Incitement and Boycott: The BDS Movement on Arab Social Media

Michael Barak analyzes the BDS movement in Arabic-language social media.

From Arabic social media:  "Beware! Israeli products kill!"
From Arabic social media:  "Beware! Israeli products kill!"


As an effective channel of communication for transmitting messages quickly to diverse international audiences, especially young people, social networking sites (SNS) have become, in recent years, a central platform for anti-Israel groups. Their incitement against Israel, communicated in many languages, is part of a larger effort to weaken Israel’s international position. Among these organizations, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a prominent player that skillfully uses SNS as a tool to delegitimize and demonize Israel, with incitement that sometimes incorporates anti-Semitic themes.

The BDS movement was formally established in July 2005 as an umbrella organization for over 170 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian organizations around the world. It promotes economic, cultural, political and academic boycotts of Israel, as well as the withdrawal of foreign investments and the imposition of sanctions. It opposes normalization with Israel on the grounds that it is an apartheid state which oppresses the Palestinians. The movement’s three main demands are ending the occupation, the return of all Palestinian refugees, and the provision of equal rights for the allegedly dispossessed Israeli Arabs.[1]

In Jordan, for example, the movement is conspicuous for managing online campaigns against economic agreements and other manifestations of economic normalization between Israel and Jordan. For instance, for more than a year they have been running an online campaign against the Jordanian regime’s intention to import gas from Israel, using the hashtags: “The enemy’s gas [is] occupation,” “Jordan boycotts,” and “the people will judge.”[2] According to the organization, the future gas agreement will result in money taken from Jordanian citizens being transferred to the pockets of the Zionist entity, and thus indirectly perpetuating the Israeli occupation. Another campaign called, “Where’s the factory?” and launched in September 2015 called on activists to boycott Israeli commercial establishments that export agricultural products to Jordan.[3]

Other activists have even called to cancel the water agreement signed between the two countries that allows Israel to use water wells on the Jordanian side of the Arava valley. (In fact Israel gives Jordan an additional yearly water allowance beyond its allocation according to the agreement, as a gesture of good will.)[4] On November 9, activists in Jordan launched an English-language campaign against an agreement that the UN signed with a private Israeli security company, contending that it violates international law because of its support for the occupation.[5] A video uploaded to an Arabic-language Facebook page asks, “Why did the UN sign an agreement with G4S, which provides security services to occupation prisons, to settlements and for the separation fence, as well as training the Zionist police.” To protest the agreement, they called for their organization to hold a demonstration in front of the UN offices in Jordan on November 29, 2015.[6]

The campaigns themselves are characterized by very strident language and videos, slogans and images uploaded of Israeli products that should be confiscated. They present Israel’s operations against terrorism as war crimes, and call for citizens to take to the streets and protest normalization with Israel. For example: on May 26, 2015, BDS activists in Jordan brought hundreds of demonstrators into the streets of Amman to protest the government’s intention to import gas from Israel. In another case, a Saudi surfer called on Muslims to support the European left-wing activists in a boycott of Coca-Cola, claiming that it is a Zionist product: “Drinking Coke is like drinking the blood of Palestinians.”[7]

In April 2015, the movement began to operate in Egypt. According to activists, efforts there concentrate on campaigning for boycotting all contact with Israel, while simultaneously working to enhance the image of the Palestinians in the eyes of the Egyptian public. The goal is to lay a foundation for solidarity between the Egyptian and Palestinian peoples, countering the Egyptian media’s hostile stance towards the Palestinians, especially Hamas, which is presented as a terrorist organization that harms the security of Egypt. One success of which Egyptian BDS boasts is the increased tensions between the international cellular phone company Orange World and Israel, which peaked with the statements by the CEO Orange World that he intends to withdraw the company’s operations from Israel.[8]

Also prominent in the Palestinian arena are several BDS organizations that coordinate efforts to promote an economic and academic boycott on Israel. The “Palestinian Students' Campaign for an Academic Boycott of Israel” in the Gaza Strip regularly publishes Arabic and English posts on its Facebook page, emphasizing the importance of weakening Israel through boycotts, and initiates conferences on the subject. For example, in late October 2015 it launched an online campaign calling students and young people around the world to support the Palestinian “people’s protest” (known as the “Intifada of knives”) against “Israeli apartheid” and aggression shown by Israel towards the Palestinians, through demonstrations and promoting discourse around the issue on SNS.[9] Another Palestinian BDS organization, the “National Committee for a Boycott of Israel”, is leading a campaign against the emerging security agreement between Israel and the Gulf states involving the sale of the Iron Dome defense system, in response to threats from Iran. According to the organization, any normalization with Israel is unacceptable, and security cooperation is even worse.[10]

The decision of November 11, 2015 by the European Commission in Brussels to mark products made in the West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights re-ignited discourse on SNS regarding boycotts against Israel. A Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj commended Europe on the move and expressed hope that Arab states would follow suit.[11] The al-Carmel elementary school in Bethlehem uploaded a video showing a student reciting a poem praising the boycott of Israeli products.[12] Hamas also praised the decision and called on the EU to extend the ban to all Israeli products.[13] In this spirit, other Palestinian users noted that economic boycotts frighten Israel greatly and do significant economic damage, and therefore pursuing this channel is worthwhile. (Interestingly, this concept has been part of Palestinian discourse almost since the beginning of the conflict.) On the margins of discourse, several users put forward the conspiracy theory that the recent terrorist attacks in Paris were backed by the Israeli Mossad, who initiated them in response to the EU’s decision to boycott settlement goods.[14]

The SNS are, therefore, an important public relations arena in the struggle for international awareness in general, and particularly among Arabs. They serve as an important tool in promoting an anti-Israel agenda and recruiting new supporters. In the absence of supervising or controlling forces, messages spread quickly and efficiently, and then move from cyberspace out onto the field. BDS organizations are a prominent part of this incitement, and are currently expanding considerably thanks to SNS. Therefore, Israel must not belittle the importance of online incitement as a critically important front in the fight for international opinion.


[1] For additional information about the BDS movement, see: Dan Diker, “Unmasking BDS: Radical Roots, Extremist Ends”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2015.”.

[2] #غاز_العدو_احتلال; #الاردن_تقاطع; #الشعب_يحاكم

[3] #اين_المنشأ; For example, see the video parody on the subject produced by movement activists: “Dialogue on potatoes and the state of potatoes.”

[4] #الاردن_تقاطع

[5]#UNDropG4S; ; In August 2015, BDS in Jordan marked one year since its founding, and produced a video summarizing its activities against Israel:

[8] #مصر_تقاطع # #BDSEgypt

[10], October 21, 2015. See also another Palestinian BDS organization, “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)