What were the top BDS victories of 2020?

A protester holds a Palestine flag and a banner that reads Palestine Libre

This year saw successful achievements by activists, students, civil rights defenders and lawmakers to uphold the right to boycott Israel.

Konrad K. SIPA

2020 was surely a year like no other.

Yet despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a successful year for the global Palestinian rights movement. There were plenty of direct actions, court victories and significant calls to sanction Israel over its violations of international law.

This year saw achievements by activists, students, civil rights defenders and lawmakers to uphold the right to boycott Israel – even as lawmakers, Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government itself attempted to derail, smear, attack and imprison organizers.

“Despite its massive investment of financial, political, diplomatic, propaganda and intelligence resources in its war against the BDS movement, Israel has failed, as some of its own lobby groups today admit,” says the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the steering group for the Palestinian-led BDS campaign.

What a fitting way to mark 15 years of the BDS campaign.

At the beginning of the year, the United Nations published its long-awaited list of corporations that profit from Israel’s war crimes.

The report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights lists 112 companies involved in certain activities in the settlements, including the supply of equipment and materials for construction or home demolitions, surveillance and security, transport and maintenance, pollution and dumping of waste, and use of natural resources including water and land.

The BNC welcomed the release of the database, which came “despite bullying by [President Donald] Trump and Israel’s far-right government.”

In April, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Jordan announced that it would not be renewing its contract with G4S, a private security corporation with a lengthy history of involvement in Israel’s crimes.

That means that all six UN agencies in Jordan have now canceled their contracts with the British firm.

An unnamed corporation in Jordan also announced it was not renewing its contract with G4S, stated activists with Jordan BDS.

In the UK, activists took to the roof of a factory owned by Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems. The factory is accused of making engines for the Hermes drone.

The drone has been used by the Israeli military to fire missiles on Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

Here are some more of the top victories for Palestinian rights as covered by The Electronic Intifada in 2020.

Calls for sanctions grow louder

Public figures, politicians, trade unions and other organizations around the world called for sanctions on Israel over its plans to formalize illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Over the summer, the Palestinian BDS National Committee urged all states to adopt “effective countermeasures, including sanctions, to end Israel’s unlawful acquisition of Palestinian territory through use of force, its regime of apartheid and its denial of our inalienable right to self-determination.”

These measures should include an arms embargo, an end to free-trade agreements with Israel, prohibition of all trade with Israeli settlements and accountability for Israeli war criminals, the BNC said.

With almost 60 Canadian lawmakers pledging to support diplomatic and economic sanctions over the annexation plan, a June poll found that nearly half of all Canadians would back such measures.

BDS boosted in courts

Israel lobby organizations took major hits in 2020 as US and European courts thwarted efforts to suppress the boycott movement.

In February, a Washington state appeals court upheld a 2018 ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op.

In 2010, the grocery store became the first of its kind in the US to remove Israeli goods from its shelves as part of the BDS campaign.

For nearly ten years, plaintiffs working closely with Israel lobby group StandWithUs sought to block the store’s boycott and secure monetary damages against board members who voted in favor of the measure; and when they lost each legal battle, they would appeal to a higher court.

StandWithUs helped secretly plan the lawsuit in coordination with Israeli government officials.

In June, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. unanimously affirmed an earlier dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the American Studies Association over its support of an academic boycott of Israel.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2016 after the ASA endorsed the boycott of Israeli institutions three years prior, claimed that the association’s endorsement of the boycott was contrary to its charter.

But a judge threw out that key claim in 2017.

Notably, the lawsuit was backed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, an Israel advocacy organization that has for years worked to smear Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitism and attempts to suppress it with frivolous lawsuits and bogus civil rights complaints.

The organization’s former president, attorney Kenneth Marcus, represented the plaintiffs until February 2018 – when he was appointed as the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the US Department of Education.

Marcus resigned in July amid calls by civil rights groups to investigate possible violations of federal law in his prioritizing of complaints filed by anti-Palestinian organizations. He is now back at the Brandeis Center.

Upholding the right to boycott

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the right to boycott Israel when it overturned the criminal convictions against 11 Palestinian rights activists in France, striking a significant blow to Israel’s anti-BDS efforts.

The court ruled unanimously that the convictions against the activists for calling on shoppers to boycott Israeli goods violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ guarantee of freedom of expression.

Even though France has defied the court’s ruling by telling prosecutors to continue investigating those who call for boycotts of Israel, French activists continue to organize.

United Nations representatives warned the German government in October that its tightening crackdown on supporters of Palestinian rights violates freedom of expression.

Five special rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, human rights defenders, human rights in Palestine and freedom of religion sent Germany a letter complaining about its repressive behavior.

In April, the UK Supreme Court struck down an anti-divestment rule imposed by the government in 2016.

The law stated that councils could not use their pension policies “to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries.”

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged the government, and in 2017 the high court ruled in its favor.

That decision was overturned in 2018 by the Court of Appeal, but with the Supreme Court’s final ruling, it cannot be appealed.

In the US, journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin sued the state of Georgia over its draconian anti-BDS law.

Martin was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at a media literacy conference held at Georgia Southern University. When officials demanded that she sign a contract stating she would not engage in a boycott of Israel, Martin refused to do so and her keynote was canceled, as was the entire conference.

Martin’s lawsuit against Georgia is one of several filed by activists, attorneys, educators and reporters in states across the US.

In 2020, the governors of Missouri and Oklahoma signed anti-BDS measures into law, but civil rights defenders are fighting them in courts.

Rebukes of whitewashing, pinkwashing

In September, Palestinians called for a boycott of The Next Nas Daily, a venture run by Nuseir Yassin, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, whose critics accuse him of whitewashing Israel’s crimes by falsely equating a colonial occupier with its victims.

And in December, BDS groups in Arab countries launched one of their largest recent social media campaigns to amplify that call.

After sustained outcry from Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled out of an October event to honor Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist 25 years ago.

Her cancelation dealt a significant blow to Israel lobbyists seeking to whitewash Rabin’s legacy of colonial violence in Palestine.

Earlier in the year, more than 130 queer filmmakers and film artists from around the globe pledged to boycott TLVFest, the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, in a rebuke of Israel’s pinkwashing campaign.

Students rise up

College students continue to stand up for Palestinian rights, even as university administrators capitulate to Israel lobby demands.

The University of Manchester in England divested more than $5 million from Caterpillar and the parent company of travel site Booking.com.

Activists said it was “a colossal win for the Palestine solidarity movement in Britain” and a “watershed moment.”

The university had been a focus for campaigners since 2016 due to its investments in firms complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Even though the university denied that their divestment had anything to do with the mounting pressure by human rights defenders, activist Huda Ammori told The Electronic Intifada that the University of Manchester “divesting from complicit companies shows the power of the grassroots student movement to hold our institutions to account.”

In the US, students at Tufts University in Boston voted in favor of ending all foreign military training of the college’s police department, while others at California State University campuses in San Francisco and Fresno passed resolutions calling for divestment from companies that play an active role in Israel’s occupation.

A referendum at Columbia University’s liberal arts college in New York City calling on the university to divest from “stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians” was supported by more than 60 percent of students.

And at Butler University in Indiana, two resolutions that would have condemned the BDS campaign and conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry were defeated by student representatives.

Here’s to the activism and victories in 2020, with more to come in 2021.




I greatly appreciate all of your articles and this one is timely with positive news in a difficult year for us and especially Palestine

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).