The case for football boycott of Israel is just as compelling as that for football boycott of South Africa. South Africa was excluded from international football for twenty eight years (1964 to 1992) because of apartheid, rather than for football reasons. South African sport was, and is, really important internationally while Israeli sport is not. So why bother with sport boycott? And why football?
Firstly, football is by far Israel’s largest sport, with basketball a distant second, and the government considers football important enough to subsidise.
Secondly, and most significantly, international football is an extremely important normalising activity for Israel. Israel has worked hard to host international football tournaments. When it has succeeded it has been open about the status that it brings to the country. Reflecting this importance, once the Israeli President and Prime Minister both showed up at the welcoming televised Press Conference for a visiting European football manager!
Thirdly, the Palestinian national football team has provided a huge morale boost for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian football world was delighted that in June 2015 the Gaza and West Bank champions were able to meet as a result of Palestinian pressure. That deserves our strong support.
Fourthly, boycott would spread awareness of Israeli racism and abuse of Palestinian human rights across the football community worldwide. That football community understands racism. When it fully understands Israeli racism against Palestinians both on and off the field, which it doesn’t at present, it will be a strong supporter of boycott. This will take time, so it is important that we work hard to strengthen current activities.
The UK’s Red Card Israeli Racism campaign’s objective is “the suspension of the Israeli FA from FIFA and UEFA until Israel respects the human rights of Palestinians and observes international law“. Several other activist groups across Europe hold to a similar objective.
Over the past few years activists’ actions have included: demonstrating against Israeli teams playing in European countries; objecting to EUFA tournaments being hosted in Israel (with some success); campaigning and lobbying FIFA, UEFA and national associations; occupying UEFA headquarters to great effect; and simply leafleting at home football matches. Leading footballers, e.g. Eric Cantona, Frederick Kanoute, and leading human rights campaigners, e.g. Stephane Hessell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ken Loach have leant their support Every opportunity has been taken to educate the football world about Israeli abuse of Palestinian’s human rights which has prevented Palestine’s ability to develop its football both at national and club level.
In 2015 at the 65th Annual Congress the Palestinian FA took a big step forward by proposing suspension of Israel from FIFA until four specifically football related issues were resolved satisfactorily for Palestinians. It turned out to be a step too far – or at least too soon. FIFA politics obliged the Palestinian FA to settle for a compromise “Amendment” which at least kept the topic alive. Congress established an “Israel Palestine Monitoring Committee” to address the four football related issues where Israel imposes constraints on Palestinian football:
- Movements. Israeli border controls and road blocks in the OPT make life difficult for all Palestinians. Football has particularly suffered by being unable to field its best teams at international tournaments over many years. Home teams are often obliged to travel overnight to away games only 50 km away.
- Imports of Equipment. Israel completely controls movements’ of goods to the OPT and imposes tariffs. Football equipment has suffered long delays and huge tariffs.
- Racism in Israel. Racism against Palestinian citizens permeates Israeli society in many ways, often officially instigated or encouraged. Football chants of “death to Arabs” echo around the Beitar Jerusalem stadium, with negligible penalties being imposed. That team has never hired a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and is firmly sticking to that policy. The Israeli FA has hardly challenged this (Netanyahu is a major Beitar supporter). It has no will. In 2015 it even proposed to split a youth league into two – one for Palestinians and one (predominantly) for Israelis, reportedly in response to requests of parents, although this was stopped after a legal challenge by Adalah.
- Settlement teams. The integration of settlement residents into Israeli society is complete. That includes settlement football teams playing in Israeli youth leagues. Israeli officials consider this acceptable and dismiss Palestinian rights to the land regardless of the illegality of the settlements under international law.
All those four issues above involve Israeli policies which stand at the very core of the regime’s policies of occupation and denial of Palestinian rights. If the Palestinian FA achieves all it demands with respect to these issues, it’s objectives will have been achieved and it will not need to press for exclusion of Israel from FIFA. This would mean that activists’ objectives would not be achieved.
What is the chance of the Palestinian FA succeeding through the Monitoring Committee? Progress initially was slow, with only one good success: in June 2015 Gazan and West Bank teams played each other for the first time in fifteen years. Even that needed intervention by FIFA as the Israeli border authorities held players up for several days. Since then further outrages have been committed by the Israelis, including shooting Palestinian players in the foot, tear gassing at stadiums, arrests of players and destruction of facilities. This does not auger well for he success of the Committee. Therefore the Palestinian FA will need to revert to a formal demand to suspend Israel from FIFA at some point in the future.
In future the Palestinian FA will find it more difficult to call directly for the suspension or exclusion of another member in the Congress. On 26 February 2016 new “Reform” Statutes were agreed by which only the new FIFA “Council”, a revised version of the current Executive Committee, will be able to propose suspension or expulsion to a Congress. So the Palestinian FA will have to persuade the majority of the new Council to call for suspension.
Approaches to the Council should be strengthened by reference to a new report: “‘For the Game. For the World.’ FIFA and Human Rights” by Professor John G Ruggie. This was commissioned by FIFA in response to the human rights abuses in Qatar, but the scope of the report is much wider. It invokes UN Guiding Principles and recommends that FIFA adopts a clear and coherent human rights policy and robust implementation arrangements. In summary, the report is clear that FIFA must “embed respect for human rights across the full range of its activities and relationships” (page 9) and it specifically mentions relationships with member associations and other enterprises. Outside contractual agreements the report only mentions the abuse of women’s human rights in football, but clearly the report can be used much more widely – in particular to highlight what needs to be done in Palestine/Israel. Reference to this report will enable activists to emphasise that boycott is not about politics (the standard retort of football associations), rather it’s about human rights.
Clearly, on-going involvement by activists is needed. Active so far are:
While football is Israel’s major sport, its second is basket ball and there have been several demonstrations at games in Spain and France at least. There has also been boycott action at a sailing event in Malaysia, and there are many other sports where there is Israeli membership of a European federation and where action could be taken.
The Palestinian labor movement welcomes the declaration from the Human Rights Secretariat of the Uruguayan Federation of Workers of Services and Commerce (Fuecys) calling for the boycott of Israeli products and for companies in Uruguay to break their ties with Israel’s apartheid. We salute this principled commitment and concrete initiative of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
We also deeply appreciate the public support that the Trade Union Centre of G4S employees in Uruguay has extended to the campaign against the British security company G4S. The company has lost contracts worth millions of dollars in more than a dozen countries during the four-year long global campaign lead by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement over its role in in Israeli prisons that hold Palestinian political prisoners, settlements and checkpoints.
We stand in solidarity with the Uruguayan G4S workers, whose labor rights are being violated by G4S and other international corporations.
We hope the whole of PIT-CNT, Uruguay’s Federation of Labor Unions, will decide to support the Palestinian appeal issued in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations, including all Palestinian parties and trade unions, to turn rhetoric solidarity into effective actions by joining the BDS movement.
Trade union support for BDS in Latin America and around the world is continuously growing. Fuecys and the whole of PIT-CNT should join important unions in the region that already support the BDS movement, such as CUT, CSP-Conlutas, and CTB, from Brazil, and CTA and CTA Autónoma, from Argentina.
From India to Sweden, South Africa and the United States, trade unions and workers have blocked Israeli ships from docking, dozens of trade unions and their confederations are actively pressuring corporations and governments to cut relations with Israel and join campaigns of boycotts, divestments and sanctions.
Trade unions that have already spoken out in opposition to the role that G4S plays in the oppression of Palestinians include Unite and Unison in the United Kigdom, Dutch union Abvakabo, Norwegian union Industri Energi and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
As COSATU already in 2006 stated: “Boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa hastened our march to democracy. Why should it be different for Palestinians? In the face of an intransigent, arrogant, racist and brutal Israeli state, this strategy of isolation – particularly since the vast majority of Palestinians support it – should be applied to Israel as well. It is a peaceful option.”
In fact, the global movement that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa inspired the Palestinian movements and unions to call on people of conscience all over the world to apply non-violent pressure on Israel until it respects the international law and the Palestinian human rights.
The growing impact of the BDS movement is giving new hope to the Palestinian struggle, and and boycotts, divestment and sanctions have become fundamental elements of solidarity for all those that truly want to support the Palestinian cause.
From Palestine to Latin America, we are united against all forms of oppression and discrimination. Fellow workers in Uruguay, your effective solidarity with our struggle for freedom, justice and equality is more crucial today than ever!
Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) – Gaza Strip
Palestinian Federation of Independent Trade Unions
The Palestinian Federation of New Unions
General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW)
El movimiento obrero palestino celebra la declaración de la Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Federación Uruguaya de Empleados de Comercio y Servicios (FUECYS), la cual llama al boicot de productos israelíes y pide que empresas en Uruguay rompan sus lazos con el régimen de apartheid israelí. Saludamos este compromiso y esta iniciativa concreta de solidaridad con la lucha palestina por libertad, justicia y igualdad.
También apreciamos profundamente el apoyo público que el Centro Sindical de Trabajadores de G4S de Uruguay ha extendido a la campaña en contra de la compañía de seguridad británica G4S. La compañía ha perdido contratos de millones de dólares en más de una docena de países durante la campaña mundial de cuatro años del movimiento global de Boicot, Desinversión y Sanciones (BDS) como consecuencia de su papel en las cárceles israelíes que mantienen prisioneros/as políticos/as palestinos/as, en las colonias ilegales y en los puestos de control de Israel.
Manifestamos nuestra solidaridad con los trabajadores/as de G4S Uruguay, cuyos derechos laborales son violados por G4S y otras corporaciones internacionales.
Esperamos que la totalidad del PIT-CNT tomará la decisión de apoyar el llamamiento palestino hecho en 2005 por más de 170 organizaciones palestinas, incluyendo todos los partidos políticos y sindicatos palestinos, para convertir la solidaridad retórica en acciones efectivas al unirse al movimiento BDS.
El apoyo sindical al BDS en América Latina y en todo el mundo está en continuo crecimiento. FUECYS y el conjunto del PIT-CNT deben unirse a sindicatos importantes de la región que ya apoyan el movimiento BDS, como la CUT, CSP-Conlutas, y CTB, de Brasil, y la CTA y la CTA Autónoma, de Argentina.
De India a Suecia, de Sudáfrica a los Estados Unidos, sindicatos y trabajadores/as han impedido atracar a barcos israelíes en los puertos, decenas de sindicatos y sus confederaciones están presionando activamente a corporaciones y gobiernos para reducir las relaciones con Israel y unirse a las campañas de boicot, desinversiones y sanciones.
Los sindicatos que ya se han pronunciado en contra de la función que desempeña G4S en la opresión del pueblo palestino incluyen Unite y Unison en el Reino Unido, el sindicato holandés Abvakabo, el noruego Industri Energi y el Congreso de Sindicatos de Sudáfrica (COSATU).
Como COSATU ya en 2006 declaró: “Los boicots, desinversiones y sanciones contra el régimen del apartheid en Sudáfrica aceleraron nuestra marcha hacia la democracia. ¿Por qué debería ser diferente para los/as palestinos/as? Frente a un intransigente, prepotente, racista y brutal Estado israelí, esta estrategia de aislamiento – sobre todo porque la gran mayoría de los/as palestinos/as la apoya – se debe aplicar a Israel. Es una opción pacífica”.
De hecho, el movimiento global que contribuyó al fin del apartheid en Sudáfrica inspiró a los movimientos y sindicatos palestinos a pedir a las personas de conciencia de todo el mundo que apliquen presión no violenta en Israel hasta que éste respete el derecho internacional y los derechos humanos del pueblo palestino.
El creciente impacto del movimiento de BDS está dando una nueva esperanza a la lucha palestina, y los boicots, desinversiones y sanciones se han convertido en elementos fundamentales de la solidaridad para todos aquellos que realmente quieren apoyar la causa palestina.
Desde Palestina a Latinoamérica, estamos unidos contra todas las formas de opresión y discriminación. Compañeros/as trabajadores/as de Uruguay, hoy su solidaridad efectiva con nuestra lucha por libertad, justicia y igualdad es más importante que nunca!
Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) – Gaza Strip
Federación General de Sindicatos de Palestina – Franja de Gaza
Palestinian Federation of Independent Trade Unions
Federación Palestina de Sindicatos Independientes
The Palestinian Federation of New Unions
Federación Palestina de Nuevos Sindicatos
General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW)
Sindicato General de Trabajadores/as Palestinos/as
Ending UK government support for Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism is more important than ever
May 16, 2016, Occupied Palestine – The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition of Palestinian civil society unions and coalitions that leads the global BDS movement, strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on Palestine solidarity currently taking place in the UK, especially those targeting the BDS movement.
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a nonviolent, Palestinian-led human rights movement for freedom, justice and equality. Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It aims to end international support for Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism that began with the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinians to make way for the state of Israel, in 1948.
Support for Palestinian rights has been growing steadily in the UK, as evidenced in the massive, 150,000-strong march in the summer of 2014 against Israel’s massacre in Gaza. This public support and the strength of grassroots Palestine solidarity organising in the UK has led scores of trade unions, student unions, NGOs and grassroots groups to endorse BDS. More than 1,000 artists have pledged not to perform in Israel and more than 700 academics have committed to not cooperate with Israeli academic institutions because of their deep complicity in Israeli violations of international law. The National Union of Students has voted to support BDS and student campaigns have in many cases successfully pressured universities to drop contracts with companies such as Veolia and G4S.
Campaigning by inspiring and dedicated Palestine solidarity activists and groups in the UK has played a key role in the success of the BDS campaign that ultimately compelled Veolia to end its involvement in Israel’s illegal projects. The ongoing BDS campaign against G4S over its role in prisons where Palestinian political prisoners are subjected to torture and ill-treatment has prompted the company to claim it will eventually sell its Israeli subsidiary. We salute the thousands of committed and determined Palestine solidarity activists who are promoting Palestinian rights.A movement under attack
Having failed to impede the impressive growth of the impact of the BDS movement in recent years, Israel and its well-oiled pressure groups around the world are desperately waging an unprecedented legal, political, propaganda and intelligence war on Palestinian, Israeli, European and other human rights defenders who advocate for Palestinian rights through BDS.
