In the past five years, the BDS movement has witnessed a spectacular and robust rate of growth in international civil society and among people of conscience around the world.
Omar BarghoutiDaniel Meyerowitz-Katz’s ill-informed and manifestly misleading attack on the Palestinian-led, global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel contained several misrepresentations and some outright fabrications. The historical account given by Meyerowitz-Katz is not only skewed; it is a typical attempt to obscure or omit altogether the basic facts about BDS.
An overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society issued the BDS Call on July 9, 2005 as an effective, non-violent strategy to end Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights. This civil, peaceful and inclusive struggle, largely inspired by the successful South African anti-apartheid movement, is based on international law and universal principles of human rights.
The BDS movement’s objectives are justice, freedom and full equality for all, irrespective of identity attributes. The aim of the BDS campaign, specifically, is to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations under international law, namely by: withdrawing from all Arab lands it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; implementing full equal rights for the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.Mischaracterising the internationally mandated return of indigenous Palestinian refugees uprooted and dispossessed by Israel during the Nakba, the 1948 campaign of ethnic cleansing, as “a sudden influx of millions of immigrants” is unarguably false and deceitful.
The reality is Israel is a state that, according to several annual US Department of State human rights reports, maintains a system of “institutional, legal, and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens. This system of legalised and institutionalised racial discrimination fits the international definition of apartheid in the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crimes of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
According to Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are at least 20 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. These encompass the vital domains of land ownership, state education, and infamously, the “Law of Return” – which excludes anyone who is not Jewish. And all this is not even to mention Israel’s military occupation and colonisation of the West Bank or its illegal siege of the Gaza Strip, which has recently been called a “prison camp” by British prime minister David Cameron. BDS is a movement based on universal human rights and as such rejects all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.
This has been one of the main reasons for the movement’s success, and its wide adoption by human right groups, activists and concerned citizens around the world – including many Jewish peace groups and even some principled and active supporters within Israel, such as the Coalition of Women for Peace and Boycott from Within.
In the past five years, the BDS movement has witnessed a spectacular and robust rate of growth in international civil society and among people of conscience around the world. Many high-profile campaign victories put BDS on the mainstream map in the West. The Derail Veolia campaign, for instance, targeting the French company due to its involvement in the illegal Israeli tram project connecting colonies with Jerusalem, has in less than three years cost the company contracts worth billions of US dollars.
Leading moral authorities, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have also widened the movement’s appeal to many around the world. Cultural and intellectual icons of the calibre of Stephane Hessel, Alice Walker, Iain Banks, John Berger, Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Henning Mankell, Roger Waters, Ken Loach, and Mike Leigh have added visibility to the swelling ranks of BDS support globally. Artists like the Pixies, the Klaxons, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, leading artists in Faithless and many others have heeded the cultural boycott part of the BDS campaign and refused to perform in Israel.
Many unions around the world have also backed BDS campaigns, including the South African COSATU, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the huge Brazilian trade union federation CUT, and the Trades Union Congress in the UK, which endorses a boycott of and divestment from companies that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and colonial settlements. Campaigns aimed at boycotting complicit Israeli academic institutions have also spread, inter alia, in Britain, the US, Canada, India, France, Norway, Spain, Pakistan, Italy, South Africa, Australia.
As the BDS movement has gained more and more successes, the far-right Israeli establishment regarded it as a “strategic threat”. Smear and intimidation campaigns by the proponents of “Israel right or wrong” have increased, but have been notably futile in hindering the movement’s growth. Recognising their inability to rationally and convincingly debate BDS in public with leaders of the movement, Israel’s lobby groups have opted instead to insinuate and slander. Now we are seeing such desperate tactics by the supporters of apartheid Israel in Australia, in light of the courageous decision by Marrickville Council to join the BDS movement.
One of the most desperate arguments put forth by those Israel pressure groups in Australia and elsewhere is that “BDS actually hurts Palestinians”. This is both patronising and pathetically dismissive of the ability of Palestinian civil society to determine its own destiny and rights as well as the sacrifices needed to attain them.
Like the South African majority, Palestinians know well the price to be paid for freedom, for the light of justice at the end of the long, torturous tunnel of colonial oppression and dispossession. The fact that a near consensus in Palestinian civil society, including all the main political parties, unions and NGOs, has existed since 2005 in support of BDS unambiguously expresses the Palestinian’s readiness to pay that price.
Freedom, justice and self-determination are worth every bit of it.
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian commentator and human rights activist and a founder of the BDS campaign.