Last night I went to hear Omar Barghouti at an event titled “Palestine today. Nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation: academic and cultural boycott,” organised by the Roman network for solidarity with the Palestinian people. There were about 80 people there, and the event included the presentation of the book (in Italian) “Planning oppression: The complicity of Israeli academia.”
Barghouti blew me away. He is one of the most articulate, clear-thinking speakers I have ever heard. He presented the goals, importance and strategy of BDS in general, and academic and cultural boycott in particular, and addressed the reasons why Europeans should care about Palestine specifically (direct complicity in Israeli Apartheid), beyond the principle of basic human solidarity. Italy, as it happens, is Israel’s second largest research partner, after the US.
Barghouti also discussed some of the main objections to BDS, such as the counterproductivity of boycotting all Israelis. He explained that the boycott is institutional and not individual – not because individuals bear no responsibility for Israeli apartheid, but because the McCarthyist scrutiny of individual Israelis, to separate the “good” from the “bad” is morally repugnant. When asked about those who wish to limit their boycott to the settlements, he replied that such a position is morally, legally and practically untenable. Even if one wishes to ignore the rights of Palestinians in Israel and those of Palestinian refugees, and focus only on the ’67 occupation, it is the Israeli government and Israeli society as a whole that is responsible for those actions, not the settlers. Those who oppose the Chinese occupation of Tibet do not limit their actions to Chinese products made in Tibet, but boycott the Chinese government responsible for that occupation. On a practical level, Israel uses every trick in the book (including repackaging in Israel) to ensure that settlement products are virtually indistinguishable from non-settlement products.
Regarding the accusation of anti-Semitism frequently levelled at BDS, he replied that such an accusation is in itself anti-Semitic, inasmuch as it creates an equivalence between all Jews and Israeli policies, implying that Jews are monolothic and that all Jews should be held responsable for Israel’s actions. Such generalisations and the idea of collective Jewish responsibility are fundamentally anti-Semitic. He called upon Europeans to stop assuaging their Holocaust guilt by oppressing the victims of the victims of the Holocaust.