Israel has just imposed an effective travel ban on BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti. This repressive move is being seen as a step towards revoking his residency rights, as Israeli ministers threatened a few weeks ago. This follows threats by Israeli ministers against Omar Barghouti and other BDS activists that have been condemned by Amnesty International.
This war against BDS has reached western states, with Israel openly using its intelligence services to spy on European, American and other human rights defenders who are active in BDS campaigning, as widely and shamelessly reported in the Israeli media.
At Israel’s request, governments in the US, France, Canada and elsewhere are introducing anti-boycott legislation and taking other steps to repress BDS activism. In France, one activist was arrested simply for wearing a BDS t-shirt.
This attack is also particularly fierce in the UK:
- The UK government is seeking to bully local councils and other public bodies into abandoning efforts to end their investments in companies that support Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights by falsely asserting that they do not have the legal power to divest from these companies or exclude them from tendering exercises.
- Israel lobby organisations are issuing legal threats against student unions and local councils that have democratically voted to adopt BDS by falsely characterising criticism of Israel as inherently “anti-semitic”.
- The bank accounts of various Palestine solidarity organisations have been closed.
- Israel lobby organisations have unsuccessfully attempted to take legal action against trade unions over their support for BDS while the UK government has abortively tried to pressure academic and other unions to revoke BDS policies.
The UK government and anti-Palestinian organisations are currently undermining democracy, civil rights and basic political freedoms in order to shield Israel from public opinion and accountability.
We recognise that the UK government’s attempts to undermine solidarity with Palestinians are part of a wider context of government-fuelled racism and Islamophobia, the deeply repressive Prevent agenda and ideological attacks on public services, unions and progressive political organisations. We stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone in the UK fighting to build a world based on justice, dignity and freedom from oppression
The Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality is fundamentally an inclusive, anti-racist struggle. We of course recognise that anti-semitism unfortunately exists in UK society and reiterate that as a matter of principle, there is no place in our movement for racism of any kind, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism.
However, we also reject any attempt to conflate opposition to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians with anti-Jewish racism or to smear opposition to Zionism and the BDS movement as somehow inherently anti-Semitic. Shockingly, the UK College of Policing and senior Conservative politicians have both adopted parts of a discredited definition of anti-semitism that conflates opposition to Zionism with anti-semitism.
Missing from the UK media discussion about Zionism is the fact that Zionism is a political ideology that is responsible for the settler-colonial project that led to the establishment of the state of Israel through the systematic destruction of Palestinian society and the ethnic cleansing of most of the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. It advocates for maintaining Israel as a supremacist apartheid state that privileges its Jewish citizens over all others and denies Palestinians their UN-stipulated rights.
Israel’s creation in 1948 involved the deliberate forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland. This was a grave injustice against the Palestinian people, the human consequences of which are still felt today.
Israel has forced Palestinians into bantustans behind checkpoints and walls, repeatedly carried out brutal massacres and extrajudicial killings and denied Palestinians their inalienable right to self-determination.
Israel’s construction of walls and illegal settlements and its deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians during its massacres in Gaza constitute war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Millions of Palestinian refugees are denied their right to return to their homeland, simply because they are Palestinian.
Israel’s apartheid policies against the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state are also intensifying, further entrenching the supremacist regime that allocates rights based on ethnic and religious identity. For Palestinians, these are the lived and experienced consequences of the Zionist ideology.
Our resolute opposition to Zionism is not an academic matter. Attempts to smear principled opposition to Zionism and Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people as anti-semitic dehumanizes Palestinians and silences Palestinian narratives.Government complicity and popular solidarity
British governments have a long history of undermining Palestinian rights and enabling, supporting and protecting the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the maintenance, later, of Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler-colonialism over the Palestinian people that dates back to its colonial rule over historic Palestine and the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
More recently, licenses were granted for weapons exports to Israel during the period 2008-15 to the value of £292m. The war crimes carried out during Israel’s massacres of Palestinians in Gaza have been carried out using UK weapons and components. The UK government has failed to hold Israel to account for the war crimes it committed during its 2014 attack on Gaza and has ignored UN resolutions that call for sanctions and other accountability measures.
Instead, the UK government is eroding respect for international law and is working to develop even deeper economic ties with Israel. In recent months, senior Conservative figures including David Cameron, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and Boris Johnson have spread malicious lies and smears about the BDS movement and declared their unwavering support for Israel’s regime of oppression. The UK government funds various anti-BDS initiatives.
We urge civil society organisations in the UK to speak out against the attacks against Palestine solidarity that dehumanise Palestinians, silence Palestinian narratives and repress civil and democratic rights of UK citizens. We look forward to continued campaigning alongside the inspiring organisations and activists in the UK Palestine solidarity movement.
Interview With BDS Co-Founder Omar Barghouti: Banned by Israel From Traveling, Threatened With Worse
DESPITE HAVING LIVED in Israel for 22 years with no criminal record of any kind, Omar Barghouti (above) was this week denied the right to travel outside the country. As one of the pioneers of the increasingly powerful movement to impose boycotts, sanctions, and divestment measures (BDS) on Israel, Barghouti, an articulate, English-speaking activist, has frequently traveled around the world advocating his position. The Israeli government’s refusal to allow him to travel is obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.”
As the husband of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Barghouti holds a visa of permanent residency in the country, but nonetheless needs official permission to travel outside of Israel, a travel document that — until last week — had been renewed every two years. Haaretz this week reported that beyond the travel ban, Barghouti’s “residency rights in Israel are currently being reconsidered.”
The travel denial came after months of disturbing public threats directed at him by an Israeli government that has grown both more extreme and more fearful of BDS’s growing international popularity. In March, Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency rights, explicitly admitting that this was in retaliation for his speech and advocacy: “He is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner. … He took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”
Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told the Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.” She added: “Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists, and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”
But the threats to Barghouti from the Israeli government extend far beyond his right to travel. Last month, Amnesty International issued an extraordinary warning that the group “is concerned for the safety and liberty” of Barghouti, citing threats from Israel’s minister of transport, intelligence, and atomic energy, Yisrael Katz, who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence. As Amnesty noted, “The term alludes to ‘targeted assassinations’ which is used to describe Israel’s policy of targeting members of Palestinian armed groups.”
As The Intercept has regularly reported over the last year, the attempts tocriminalize BDS activism — not only in Israel but internationally — are one of the greatest threats to free speech and assembly rights in the West. The threat has become particularly acute on U.S. college campuses, where official punishments for pro-Palestinian students are now routine. But obviously, the threats faced by Barghouti inside Israel are far more severe.
Regardless of one’s views on BDS and the Israeli occupation, anyone who purports to believe in basic conceptions of free speech rights should be appalled by Israeli behavior. I spoke with Barghouti yesterday about this latest Israeli attack on his core civil liberties, the growing extremism in Israel, and broader trends with free speech and BDS activism. “I am unnerved,” he told me, “but I’m certainly undeterred.” You can listen to the 25-minute discussion on the player below; a full transcript appears below that.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
GLENN GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with The Intercept. And my guest today is Omar Barghouti, who is a Palestinian human rights activist and one of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS, which is designed to put non-violent international pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories, establish equal rights for Palestinians, and accept the right to return of Palestinian refugees who fled during and after the establishment of Israel.
BDS has gained considerable international support over the last few years as the West has watched Israel expand its occupation of the West Bank, while its army kills thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And as a result of that success, BDS has come under a multi-pronged attack from Israel and its supporters around the world.
As part of that attack, this week news broke that Israel denied Barghouti an international travel permit. As a resident of Israel he is required to apply for this permit every two years to travel internationally. Human Rights Watch condemned the act “as something that appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful political activism.”
Before welcoming you I just want to say that I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last several years who are probably subject to electronic surveillance on their telephones, but I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to someone who’s subject to as much surveillance as you are.
So with that, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it.
Before I ask you to just talk a little bit about what happened with this travel restriction, I just want to give a little bit context and background for listeners. This didn’t really come out of nowhere; in late March, Israel’s interior minister was quoted as telling a conference that he was considering revoking your residency.
He said: “I was given information that his life is in Ramallah and he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner.” He continued: “He was given rights similar to those of a citizen and he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”
Amnesty has said that they’re actually “concerned for your safety and liberty” and they cited a quote from the Israeli minister of transport and intelligence and atomic energy, Yisrael Katz, who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence.
So, with that context in mind, obviously the Israeli government has become obsessed with restricting and punishing BDS leaders. Tell us about this new travel restriction that Israel has imposed on you. How did you learn about it? What is it?
OMAR BARGHOUTI: Every couple of years I have to renew my Israeli travel document and without that I cannot leave or re-enter the country. Because I’m a permanent resident in Israel, I cannot leave on any other passport except the Israeli travel document.
GREENWALD: Do you have another passport?
BARGHOUTI: Yes, I have Jordanian citizenship.
GREENWALD: But in order to leave Israel, you need their permission every two years.
BARGHOUTI: Yes. On April 19 the Ministry of Interior in Acre where I live officially informed us that they will not renew my travel document, therefore effectively banning me from travel. This comes as you rightly noted in the context of very heightened repression against the BDS movement, which seeks freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinian citizens. So it seeks Palestinian rights under international law. But because it has become so effective of late, because support has been rising tremendously in the last couple of years, we are in a way paying the price for the success of the movement.
Many people are realizing that Israel is a regime of occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid and are therefore taking action to hold it to account to international law. Israel is realizing that companies are abandoning their projects in Israel that violate international law, pension funds are doing the same, major artists are refusing to play Tel Aviv, as Sun City was boycotted during apartheid South Africa.
So they’re seeing this isolation growing, they can see the South Africa moment, if you will. And because of that, they’ve heightened their repression, including espionage on BDS human rights defenders, whether Palestinian, Israeli, or international, surveillance, of course, plus those latest threats of targeted civil elimination and banning us from travel and so on.
So we are really unnerved, I am personally quite unnerved by those threats. We take them very seriously, especially in this context. We live in a country where racism and racial incitement against indigenous Palestinians has grown tremendously into the Israeli mainstream. It has really become mainstream today to be very openly racist against Palestinians. Many settlers and hard-right-wing Israelis are taking matters into their own hands – completely supported by the state – and attacking Palestinians.
So in that context I am unnerved, but I’m certainly undeterred. I shall continue my non-violent struggle for Palestinian rights under international law and nothing they can do will stop me.
GREENWALD: About the travel restrictions themselves, how long have you been receiving this travel permission? Did they give you any reason as to why in this case it was being denied? And did you have any problems in the past – from their perspective – that would justify this denial?
BARGHOUTI: No, actually I’ve been a permanent resident of Israel since 1994, so 22 years running and without any violations of the law – not even a traffic violation. So there’s nothing on my record that they can use against me.
Calling for a boycott until now is not a crime in Israel. It’s a tort – they can punish me in various ways – but it’s not a crime that they can revoke my residency right based upon. And they know that very well – they don’t stand on very strong legal grounds. So they’re looking for ways to intimidate me, to bully me, to silence me by other ways. And that doesn’t seem to be working, so now they’re working on revoking my permanent residency.
I have not had any problems in the past having my travel document renewed, for 22 years. So it’s just when BDS started to really become a very impactful, very effective movement with impressive growth and support, including among young Jewish Americans, young Jewish Brits, and so on – and that really alarms Israel – only then that they start taking such repressive, anti-democratic, draconian measures to the extreme against the movement, which is a non-violent movement, accusing us of all sorts of things.
GREENWALD: So as far as your status in Israel is concerned, and your right to travel, if I’m not mistaken you live in Israel with your wife who is an Israeli citizen, correct?
BARGHOUTI: Yes, correct, my wife is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
GREENWALD: So does that give you entitlement to stay or are they actually able to revoke your permanent residency status?
BARGHOUTI: When it comes to non-Jews – as we’re called in Israel – no one knows what applies and what doesn’t apply. As you know there are more than 50 laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state, let alone Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are non-citizens.
So, a Palestinian citizen of Israel does not get the full set of rights that a Jewish citizen gets because simply the Palestinian is not a Jewish national and only if you’re a Jewish national – whatever that means – do you get the full set of rights. This is an extra-territorial definition of nationality so Israel does not have Israeli nationality – there is no such thing.
The Supreme Court rejected that notion, the Knesset did, there is no Israeli nationality. There is Israeli citizenship but that does not entitle you to the full set of rights. So yes, my wife is an Israeli citizen and I got my permanent residency through that but what rights I’m entitled to and am not entitled to depends on the mood of the politicians and how much the courts are ready to go along with that.
GREENWALD: Let’s discuss the efforts against the BDS movement more broadly beyond Israeli borders. For a long time I think the tactic was to try and ignore BDS, to treat it as though it was so marginalized and inconsequential that it wasn’t even worth discussing or acknowledging let along taking action against. And, as you’ve suggested, as it’s become a much more widely accepted tactic, as the world watched in horror – I think one of the turning points of the last operation in Gaza that killed so many children and innocent men and women – it has become a tactic that in a lot of ways is starting to replicate, as you suggested as well, what happened in South Africa across lots of college campuses. Young American Jews who are fully now on board with BDS as a moral and necessary tactic.
And as a result you’ve starting to see more world leaders and people like Hillary Clinton denounce BDS in the most vehement terms, even equating it with anti-Semitism and I think most disturbing of all, actual laws are now being issued, not just in the United States but throughout Europe, to criminalize BDS and make it illegal to advocate it or engage in activism on its behalf.
Talk about what you’ve witnessed as someone who’s been in this movement from the beginning, about the changes that are underway in terms of how the response is developing toward this movement.
