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

Julia Chaitin (School of Social Work, Sapir College, Hof Ashkelon, Israel)
Shoshana Steinberg (Kaye Academic College of Education, Beer-Sheva, Israel)
Sharon Steinberg (Kaye Academic College of Education, Beer-Sheva, Israel)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




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.


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.


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.


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.



Chaitin, J., Steinberg, S. and Steinberg, S. (2017), "Polarized words: discourse on the boycott of Israel, social justice and conflict resolution", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 270-294.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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