Polarized words: discourse on the boycott of Israel, social justice and conflict resolution

Julia Chaitin, Shoshana Steinberg, Sharon Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Purpose: The study aimed to investigate how Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and others from around the world present their views on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The quality of discourse was examined along with the implications of the rhetoric for social-justice and conflict resolution frameworks. Design/methodology/approach: This qualitative study analyzed 257 texts (newspaper articles, opinion pieces, YouTube videos, emails. Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, campaigns and websites) for content and quality of discourse and for their implications for social-justice and conflict resolution work. Findings: Most texts divided into those in favor of the boycott and those opposed. The content was also polarized − most pro-BDS texts saw Israel as a settler-colonial enterprise, and emphasized issues of social-justice, whereas opponents perceived Israel as a legitimate nation and were skeptical of the human rights angle. The main types of discourse discerned included: ethnocentric talk, attack and intellectual discussion, regardless of national/ethnic origin of the writer or stance toward the boycott. Research limitations/implications: Different types of texts were analyzed, which did not always fit easily into the discourse categories. Because this was the first study of its kind and looked at limited years, results should be approached with this in mind. Practical implications: The rhetoric leaves little place for dialogue between those in favor and those opposed. Specific suggestions for combining social-justice work and conflict resolution work are offered. Social implications: BDS discourse in its present form hampers finding a solution to the conflict and abuse of Palestinian rights. A new approach is needed to try to resolve these issues. Originality/value: Because there are few systematic studies on BDS, this article provides insight into how people discuss the strategy and how it connects to frameworks for resolving conflicts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-294
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • BDS
  • Discourse analysis
  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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