BARGHOUTI: I think after years of failure in stopping or even slowing down the growth of BDS and the growth of support for BDS around the world, especially in the West, Israel is resorting to its most powerful weapon, if you will, which is using its influence in the U.S. Congress and through that its influence in Brussels and in the E.U. and so on to criminalize BDS from above, after failing to stop it from below.
Because BDS is growing at the grassroots level – trade unions, academic unions, student groups, LGBTQ groups, women groups and so on, Israel is resorting to that attempt to delegitimize it from above.
So as you rightly said, they’re working on passing legislation across the United States and state legislatures to criminalize BDS or to “blacklist” individuals and organizations involved in BDS, reminding us of the worst days of McCarthyism. So really, Israel is fostering a new McCarthyism, and nothing less than that because it’s calling on governments that it deems friendly to punish speech, punish activism and campaigning to uphold Palestinian rights under international law.
So this is a non-violent inclusive movement that is anchored in the international declaration of human rights. It’s opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. And we’re not shy about that. We’re very categorical about our opposition to all forms of racism. Because of that – not despite that – Israel is extremely worried. Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid is worried when this human rights inclusive movement is reaching out and appealing to a mass public, including many young Jewish Americans.
So it’s resorting to this new McCarthyism. In France, it’s the worst, with government actually saying that calling for a boycott of Israeli products is now illegal in France. You can call for a boycott of French products in Paris and that’s okay, but not of Israeli products. Imagine the enormous hypocrisy.
GREENWALD: And people have been arrested wearing pro-BDS T-shirts in Paris.
BARGHOUTI: Exactly. The measure of repression in France is unprecedented. We have not seen anything like that. Paris has really become the capital of anti-Palestinian repression of late. Imagine – the city of freedoms, supposedly, has become the city of darkness for Palestinians.
GREENWALD: There was a huge free speech march there just over a year ago.
BARGHOUTI: We don’t see this anti-Palestinian repression as isolated. Israel is fostering this, but there is a lot of repression already in the West. There’s already an attack on unions, an attack on free speech, on social justice, racial justice movements, there’s enormous militarization and securitization of society in the West.
And Israel is benefiting from this enormous homeland security and military market – it’s great business for Israel. It’s training police forces across the United States, from Ferguson to Baltimore. London police, Paris police.
GREENWALD: One of the criticisms of BDS opponents, when they hear things like what you just said, denouncing this erosion of civil liberties throughout the West, including in Europe, is they say it’s kind of ironic, maybe even hypocritical of you, as an advocate and proponent of Palestinian rights, to be critiquing civil liberties erosions in the West when throughout the Palestinian territories there certainly are no rights for LGBTs, or very few, and that there are far fewer rights for women for civil liberties in places like Gaza and certain parts of the West Bank. How do you respond to that? Is that something you address in your activism for Palestinian rights?
BARGHOUTI: Sure. As an inclusive movement, we call for equal rights for all humans, irrespective of identity. So absolutely, we oppose every form of discrimination against anyone based on any identity attribute. Now, do we have repression in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza? Absolutely.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under Israeli military occupation so they’re suffering denial of all rights, from freedom of movement to the right of free speech, to all kinds of rights, to the right to life in some cases, as we’ve seen in Gaza. But yes, on top of that, there is social repression, of course.
GREENWALD: Imposed by Palestinians on other Palestinians.
BARGHOUTI: Imposed by the Palestinian authority, by the authorities in Gaza and that’s yes, Palestinian repression on Palestinians. But the authority in Ramallah is buttressed, is supported entirely by Western governments, by the United States, by European governments and to a large extent, by Israel.
So it’s not like the European and American funders are pushing for more democratization and free speech and civil liberties. They’re accepting the growing repression of the Palestinian authorities so long as it does the job, carrying some of the burdens of the occupation while Israel continues to colonize and ethnically cleanse and commit war crimes.
GREENWALD: You talked a little earlier about what you say now is this open racism and even supporters of Israel, people who openly self-identify as Zionist, have sounded these alarm bells about the deterioration of civic discourse on Israel, about how things that were once unthinkable or relegated to a fringe have now become mainstream.
You’re somebody who has lived in Israel since 1994, so 22 years now – how do you describe the changes in terms of what has taken place in Israel domestically? Is it something you regard as a radical departure from what has taken place or is it a natural evolution of something that was a little bit more hidden, that people were maybe a bit more polite about 20 years ago, but is now just made a bit more explicit?
BARGHOUTI: I think racism is inherent in any colonial society and Israel is no exception. As a regime of settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid, racism is not coincidental. It’s a pillar of the system. Look at how Israel treats BDS. BDS calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions to achieve Palestinian freedom, justice, and equality and they see that as a major threat. But freedom, justice, and equality only threaten lack of freedom, injustice, and inequality. It doesn’t threaten anyone else who isn’t premised on the existence of racism.
Certainly, as you rightly said, Israel has dropped the mask. With the last elections in 2015, Israel elected its most racist government ever and we have the most racist parliament ever. The most racist Knesset ever, asHaaretz, the Israeli newspaper, calls it. To the extent that a couple of days ago, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army said that racism is growing to an extent that reminds people of 1930s Germany. This is the deputy chief of staff in Israel – this is not some nobody on the streets of London or Paris. This is an extremely important statement by one of the top generals in Israel. He is very alarmed that those symptoms of extreme racism are appearing everywhere and are becoming prevalent in Israeli society. And that is really, really scary.
On the other hand, by dropping the mask, Israel’s regime has in a way accelerated the growth of movements like ours. Boycott has grown tremendously – I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it – we can attribute part of the success, part of the credit, for the growth and impact of BDS to the Israeli government’s far-right policies and their dropping the mask of enlightenment democracy and so on. They’re doing away with that, with the Ministry of Education instilling extreme racist notions in textbooks, with the Minister of Culture requiring Loyalty Oaths by artists who want to perform in Tel Aviv.
It’s really reaching an unprecedented level of bare racism. Racism was always there but it was always very couched, very hidden by a supposedly liberal Zionist façade that projects to the world Israeli scientific miracles and cultural miracles and whitewashing very well Israel’s deeply rooted racist colonial society.
GREENWALD: My final question is about a couple of reservations or criticisms or objections toward the BDS platform that come not from the obvious opponents of BDS but from people who are generally very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause who even are very harsh critics of Israel. A lot of the time people in that camp will say the following: “Why is it that Israel specifically should be boycotted for its human rights violations when so many other countries in the world including the United States are guilty of at least equal if not greater human rights violations and yet there’s no boycott movement for them?”
And then the other related criticism is that the platform of BDS itself — by including a right of return to Palestinians, which would, if accepted, essentially result in the end of Israel as a Jewish state and is something that Israel will never ever accept — makes the BDS movement something designed to achieve a goal that can never actually be achieved and therefore, less effective.
How do you respond to those two concerns or criticisms?
BARGHOUTI: It’s funny when people on the fringe talk about effectiveness, when Israel is fighting BDS with such immense resources around the world, inducing governments to pass laws to fight it, using its intelligence sources to spy on citizens around the world – human rights activists involved in BDS. It’s very strange to hear anything about the effectiveness of the movement. I think that’s settled by now. Companies are abandoning Israeli projects, pension funds are abandoning Israeli projects, major churches, major academic associations across the world, especially in the U.S., are taking action.
GREENWALD: But when they do that, they’re doing that – at least in terms of what they’re expressing – in opposition to the occupation.
BARGHOUTI: Not just that. When you look at academic associations and trade unions, Glenn, they’ve gone way beyond that. Churches, yes, they’ve stuck to the occupation only, but when you look at academic associations – the American Studies Association, the Anthropological Association, Women’s Studies and so on, they’ve gone for a full academic boycott of Israel, which targets all Israeli academic institutions because of their complicity in planning, implementing, and whitewashing Israel’s regime of oppression.
GREENWALD: What I meant was not that their boycott is directed only at Israelis in the occupied territories but rather that their objective in supporting the boycott is not to secure right of return for the Palestinians, as they describe it, but instead is to end the occupation. Would you agree with that?
BARGHOUTI: In fact, most partners and supporters of BDS completely support the three planks in our BDS call of 2005, which is ending the occupation, ending the racial discrimination in Israel and the system of apartheid and right of return. So we’re not aware of partners who do not support the right of return as a basic U.N. stipulated right.
All refugees, be they Jewish refugees from World War II to refugees from Kosovo, have that right. This is in international law and Palestinians should not be excluded. It’s quite racist to say that the return of Palestinian refugees would end Israeli apartheid and that’s bad because? What is so wrong about refugees having the right to return home? If that disturbs an apartheid system that’s premised on being exclusionary and racist and that does not want to see people gain their rights, what’s the argument there?
GREENWALD: Just to be clear, the argument that I’m describing here — and by the way, this isn’t my argument, I’m not advocating it, I’m simply articulating it — it’s the objection that comes not from right-wing critics of BDS but from a lot of allies and a lot of people who are long-time supporters of Palestinian rights, such as Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky.
The argument is not that the right of return is not justifiable, morally or ethically, in fact I think both of them — and pretty much everyone would agree with them — would say that in an ideal world Palestinians would have the right to return. Their argument is a tactical or pragmatic one: that if you allow Palestinians the right of return it would essentially mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, which in turn means that Israel will never ever agree to it. And so you’ve essentially created an unattainable goal, one that can never happen and isn’t realistic and is therefore designed not to help Palestinians, but to be this objective that is inevitably destined to fail.
BARGHOUTI: Well actually that’s a very dogmatic objection. Saying that it will never happen ignores history, ignores that major empires have collapsed in our lifetime that were thought to be invincible just years before collapsing. Who would have thought a country as powerful as the Soviet Union would collapse? Who would have thought in the 1980s that apartheid in South Africa would collapse? Who would have thought that East Timor would have autonomy when 20 years before, no one knew where East Timor was?
So it’s really quite dogmatic for people to say only when it comes to protecting Israeli apartheid you cannot question it – if you dare, Israel will bring down the house on everyone.
Israel depends tremendously on public support from the outside, from complicity from Western governments. As that erodes, as BDS grows and public support for BDS grows, and Israel gets isolated in the academic, economic, cultural, and military sphere, eventually, it will have to abide by international law, and we will see dissent growing in Israel like any other colonial state.
We will not see dissent as long as the price is not high enough. When it becomes high enough we will see growing dissent and more Jewish Israelis joining the ranks of BDS so that we can both ethically shape a future together based on justice, freedom, and equality.
Going back to the first point, which was why target Israel and not the United States. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a very similar argument with this issue when it was brought up about South Africa. He said certainly apartheid Africa was not by far the most evil system of oppression around, but you could not ask South Africans – the black majority – why are you fighting apartheid? If you’re sick with the flu you don’t fight another illness, you fight the sickness that you are suffering from.
The Palestinians are under an Israeli regime of oppression so naturally we have to fight this immediate oppressor. Now the fact that Israel is completely supported by the United States — sponsored, bank-rolled, protected — that doesn’t mean that we should not fight our immediate oppressor. That’s how you effectively make a change and achieve your rights.
This is not an intellectual exercise. Yes, one can call for a boycott of all governments that support Israel’s oppression – the United States and so on – but that’s intellectualism that leads to no action. If we follow Paulo Freire’s reflection and action model, that you have to reflect and then act, you’re not acting by calling for a boycott of the United States because it’s the only surviving empire. It’s invincible at this point in time, in 2016. It would be completely ridiculous to call for a boycott of the United States.
As Naomi Klein said, it would never work. Boycotts are not just intellectual exercises, they have to work. We’re not in it for fun, we’re not in it to make a point. We‘re in it to gain our freedom and rights under international law and for that we have to be very strategic.
GREENWALD: I said that would be my last question, but I actually have one more – a very narrow, specific question about the news of the denial of your travel permit. Are there appeals available to you? Do you have legal recourse that you can seek in order to get the decision reversed and do you intend to do that?
BARGHOUTI: I cannot speak a lot about our legal strategy, but certainly we’re exposing this around the world. We rely on action by citizens of the world, not on the governments because governments are very complicit in Israel’s regime of oppression, but Jewish Voice for Peace, U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, and other groups have started campaigning in the U.S. against this travel ban against me. And many, many groups are working for the right to BDS. Even if you disagree with some of the tactics of BDS, on purely free speech grounds you’ve got to support our right to call for BDS.
In the United States in particular, it’s protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution so even the New York Times at one point defended our right to advocate for BDS while being completely against BDS.
I think Israel will face a problem that it is alienating the liberal mainstream and that will be really the final stroke in its wall-to-wall support in the United States.
GREENWALD: Well, there are loads of people who love to wrap themselves in the flag of free speech rights, including supporters of Israel, and hopefully those people will have the courage of their convictions that even if they don’t agree with your positions on BDS and Israel generally in the occupation, that they would nonetheless see it as highly objectionable that you should be denied the most basic right of international travel simply because the Israeli government wants to punish you for your political views or constrain you from engaging in activism internationally. And hopefully this interview will help to bring some attention to what has been done to you.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
BARGHOUTI: Thank you so much, Glenn
Following a wave of accusations made against some members of the Labour party for claims of anti-Semitism, the saga reached absurd new lows last week, when long-standing anti-racist activist Jackie Walker was suspended. Among Walker’s alleged crimes was her refusal to condemn the boycott of Israel.
While some of the accusations levelled are justified, others reek of a witch-hunt in which vocal critics of Israel, in particular supporters of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, are wildly painted as racist by Israel’s supporters. But the reality is precisely the opposite: the BDS movement is about dismantling a racist system of control and oppression akin to the movement against South African apartheid.
In his weekly column, the Guardian’s Gary Younge reminded last week that ‘racism is a system of oppression, not a series of bloopers’. Although his point was made in relation to the furore caused by Gerry Adams use of racist slurs (which Younge didn’t defend, but put into perspective), it applies to the many realities Palestinians face.
