Activism

Copenhagen mayor awards BDS activists for their courage

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At a time when Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel are being punished by Israel-apologists, an award for the courage of these activists from the Copenhagen Municipality comes as a fresh wind.

The award was presented to BDS activists Ronnie Barkan, Majed Abusalama and Stavit Sinai (known as “Humboldt 3”) by Copenhagen’s Mayor for Technical and Environmental Affairs, Ninna Hedeager Olsen, at a ceremony in Copenhagen’s City Hall Thursday. It stated that 

Mr. Barkan and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to reveal the Apartheid-like nature of the Israeli regime and its systematic violation of international law. By doing so, the Copenhagen Courageous laureates have sown the seeds for a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians based on truth and justice.

(Full statement here).

I was fortunate to be there, witness the event, interview the three afterwards (interview here), and participate in a talk of the three with Danish Member of Parliament Christian Juhl.

The three are currently facing trial in Berlin (first hearing set for March 4), for disrupting a talk by Israeli centrist lawmaker Aliza Lavie at Humboldt University in Berlin. They have described it on this site:

On June 20th 2017, we, three human-rights activists, engaged an act of political protest, which was directed at an official Israeli state representative, Member of Knesset Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid political party). The aim of action was twofold: first, to protest Lavie’s “Hasbara” event, which was hosted by Humboldt University, and second, to raise public awareness to Israel’s criminal responsibility in perpetuating an apartheid regime. MK Lavie herself is personally accountable for her role as a coalition member during the 2014 onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip, where over 2,200 people have been killed, including 89 entire families that were obliterated. Furthermore, the protesters began by emphasizing that Lavie appears in Humboldt University as a representative of a criminal apartheid state. Given that under international law the Crime of Apartheid is classified as a crime against humanity, we, as people of conscience, were morally obligated to perform our civil responsibility and speak up against those very horrendous crimes that were, and still are, being carried out in our name.

Aliza Lavie is furthermore a prominent member of the anti-BDS lobby, which sees itself as fighting the “delegitimization” of Israel. From her Knesset page:

Lavie also focuses on hasbara (efforts to improve Israel’s image abroad) and fighting the delegitimization of Israel, strengthening the status of the IDF…

Lavie’s party, Yesh Atid (‘There’s a Future’) is headed by Yair Lapid, who is contending for Prime Minister, and has made the fight against BDS a central goal. In 2015 he conducted a propaganda campaign at the Ben Gurion airport, himself handing out anti-BDS booklets to prepare Israelis for the “war” that they are supposed to fight abroad against BDS. The pamphlets claimed:

We are at war. The BDS movement for boycott divestment and sanctions is circulating an inconceivable amount of lies about us, fabricated photos and concocted testimonies. The goal – slandering Israel in the world, isolating us, causing us to turn into a hated and illegitimate state. 

It is important to note just how difficult it is to speak out plainly against Israeli policies in Germany, as these three have done. The “special relationship” between Israel and Germany apparently also means coordinated press slander campaigns. Thus, the Jerusalem Post parroted the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the German-Israel Society, smearing the three as “Hezbollah terrorists”.

So the three are being prosecuted by the State of Berlin, for speaking out against Israeli crimes.

The two charges are trespassing and assault, following a complaint by the organizers: Deutsche Israelische Gesellschaft (German Israel Society) and Humboldt University. Both claims are ironic: the event was open (so how could they trespass?), and no assault victim is mentioned. Actually, the only physical assault that took place was against Stavit Sinai – who was dragged out by a leading member of the German Israel Society and then punched in the face by another member. This was not the first time Sinai was attacked for protesting Israeli leaders. In 2015, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in Holocaust revisionism, trying to ascribe the idea for the Final Solution to the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Sinai took part in a demonstration in front of the Chancellery in Berlin and was hospitalized due to police brutality. The group she was part of held placards reading “Netanyahu is a Holocaust denier.”

As Sinai notes in a recent piece in Electronic Intifada:

The assassination of our characters belongs to a wider pattern whereby consent is manufactured on shielding Israel from criticism. Yet the smearing of dissidents is nothing but a distraction from truths that can no longer be concealed: the crime of apartheid that Israel has practiced in a barbaric and systematic way for decades and how Germany has been complicit in that crime. 

