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Barghouti: BDS is growing as Israel becomes associated with far-right movements around the world

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After overcoming multiple legal and administrative hurdles, including an Israeli-imposed travel ban, Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, appeared on a panel at Columbia University last night entitled “The Road to Freedom: The BDS Movement for Palestinian Rights and the Struggle Against Apartheid.”

The event was organized by Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD)—a coalition of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Barnard College Jewish Voice for Peace calling for the university’s divestment from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“Tonight’s panel will allow us all to reflect on what it means to build a movement against apartheid in the 21st Century” said Nadine Talaat of CUAD and moderator of the talk.

Not only does Mr. Barghouti face a strict travel ban, despite being a permanent resident of Israel, he also faces the “threat of targeted civil elimination, a euphemism for civil assassination, for his role in the growing BDS movement,” added Talaat.

Mr. Barghouti’s travel ban was just last week lifted by an Israeli court, allowing him to accept a peace prize at Yale University before coming to speak at Columbia.

Barghouti listed BDS’ many accomplishments since its launch in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, including Barcelona’s recent full divestment from any companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. He further noted that the movement appears to be growing at a faster pace than ever before, suggesting the growth is in tangent to rising right-wing and fascist movements across the US and Europe.

“Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid stands naked for all to see. As Israel becomes more openly associated with the rising far-right around the world, not just the Trump administration and open anti-semitic figures here in the US, but across the world, especially in Europe,” Mr. Barghouti said, “more people and grassroots movements will feel the moral imperative to join the BDS movement for Palestinian human rights as the most effective form of solidarity.”

Barghouti’s commentary was sharp and at times funny, inspiring multiple rounds of applause and two standing ovations from the crowd.

“BDS cannot claim full responsibility for Israel’s growing academic, cultural and increasingly economic isolation” Barghouti said. “For Israel itself deserves a big share of the credit,” noting that Israel’s 2015 election effectively installed the country’s “most racist government ever.”

Barghouti noted that support for BDS is specifically growing among millennial American Jews who have begun distancing themselves from the Jewish state in growing numbers.

Despite this shift taking place among the American Jewish community, the pro-Israel lobby enjoys some support on American college campuses still.

A contingent of Columbia’s Zionist organization Students Supporting Israel (SSI) stood in the back of the hall with signs reading “Lies” and “Anti-semitism.”

Seeming to address the protestors, Mr. Barghouti noted emphatically that “the long path to justice, however, must start with exercising our fears and inhibitions and embarking on a radical process of decolonizing our minds. For we cannot possibly pursue freedom while our minds remain colonized and therefore cannot even envision what freedom looks like.”

The panel also featured Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace and Premilla Nadasen, a Barnard History professor and veteran of the movement against apartheid in South Africa.

Vilkomerson spoke about efforts on the US legislative front—both federal and state—to stifle BDS, including the oft-repeated conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Citing the AIPAC and ADL sponsored Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which is currently stalled in Congress, Vilkomerson called it “the culmination of years of effort to redefine anti-semitism at the federal level to include criticism of Israel as part of its definition.”

“If it had passed, it would have been written into law, at least on campuses, that criticism of Israel would have been defined as anti-semitic,” Vilkomerson said.

But the shift to a legislative strategy in fighting BDS, Vilkomerson continued, “is a sign of weakness. They understand that they are losing the grassroots.”

“Besides being unconstitutional, these laws are like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. It’s just too late.”

Public opinion is shifting quickly and the immutable bi-partisan support of Israel “is crumbling” added Vilkomerson.

Premilla Nadasen, a Barnard History professor, spoke about her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa and the similarities between those experiences and her 2001 trip to Palestine.

On a delegation with ten other women of color, Nadasen said the trip was organized as a lens to view global feminist solidarity and has since informed her study on intersectionality and grassroots organizing.

“I did not go to Palestine looking for evidence of apartheid,” Nadasen said. “I must say, however, I was struck by the parallels to apartheid that I saw. No comparisons are perfect but the similarities were evident.”

“We did see the more substantive components of a system of segregation and hierarchy, unequal citizenship, dispossession of land, land seizures, displacement of a population, the physical segregation of Palestinian and Jewish communities, hierarchy and inequality between Jews and non-Jews in Israel, an identity pass system, the checkpoints, the detentions, imprisonments and forms of torture. The fragmentation of Palestinian communities that I think are so reminiscent of the apartheid homelands that we know so much about,” Nadasen added.

The event, which ignited a thoughtful and constructive conversation, especially between panelists and the Zionist protestors at the back of the room during the question and answer section (a dialogue that in this reporter’s experience is rarely granted to Palestine solidarity activists who disrupt pro-Israel events), almost didn’t happen.