While UK mainstream media has been dominated by stories of comments and cartoons (some of which are indeed xenophobic), Palestinians continue to live within a violent, meticulously structuredsystem of religious and racial oppression subjugating them for not being Jewish. The fact that racial hierarchies in Israel/Palestine are formally underpinned by more than fifty discriminatory Israeli lawsrarely makes the news.
It’s worth remembering that the Zionist movement gained leverage through strategic alliances with European imperialism and the father of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who notably sought support from Cecil Rhodes for what he called his “colonial’ goals”. For that reason Rhodes Must Fall activists are natural allies of the BDS movement.
The same goes for those supporting migrants and calling for an end to detention. BDS proponents campaign, among other things, for the right of return for the descendants of over 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were expelled during the Nakba, the Arabic name for the mass expulsion and killing of Palestinians from their ancestral land in 1948. The 68th anniversary of this catastrophic wave of ethnic cleansing, which continues to this day, albeit in subtler ways, will be marked this weekend.
In a desperate attempt aimed at drawing international support for Israel, Muslims in the West who speak up for Palestinians are now a target of pro-Israeli racism, too. Perversely, one manifestation of this Islamophobia is the insinuation that Muslims are more likely to be anti-Semitic. In fact, charges of anti-Semitism against Muslims are becoming so easy to deploy that supporters of Israel are increasingly hurling them even with flimsy evidence. Just look at the treatment of the recently elected NUS President Malia Bouattia who, as a Muslim woman critical of Zionism and supportive of BDS, was called an “extremist” by pro-Israeli papers, British mainstream media and a number of white liberals, too.
There are also parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. It’s no longer a secret thattear gas canisters deployed against activists in Ferguson, Missouri, are manufactured by the same arms company that supplies Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. Likewise, US police departments have received extensive training from Israeli security forces as has London’s Metropolitan Police.
Global corporations like G4S, a British security services company, also connect the oppression of Palestinians with that of people of colour worldwide. The multinational has made significant profits from the British government imprisoning and deporting migrants, while making big money from Israeli prisons. In the UK, G4s was responsible for the death of Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight, in Palestine, for Arafat Jaradat’s death in custody. The contexts of these deaths aren’t the same but the logic of racialised violence is similar.
In spite of the Israel’s racialised system of subordination, figures like Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s Chief Rabbi, seem to think Zionism is an abstract issue rather than one connected to the actions of the Israeli state, actions he argues bear no comparison to South Africa under white rule. For leading anti-apartheid activists like Desmond Tutu, the similarities are undisputable. What Palestinians experience is “familiar to all black South Africans”, he warned in an article published in The Jerusalem Post. Israel’s ID card permit system functions in a similar way to the notorious pass laws, an internal passport system designed to segregate the population, manage urbanisation, and allocate migrant labour
More glaringly, Barclays Bank, which supported apartheid, has come under attack for its ongoing involvement in Israel. During the 1980s the bank was a major target of anti-racist campaigning. Today it’s under pressure again, this time by Palestine solidarity activists who have highlighted itslinks to Israeli arms company Elbit.
Misrepresenting the BDS movement as racist is an inversion of reality. BDS is about supporting the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom, justice and equality, a struggle which activists of colour across the world have recognised as a fundamental racial justice issue of our time.
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Hilary Aked is a writer, researcher and activist currently completing a PhD on Israel’s response to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement. She tweets as @Hilary_Aked
This op-ed was edited by Media Diversified’s Middle East & North Africa editor, Mend Mariwany. To pitch an article, or feature please contact [email protected]
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RECENT LEGISLATION FIRST AMENDMENT — POLITICAL BOYCOTTS — SOUTH CAROLINA DISQUALIFIES COMPANIES SUPPORTING BDS FROM RECEIVING STATE CONTRACTS. — S.C. CODE ANN. § 11-35-5300 (2015).
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement is an international campaign launched in July 2005 that aims to put economic pressure on the State of Israel until it meets certain conditions with respect to the Palestinian people.1 The movement, which is modeled on the South Africa divestment campaign, has garnered little commercial support in the United States, but has been endorsed by several religious and academic associations.2 Although BDS leaders do not officially prefer either a one- or two-state solution, the movement’s critics charge that its goals are incompatible with Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.3 Recently, largely in response to BDS, South Carolina passed a law that disqualifies companies participating in boycotts against any of the state’s trading partners from receiving state contracts.4 Several states are considering similar legislation. There has been surprisingly little discussion of the constitutionality of these bills. Opponents of the laws have not publicly discussed the laws’ potential First Amendment infirmities at any length, and supporters have either ignored constitutional issues or dismissed them summarily. Nonetheless, Supreme Court precedent directly establishes that the South Carolina anti-BDS statute is unconstitutional as applied to independent contractors that have existing contracts with the state, and other cases indicate that it is also unconstitutional as applied to new bidders for government contracts. In short, despite assurances from supporters and relative quiet from critics, the anti-BDS statute passed by South Carolina and those being considered by several other states are likely unconstitutional in nearly all of their applications.
On June 4, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley signed bill H.3583 into law after both houses of the South Carolina legislature passed it unanimously.5 The operative provision of the statute states that: A public entity may not enter into a contract with a business to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, information technology, or construction unless the contract includes a representation that the business is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the business will not engage in, the boycott of a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade . . . .6 Though the law applies to boycotts of any of the state’s trading partners, legislators made clear they were targeting BDS. Representative Alan Clemmons, the primary sponsor of the bill, criticized “[t]he anti-Semitic hatred that permeates the BDS movement,” and hailed “the country’s first legislation confronting BDS.”7 Clemmons also thanked Professor Eugene Kontorovich, a prominent commentator on legal issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,8 for helping to “develop” the bill and “ensure its effectiveness and Constitutionality.”9 The law defines a “jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade” as “World Trade Organization [WTO] members and those with which the United States has [trade agreements].”10 Israel is a member of the WTO, but the West Bank and Golan Heights settlements are not considered a part of Israel’s territory under international law.11 However, the United States has a free trade agreement with Israel that has been interpreted to include settlement products.12 Because the United States has trade agreements covering the settlements, the South Carolina statute would disqualify contractors who support boycotts of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights, in addition to those who boycott Israel as a whole.
The South Carolina statute is part of a flurry of anti-BDS legislative activity. In May 2015 Illinois passed a bill that bars the state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel or the settlements,13 and Indiana and Colorado have followed suit.14 Florida and Arizona have enacted statutes that combine Illinois’s divestment measure with South Carolina’s disqualification of contractors. As of early April 2016, more than 20 states were considering some form of anti-BDS legislation.15 Opponents of the anti-BDS statutes have asserted their unconstitutionality in passing, and civil rights organizations including Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have written legislators letters arguing briefly that the statutes violate the First Amendment.16 This comment makes a more thorough case for the unconstitutionality of the bills that disqualify businesses participating in BDS from receiving government contracts. The argument that these laws are unconstitutional turns on two propositions: (1) participation in political boycotts is protected First Amendment activity, and (2) governments cannot condition a contract for services on the relinquishing of First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court established the first principle in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. 17 In that case, the Court reviewed a state tort claim against a local NAACP chapter that had organized a boycott of white-owned businesses to pressure city officials to meet a number of demands for racial equality and integration.18 The Court recognized that political boycotts involve a range of expressive activity and rely on the First Amendment freedoms of “speech, assembly, association, and petition.”19 And because political boycotts are directed at issues of public concern, they are protected activities that “rest on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”20 Claiborne Hardware forecloses the argument that the South Carolina statute regulates discriminatory conduct rather than speech. Kontorovich has advanced this conduct-based argument, analogizing the anti-BDS statute to President Obama’s executive order forbidding federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation.21 The statute itself gestures at this defense, defining a boycott as a “refus[al] to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin of the targeted person or entity.”22 But this definition would cover the Claiborne Hardware boycott, which was directed at white merchants. Participation in a political boycott, even if it has a racial dimension, cannot be equated with a simple act of discrimination. An employer’s refusal to hire a qualified black or gay applicant involves no expressive speech and furthers no political goals. By contrast, the Claiborne Hardware boycotters and BDS supporters have exercised their rights to free speech and association to build movements with specific political demands. Nor can South Carolina’s statute escape the scope of Claiborne Hardware because it regulates businesses rather than individuals. In the age of Citizens United, laws that burden political speech receive strict scrutiny regardless of whether the speaker is an individual, corporation, or any other business association.23
Still, a defender of the anti-BDS law might dispute the proposition that governments cannot condition a contract for services on the surrender of First Amendment rights, pointing out that the state tort judgment invalidated in Claiborne Hardware effectively prohibited boycotts, whereas the South Carolina statute only withdraws a privilege from businesses participating in boycotts. But under the doctrine of “unconstitutional conditions,” which holds that the government “may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests — especially, his interest in freedom of speech,”24 this distinction between direct and indirect burdens on protected speech makes no constitutional difference. In fact, the Supreme Court has applied the doctrine to directly hold that the state cannot terminate contracts in retaliation for a contractor’s exercise of First Amendment rights. In two seminal unconstitutional conditions cases, the Court vindicated the free speech and association rights of individuals and businesses working for the government. First, in Pickering v. Board of Education, 25 the Court held that the First Amendment protects public employees who are fired in retaliation for commenting on matters of public concern, and fashioned a balancing test to determine the extent of the protection.26 A decade later, Elrod v. Burns27 established a categorical rule that governments cannot discharge nonpolicymaking employees solely because of their party affiliation.28 The Court extended the protections of Pickering and Elrod, respectively, to independent contractors in a pair of cases decided the same day in 1996: Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr29 and O’Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake. 30 As Justice O’Connor noted in Umbehr, to hold otherwise “would leave First Amendment rights unduly dependent on whether state law labels a government service provider’s contract as a contract of employment or a contract for services, a distinction which is at best a very poor proxy for the interests at stake.”31 In fact, she added, the government’s interests in maintaining harmonious working environments and avoiding association with controversial speech are generally less pressing for independent contractors than for employees, and political party membership is less likely to be a legitimate qualification for an independent contractor than for an employee.32 Umbehr and O’Hare, read alongside Claiborne Hardware, leave little doubt that the South Carolina statute is unconstitutional as applied to businesses that have existing contracts with the state. O’Hare condemned the actions of a suburban mayor who terminated the contract of a towing service whose owner supported his political opponent.33 The Court stated that “government may not coerce support in this manner, unless it has some justification beyond dislike of the individual’s political association.”34 As the Court recognized in Claiborne Hardware, participation in a political boycott is a paradigmatic exercise of the right to free political association. With that in mind, it would be difficult to describe the termination of a contract under South Carolina’s anti-BDS statute as motivated by anything other than “dislike of the [business’s] political association.”35 All that said, it is possible that the Court might balk at applying O’Hare to protect support for a boycott, as O’Hare and all its predecessor cases concerned the right to freely choose which political party to join or which political candidate to support. But even if the anti-BDS statute did not fall to the categorical rule of Elrod and O’Hare, it would still be subject to the Pickering balancing test because it burdens pro-boycott speech. It is very difficult to imagine the statute surviving such review. Even on the most uncharitable interpretation of the BDS movement and its goals, it is clearly directed at a matter of public concern,36 and it is unlikely that a company’s participation in a boycott of Israel would interfere with its ability to efficiently carry out the duties required by its contract.37
The fate of the anti-BDS law is less certain as applied to new bids for government contracts, but it is still likely unconstitutional. Because the plaintiffs in Umbehr and O’Hare contested the termination of or failure to renew an existing commercial relationship,38 the Court reserved judgment on whether its holdings extended to “bidders or applicants for new government contracts who cannot rely on [a preexisting commercial relationship].”39 Justice Scalia, known for his prophetic dissents, expressed disbelief that the Court would draw the line at the denial of a contract to a new bidder, describing this extension as “the natural and foreseeable jurisprudential consequence” of Umbehr and O’Hare. 40 In the nearly twenty years since this dissent, the Court has not had an opportunity to do what Justice Scalia considered inevitable. In that same period, two circuit courts of appeals have addressed the question and have come to opposite conclusions.41 The Third Circuit has said that First Amendment liability does not extend to decisions to deny government contracts to new bidders.42 Two members of the panel reasoned that “a situation involving ongoing contracts obviously presents a clear set of dynamics,” whereas the consequences of extending Umbehr and O’Hare to new bidders were unclear and potentially troubling.43 In dissent, Judge Roth argued that “the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence does not support the kind of status-based limitation on individuals’ rights of political expression and association that the majority’s decision endorses.”44 Judge Roth stressed the significance of Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 45 in which the Court extended the protection of Elrod to applicants for government jobs, establishing the principle that certain applicants are entitled to First Amendment protection, even in the the absence of a preexisting employment relationship.46 Judge Roth cited Rutan for the proposition that under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine “entitlement to employment is immaterial to a government employee’s First Amendment claim.”47 Because the Court expressly stated in Umbehr and O’Hare that individual contractors should be treated the same as employees under the First Amendment, Judge Roth saw no reason to decline to recognize a First Amendment violation when new bidders are denied contracts for the exercise of their rights of free speech and free association.48 The Fifth Circuit, the only other appellate court to directly address this issue,49 adopted Judge Roth’s reasoning in Oscar Renda Contracting, Inc. v. City of Lubbock. 50 A divided panel read Umbehr and Rutan together to conclude that “[s]ince First Amendment rights have been afforded to individuals applying for employment with the government, no different result should be afforded to bidders.”51 District courts have divided on the question as well.52 In light of this division in the lower courts, it is less certain that the anti-BDS law is unconstitutional as applied to new bidders for government contracts. However, the courts would certainly find a facial challenge to the South Carolina statute much easier to assess than the typical First Amendment retaliation suit. The latter type of suit alleges a specific, individualized instance of retaliation for some exercise of First Amendment rights, such as criticism of city administration or support for an opposing political candidate. In such cases it can be very difficult, as Justice Scalia’s Umbehr dissent noted, to know “whether political affiliation or disfavored speech was the reason for the award or loss of the contract.”53 Indeed, the fact-bound nature of these cases, and the resulting excessive litigation, was one of the primary reasons Justice Scalia opposed the extension of First Amendment liability further into contracting decisions.54 There would be no such practical difficulties in assessing the constitutionality of the anti-BDS statute. South Carolina has made explicit that it will terminate and deny contracts on the basis of boycott activity. The factual question would come to court resolved. By explicitly making nonparticipation in boycotts a condition for receiving state contracts, the anti-BDS statute raises an unconstitutional conditions problem more often seen in government spending cases than the typical retaliation case. Recently, in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc.55 (AID), the Court clarified the rule governing statutes or regulations that put explicit speech-burdening conditions on the expenditure of government funds: “[T]he relevant distinction that has emerged from our cases is between conditions that define the limits of the government spending program . . . and conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself.”56 As noted above, in the case of the anti-BDS statute, it is difficult to argue that a company’s decision to boycott a particular nation is related to its ability to perform a contract for which it bids. Instead, the state is using its economic leverage to discourage protected boycott activity. With the unconstitutional conditions doctrine “undergoing something of a renaissance in the Roberts Court,”57 the Court could well use AID’s formulation of the doctrine to invalidate the anti-BDS statute even if it stopped short of extending First Amendment protection to all new bidders.58 Though the weight of precedent indicates that the statute is unconstitutional, two federal statutes adopted in response to the Arab League’s boycott of Israel seem at first glance to suggest otherwise.59 The Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 197660 denies certain tax advantages to individuals and companies participating in “an international boycott,”61 and the Export Administration Act of 197962 subjects participants in “any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States” to criminal penalties.63
The first response to this argument is obvious: Claiborne Hardware had not yet been decided in 1979, so it was not yet clear that participation in a political boycott was protected First Amendment activity. Today, the federal antiboycott statutes may be unconstitutional. But a second argument could bless the federal statutes while still condemning South Carolina’s. A key feature of both federal statutes is that they apply only to boycotts organized by foreign nations against allies of the United States. The involvement of foreign sovereigns implicates Congress’s power over national security and foreign affairs. The Court is likely to defer to Congress’s factual judgments regarding national security, even when First Amendment rights are at issue.64 By contrast, BDS is led by civil society groups, not foreign sovereigns or terrorist organizations. And, of course, the anti-BDS statutes are being considered by states, which do not have the foreign affairs powers of Congress.65 Given the present weakness of the BDS movement in the United States, the biggest hurdle to invalidating the South Carolina statute will not be First Amendment doctrine, but finding a boycotting company with standing to sue. The fact that these laws have limited practical impact at present makes clear that their significance is primarily symbolic. But that too is a problem. State legislatures are not seeking to defend a valued ally from a fearsome, rapidly growing boycott campaign. They are announcing their disdain for a marginal political movement whose goals they strenuously oppose. This motive could not be more antithetical to the core values of the First Amendment.66 Fortunately, Supreme Court precedents make clear that attempts to disqualify contractors for support of BDS are foreclosed by the First Amendment. The states considering laws similar to South Carolina’s should take heed.
