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Barghouthi: ‘the day of student engagement against Jim Crow is coming’

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Today my friend James North called and asked, Who is Mustafa Barghouthi? Because Barghouthi has a wonderful piece in today’s Financial Times explaining why BDS is so necessary to Palestinian freedom, when violence beckons at every hand. I said that Barghouthi, a physician of enormous personal restraint, is the Martin Luther King figure of the current political map. Restrained by nature, accommodating, but slowly radicalizing, cerebral but engaged, and always willing to hear the other side. And basically ignored. Jon Stewart put him on television here with Anna Baltzer last year; and oh yes, Robert Simon got him on 60 Minutes. But I don’t understand why we don’t have major profiles in our press of this noble figure who has been called by the urgency of the moment, and has responded by putting himself fully on the line. New York Times, please cover Barghouthi; he’s a natural.

The structural problem here is that even a Palestinian moderate is too radical for the American discourse. Barghouthi told me earlier this year, pointing at Road 443 that he cannot travel on, that apartheid in Israel is worse than it was in South Africa. American mainstream can’t hear the news. From FT (sorry, I can’t get the link): "Israel Knows, Apartheid Has No Future":

A second cave-in on settlements will signal to Palestinians that the Obama administration is not serious about restraining Israel’s efforts to foil peace talks and the two-state solution.

Like Cassandra, responsible leaders in our region can only warn that allowing Israel to run roughshod over our rights will have dangerous consequences. Anticipating these dangers, colleagues and I have sought to marshal the power of non-violent direct action against Israel’s occupation and apartheid system to highlight the injustice of its actions and encourage Israelis and American Jews to see that we do not oppose them but the actions of the Israeli government. We have achieved some success, but it is insufficient.

We are now in the early stages of a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions directed at this Israeli government for its refusal to abide by international law. Such action successfully overturned Jim Crow laws in the American South and apartheid in South Africa, and we are slowly applying it to Israeli occupation and apartheid. But until students seize on it with the same moral fervency as earlier generations did against Jim Crow and South African apartheid, we will achieve only marginal success.

That day of student engagement is coming. I have spoken on many American and European campuses and see change in the more diverse audiences I address today as opposed to 20 years ago. These young people, including many progressive Jewish activists, recognise that this is not a conflict between Arabs and Jews, but between universal conceptions of freedom and antiquated notions of racial supremacy and colonisation. These audiences are on the road to endorsing the BDS campaign because they are aware that their political leaders are, with rare exceptions, unwilling to challenge Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians.

American politicians may be the last to embrace our struggle – be it the urgency of a truly sovereign Palestinian state side by side with Israel or one state with equal rights for all – but the equation is shifting and their calculus will not always be towards knee-jerk support for Israel. Our moral case is too powerful.

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