This week the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its supporters will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the supposedly grassroots launch of the BDS movement by Palestinian “civil society” organizations.

The Associated Press, through its writer Tia Goldenberg, has a lengthy article on the BDS movement. The article is receiving a lot of attention, including a Drudge link, and because it is AP is being reprinted (under varying titles) at numerous news website.

The article starts with BDS’s supposed grassroots beginnings, Boycott Israel drive gains strength, raising alarm:

Ten years ago, a small group of Palestinian activists had a novel idea: inspired by the anti-apartheid movement, they called for a global boycott movement against Israel as a nonviolent method to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence.

That narrative of how the BDS movement began is false, and demonstrably so.

The boycott call issued in July 2005 was not the result of a small group of activists getting together, it was the result of a multi-year organized effort for a global boycott of Israel, most prominently in a boycott call issued at the 2001 UN Durban Conference which was so anti-Semitic the U.S. walked out.

We have explored this history many times at Legal Insurrection. Here is the actual history of the BDS movement:

The formal organization of an international boycott of Israel based in a comparison to Apartheid South Africa was started at the 2001 Durban Conference in South Africa (see discussion below).

While the Durban conference gave birth to the BDS movement, the seed of that boycott strategy to replicate the boycott of South Africa was planted at a preparatory conference in Tehran.

Don’t take my word for it—here is what Mary Robinson, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (and no friend of Israel) recently wrote in The Daily Beast while promoting her new book (emphasis added):

It had been clear to me early on that holding one of the four regional conferences, the Asian prepcom, in Tehran, would be problematic. Iran, chosen by the countries of the region, was a poor choice to host a conference addressing issues of racism, xenophobia, and anti- Semitism because of its known hostility towards Israel. Tactically, it would have been better to move the preparatory meeting elsewhere in the region, but no other governments offered, probably because many had their own minority, caste, or racism issues. In its prepcom session, the Tehran meeting, held in February 2001, harshly criticized Israel for its policies in the Palestinian territories and its treatment of Palestinians and made an analogy between those policies and Apartheid. The “Zionist movement . . . is based on race superiority,” the draft declaration subsequently alleged, along with the charge that Israel had carried out “ethnic cleansing of the Arab population of historic Palestine.” All such sentences were opposed by some delegates present and, as is always the UN procedure, were put in square brackets in the text, indicating they had not been agreed upon.

At the time, I felt certain that this inflammatory language would be removed from further draft texts well before Durban. Unfortunately, as the preparatory processes went on, the states that had inserted the bracketed language in Tehran refused to withdraw it.

Looking back, I realize I put too much store in the fact that any controversial clauses put in square brackets would either be removed during the preparatory process, or inevitably would be thoroughly debated during the tough negotiations on a final text. I underestimated the hurt and anxiety words in a document would cause, regardless of whether they were in brackets or not, and that the political fallout would start before the Durban conference itself.

That language created in Tehran would become the basis for the Durban NGO declaration that launched the BDS movement.

The Durban conference and NGO forum devolved into such blatant anti-Semitism that the United States walked out. An observer noted:

On the grounds of the U.N. conference itself, the Arab Lawyers Union distributed pamphlets filled with grotesque caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis, spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money nearby. Attempts to have the group’s U.N. accreditation revoked were refused.

Under the tent where the final NGO declaration was approved over the weekend — a document that indicts Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” guilty of genocide and ethnic cleansing — fliers were found with a photo of Hitler and the following question: “What if Hitler had won? There would be no Israel, and no Palestinian bloodshed.”

In a Palestinian-led march with thousands of participants, a placard was held aloft that read “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.” Nearby, someone was selling the most notorious of anti-Jewish tracts, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The late Congressman Tom Lantos bore witness to the Durban Conference and the NGO forum in particular, and wrote of his experience:

Another ring in the Durban circus was the NGO forum, taking place just outside the conference center. Although the NGO proceedings were intended to provide a platform for the wide range of civil society groups interested in the conference’s conciliatory mission, the forum quickly became stacked with Palestinian and fundamentalist Arab groups. Each day, these groups organized anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rallies around the meetings, attracting thousands. One flyer which was widely distributed showed a photograph of Hitler and the question “What if I had won?” The answer: “There would be NO Israel…”

At a press conference held by Jewish NGO’s to discuss their concerns with the direction the conference was taking, an accredited NGO, the Arab Lawyers Union, distributed a booklet filled with anti-Semitic caricatures frighteningly like those seen in the Nazi hate literature printed in the 1930s. Jewish leaders and I who were in Durban were shocked at this blatant display of anti-Semitism. For me, having experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first hand, this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period.

Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the official NGO document that was later adopted by a majority of the 3,000 NGOs in the forum branded Israel a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “genocide” and called for an end to its “racist crimes” against Palestinians….

The result of the NGO forum at Durban was the issuance of demands and accusations which form the core of the BDS, PACBI and USACBI boycott campaigns and rhetoric. Here is the language from the offical NGO declaration:

423. Call for the launch of an international anti Israeli Apartheid movement as implemented against South African Apartheid through a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, UN bodies and agencies, business communities and to end the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States.

424. Call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state as in the case of South Africa which means the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel. Call upon the Government of South Africa to take the lead in this policy of isolation, bearing in mind its own historical success in countering the undermining policy of “constructive engagement” with its own past Apartheid regime.

After Durban, there were at least two interim boycott calls following up on the Durban boycott call, as detailed on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a central organizing group BDS movement’s own website:

The [BDS] Campaign built on the Palestinian call for a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel issued in August 2002 and a statement made by Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the occupied territories and in the Diaspora calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in October 2003.

In July 2004, the Campaign issued a statement of principles, addressed to our colleagues in the international community urging them to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.

The July 2004 boycott call also is on the PACBI website, and indicates it was endorsed by:

Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees; Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; Palestinian NGO Network, West Bank; Teachers’ Federation; Palestinian Writers’ Federation; Palestinian League of Artists; Palestinian Journalists’ Federation; General Union of Palestinian Women; Palestinian Lawyers’ Association; and tens of other Palestinian federations, associations, and civil society organizations.

By the time the July 9, 2005 boycott call (often referred to at the “final call”), which is being celebrated this week, took place, the BDS effort already was being pushed at European and academic organizations.

Thus, the 2005 BDS launch was the culmination of a highly organized international process steeped in anti-Semitism. The notion that a handful of people just got together to launch the BDS movement is complete mythology which whitewashes the true intellectual and political foundations of the movement.

I have other issues with the AP article, such as the notion that BDS is gaining strength even though AP can point to almost no meaningful successes either in the past or near future. This panic mode reporting is fed by panicked reactions from pro-Israel groups and the Israeli government, so I can hardly blame AP for joining the hysteria. BDS is the primary beneficiary of this “sky is falling” mentality.

But the false history of the start of BDS movement is something that is not just a matter of disagreement. It’s a demonstrable fact that AP has promoted the mythology that the BDS movement was started in 2005 by a handful of people as a local, grassroots movement. Moreover, in so rewriting history, AP has ignored the overtly anti-Semitic foundation of the movement at the Durban conference.

AP needs to correct its false history.

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[Note: The sub-title of this post was changed after publication to better reflect the content of the post.]