For the fully referenced original article please follow the link: http://harvardlawreview.org/2016/05/s-c-code-ann-11-35-3500-2015/?utm_source=Harvard+Law+Review+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=d9696f5a5a-New_Issue_Volume_129_April_2016_Number_64_6_2016&utm_medium=email&Tutm_term=0_62fe9709f5-d9696f5a5a-331623825
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- Travel ban on Omar Barghouti seen as repressive attempt to silence him and eventually revoke his residency rights
- Move follows threats against BDS human rights defenders by Israeli ministers condemned by Amnesty
- Israel using intelligence services to spy on western citizens active in BDS
Israel has officially refused to renew the travel document of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement co-founder Omar Barghouti in a move that amounts to a travel ban and is an escalation of its attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders who nonviolently advocate for Palestinian rights under international law.
Barghouti, who lives with his family in Acre, has Israeli permanent residency and requires an Israeli travel document to be able to travel in and out of Palestine/Israel. His immediate reaction was: “I am unnerved but certainly undeterred by these threats. Nothing will stop me from struggling for my people’s freedom, justice and peace”.
Israel’s decision not to grant a renewal of the travel document on baseless bureaucratic pretences is being viewed by human rights experts as the first step towards revoking Barghouti’s permanent residency.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri had threatened as much at a recent anti-BDS conference held in Jerusalem when he disclosed that he was “inclined to fulfill” a request he had received from a far-right Israeli member of parliament to revoke Barghouti’s permanent residency.
The travel ban follows thinly-veiled incitement to physical violence against Barghouti and BDS activists by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz and Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan. Katz called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders, while Erdan described BDS activists and leaders as threats and called for them to “pay the price” for their work, following this with a clarification that he does not mean “physical harm”. Defending “campaigns to hold Israel accountable for human rights and other international law violations”, Amnesty International has expressed its concern for “the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti” following these threats, “including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights”.
As a leading volunteer with the BDS movement, Barghouti regularly travels internationally to raise awareness about Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and to advocate for BDS as an effective strategy to end Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid. Rooted in a long heritage of Palestinian popular resistance, BDS is also inspired by the global boycott movement that helped to end South Africa’s apartheid regime and by the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council has recently affirmed “the right of all individuals to participate in and advocate for boycott, divestment, and sanction actions”, calling on states and businesses to “uphold their related legal responsibilities”.
Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global BDS movement, said:
“Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement. After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large”.
“By banning our colleague Omar Barghouti from travelling and threatening him with physical violence, Israel is showing the lengths it will go to in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality”.
The international BDS movement aims to pressure Israel, as South African apartheid was pressured, to comply with international law. It has attracted the support of mainstream unions, churches and political parties across the world and compelled large corporations, including Veolia and Orange, to end their involvement in Israel’s human rights violations.
Prominent artists including Ms. Lauryn Hill and Roger Waters have refused to perform in Tel Aviv; several academic associations in the U.S. and thousands of academics in Europe, South Africa, North America and Latin America have endorsed a comprehensive boycott of Israeli universities. The authors of a recent UN report said that a 46% drop in foreign direct investment in Israel in 2014 was partly due to the impact of BDS.
At Israel’s request, governments in the UK, France, Canada and state legislatures in the U.S. are introducing anti-BDS legislation and taking other anti-democratic measures to repress BDS activism. In France, one activist was arrested simply for wearing a BDS t-shirt.
Israel is also using its security services to spy on BDS activists across the world, as repeatedly reported in the Israeli media and by the Associated Press. This espionage is likely to involve monitoring of citizens’ communications in violation of domestic laws.
Journalist and constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald, known for breaking the NSA surveillance story, has described this well-orchestrated series of draconian measures against the BDS movement as the “greatest threat to free speech in the West”.
Mahmoud Nawajaa added:
“The western governments that are repressing BDS activism at home are giving Israel a green light to continue its violations of international law with impunity. We urge governments, parliaments and human rights organisations to follow Amnesty International’s lead and uphold his rights as a human rights defender under threat”.
Two Dutch political parties are calling for sanctions on Israel for its ongoing violations of Palestinian rights.
At its national congress on 16 April, the liberal party D66 – short for Democrats 66 – called on its lawmakers to promote European Union demands that Israel halt its construction of settlements on occupied lands as well as other violations of human rights. The D66 resolution – adopted by a 75 percent majority – states that if Israel does not heed the demands, the EU-Israel Association Agreement “could be (partially) suspended.” D66 currently holds 12 of the 150 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament and 10 out of 75 in the senate. It also holds four of the 26 Dutch seats in the European Parliament.
In addition a second Dutch political party – the Green Left party – passed a motion reaffirming its call for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The motion was intended to emphasize their already official position calling for suspension, pointing out that Israeli ‘…violations have progressively increased in quantity and severity…’.
The 2 main clauses of the Green Left motion states that:
„GroenLinks includes in its electoral platform, that the Association Agreement with Israel must be suspended as long as Israel continues to violate international law. Our representatives will actively pursue the implementation of the labeling guidelines, the suspension or cancellation of the Association Agreement with Israel, and the recognition of the State of Palestine”
Dozens of members of the European Parliament and 300 human rights groups, trade unions and political parties from across Europe have already called for suspension of the EU-Israel agreement as a tool to pressure Israel to end its abuses.Original article http://www.eccpalestine.org/dutch-political-parties-call-for-sanctions-on-israel/
There comes a time in a movement’s struggle when success is both a rewarding moment but also a very dangerous one. The apartheid regime in South Africa pursued its most vicious and lethal policies shortly before the fall of the regime. If you do not threaten a certain unjust regime or state, and their supporters, they will ignore you and will see no need to confront you; if you are hitting the nail on its head, the reaction will come.
This is what has happened to the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The movement is the logical extension of the great work done before by all the solidarity groups and committees with Palestine. It displays an assertive, unwavering support for the Palestinian people through direct contact with authentic representatives of the Palestinian communities inside and outside Palestine. Until recently, Israel deemed this development as marginal and ineffective; even some of Palestine’s friends in the West objected to BDS on the same grounds: its ineffectiveness.
Well, it seems the movement is more effective than even its conceivers have ever hoped for. It is not surprising: it represents a new zeitgeist in politics altogether – as is manifested in the young electorate who voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and for Bernie Sanders in the USA. The desire for cleaner, more moral politics that dare to challenge the neoliberal set up of economy and politics in the West brought these young people’s support to, ironically, two old gentlemen representing a purer form of politics.
Within the baggage of purer politics one can find a firm support for the Palestinian people. The only way today to show support outside Palestine for the Palestinians is through BDS. In the UK, this logic is understood by those who voted for Corbyn, and by those who are active elsewhere on behalf of causes such as social justice, ecological strategy and human and indigenous rights.
Members of the political elites and establishment, in very senior positons, voice clear, unashamed support for Palestine. When did you hear such a support from the leader of the opposition in Britain and from a presidential candidate in the USA? Even if the latter’s support is quite feeble and reserved – in the context of American politics, a candidate who affords not to go to AIPAC, and the sky does not fall in, is a revolution.
This is the background for the current vicious attack on the Labour Party and Corbyn. Whatever the Zionists in Britain point to, as an expression of anti-Semitism, which in the main are legitimate criticism of Israel, have been said before in the last 50 years. The pro-Zionist lobby in Britain, under direct guidance from Israel, picks them up because the clear anti-Zionist stance of BDS has reached the upper echelons. They are genuinely terrified by this development. Well done the BDS movement!
The reaction, one has to admit, is powerful and vicious. However, succumbing to it by suspending party members, firing student leaders and unnecessarily apologising for crimes not committed is not the right way to confront it. We are in a struggle for a free and democratic Palestine and Israel: fear of Zionist intimidation is not the way forward. The coming days will be very tough and we would need to be both patient and go back to the podium, the website, the radio and television and re-explain what for many of us is obvious: Zionism is not Judaism, and anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Zionism was not the antidote for Europe’s worst chapter of anti-Semitism: the Holocaust. Zionism was the wrong answer to that atrocity. In fact, when European leaders lended without hesitation their support for Zionism their motives in many cases were anti-Semitic. How else can one explain a Europe that stood by when the Nazi regime genocided the Jews and asked for forgiveness by supporting a new plan to get rid of the Jews by despatching them to colonise Palestine? No wonder this absurd logic did not kill the anti-Semitic impulse but rather kept it alive.
However, these are bygones. Jewish settlers and native Palestinians share a land and will do so also in the future. The best way to fight anti-Semitism today is to turn this land into a free democratic state that is based as much as possible on just and equitable economic, social and political principles. This will be a complex, painful transformation of the present reality on the ground, and may take decades to implement. But it is urgent to begin talking about it clearly, without fear and unnecessary apologetics or false references to realpolitik.
Jeremy Corbyn may find it difficult to educate his party of the need to adopt the honest and moral language about Palestine – and he has done so much for the cause that we have to be patient, even if some of his and his party’s reactions are disappointing (although in any case, it is clear that the latest row in the Labour Party about anti-Semitism is mainly an attempt by the party’s Blairites, who were always in the pocket of the Zionists, to undermine Corbyn as much as they are a desperate attempt by Israel to stop the massive shift against it in British public opinion).
However, this is not the issue. What lies ahead is far more important than the domestic political scene in Britain. What really matters is to recognise that here in Britain, as well as in the USA, a new stage has begun in the struggle for peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine. This is not a struggle that replaces the one on the ground, but it is the one that enhances and empowers it.
In fact, what we are facing is a cluster of inevitable struggles: against legislators who are either intimidated or bribed by Israel; against judges and policemen who are forced to abide by new unjust and ridiculous laws that will condemn the BDS as anti-Semitism (and many of them we already know find these directives ridiculous); against university managements that will cower in the face of the intimidation and pressure; and against newspapers and broadcasting companies who will violate their ethical code and betray their professional commitments in the face of the new counter-attack.
The struggle on the ground in Palestine is far more difficult, far more dangerous and demands heavy sacrifices none of us is asked to bear in the West. The least we can do is not be intimidated ourselves by absurd accusations and feel secure that in this era, the struggle against islamophobia, the evils of neoliberalism, for the rights of indigenous people around the world and for Palestine is the same struggle.
This is not only a campaign of Muslims in Britain, Palestinian exiles in Europe, old leftists in America and anti-Zionists in Israel. It is part of a much larger movement of change that brought new parties to power in Greece, Spain and Portugal, new values into the Labour Party and different voices into the Democratic Party in America.
We should not be worried by the new proposed legislation, the new police guidelines or the media hysteria. Even the cowardly behaviour by the Labour Party in its purge of councillors should not detract us from the achievements in the struggle over the public mind and heart over Palestine.
