Benjamin Netanyahu recently addressed his cohorts at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urging them to defend Israel on the “moral battlefield” against the growing threat of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In Netanyahu’s simple-minded language, support for Palestinian rights and opposition to settlements equates to “delegitimization of Israel.”
The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society. (You can find more information about the BDS movement in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. BDS co-founder is Omar Barghouti.
He was due to travel to the US this month to receive the Gandhi Peace Award but the Israeli government recently arrested him, subjected him to multiple 12-hour interrogation sessions, confiscated his passport, accused him of tax evasion and is also considering revoking his residency permit.
In what was his first public statement since his interrogation began in mid-March, Barghouti condemned Israel’s McCarthyite witch-hunt against him and the BDS movement.
During the past year Barghouti has also been subjected to open threats by Israeli top ministers.
During a “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem last year, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that BDS activists “will know they will pay a price for it.” Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for spearheading Israel’s assault on the global BDS movement, added, “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”
During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for “targeted killing,” or “extrajudicial execution.” Israel is also considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.
The current obsession with BDS reflects a changing political environment for Israel. Israeli agents were able to subvert the human rights community in the 70s and 80s. Israel’s task is harder five decades later. The human rights community is more independent while social media and mobile phone cameras have allowed Palestinians and their supporters to bypass the Israeli gatekeepers. In the past few days alone, videos have shown an Israeli policeman savagely beating a Palestinian truck driver and soldiers taking hostage a terrified eight-year-old after he crossed their path while looking for his toy.
If the concealment of Israeli crimes at source is no longer so easy, the battle must be taken to those who disseminate this damning information. The urgency has grown as artists refuse to visit, universities sever ties, churches pull their investment and companies back out of contracts.
Israel is already sealing itself off from outside scrutiny as best it can by passing a law denying entry into Israel or the Occupied Territories to those who support BDS or “delegitimize” Israel.
These are but the first signs of the repression to come. Israel plans to create a database of Israelis who support BDS to mimic existing spying operations on BDS activists overseas. The information collected will help a “dirty tricks” unit whose job it is to tarnish their reputations.
Why is Israel so fearful of the BDS movement? Officials say the immediate danger is Europe’s labeling of settlement products, the first step on a slippery slope they fear could lead to Israel being called an apartheid state. The inexorable trend was illustrated last month when a United Nations commission found Israel guilty of breaching the international convention on the crime of apartheid.
Last week US supporters of Israel unveiled an online “boycotters map,” identifying academics who support BDS both to prevent them from entering Israel and presumably to damage their careers.
For the moment, the Israeli-engineered backlash is working. Anti-BDS legislation has passed in France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the US. This is precisely how Netanyahu wants to shape the “moral battlefield,” making it a reign of terror against free speech and political activism abroad and at home, leaving him free to crush the Palestinians.
A barrage of threats and repression has done nothing to temper Barghouti’s determination.
“As humans, we need permission from no one to pursue our inherent rights,” he said. “As human rights defenders, no degree of intimidation and bullying can deter us in our passionate, nonviolent resistance to injustice, inequality, colonial slavery and 50 years of military occupation.”
Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here: