Tonight at 7 p.m. in Claudia Cohen Hall, G17 Auditorium, PennBDS — with Philly BDS, Philadelphia Jewish Voice for Peace, Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace, Temple Students for Justice in Palestine, the American Friends Service Committee and the Christian-Jewish Allies of Greater Philadelphia — will host Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Given the fortuitous timing of Mr. Barghouti’s talk — one year after the National BDS Conference held at Penn last February — we would like to reflect on the progress that BDS and the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement have made over the last year. But first, some background.
The official call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — modeled on the decades-long campaign to end South African apartheid — was issued by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. The stated goal of the BDS call is Israel’s compliance with international law in regards to all three segments of the Palestinian population — those in the Occupied Territories, those living within Israel’s internationally recognized borders and Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled by Israeli forces in 1948.
This entails 1) ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dismantling the separation wall, 2) granting full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and 3) honoring the internationally guaranteed right of Palestinian refugees to return and restitution. The BDS movement does not endorse any particular “solution” or political formula through which these rights might be implemented in practice.
In addition to the nonviolent activism by Palestinians and Jewish Israelis of conscience throughout the past year, on Jan. 31, the United Nations Human Rights Council ruled that Israeli settlements violate the Geneva Conventions and took the unprecedented step of recommending that all states and corporations cease doing business with any entity connected to the settlements.
By endorsing a full settlement boycott, the Human Rights Council aligns itself with those working on the grassroots level globally to promote justice for Palestinians. We would like to highlight some of the most significant victories of the BDS movement this past year.
• In March 2012, on both Palestinian Land Day and Cesar Chavez Day, the national association for Chicano students, M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlan) officially endorsed the BDS call.
• In April, the student government at the University of Massachusetts in Boston voted to divest from Boeing, a company that profits from Israeli human rights abuses.
• In May, thanks to the work of Philly BDS and others, Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke withdrew from the annual LGBT Equality Forum in Philadelphia, in protest of the summit’s decision to highlight Israel as its “featured nation,” with a keynote by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.
• In June, Arizona University’s student government demanded that the university divest from any companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Also in June, thanks to the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace, TIAA-CREF, one of the country’s largest investment funds, divested all shares in their Social Choice Funds portfolio from Caterpillar, a company that manufactures the weaponized bulldozers used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian homes.
• In July, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a full settlement boycott of goods made in illegal Israeli settlements.
• In November, the Associated Students at University of California, Irvine unanimously called for divestment from companies that profit from the occupation. Also in November, at the behest of BDS groups, Stevie Wonder refused to play for a Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces benefit in Los Angeles.
• At the end of last year, the governing party in South Africa, the African National Congress, which also led the anti-apartheid struggle, voted to make BDS part of its official policy.
These victories symbolize the growing refusal of people around the world to silently comply with Israel’s denial of freedom and self-determination to millions of Palestinians on the basis of their ethnic and religious background. We invite you all to hear more about this ongoing struggle at Mr. Barghouti’s talk tonight.
PennBDS is a recognized student group that advocates for and educates the Penn community about the growing global campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction the State of Israel. PennBDS can be reached at pennBDS@gmail.com.