The day before the event the Columbia and Barnard administrations, allegedly under donor pressure, placed tight last minute restrictions on the event, limiting attendance to only 50 non-Columbia or Barnard students.

“It is our hope that Columbia University and Barnard College comes to understand the importance of protecting freedom of expression on campus…In the face of intensified intimidation, we are overcome with disappointment that our university will coordinate and collaborate with our repression before standing up for its students, its values of free speech, and the spirit of open debate. Moreover, we are concerned with the precedent this sets for the restriction on open expression and discrimination based on content,” reads a responding statement on CUAD’s Facebook page.

Mr. Barghouti was more pointed in his criticism of the college administration’s decision to restrict the event.

“When I went to school here at Columbia…I’m so ashamed now to say that,” said Barghouti in his opening remarks. “No one’s perfect.”

About Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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10 Responses

  1. Misterioso
    Misterioso on April 26, 2017, 10:44 am

    Re: BDS
    Times of Israel – May 24, 2016

    “Dysfunctional Israeli leadership failing utterly in battle against BDS, state watchdog warns

    “Highlighting dismal propaganda performance during 2014 war, comptroller cites lack of overall strategy, absent funding, divisions between ministries, failure to coordinate with IDF.”

    To quote Patrick Martin, Canada’s Globe and Mail correspondent in Israel:
    Globe and Mail, Feb. 23/16
    “Israel is increasingly concerned with the successes of the boycott and divestment efforts. In 2014, foreign direct investment in Israel dropped 46 per cent from the previous year, in part, a United Nations report said, because of BDS efforts.

    “These initiatives are taking hold at North American universities, churches and trade unions, where many institutions are dropping investments in Israel or Israel-connected companies. In Europe where hundreds of academics and entertainers are personally boycotting Israel, major companies such as telecom Orange and water company Veolia are pulling out of Israeli ventures, and some EU governments are putting warning labels on products produced in Israeli West Bank settlements.”
    “Israeli Exports Slump to Seven-year April Low. Harel says weak trade performance to cut 2016 economic growth outlook.”
    By Moti Bassok – May 11, 2016

    “Israel’s deteriorating export performance hit a new low last month, as merchandise exports fell to their lowest April total since 2009, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported on Tuesday….”
    Electronic Intifada – 28 May 2016
    Ireland latest EU state to defend BDS
    Jerusalem Post – 05/26/2016
    In huge blow to Israel, Netherlands declares BDS ‘free speech’
    Electronic Intifada – 31 May 2016
    French court overturns “illegal” ban on BDS event
    Times of Israel – May 24, 2016

    “Dysfunctional Israeli leadership failing utterly in battle against BDS, state watchdog warns

    “Highlighting dismal propaganda performance during 2014 war, comptroller cites lack of overall strategy, absent funding, divisions between ministries, failure to coordinate with IDF.” BY RAOUL WOOTLIFF
    Electronic Intifada – 28 May 2016
    Ireland latest EU state to defend BDS.
    BDS is winning, admits top Israeli “sabotage” strategist.
    Electronic Intifada – 21 April 2017
    EXCERPT: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is winning, a top anti-BDS strategist has conceded.

    “At the ‘Ambassadors Against BDS’ conference in New York last month, former Israeli government advisor Gidi Grinstein said that ‘in 2016 our community probably invested 20 times … more resources in dealing with this problem compared to what we invested in 2010.’ Yet despite these tens of millions of dollars spent combating BDS, Grinstein asked: ‘why are we not winning?’”

  2. JosephA
    JosephA on April 26, 2017, 11:32 am

    Jesse, are there any highlights from the Q&A that you remember or wish to share?

  3. Ossinev
    Ossinev on April 26, 2017, 1:20 pm

    Why oh why would anyone want to boycott such an admirable peace loving democratic ecumenical state and people . It is pure anti – Semitic racism and so unfair. (triple sob)Oh but wait a minute:

    Some cracking quotes. But Zionists being accomplished liars and knowing quite a lot about the science of lying and manufacturing denials would simply dismiss all of the above as anti- Semitic lies. Particularly liked the Yahoo Bar Ilan speech where the Liar in Chief bemoans the lost mass expulsion opportunity presented by the Tienamnen Square demonstrations in China. Guess what he denied that he was talking about “mass expulsion” but was only referring to a small group of Palestinian “inciters”(9 or so).

  4. Reality Colin
    Reality Colin on April 26, 2017, 2:40 pm

    I was there. Inspiring event.

    And I honestly suspect that the protestors, who 99.8 percent of the time listened intently, were affected by the stark difference between what they expected to confront and the reality.

  5. just
    just on April 26, 2017, 6:00 pm

    The “protesters” really “listened intently”? Bravo~ perhaps some truths, gentility, and humor pierced their brains.

