Tell the Truth, Omar

This is a cross-post from the newly resurrected

Omar Barghouti supports the destruction of Israel. It’s very clear from his words and writings, and it would be better for all concerned if he had the guts to be honest about it. By destruction, I don’t necessarily mean he seeks the physical destruction of the Jewish State or the extermination of its citizens, although, judging by his equivocations when it comes to Hamas violence  (from the leader of a supposedly non-violent movement, remember) I wouldnt be surprised. Rather, he wants Israel to be replaced by a Palestinian-Arab state. Or, as his recently murdered friend Juliano Mer-Kharmis  put it so succinctly, “I’m in favour of a single Palestinian state from the river to the sea. If the Jews want to live with us, ahlan wasahlan (welcome).”

The BDS movement seeks Israel’s destruction through a slow-burning campaign that aims to depict the Zionist entity as uniquely evil and deserving of the harshest sanctions of the international community. The clever aspect of this campaign, and what marks it out from the old-school Arab boycott of Israel, is how it is wrapped up in rhetoric of international law and human rights, downplaying Palestinian nationalism as obsolete and focusing on the inalienable rights of the individual. As Barghouti put it in a recent interview with ‘Democracy Now’: “It’s a basic, liberal, decent agenda based on human rights that any person can join.”

Threats work best when they are unambiguous. A good youth leader knows that threatening to send a child home from camp won’t work if he can’t act upon it. Conversely, the person on the receiving end of the threat needs to know what they have to do for the threat to be lifted. This is why the boycott of South Africa (of which I have reservations) was effective: it was very simple. For the boycott to be lifted, the Afrikaans simply had to end apartheid.

What about BDS? “It’s not just to end the occupation,” says Barghouti, “because the 1967 occupation victimises one-third, a mere one-third, of the Palestinian people.” What else is about, Omar?  “To have a minimal kind of exercising of our right to self-determination, we would need to end the occupation of 1967, end Israel’s system of racial discrimination – so, have full equality in Israel for Jews, non-Jews and so on – and the right of return for refugees in accordance with U.N Resolution 194.” I suspect Omar and I would disagree over the meaning of Resolution 194, but I’ll save that for another time. What exactly does Barghouti mean by right of return for refugees? Does he mean the formula that has been floated by which Israel will recognise the Palestinian right of return and the Palestinians will in turn exercise that right in the Palestinian State and not the State of Israel? Does he mean that he wants as many of the refugees as possible to return? Or does he merely mean that he wants them to decide? And would he allow them to be given another choice, such as third-country repatriation? He should tell us. He should tell the people he is boycotting so we can decide whether or not to meet his demands. And if he means the full exercise of the right of return to the State of Israel, then he should acknowledge that this will almost certainly result either in the Balkanisation of the land or in Israel being replaced by a Palestinian-Arab state (even Noam Chomsky acknowledges this). Either way, he must tell us.  

The same goes for his demands regarding Israeli-Arabs (or, perhaps more accurately, Israeli-Palestinians). What does he mean by Israel’s “system of racial discrimination”? He can’t be talking about denying Arabs the right to vote, because they can. He can’t be talking about the restaurants Arabs aren’t allowed to enter, because there aren’t any. He might be talking about the low funding for Arab municipalities, or the discriminatory land laws, or the discrimination Israeli-Arabs can face when applying for jobs or looking for apartments in Jewish-majority areas. These are problems which Israel need to urgently tackle. But there are plenty of other countries, even a few wonderful liberal western ones, where minorities are often treated as badly – de facto if not necessarily de jure – and the Israeli polity will not look fundamentally different when there is full civic equality for minorities. Plus he surely knows that it’s better to be an Arab in Israel – at least materially speaking – than almost anywhere else in the Middle East.  So what is he talking about? He must tell us. I suspect he objects to a state where the language is Hebrew and the national holidays are Jewish being founded on his ancestral land. I have some sympathy for his position. But he should be more honest, especially if he wants to achieve his goals.

Omar Barghouti, in his role as the unofficial high priest of the BDS movement, is apparently studying for his Phd at Tel Aviv University. So perhaps he’ll drop into the Vineyard before I go to India (or when I come back) for some hummus and to answer my questions. I’d be happy to pay. But shrouding his true intent in rhetoric about supposedly universally accepted norms of human rights and international law is blatantly dishonest, and I don’t know what I have to do to make him stop. I couldn’t find the answers in his book. So please do tell, Omar.

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