From Seattle to Kuala Lampur, via Khartoum, Osaka, and Hamburg, activists around the world participated last week in a “Boycott Hewlett-Packard Week of Action,” setting up mock checkpoints and apartheid walls, doing flash mobs, and cheerfully belting out BDS carols. In busy shopping centers, on Main Streets, at heavily-trafficked intersections, and university campuses, we were visible, we were loud, we were proud of our activism, our numbers, our global community. There was nothing hushed up about our actions.
The Week of Action, timed around the annual November 29 Global Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, was in stark contrast to a bill that was passed in the US Senate on December 1st, equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The deceptively named “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” (H.R. 6421) was passed by a “unanimous consent” agreement resulting from behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Zionist lobby, evading any and all discussion. In fact, the bill, with its sweeping criminalization of student activism, passed before it was even made public.
The Israel lobby may think it scored a victory with this bill, but there is every indication their underhandedness is backfiring, as allies and even some Zionists immediately expressed concern over the bill, its conflation of political expression with hate speech, and its potential stifling of activism and freedom of speech. Indeed, the bill will not pass Congress in 2016, and will have to go through the Senate and House next year. It immediately ran into major opposition, from multiple quarters. As one (Jewish) writer put it, in an editorial defending Keith Ellison from the latest charges of anti-Semitism, and the Zionist attempt to end his political career: “The mode of condemning legitimate political opinions as affronts to Judaism, which had grown familiar to the point of dreariness before the election, is freshly outrageous in the age of Trump.”
In the aftermath of the Senate passing of the bill, which is clearly intended to intimidate anti-Zionists into silence, undeterred Palestine activists promptly took to the media to denounce this deceptive move. Palestine Legal attorney Liz Jackson wrote an OpEd explaining that the bill is not about anti-Semitism, and the Los Angeles Times published a strongly worded editorial denouncing this potentially serious blow to free speech, and calling on President Obama to veto the bill, should it also pass the House. An OpEd in Counterpunch argues that the bill criminalizes all criticism of Israel, adding that “What the [Zionist] lobby wants most is to stifle debate about Israel.” The ACLU denounced the bill, and called on the House of Representatives to oppose it, when it reaches them. And thousands of “ordinary citizens” called and emailed their legislators demanding that the bill be stopped at the House level, where it will indeed come under close scrutiny, as we keep up the pressure on safeguarding our First Amendment rights.
The contrast between the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Zionists, and the rambunctious visibility of dissent and creative protest of Palestine activism, reveals the gradual weakening of the Zionist grip on the mainstream narrative, which once held Israel to be the victim—a discursive change due in large part to BDS. It is this change that is worrying the Zionist lobby so much that they are resorting more than ever to aggressive censorship and blacklisting.
Zionists and Palestine activists’ diametrically opposed modes of resistance have long been known to anyone paying attention to the question of Palestine. As Steven Salaita pointed in a 2014 comment: “The appeal to authority is reliant on the cultural and political elite and on legislative bodies to offer a corrective to grassroots agitating. While BDS continues to generate support among students, activists, and performers, the opposition cultivates patronage from centers of power: university presidents, politicians, state senates, financiers, and so forth.” Indeed, the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” was introduced by Tea Party Republican Senator Tim Scott, who had most recently visited Israel in August 2016, and Democratic Senator Bob Casey Jr, who had also visited Israel earlier this year. Both had also received funding from pro-Israel groups.
Today, more than ever before, Zionists are focusing their energy on “lawfare,” in the centers of power, behind closed doors, as their claim to victimhood no longer resonates with society at large. Thus it is not surprising that many events by Israel apologist organizations such as StandWithUs are by invitation only, whereas BDS activism is not only open to the public, but also most frequently performed in public, and circulated as widely as possible on social media. And it is ironic, at best, that groups such as the Canary Mission, whose mission is to “out” young Palestine activists, do not reveal the identity of their own members, hiding instead behind the anonymity of social media.
But it is also important to note that the primary targets of the latest Zionist attacks are the younger generation, mostly students, including young Jews who find themselves alienated from their parents’ Zionism, and flock to the inclusivity of BDS, which welcomes, indeed hinges on, solidarity. It is no coincidence that SJP chapters around the nation have a disproportionate number of Jewish members. This is because while the Israel lobby empowers corrupt politicians, BDS empowers the otherwise disenfranchised. And while Zionism is a supremacist ideology, BDS seeks equality for all.
The lines are very clearly drawn: One on side, serving as timely reminders of the shared values of the two countries’ power elites, we have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exultation at Donald Trump’s election, and the US “alt-right’s” embrace of Israel and the Zionist aspiration to ethnic homogeneity.
On the other side, the fact that the first baby born during the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s historic standoff with DAPL was bundled in a kuffiyeh is a welcome sign that, at the grassroots level, where “radical” movements germinate, there is an understanding of our shared values: decolonization, demilitarization, indigenous sovereignty, environmental sustainability, human dignity. As the world becomes more polarized, the two sides are also more clearly defined: violence, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism, versus an aspiration to long-delayed justice, and a determination to heal the world. The first side works in deceitful, secretive, corrupt ways, rejoicing in pyrrhic victories, while the latter unabashedly rejoices in the visibility of youthful dissent.
And only one welcomes all those who seek radical equality and an end to oppression, regardless of race, religion or lack thereof, gender, or social status.