This is remarkable. On the same day that the State Department was demonizing anti-Zionism as a greater threat to Jews than white nationalism, Jim Zogby and Peter Beinart hosted Omar Barghouti for a 90-minute discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel.
Barghouti appeared via Skype at the NYU/Washington event, having been prevented by the State Department from coming in person.
The discussion was remarkable for Beinart’s generosity of spirit to the Palestinian activist. And Barghouti’s description of the anti-BDS laws as “McCarthyism 2.0 with loyalty to Israel’s far right regime as litmus test.”
Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, said he had invited Barghouti to Capitol Hill to explain BDS to Congresspeople. “A person much denounced and much defamed should have the opportunity to engage in conversation,” Zogby said. “The response has been to deny him right to entry. That seems a clear violation of our rights to engage in meaningful discourse… I can see a congressional committee in the future opening with the question, Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of the BDS movement? That’s the direction we’re going in and it needs to be countered.”
Beinart said he was offering Barghouti a soapbox so that he could learn more about the Palestinian experience and about the BDS campaign rather than seeking to debate Barghouti. “Some of my questions will reflect that I have my concerns and criticisms of the BDS movement,” Beinart said. Then he quoted the Talmud, “Who is wise is the one who learns from all people.” He aimed to learn “from people who have had experiences I have not had.”
The criticisms were mild indeed; Beinart conducted the discussion in that spirit.
Here is Barghouti’s denunciation of the anti-BDS legislation in Congress and around the country:
It shocks me to read those anti-BDS legislation. The number of lies and fabrications– it’s just horrific. Is there no factchecking in the United States, for god’s sake? Can anyone just do a basic factchecking, it’s just amazing…
How can the United States with its proud heritage of respecting boycott, as a matter of freedom of speech, protected by the US Constitution, accept this McCarthyism?… We’re living through McCarthyism 2.0, an evolved version of the earlier McCarthyism. where loyalty to Israel’s far right regime is the litmus test. And when states pass anti-BDS legislation, they’re not betraying Palestinian right,s only, they’re betraying the U.S. Constitution, they’re betraying your civil rights. And no one is safe If they get away with this, if they get away wtih suppressing free speech on Palestine who know’s who’s next. LGBT supporters, Blacks, Latinos, who knows….
Here he explains the role of progressive Jews helping to nullify the identification of Jews with Zionism:
Thanks to the work of Jewish Voice for Peace and more than 40 Jewish organizations across the world, this conflation between Israel and Jews is put to rest. Many progressive Jewish groups are fighting this notion, including some liberal Zionist groups in the United States. Some Senators, some representatives in Congress have fought this, when Netanyahu came and addressed Congress, speaking on behalf of the Jewish nation, many Jewish Americans objected to that. I would say Jewish millennials largely object to this…
Barghouti said that this kind of identification of Jews with Zionism is itself antisemitic.
Jews were never a monolithic group…. Anyone who puts all Jewish in one box is making an antisemitic statement… So even when Israel makes that statement… that it speaks for all Jews, it is making an anti-semitic statement and it is feeding real antisemitic bigotry. There are so many anti-Semites that would love to associate every crime that Israel commits against Palestinians, be it a massacre in Gaza or ethnic cleansing in the Jerusalem or the Naqab, to claim that all Jews are responsible for that, because look at Netanyahu, he is saying I speak for all Jews. Thanks to progressive Jewish groups that claim is challenged. No he does not speak for all Jews. There are so many Jewish groups that support Palestinian rights and many who find what Israel is doing absolutely criminal and does not speak for them. So we should never fall into that trap of making that conflation between opposition to Israel’s policies, even ideology, and attacks on Jews as Jews as an identity, as a religion, as an ethnic group. That’s absolutely racist.
Some other Barghouti comments. Questioned about the alignment of the Palestinian solidarity movement with repressive regimes, like Iran and Egypt, Barghouti took issue. “The absolute majority” of BDS allies are those struggling for black justice, indigenous rights, women’s rights, trade union rights, students’ groups rights, LGBTQ rights.
On his opposition to feel-good normalization efforts. “If a master is dancing with a slave it’s never love, it’s always rape.”
On his opposition to a Jewish state: “No one has a right to deny refugee rights because of a certain claim, divine or otherwise, to maintain a supremacy… No one has a right to maintain a supremacy… No rational Palestinian would ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
On Israel’s efforts to forge relationships with repressive Arab regimes. “The people in despotic regimes, the absolute majorities in those countries still consider Palestine as the leading question for them,” Barghouti said. Israel won’t be able to normalize relationships with those peoples till it resolves the Palestinian issue.
At the end of the discussion, Jim Zogby apologized to Barghouti for his having been prevented from traveling and commented: “I think anyone watching this would know why people would not want him here, he’s scary smart.”