True colours of the BDS movement

This is a cross post by Chris Dyszyński of Just Journalism.

‘Rooted in a century of Palestinian civil resistance, and inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle, the campaign crowned earlier, partial boycotts to present a comprehensive approach to realising Palestinian self-determination’

This is how Omar Barghouti characterises the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks to isolate Israel in every conceivable way, from banning Israeli-made goods for sale abroad to preventing Israeli-written books or academic papers to be made available to foreign universities. Writing in The Guardian, Barghouti’s ‘Beseiging Israel’s seige‘ today celebrated the fifth birthday of the BDS campaign he founded and raises a number of questions about both the movement as a whole and Barghouti as an individual.

The most obvious question is this: Why does the BDS movement support Palestinian self-determination but deny the right to Jewish self-determination? There are many who believe that the Palestinians deserve an independent state, and oppose the continued occupation of the West Bank. Reading between the lines of his article, however, one notes that Barghouti is more interested with the eradication of an independent Jewish presence in the Middle East than he is with creating a sovereign Palestinian one.

As he points out, the campaign to isolate Israel, and only Israel, will continue indefinitely until the state recognises ‘the right of Palestinians refugees to return to their homes, as stipulated in UN resolution 194.’ What he doesn’t say is that the majority of these Palestinians are the descendants of those expelled in the wars of 1948 and 1967 but who have uniquely managed to retain the status of refugees. One large refugee camp is maintained by the United Nations in Balata, within the West Bank city of Nablus. Despite being on Palestinian soil, the 20,000 or so descendants of Arabs who mostly fled Jaffa in 1948 have not been granted Palestinian citizenship. Nor can they vote in municipal elections. Does this mean that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah deserves to be boycotted, too?

The so-called Palestinian ‘right of return’, as many Israeli and international observers have noticed, would spell the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. This a point not lost on Barghouti in his more forthcoming guise as choir-addressing activist. Not only has he stated that ‘This [right of return] is something that we cannot compromise on’, he has also explicitly pointed out that ‘If the refugees were to return there would not be a two state solution, there would be a Palestine next to a Palestine rather than a Palestine next to Israel.’

How this view differs from what Hamas or Hezbollah desire to see happen in the Levant, the Guardian readership is not told. Barghouti does, however, falsely claim that BDS ‘opposes all forms of racism, including antisemitism, and is anchored in the universal principles of freedom, justice and equal rights.’ Tell that to Amit Duvshani.

In 2003, Duvshani, an aspiring doctoral student in molecular biology was told over email by Andrew Wilkie, then a professor of pathology at Oxford University, that his application could not even be considered because Duvshani was Israeli. ‘I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust,’ Wilkie wrote, ‘and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because [they] wish to live in their own country.’ Wilkie didn’t explain which Holocaust-exploiting Israelis he had in mind or how they relate to molecular biology. But he continued: ‘I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army,’ which of course means virtually every Israeli citizen in a country that has mandatory military service.

Oxford evidently disagreed with the good professor’s stand for justice and, seemingly unaware of BDS’ ‘universalist’ logic, suspended Wilkie for two months without pay and ordered him to undergo equal opportunity training.

Barghouti’s boast that BDS has been widely successful is not matched by reality. No American university, for instance, which hosts the largest number of visiting Israeli academics globally, has adopted any measure of the campaign. And attempts to gain a foothold in the British academy have likewise been met with resistance. The global BDS movement hasn’t even made that much headway on the Internet: A Google search for ‘BDS’ places it below the website for the British Deer Society.

This might have something to do with the fact that the campaign also works at cross purposes to pro-Palestinian activism since it ensnares Israelis opposed to their own government and most in a position to change it democratically in a categorical, ethnically-delimited ban. Avraham Burg, the former left-wing Israeli parliamentarian who recently authored a controversial Israeli bestseller, The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes (no doubt a sentiment Professor Wilkie would find favourable), stands as one of the fiercest critics of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Burg’s book wouldn’t be buyable at Waterstones in English translation if Barghouti and his cohort had it their way.

Needless to say, BDS’s over-riding wish for the rest of the world to shun Israel also actively undermines the peace-process. Barhgouti proudly notes that there has been ‘a spate of cancellations of events in Israel by artists including Meg Ryan, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and the Pixies’. But one cancellation he doesn’t mention is Leonard Cohen’s intended concert in Ramallah last year, which was stopped due to pressure from the BDS movement. Despite Cohen’s agreement to dedicate his performance to the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, his prior tour stop in Tel Aviv was a red line too far. The Canadian singer went on to donate the proceeds of that performance to a host of charities that work to improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians – including the Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organisation that brings together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict. One of its founders, Ali Abu Awwad, who had a brother killed by the IDF, stated: ‘I can’t boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen’s.’ Not so the ‘peace’ monopolists wishing for the elimination of the city of Tel Aviv altogether.

There’s another question Barghouti’s piece didn’t bother to investigate. Is it morally better to publicly espouse a blanket boycott position, and be so full of contempt for anything Israeli, or is better to publicly espouse that position while privately enriching yourself with Israeli goods and services? In other words, is it better to be a self-righteous fool or a hypocrite? Barghouti would be well equipped to contrive an answer given that he now studies philosophy – at Tel Aviv University.