinians, and by extension humanity in general. From everyday consumer items–Sabra hummus, Moaz, Sodastream products–to the pension funds of unions, to the endowments of universities, to the funding streams of cultural institutions, targets of boycott are ubiquitous. Indeed, the very ubiquity of these targets indicates just how thoroughly our lives are entangled with the Apartheid system. This entanglement makes us complicit, but it is also a source of great political potential in so far as the functioning of that system depends on own everyday cooperation.

Now is the time to push the energy forward on every front: in our classrooms, our professional associations, our workplaces, our cultural spaces, our houses of worship, our friends and families. As we organize against Apartheid, we build power and construct community with one another. But in the process, let us not reproduce oppressive relationships amongst ourselves. Let us be vigilant about privilege–race, gender, class position, religion, citizenship–in our organizing spaces, and find ways to use privilege strategically.

Now is the time to stand up against those who would claim to speak in our name. We say to the Dean, the Department Head, the Boss who says “we” do not support the Boycott: you do not represent us. And to those who try to scare us into silence, those who would slander our multiethnic movement with the vile charge of anti-Semitism, we say: We are Arab, Jewish, Black, White, Asian, Indigenous, Latino and more. We are a rainbow army of militant lovers who understand that our liberation must be collective or it will not be liberation at all.

Militant love is at the heart of BDS. Joining the movement is more than a set of principles, guidelines, and protocols; it is also an act of courage, of resistance, of radical imagination. This spirit has infused the great Freedom Dreams of modernity: the abolition of slavery, decolonization, Civil Rights, the end of South African Apartheid, contemporary struggles against eviction, displacement, enclosure, and imprisonment from New York to Detroit to Rio to Johannesburg.

Educators, artists, and other producers of cultural value have a crucial role to play in spreading the truth of BDS. Following the lead of those working and living and resisting under occupation, we speak, write, teach, tell stories, make images, stimulate imaginations, and help to create space for thought and action. In this context, any work we do–an art show, a film screening, an academic talk, an NGO conference, a media interview, a foundation grant, a magazine article, a glossy book, a good job, even a pamphlet printed in color–bestows privileges and visibility that should be used strategically and responsibly.

As many of the voices in this pamphlet note, Boycott is a means, not an end. Boycott is a necessary yet limited tactic. Each “win” is but a small part of a coordinated exertion and intensification of pressure. The value of Boycott lies as much in the economic damage it could do to the target as it does in the conversations, bonds, and spaces that are formed in the process of organizing. These are the foundations of any future liberation, beyond Boycott and beyond BDS itself.

Beyond BDS, what does liberation look like?  Beyond BDS, what is the strategy?Beyond BDS, there is no blueprint, no roadmap.

Preguntamos caminando. Walking, we ask questions. We understand Palestine in an expanded field of empire, and draw lessons from the past. We know that Apartheid now is not the same as Apartheid back then. Under global neoliberalism, we do not take for granted the nation-state as a possible guarantor of freedom for the People. We look to the post-Apartheid “liberation” of South Africa and the post-Civil Rights era of the United States as cautionary lessons for Palestine as the Apartheid regime begins to crack. We know that there is a Palestinian “1%” that is eager to use empty nationalist rhetoric for its own ends. The very meaning of liberation is a matter of infinite struggle.

La lucha continua. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” This quote by Nelson Mandela was conveniently ignored in the celebratory mainstream media coverage of his death last year. We take his remark as a foundation for everything we are doing. Mandela’s “we” is not only South Africans in the 1980s. It is us, here and now.


Nitasha Dhillon is an artist, organizer, co-founder and co-editor of Tidal Occupy Theory magazine and co-founder of MTL, a collective that combines research, aesthetics and activism in its practice.

Amin Husain is a lawyer, artist, organizer, co-founder and co-editor Tidal Occupy Theory magazine and co-founder of MTL, a collective that combines research, aesthetics and activism in its practice.

Yates McKee is a critic, an organizer, co-editor Tidal Occupy Theory magazine and member of MTL, a collective that combines research, aesthetics and activism in its practice.

Amin Husain

Yates McKee

Nitasha Dhillon