Perspective is of essential importance right now. If Israel believes it can choose as an ambassador to London Mark Regev, the public face of its criminal policy in Gaza and get away with it, and the Israeli ambassador in Washington decides to fight against BDS by sending products from the occupied West Bank to every delegate and senator on Capitol Hill in strict violation of American laws, these are not proofs that Israel is invincible but rather that it is an imbecilic political system that fails to understand where history is taking us.
Like any phobia, Palestinophobia can intimidate and paralyse, but it can also be successfully defeated, especially in this unique period we live in. We in the comfort zone of the West should not cower and not give in to false accusations of anti-Semitism by Anglo-Zionists, timid politicians and cynical journalists. It is time to fight back in court, in the square, in parliament and in the media.
– Ilan Pappe is Professor of History, Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies and co-director for the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies at the University of Exeter.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Original article: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/surge-palestinophobia-585899317?platform=hootsuite#sthash.hrtBEZYq.dpuf
Last month, in a landmark decision, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to establish a database of all companies implicated in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including the city of East Jerusalem.
Finally, after years of toothless UN condemnations of settlements – which are a flagrant violation of international law and a major obstacle to justice and peace in the region – there will be an official UN list that names and exposes businesses that have for decades enabled and profited from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other human rights abuses.
Establishment of such a UN database is long overdue. Already in the 1970s and 1980s, the UN Security Council called on all states to not recognize or provide assistance, economic or otherwise, to Israel’s illegal annexation and settlement policy. In 1982 the General Assembly called for sanctions against Israel for the same reason.
This decision by the Human Rights Council, nearly 50 years after Israel began its settlement enterprise, is certainly too little, too late. There are currently approximately 650,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, confining Palestinians to less than 40% of their land. However, it is still an important victory for Palestinians and the human rights community at large, who are struggling against US and European government policies that protect Israel from censure in the Security Council and undermine efforts to hold Israeli officials accountable.
Legally speaking, all UN-listed companies are to immediately stop their dealings with Israeli settlements and member states are to ensure that they do so. Additionally, investors and contractors, whether governments, local authorities or private entities, have repeatedly been urged by UN experts to avoid engagement with such companies until they end their illegal business dealings in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Companies that will be listed in this UN database are not only those based or operating inside Israeli settlements, but basically all companies doing business with the state of Israel or private Israeli actors operating in occupied Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem. This is because, in the framework of the UN, “Israeli settlements” is shorthand for the wide range of Israeli activities that contribute to the annexation and exploitation of Palestinian land and natural resources, demographic change through population transfer, and denial of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, all of which contravene international law. Companies will be listed if they provide equipment, supplies, services or other support to any of these Israeli activities.
Israel’s relentlessly expanding settlement enterprise has had an enormous detrimental impact on the lives of millions of Palestinians. We have had our land stolen, our homes and crops destroyed, and our towns and villages cut off from one another and the outside world, turned into easily-controlled Bantustans divided by Israeli settlements, military bases, walls, and Israeli-only roads. In effect, Israel has created an apartheid colonial regime where Palestinians under occupation have no rights while Israeli settlers living nearby enjoy all the right and privileges of Israeli citizenship. Action against the settlements is imperative for this reason.
The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) together with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights will be tasked with compiling the database of companies involved with the occupation, with a first list to be presented in June 2016. Having abstained from the decision, European states and the EU are unlikely to provide active support to the work on the database. Thankfully, professional databases of a large number of companies implicated in Israel’s occupation and settlement activity have already been compiled by NGOs offering ethical investing screens, such as Who Profits and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
The U.S. opposed the list, though it is not currently on the Human Rights Council. During his two terms in office, President Obama has repeatedly made clear his belief that settlements are a major impediment to peace and the two-state solution, while at the same time continuing America’s virtually unconditional support for Israel and its settler-beholden extreme right-wing government. Now in his final year, President Obama should finally put his words into action and take concrete steps to stop settlement expansion.
The most important step towards halting and reversing Israel’s destructive and illegal settlement enterprise that the US has done so much to enable, would be for President Obama to suspend military aid to Israel rather than negotiating an increase as he is reportedly doing, at least until Israel abides by international law and longstanding US policy by ending illegal settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land. This would be in accordance with calls from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International for an arms embargo against Israel until it begins respecting international humanitarian law.
And if he really wants to send a message to Israel regarding how seriously the U.S. takes its shortsighted and dangerous settlement policy, he should certainly support other concrete measures, such as the UN’s efforts to stop companies from facilitating and profiting from Israel’s settlement enterprise and other violations of international law.
Ingrid Jaradat is a legal analyst and one of the founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality
Original article http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/278164-new-un-database-of-companies-complicit-in-israels-occupation
In recent weeks, governors, mayors, major businesses, and entertainers have joined a boycott of North Carolina and Mississippi as a way of protesting new state laws that license discrimination against LGBT people. Similar boycotts of Indiana were threatened or announced last year when that state also passed homophobic legislation. Yet it’s particularly ironic that public and private actors are jumping on the boycott bandwagon to protest laws that deny fundamental civil rights when, at the same time, state legislatures are passing bills that would punish the use of economic boycotts in similar circumstances.
Boycotts are a familiar tool used by public officials and private actors to protest the passage of unjust laws. Almost every social movement has at some point deployedboycotts as a tactic to advance its political goals, along with demonstrations, picketing, strikes, sit ins, and other forms of direct action. In 1792, supporters of abolition of the slave trade in Britain urged a boycott of slave-produced sugar. In 1902, the Chinese boycotted American products to protest the extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act. In 1903, Mohandas Gandhi and other anti-colonial actors in India called for a boycott of British goods, launching the “Swadeshi” (self-sufficiency) movement. In 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the “white section” of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she sparked the Montgomery busboycott to protest racial segregation in public transportation and began a chain reaction of similar boycotts throughout the South.
In the 1970s and ’80s, prominent politicians on both the federal and state levels strongly endorsed a financial boycott and divestment of public funds from companies that did business in South Africa. These boycott supporters included Rep. Ronald Dellums and Sen. Ted Kennedy, who pushed for tighter economic sanctions through the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. In New York, supporters included Mayor Ed Koch, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, Comptroller Harrison Goldin, union chief Victor Gotbaum, and City Council President Carol Bellamy.
So, the turn to boycotts this month to express a commitment to fundamental civil and human rights is nothing new—except it comes at a time when several states are trying to make boycotts illegal. For example, a bill just passed by the New York State Senate bars any business, organization, or group that supports the boycott of any U.S. ally from bidding on public contracts. Moreover, it requires the state to create and make public a list of their names. If this bill becomes law, a construction company could not bid on road repair projects in New York state if its owner has personally endorsed an economic boycott of Turkey for that government’s repression of dissidents; a florist that supplies flowers to the governor’s office would be blacklisted and have its contract canceled if the owner has vocally supported a boycott of Italy for its refusal to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples; and the Presbyterian Church (USA) would be blacklisted and could no longer run homeless shelters in New York with public money because of its policy of divesting from companies involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes and the surveillance of Palestinians by the Israeli government.
The proposed New York law treats constitutionally protected political activism as treason and is part of a series of similar bills that have been introduced or passed in about two dozen states across the country. What lies behind today’s ill-conceived calls to outlaw boycotts and create what is essentially a public blacklist of groups that turn to boycotts as a political tactic?
The bills in question have been advanced by right-wing supporters of Israel who are responding to a growing grassroots campaign to use economic leverage to draw attention to human rights violations committed by the Israeli government. Israel’s defenders have resorted to anti-boycott and blacklist laws to censure political debate about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They seek to discredit not only the arguments of their critics, but also the tactics they deploy: namely boycotts, a nonviolent form of direct political action. With a broad brush they portray boycotts as a kind of dirty trick that is subversive, sinister and slanderous in nature.
Defenders of the right to use boycotts as part of movement organizing consider the New York bill particularly worrisome in light of the law’s requirement that the state publish a list every year of organizations that have boycotted allied nations. The list is designed to send the message: “New York State won’t do business with these entities, you shouldn’t either.” For this reason, boycott proponents consider the law to require the creation of a “blacklist”—why other than public shaming would the state be required to publish these names? Through history, blacklists have been generally regarded as a form of political extortion, lying well outside the bounds of legitimate politics. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s blacklist naming actors, activists, and others who were suspected of harboring Communist sympathies ruined lives and careers and suppressed a wide range of otherwise constitutionally protected speech.
Despite this ugly historical backdrop, lawmakers in New York and other states are itching to get into the blacklisting business. Just as in the McCarthy era, the list they want to set up would call out for sanction and ridicule citizens who engage in a familiar form of constitutionally protected speech and political activity. Under the law just passed by the New York State Senate, unions such as AFSCME, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, and the New York City Council itself would have been blacklisted for their endorsement of the boycott of South Africa.
The frontal attack on boycotts as a political tactic made by supporters of Israel is truly ironic given the support that prominent Jewish and Zionist organizations have given to boycotts in other contexts. For instance, American Jews convinced the World Jewish Congress to endorse a resolution calling for a boycott of German goods in 1936. And when the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of black citizens’ boycott of racist businesses in Mississippi in the 1960s, the American Jewish Congress submitted a friend of the court brief arguing that “politically motivated economic boycotts have a long and honored history in our nation,” and that boycotts “are forms of expression undoubtedly protected by the First Amendment.”
Even more ironic is the idea that supporters of Israel would turn to a blacklist, and a state-sponsored blacklist at that, to defend their cause. Blacklists in the U.S. have notoriously done the dirty work of anti-Semites, as the recent award-winning filmTrumbo portrayed so painfully.
I can’t imagine that government punishing people for exercising free speech would survive any court challenge. More…
This history teaches us two important lessons: that there is nothing inherently sinister about the use of economic boycotts as a political tactic, and that there surely is something deeply suspect about the government’s turn to blacklists as a tool to punish, shame, and censor citizens who are engaging in important debates about Israel and Palestine.
It is unconscionable that lawmakers in New York and across the country have been aligning themselves with a smear tactic that imperils the reputations and economic well-being of constituents that they’re supposed to be representing. As legislators debate these bills, they should consider whether their moral compasses point in the direction of Joseph McCarthy or Rosa Parks.
Katherine Franke is the Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the Chair of the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is author of Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality (2015).
Michael Ratner is an attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s Statement of Feminist Solidarity with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement
On February 17, 2016, representatives of the Students, Faculty, Staff, Fellows, and Research Associates of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute (SdBI) voted in unanimous support of the following resolution on the Palestinian call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement:
As feminist scholars, activists, teachers, and public intellectuals we recognize the interconnectedness of systemic forms of oppression. In the spirit of this perspective, we cannot overlook the injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians and other Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, within Israel and in the Golan Heights, as well as the colonial displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba. The discriminatory treatment, exclusion, military siege and apartheid imposed by Israel on its own Palestinian citizens as well as those residing in the occupied territories constitute flagrant breaches of international law, UN resolutions, and fundamental human rights. In the present moment, our counterparts in Palestine face daily violations of their human rights, including their academic rights to free speech, assembly, association, and movement. At the same time, Israeli institutions of higher learning have not challenged, but instead legitimized Israel’s oppressive policies and violations. These violations, which severely impact the daily lives and working conditions of Palestinian scholars, students, and society at large, are also enabled by tax dollars and the tacit support of Western powers, thus making any taxpayer in Canada and the West complicit in perpetuating these injustices. As members of the SdBI who are committed to justice, dignity, equality and peace, we affirm our opposition to the historical and current injustices in Palestine that we view as part and parcel of the multiple oppressions we study and teach about. We also affirm the commitment of the SdBI to principles of human rights, justice and freedom for all, including academic freedom. The SdBI has had a long tradition of welcoming feminists committed to peace. Along the years, the SdBI has organized or sponsored many BDS activities or activities part of Israeli Apartheid week. Therefore, in keeping with the above principles and in line with the SdBI’s history and present commitments, let it be resolved that the SdBI endorses the call by 2 Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of economic, military, academic and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel. In doing so, we join the growing grassroots international consensus and add our voices to a large number of academic associations and entities that adopted similar resolutions in recent years.
We add our voices to those who have declared their support for BDS because we believe that boycott, divestment and sanctions are the most effective nonviolent means for achieving justice and peace in the region. The Simone de Beauvoir Institute recognizes that the issue of BDS raises many questions, and sparks heated debate. As feminist educators and students, we promote open dialogue and an educational approach to understanding the issues. In the next pages, we outline some of the key tenets of the resolution and what it implies. We also provide a list of resources for further reading on the topic (see page 12). Simone de Beauvoir Institute Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec April 13, 2016
In 2005, a draft, working definition of antisemitism was circulated by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). To the dismay of its critics, the document confused genuine antisemitism with criticism of Israel, and was repeatedly, and erroneously, promoted by Israel advocacy groups as the EU definition of antisemitism.
By 2013, the EUMC’s successor body, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), had abandoned the politicised definition as unfit for purpose. Just this week, in response to a motion passed at NUS conference, the FRA explicitly denied having ever adopted the definition. Yet on March 30, Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues and chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, revived the discredited definition by publishing it on the government’s website. Why?
Nine days previously, Pickles had spoken at a conference on antisemitism in Berlin, where he described the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as akin to the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods. “There’s nothing complicated to it,” he told the audience. “It’s the same thing happening 70 years later. It’s the same ideology, it’s the same language, it’s the same threats.”
So what is going on here?Antisemitism – the socialism of fools
Antisemitism can certainly be found amongst those who claim to be Palestine solidarity activists, though the opportunism of a marginal few has consistently been condemned by mainstream solidarity groups, both here in the UK, and in North America. Twitter, of course, has made it easy for anyone to (anonymously) say whatever they want, and has drawn attention to various forms of bigotry that continue to have currency in the population at large.