The three are in fact courageously performing a civil, moral duty. As Professors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley emphasized at the very end of the groundbreaking UN-commissioned report on Israeli Apartheid (p. 56):

Efforts should be made to broaden support for boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives among civil society actors… Private sector actors should be made aware of the findings of this report and requested to act accordingly, including by informing the public about the criminality of the apartheid regime, and urging Governments to fulfil their obligations under the Apartheid Convention and to propose initiatives that could be undertaken by civil society. Private sector actors should also be reminded of their legal, moral and political responsibility to sever ties with commercial ventures and projects that directly or indirectly aid and abet the apartheid regime imposed.

Richard Falk spoke at an event in honor of the three in Berlin (last November) and said:

It seems to me important to present yourselves as actually engaged in German patriotism in a certain way. That you’re liberating Germany from its own dark past, because that’s what it really is. It really comes down to the understanding that if you want to get rid of antisemitism, you’ve got to begin to take criminality seriously wherever it occurs, and you can’t choose your criminals because of your history.

Ronnie Barkan, Majed Abusalama and Stavit Sinai with Richard Falk at event last November 2018. From Facebook.

There was laughter in the audience when Falk said they were helping to liberate Germany. It’s a novel idea, it points to the notion that Germany is captive to what is actively promoted by Israel as Holocaust guilt. Three years ago, in an off-the-record comment to journalists, Israeli Berlin embassy spokeswoman Adi Farjon said that Israel had no interest in full normalization of relations with Germany, and that it was an Israeli interest to maintain German guilt feelings, because without them, Israel would be “just another country as far as they’re concerned.” And Germany has basically been following the Israeli lead in this “special”, yet abusive, “relationship”, in which it accepts the line that Israel, with its Zionist policies, is the right answer to anti-Semitism. Yet in doing so, Germany has helped perpetuate another crime, this time against Palestinians, and is thus unable to extricate itself from its guilt.

Although the three are being tried criminally, they are ideologically turning the tables and calling their court-date, “Taking Israel to Court in Berlin”. They want to raise lots of awareness by asking people to come and witness (at the Moabit Criminal Court). “While the German prosecution is interested in criminalizing their dissenting voices, the three will be taking on the State of Israel in front of the German courts.” Because the case is a political attempt on behalf of Israel, to paint the activists as criminals, so as to divert attention from the criminality that they themselves have courageously pointed to.

Living in Denmark as I do, witnessing this honoring of such activists, I have to say that it plants hope and warmth, and a certain pride. The real shame is about how USA tramples its Constitution’s 1st Amendment in order to defend Israeli crimes; or how Germany shuts down any condemnation of Israel as an Apartheid state because of Holocaust guilt. So much is stacked against these activists, and that’s just an extension of all that is stacked against Palestinians and their rights these days, and for well over 70 years.

So this is a liberation. Also for Denmark. I know, it’s not perfect. Here too there is censorship of Palestinian voices, like when the Danish Jewish Community hosted a pro-Israel event by a right-wing nationalist group last month, and a respected Palestinian leader was denied entry to the open event because he might, God forbid, ask a critical question. With that background, it becomes even more meaningful that an award like this is given. Because in the end, as Nelson Mandela explained: “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”  

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The bold gesture at this time, as the article says, when trying to boycott Israel is met with punishment, especially in the US. Israel’s efforts in demonizing those who are protesting their occupation, and land grabs, peacefully, should be rejected. Israel deserves to be boycotted and sanctioned, in fact it was long overdue. If this was Iran we would have shocked and awed them, and toppled their government by now.

Ninna Olsen is not the “Mayor of Copenhagen.” A man named Frank Jensen is. She is a member
of the far, far left Red-Green Alliance, and is the chairman of one particular municipal committee in Copenhagen, for which she is bizarrely called the “Mayor” of this committee, not its “Chairman,” and is as much a mayor as is the Mayor of Toytown.