Mahmoud Abbas: Hero of the anti-boycott forces

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Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. (Photo: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons)

Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. (Photo: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has become the savior of those trying to stave off the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Much like how his comments rejecting the Palestinian right of return earned him praise from liberal Zionists, anti-BDS writers and activists are now looking to Abbas to help kill the appeal of boycotting Israel.

Last week, Abbas made headlines when he said that he doesn’t support the BDS movement.  Speaking to reporters while in South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Abbas said:

We do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal. … But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.

The comments were immediately supported by liberals in the U.S.:

@MaxBlumenthal@CoreyRobin I oppose the ASA boycotting Israeli universities and support the same boycott as Abbas.

— mkazin (@mkazin) December 14, 2013

Jeffrey Goldberg crystallized the liberal Zionist consensus in a column yesterday opposing the academic boycott of Israel endorsed by the American Studies Association:

The ASA is also facing an unlikely opponent in its anti-Israel campaign: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, supports the boycott of settlement-made goods, but he has come out against broad anti-Israel boycotts. The ASA is more Palestinian, in other words, than the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier also got in on the action.

Abbas has become the wedge liberal Zionists are using to drive a split between the BDS movement and liberals, fed up with Israel’s behavior, who might otherwise be supportive of boycott efforts.

The problem with pointing to Abbas as “more Palestinian” than the Palestine Liberation Organization is that it ignores the widespread appeal of BDS in Palestinian civil society— and the fact that his mandate to run the PA has run out.

“There is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO [nongovernmental organization] network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS,” Omar Barghouti, one of the most prominent Palestinian voices for BDS, told the Electronic Intifada‘s Ali Abunimah. “Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people when it comes to deciding our strategies of resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid.”

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