More broadly, the presence of antisemites or antisemitic discourse amongst those who identify as being ‘on the Left’ is also real. The reason why antisemitism has been described as the ‘socialism of fools’ is that it purports to offer explanations for problems like inequality or economic instability which are, for many people, pressing concerns. Antisemitism, however, offers conspiracy theories in place of political analysis, and bigoted scapegoating rather than political solutions.The ‘new antisemitism’ (again)
So what is antisemitism? Brian Klug, an international expert on antisemitism and a Senior Research Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, has defined antisemitism thus: “A good, simple working definition of antisemitism, according to a broad consensus of scholars, is this: hostility towards Jews as Jews.” He continues: “It would be more accurate (if cumbersome) to define the word along these lines: a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are. Or more succinctly: hostility towards Jews as not Jews.”
This ‘broad consensus’, however, has broken down. When Antony Lerman, Senior Fellow at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue in Vienna, first started studying antisemitism 40 years ago, there was, he tells me, “broadly speaking, a shared understanding of what antisemitism was. And Israel was hardly ever mentioned.” Today, he says, “Israel is promoted as the central recipient of antisemitic hate”, constituting nothing less than “a fundamental redefinition of antisemitism” (a topic he wrote about for openDemocracy last September).
This so-called ‘new antisemitism’ was the subject of a searing critique by Brian Klug as far back as 2004, in an important intervention published by The Nation. “The semantic question has been politicized”, wrote the Oxford academic. “This is why the definition matters. It is time to reclaim the word ‘anti-Semitism’ from the political misuses to which it is being put.”Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism
So why is it wrong to equate anti-Zionism and antisemitism?
First, it is comparing apples and oranges. Indeed, there have always been Jewsopposed to Zionism, for different reasons. See, for example, the current work of the International Jewish Anti-Zionism Network (IJAN), or the new book by US professor Dov Waxman, which, among other things, shows how it was only after the Six-Day War in 1967, “some two decades after Israel’s founding”, that “the American Jewish pro-Israel establishment was built.”
For Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group with more than 200,000 online members and 60 chapters across the US, “equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism obscures the long history of Jewish anti-Zionism and diasporism.” According to the UK-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, fusing “Jewishness/Israel/Zionism” enables antisemitism to become “a weapon for imposing conformity on dissidents within the Jewish community.”
Chicago-based Rabbi Brant Rosen has described how “growing numbers of Jews” identify as anti-Zionists for “legitimate ideological reasons”, motivated “by values of equality and human rights for all human beings.” His words chime with those of a former President of Edinburgh University’s Jewish Society, who recently wrote of “the growing frustration felt by many millennial Jews about the default positioning that support for Israel receives amongst Jewish civil society organisations.”
But what about the claim that, since Zionism is simply Jewish self-determination, anti-Zionism is anti-Jewish bigotry? This is also misguided; put simply, “self-determination does not equate to statehood.” As legal scholar Michael Kearney has explained, self-determination is “less understood these days as a right to one’s own exclusive state, and more as a right to non-discrimination and to democratic participation in society.”
Israel’s supporters, however, are deliberately conflating terms such as ‘homeland’, ‘home’, ‘state’, and ‘self-determination’. The concept of a Jewish homeland is one thing; the creation and maintenance of a ‘Jewish state’, in Palestine, at the expense of its non-Jewish inhabitants, is another. The right to self-determination is never a right to colonisation, whoever is doing it.
Finally, to maintain that anti-Zionism is antisemitism is to deny the historical and contemporary reality of the Palestinians’ experience, and to dehumanise them as a people. For the Palestinians, Zionism has meant violent displacement, colonisation, and discrimination – are they ‘antisemitic’ for refusing to cheer their own dispossession? By extension, as orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor Charles H. Manekin put it recently, labelling Palestine solidarity activists as antisemitic is to imply that “the Palestinians have little justified claim to sympathy.”The Israeli government’s war on Palestine solidarity
The conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and the appropriation of the fight against antisemitism as a means of combating Palestine solidarity, is perhaps best embodied by a periodic conference organised by the Israeli government. Convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism has become a talking shop and strategizing opportunity, in particular, for how to best thwart the growing BDS campaign.
In 2007, delegates discussed topics such as “pre-emptive strategies” against “academic and economic boycotts”, while at the 2009 Forum, a working group was tasked with proposing “imaginative, effective and successful solutions to counter [BDS].” Four years later, in 2013, the conference’s anti-BDS ‘task force’ produced another ‘action plan’, while in 2015, the gathering proposed that activists “pursue legislation at the local, state and federal level to constrain BDS.”
These are not just empty words. In February this year, an Israeli spokespersonadmitted that the government had “stepped up our efforts directly and indirectly, dealing with friends of Israel in a variety of countries in which we have the BDS movement, fighting it with legal instruments.” As a recent AFP report put it, despairing of ever winning “the battle for public support” in many countries, “Israel has instead increasingly focused on measures limiting BDS legally.”
This year, the Israeli government budgeted NIS 100 million to fighting the boycott movement, and has boasted of its plans to use cyber-tech in its efforts to undermine Palestine solidarity activism and BDS. This comes five years after Israel passed a domestic anti-boycott law, described as “the silencing and the restriction of legitimate protest to criticise and act to change Israeli policy.”
Israel’s allies have picked up the baton, including in the UK, where support for BDS and Palestinian rights has grown considerably amongst political parties, trade unions, faith communities, human rights groups, and on campuses. In the Israeli embassy in London, a ‘battle’ map hangs on the wall showing “the deployment of pro-Israel activists and the location of the ‘enemy forces’.”Willing UK accomplices
The Israeli government’s counter-offensive has found willing accomplices in the Conservative government, with ministers seeking to deter local councils from taking ethical investment and procurement decisions that they are in fact entitled to make. These efforts are the ‘soft end’ of a wave of repression that, as documented by Amnesty International, has seen Palestinian human rights defenders, including BDS activists, threatened and intimidated by Israeli authorities.
In Britain, the target of the current crackdown is broader than just BDS: the very legitimacy of Palestine solidarity activism is at stake. On March 22, the Board of Deputies of British Jews president Jonathan Arkush told the Daily Mail that “this is not about criticism of Israel – every country can be subject to criticism.” This has become a clichéd talking-point by proponents of the ‘new antisemitism’; that mere criticism of Israel does not constitute antisemitism.
Yet a few weeks earlier, Arkush had admonished David Cameron for having issued a very mild rebuke to Israeli settlements, claiming that it had made “many” in Britain’s Jewish community “concerned and uncomfortable.” Last year, as then-vice-president, Arkush had urged another Board official not to even “criticise the government of Israel.”
In other words, this is a much broader assault on political freedoms and the right of Palestinians and their allies to campaign against Israeli violations of international law. ‘Of course, mere criticism of Israeli policies isn’t antisemitic’, say those who never actually criticise Israel, ‘but – why are you singling out Israel?’
Lerman is worried about the impact of this strategy by the Israeli government and its allies. “Given the misery and murder that antisemitism has caused over the centuries,” he notes, “one might expect pro-Israel groups to be more circumspect before using it indiscriminately as a political tool.” According to Lerman, “not everything that offends Jewish sensibilities is antisemitism”, and by labelling BDS as antisemitic, Israel advocates “are draining the word of any meaning.”Targeting Corbyn’s Labour Party: a convergence of interests
On February 15, the co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC)resigned his position, in response to OULC deciding to endorse Israeli Apartheid Week (a telling trigger). Shortly afterwards, and for a period of roughly a month, the media reported a number of cases where Labour members were alleged to have been guilty of antisemitic remarks, predominantly on social media.
Corbyn’s political opponents and their friends in the media, saw an opportunity: the Daily Mail declared Corbyn to be “a long-standing supporter of the terrorist organisation Hamas”, while Boris Johnson urged Londoners to vote Tory in the mayoral contest, citing Labour’s antisemitism “cancer.” In mid-March, The Jewish Chronicle declared that Labour “attracts antisemites like flies to a cesspit.”
The Labour Party has more than 400 MPs and peers at Westminster, in addition to almost 7,000 local government officials and some 390,000 members. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ has involved half a dozen individuals, most of whom have either never held, or no longer hold elected office. Corbyn himself has repeatedly condemned antisemitism since becoming leader, while according to Party General Secretary Iain McNicol, everyone reported for antisemitism has been suspended or excluded.
Getting a problem in perspective is not the same as denying that any problem exists (by definition). As Richard Kuper, spokesperson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians tells me, “there is some antisemitism in and around the Labour party – as there is in the wider society in Britain”, a problem made worse by “increased use of social media.”
However, Kuper said, “there is clearly also a coordinated, willed and malign campaign to exaggerate the nature and extent of antisemitism as a stick to beat the Labour party” under Corbyn. Ian Saville, a founder of the ‘Jews for Jeremy’ Facebook page, agrees, saying he is “disturbed” by the way antisemitism has “been taken up as a proxy with which to attack the left in the Labour Party.”Conclusion
As Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG), tells me: “This is not about whether we should be dealing firmly with antisemitism – of course we should – but how antisemitism is defined.” This politicised redefining of antisemitism should worry us all: it dehumanises Palestinians and delegitimises solidarity, imperils the fight against real antisemitism, and constitutes a much broader attack on our democracy and political freedoms.
Originally posted in: https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ben-white/shifty-antisemitism-wars
In a referendum held on Monday, 64% of the Law students at the University of Chile voted for cutting the university’s ties with Israeli universities involved in violating Palestinian human rights. In addition, 56% of the students voted that activities involving Israeli officials or state funding should not take place at the Law Faculty.
One week after holding a successful Israeli Apartheid Week, BDS UChile – a broad student coalition for BDS at the University of Chile – celebrated the referendum results: “This shows that BDS is right and it has strength, and that our comrades understand perfectly what the Israeli colonization process is and how the Israeli apartheid policies are imposed against the Palestinian people on a daily basis”.
Close to one thousand students participated in the referendum, which took place together with the elections for the Law faculty students’ representatives. Since its foundation in 1842, the University of Chile’s Law Faculty has been among the most prestigious institutions in the country and also a stage for many political and social struggles. In 1987, students led a historic general strike and protests against the dean nominated by the Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
“This vote strengthens the academic boycott to keep pushing for our home of studies to be free of Israeli apartheid so that we can breathe a clear and democratic air, without segregation, without oppression, without colonization” says BDS UChile.
The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) welcomed the results of the referendum: “We, Palestinian students, salute our peers of Chile University’s Faculty of Law for their principled position in defense of universal human rights. We are delighted that the majority of students of Chile University’s Faculty of Law voted in favor of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit in Israel’s violation of our basic rights. History will have its say the same way it did in South Africa. Only the support of conscientious people, including students in Latin America, did the Apartheid system crumble.”
The academic boycott of Israel’s apartheid and colonization regime has been growing in Latin America. Earlier this year, more than 200 Brazilian professors and researchers declared their commitment to BDS. In Argentina, more than 100 professors, hundreds of students and 11 academic institutions have also signed an academic boycott pledge against Israel’s apartheid. In 2012, the University of São Paulo students’ higher representative congress endorsed BDS.
Read our recent statement Israel’s legal warfare on BDS fosters repression and McCarthyism across the world here.
Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders are unnerved, but certainly undeterred, by the thinly-veiled threat of physically harming leading BDS activists recently made by Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz.
Katz in his statements, made during an anti-BDS conference organized by a right-wing Israeli daily on 28 March 2016, plays on the official Israeli military term for assassination, “targeted thwarting,” and adds “civil” to it. But nothing “civil” can be expected given the prevalence in Israeli society of almost unprecedented racial and violent incitement against the indigenous Palestinians and the popular Israeli cheering of extrajudicial killings.
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs and anti-BDS czar, Gilad Erdan, also threatened that BDS activists “will start to pay a price,” without revealing any details. In the immediately following sentence, however, he explained that he did not mean any “physical harm” as these are “sensitive times.” Negating his intention to physically harm Palestinian human rights defenders in this particular context almost certainly normalizes the opposite, that it is conceivable, if not probable, in less sensitive times to physically target BDS activists.
The seriousness of these threats by Katz and Erdan must be seen in light of increased Israeli lawlessness and criminal impunity. Even Zionist Israeli dissenters who dare to reveal some Israeli war crimes are tainted as “traitors” by Israeli officials.
The last time a sitting Israeli prime minister was labelled as such, a fanatic Jewish-Israeli took matters into his own hands and assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.
These vile threats must be exposed to the world and presented in the mainstream as part of Israel’s “serious human rights violations,” including “extrajudicial killings,” that US Senator Patrick Leahy has called on the Department of State to investigate.
Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid should face international sanctions as sweeping as those that were imposed on another lawless regime—apartheid South Africa.
No mafia-like threat from anyone will “thwart” BDS activists from advocating for freedom, justice and equality for the entire Palestinian people, in our homeland and in exile.
Israel is losing the battles for hearts and minds internationally, among major trade unions, churches, academic associations, student governments, artists collectives, LGBTQ networks, among others. Both Israel and the BDS movement can detect the Palestinian “South Africa moment” approaching.
This is why Israel is resorting to fostering a new McCarthyism, intimidating, bullying and threatening those who criticize its apartheid and occupation and those who take effective nonviolent action to end them. Israel is launching a massive, very well-funded campaign in western countries to delegitimize BDS.
The most effective response to Israel’s latest desperate threats against BDS human rights defenders is not to get distracted by them and to intensify academic, cultural, economic and military boycott, divestment and eventually sanctions campaigns against its pariah regime, its complicit institutions and all the banks and corporations that are implicated in it.
The only way to “stop BDS” is to end Israel’s regime of oppression, allowing the Palestinian people to exercise its rights under international law, especially the inalienable right to self-determination. The Palestinian people, like all other peoples around the world, cannot and will not accept anything less than our freedom, justice, equality and dignity in our homeland. No colonial threats or oppression can extinguish a people’s passion for freedom and justice.