    I was just reading an article penned by the humanist and realist, Hagai El- Ad. He’s the executive director of B’Tselem:

    “B’Tselem Doesn’t Take Orders From Netanyahu. Nor Does the World …

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to block Germany’s foreign minister from hearing some facts about the occupation from B’Tselem this week. This failure followed Netanyahu’s failure to prevent Belgium’s prime minister from hearing these facts a few weeks ago, nor could he prevent their presentation to the United Nations Security Council a few months ago. The world has heard, is hearing and will continue to hear about the occupation, and there’s only one thing the Israeli government can do about it: to end the occupation.

    The facts have been known for a long time. Less than two months before the 50th anniversary of the occupation, the whole world knows that Israel controls the entire territory and all the people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They know that this violent control of millions of people in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and in the Gaza Strip manifests in a cruel daily routine of dispossession, destruction, killing and subjugation of the Palestinians, every minute of every day for half a century, at their Israeli masters’ whim.
    For the majority of its history, and each day anew, the state has chosen to maintain its control of the Palestinians. All of our administrative, legal, planning and military institutions are partners to this. But there is no ethical or legal cloak that can conceal the profound implications of this daily violence. Decent people will do everything that is in their power to end this injustice.

    So if the facts are known, what is Netanyahu afraid of?

    The prime minister and his coalition colleagues, along with most of the “opposition” parties, have no intention of ending the occupation. They have grown accustomed to the prevailing situation of the past half a century, in which Israel gradually advances its interests on the backs of the Palestinians without paying an international price for this. It is an “Israbluff” of historic proportions; Israel does not meet the most elementary preconditions of democracy, yet benefits from membership in the club of democratic nations. This makes it possible for us to continue ruling over another people, while defying fundamental moral principles and international law.

    As Israelis, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the continuation of the 50-year-old occupation and the resultant violations of human rights. But as long as the world remains indifferent to the situation and refrains from taking action, the Israbluff will continue to thrive. For that reason, the international community must be firm in spelling out to Israel that its actions beyond the Green Line cross red lines.

    The possibility that this will eventually happen: That is what frightened Netanyahu and all the other supporters of the status quo.

    Israelis who oppose the occupation should be very encouraged by this. International officials who are weighing their policies must pay careful attention to these events. After all, B’Tselem is a small organization, its annual budget barely a tenth of what is spent on guarding the settlers who live in the heart of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. The state, on the other hand, has for 50 years spent billions to preserve and maintain the moral atrocity of the occupation. An entire army of politicians and judges, PR flacks and diplomats, prison guards and Shin Bet security service agents, police officers and soldiers, bureaucrats and clerks is invested in the occupation. And still, Netanyahu is afraid.

    The anxiety of the status-quo supporters should be our work plan. The nonviolent path to ending the occupation depends on being able to persuade the world, and especially Israel’s friends, that they must clarify to Israel that what was is not what will be, and that the occupation’s continuation will lead to international action.

    We don’t take orders from Netanyahu. Nor does the world. Above all, one cannot order the facts to disappear, nor can one instruct evil to masquerade as justice. Today, just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the occupation, there is a hope that by resolutely pursuing the struggle here and in every important international arena, it can be brought to an end.”

    read more:

    BDS. The immoral and complicit Israel- first elected PMs, Presidents, Congressfolks, and members of Parliaments ziotroops all over this planet will finally have to listen and act in accordance with international law and with serious and meaningful sanctions or they will no longer be elected.

    Cannot wait for the day.

    The truth is out. Thanks, Jesse.

  6. Bumblebye
    Bumblebye on April 27, 2017, 4:00 am

    Shaun King comes out in favor of BDS, with a few èxcellent examples of the success recent boycotts have achieved in the US (non BDS ones):

    • JoeSmack
      JoeSmack on April 27, 2017, 1:11 pm

      That’s a pretty friendly reading of the writings of a bumbling opportunist. The guy says boycotts are good to bring about a two-state solution and starts the entire piece of talking about how great the ADL is. Not exactly an endorsement of BDS, maybe more like a criticism of the laws restricting it and a proposal for a boycott based on lesser demands a la Peter Beinart.

    • annie
      annie on April 27, 2017, 1:53 pm

      thanks bumblebye, excellent article by king.

  7. Citizen
    Citizen on April 27, 2017, 8:04 am

    BDS can’t grow fast enough for me.

  8. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan on May 5, 2017, 3:16 pm

    Israel today is Netanyahu’s Kingdom. He in part inspired the Rabin murder . He has been PM for a good chunk.of the last 20 years. Israel today reflects him. Deluded, violent, arrogant, groupthinking. And he is an asshole. Netanyahu cut off all escape possibilities for Palestinians. Formaldehyde. Israel deserves BDS. As Mencken said, democracy is the art of giving the people what they want, good and hard .

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