Amnesty International’s Position
Criticizing Israel’s intimidation campaign and violent threats against BDS activists, Amnesty International expressed its concern “for the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers at an anti-Boycott Divestment and Sanction conference in Jerusalem on 28 March 2016.”
The statement said: “[Omar Barghouti] campaigns to hold Israel accountable for human rights and other international law violations and advocates for the use of non-violent means in doing so.”
The BNC warmly welcomes Amnesty International’s defence of the right of BDS activists to advocate for Palestinian rights under international law and calls on all international human rights organizations, particularly in the US and Europe, to unequivocally uphold the same right.
Glenn Greenwald has described the well-orchestrated series of draconian measures taken in France, the US and the UK, among others, against the BDS movement as the “greatest threat to free speech in the West”. Yet Israel’s exceptionalism in some mainstream quarters in the west remains intact.
South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has once likened this singling out of Israel’s regime for unconditional military, political and financial support, not to mention protection from accountability, by the US and other western governments to placing Israel “on a pedestal” above every other state. Many people are afraid to criticize Israel’s policies, Tutu argues, because of the exceptionally intimidating methods used by its lobby.
BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist movement that is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is opposed on principle to all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The BDS movement is advocating for Israel to be taken off “the pedestal” and held to account like other states committing similar crimes.
It is clear that Israel has been lobbying for and is directly behind these deeply worrying anti-democratic attacks that are intended to criminalize the advocacy of Palestinian rights. But they are also part of a growing trend in western countries of eroding civil liberties in the name of ‘security’, and of governments and unaccountable elites concentrating power in their hands and undermining democratic principles.
EU and US complicity
By not only participating in this Israeli anti-BDS fest of hate and violent threats against a nonviolent human rights movement and its main activists but also keeping silent about these threats, the US Administration and the EU have effectively given a tacit green light to Israel to harm human rights defenders engaged in BDS activism.
The BNC holds both the US and the EU accountable should Israel make good on its threats and harm human rights defenders who are active in the BDS movement, bodily or otherwise.
Like the US government, the EU has always been implicated, albeit to a lesser extent, in enabling and maintaining Israel’s occupation and apartheid. But by sending its Tel Aviv ambassador to join this Israeli war on nonviolent Palestinian, European, Israeli and other human rights defenders it has reached a new low of hypocrisy and complicity.
This hypocrisy is further accentuated by the fact that the EU ambassador’s co-panelists in the conference included the fanatic Israeli settler leader Dani Dayan and a retired Israeli colonel accused of responsibility for horrific war crimes in Gaza.
Read our recent statement Israel’s legal warfare on BDS fosters repression and McCarthyism across the world here.
NYU grad student union overwhelmingly votes to boycott Israel over violations of Palestinian human rights
Graduate students at New York University have overwhelmingly voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights.
Exactly two-thirds of voting members of the graduate student union the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, or GSOC-UAW 2110, supported a referendum on Friday that calls for New York University and United Auto Workers International to withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in violations of Palestinian human and civil rights.
At least 645 union members participated in the vote. An additional 57 percent of voting members pledged to uphold the academic boycott of Israel, refraining from participating in research and academic programs sponsored by institutions funded by the Israeli government.
The union says this “was an unusually large membership turnout, a testament to union democracy.” It explained in a statement that the vote took place after a period of “vigorous debate and engagement with the union among wide layers of graduate workers.”
“After months of mass mobilization and a four-day election, GSOC members have taken a clear stand for justice in Palestine,” explained Shafeka Hashash, a member of the union’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, caucus.
“This historic endorsement of BDS by GSOC at NYU occurs in the wake of growing momentum for the movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide,” she added.
BDS is an international grassroots movement that uses peaceful economic means to pressure Israel into complying with international law and respecting Palestinian human rights. The campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society and by major trade unions in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Graduate Student Organizing Committee is a labor union representing more than 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at New York University, or NYU. It is the first recognized graduate worker union at a private university in the U.S.
The union says its referendum vote it sets “an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy.”
“In addition to bringing material gains for their members, NYU graduate students are reclaiming the union as a political platform for social justice causes,” explained Maya Wind, an Israeli activist and Ph.D. student at NYU who is a member of the union.
“Through the recent mass mobilization for justice in Palestine we have taken a stand on one of the defining political issues of our time,” she added. “The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students.”
The referendum also calls on NYU to close its sister program in Israel’s Tel Aviv University, which the union says violates its own non-discrimination policy.
A recent U.S. State Department report acknowledged the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel,” as well as the unlawful killings, excessive force and torture people endure at the hands of the Israeli military in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
The BDS movement is growing rapidly throughout the U.S. and the world.
In the past week, at least two major graduate student unions voted to endorse a boycott of Israel. The Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst passed a BDS resolution by referendum, as well as the City University of New York Doctoral Students Council, which approved an academic boycott measure overwhelmingly via vote.
“The impact of NYU’s referendum will not only reverberate across private academic institutions where unionization efforts have gained momentum, but across the American academy more broadly,” GSOC said in a statement.
At least eight major U.S. academic associations have voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights, including the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies. Many of these votes had resounding majorities in favor.
Several national unions have also made similar votes, including the United Electrical Workers union.
Despite the democratic nature of these votes, the efforts have faced huge backlash.
Legislators around the U.S. are proposing bans on boycotts of Israel, which legal experts say is unconstitutional.
When the University of California system’s graduate student union voted to endorse the BDS movement by a landslide in 2014, Salon exposed how the small pro-Israel opposition derailed the democratic process with the help of a prominent law firm that has defended powerful multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and Chevron. Under this pressure, the United Auto Workers International Executive Board nullified the vote, even while admitting that it was thoroughly democratic.
NYU’s graduate student union also says the UAW Local 2110 Executive Board “attempted to interfere with democratic elections to union leadership bodies.” GSOC condemned union executives for having “cracked down on their own membership” in an undemocratic manner.
Ph.D. student and union member Sean Larson told Salon the local executive executive board has disqualified a large number of candidates for the leadership election, “disputing our membership criteria eligibility and the eligibility for candidates to run in both elections.”
GSOC is pushing back against the backlash. “In the fight for social justice and against repression, the BDS movement and union democracy are natural allies,” the union affirmed in a statement.
“By empowering the members themselves to speak, the emerging movement for union democracy among graduate students is helping to lead these efforts. Rank-and-file democracy is the future of the labor movement, and the labor movement can secure a vigorous future for BDS in the United States.”
Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.
State legislatures across the country are considering a spate of bills that would blacklist companies (and, in the case of New York, individuals) that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which tries to impose economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land.
Such repressive legislation threatens the right of all Americans to engage in boycotts and other economic acts of conscience.
Churches, student and faculty groups, musicians and artists are among the groups legislators seek to silence. The United Methodist Church could find itself on these blacklists. We have advocated for BDS and four years ago our General Conference voted to boycott products made in Israeli settlements built illegally on occupied Palestinian land. Recently, the United Methodist Church divested from two Israeli banks and added three others to a no-investment list due to their ties to settlements.
In May, United Methodists will once again debate a resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and other human rights abuses. Other denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ, have recently done the same.
According to the nonprofit Palestine Legal, more than 20 state legislatures have introduced bills that would punish persons, organizations and/or companies publicly supporting boycotts related to Israeli human rights abuses.
States such as Illinois, South Carolina and Florida have already passed anti-BDS bills, with Illinois recently becoming the first state to publish a blacklist.
In many cases, these bills also include clauses containing language such as “territories controlled by Israel,” in an attempt to legitimize Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in conflict with long-standing official U.S. policy, international law and United Methodist Church policy.
Churches have a long history of supporting boycotts and divestment as forms of nonviolent, moral action addressing human rights violations. I have participated in boycott and divestment actions for 40 years: against Nestle’s marketing of infant formula in impoverished communities; against companies exploiting farmworkers and companies using slave labor; against Shell oil for its violations in Nigeria; against companies profiting from apartheid in South Africa; and against companies operating in Israeli settlements. United Methodists and many others have participated in these moral nonviolent movements.
Boycotts, by definition, comprise public campaigns to urge others to join together to change behavior of companies and governments. Any given boycott is only as strong as the number of people supporting it. Boycotts embody the heart of First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly.
As more people become fed up with expanding Israeli settlements supported by unconditional U.S. military aid, boycotts of Israeli human rights abuses are gaining momentum.
Proponents of the anti-boycott bills recognize that advocating for divestment is a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Yet in a dangerous development, they seek to empower state governments to punish selectively some who exercise their First Amendment rights.
Years ago, Sen. Joseph McCarthy also had a list and sought to punish artists, labor leaders and public officials. Many people lost jobs and had their reputations destroyed by this anti-democratic, repressive fear campaign. The climate of fear, both in McCarthy’s day and today, is sustained primarily by the silence of the majority.
Under the proposed Pennsylvania bill, universities that endorse BDS could lose state funding. And in New York, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches may find they are blacklisted from receiving state funds for food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters because their denominations support a boycott of companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements.
Similarly, people boycotting Turkey for its violations against Kurdish communities would potentially be denied state contracts.
The heart of democracy involves addressing the toughest issues of our day through contentious, sometimes raucous, free speech and not through government-imposed selective intimidation.
Perhaps even more disturbing than actual passage of bills — they are unconstitutional and could be struck down by the courts — is the willingness of many legislators to introduce and push through legislation that creates such chilling effects on free speech. With almost no debate, legislatures are adopting blacklists with the intention of silencing people speaking out for Palestinian freedom and equal rights.
It’s time for legislators to break the silence. My own congressman, Jerrold Nadler, has attacked free speech and tried to intimidate Columbia University faculty and students who advocate for BDS.
To all legislators considering repressive anti-BDS legislation, let me say this: If you insist on creating a blacklist, put my name on it. I stand with all who exercise their free speech through nonviolent actions of boycott and divestment to extend human rights.
We went through the McCarthy era once. Surely, we do not want to re-create those grim days.
(David Wildman is executive secretary of the Middle East, Human Rights and Racial Justice group for the United Methodist Church’s Global Ministries. His views are his own)
As Israel is increasingly unable to defend its regime of apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people and its regular massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, it is seeking supportive governments in Europe and the US to undermine free speech as a way of shielding it from criticism and measures aimed at holding it to account for its gross violations of international law. There is a very coordinated and well-financed campaign led by Israel and its supporters aiming to criminalise political activism against Israeli occupation, based on the particular fear that the worldwide Palestinian-led campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is succeeding.
At the moment, one of the most significant attacks on the movement is taking place in France. On Sunday the 6th of March, in Paris, a woman demonstrating to defend the rights of women was arrested and held for several hours in a police station. Her crime? Wearing a t-shirt on which was written “Boycott Israel Apartheid – Justice in Palestine”. BDS activists throughout the country face legal retaliation, based on the outrageous so-called “Alliot-Marie Circular”, according to which calling for the boycott of Israeli goods is a form of “racial hatred”. Organisations in France have put together petitions1 contesting this attack on the movement.
On the other side of the Channel, the British government is implementing a new set of rules that will make it harder for local councils and other public bodies including universities to make ethical procurement or investment decisions. Prime Minister David Cameron does not even try to conceal the truth and made very clear that these changes are designed to counter the growing BDS movement. Indeed, his Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, has stated that the BDS movement is committing “a crime worse than apartheid”.
All over Europe, non-violent grassroots human rights activists are under threat.
In addition Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said at a large Israeli anti-BDS conference, held on March 28 in Jerusalem, that Israel should engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS « leaders » with the help of Israeli intelligence. That was at the very same conference at which EU Ambassador to Israel was participating alongside settler leaders. It is seriously alarming when government ministers anywhere make such threats against human rights defenders and members of the public.
The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine calls for an immediate end to the criminalisation of the BDS movement, and strongly expresses its support and solidarity with the activists who work hard to draw public attention to Israel’s repeated violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and within its own 1967 borders.
The struggle for justice in Palestine is gaining ground in European civil society – and so is the fear among the Israeli government and its allies. Their anxiety leads them to desperate moves, such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ recent statement on anti-Zionism being “a synonym for anti-Semitism and the hatred of Israel”.
The BDS movement is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rejects, accordingly, all forms of racism and discrimination on the basis of identity, including anti-Semitism.
In order to support the call from the Palestinian BDS National Committee and in solidarity with BDS activists in European countries and all over the world ECCP is launching a PETITION to the European Commission.
Regardless of their position on BDS, human rights organizations and citizens of the world who care about civil rights and human rights have to take a clear stand to defend the right to advocate for BDS as a matter of conscience and free speech and a nonviolent means of civil society to advocate the fundamental rights of the Palestinians. Therefore, we are calling on human rights organisations, civil liberties groups, people of conscience and public figures to sign the petition to the European Commission opposing government-led attacks on free speech and civil liberties that are being implemented in order to undermine civil society’s human rights initiatives in support of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
We would like to recall the recent statement from the Swedish foreign ministry re-affirming basic democratic principles by saying that BDS “is a civil society movement” and that “governments should not interfere in civil society organization views”.
The ongoing EU’s support to Israel’s violations of international law and continued application of the EU-Israel Association Agreement is fuelling anti-democratic actions in Europe intended to limit civil liberties, including the right to free speech. In order to counter this attacks we need to build a wide coalition which would bring together all forces – citizens’ initiatives, social movements, trade unions and democratic political parties in defence of human rights.
Grassroots activists who responded positively to the call from a wide range of Palestinian civil society organisations – BDS calls for “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” – must be treated with respect and should not be harassed by police or judicial authorities.
We call on human rights organisations, civil liberties groups, social movements, trade unions and democratic political parties to join our call and sign the PETITION to the European Commission. You can do so by filling in THIS FORM