Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is primarily about freedom, justice and equality. The BDS movement, which is led by the BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, is today challenging Israel’s multi-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people, which constitutes settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among the most eloquent voices accusing Israel of practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people. Leading South African Christian voices have told their Palestinian counterparts that Israel’s apartheid is “in its practical manifestations even worse than South African apartheid.”
With its continued siege of the occupied Gaza Strip; its wild construction of colonial settlements and the wall in the occupied West Bank, especially in and around Jerusalem; its intensifying forcible displacement of whole Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev); its adoption of a battery of vile racist laws and its obdurate denial of the UN-stipulated right of return for Palestinian refugees, who constitute the majority of Palestinians, Israel has embarked on an entirely more belligerent and violent phase in its feverish attempt to extinguish the question of Palestine.
Israel and its lobby groups, which even Thomas Friedman accuses of “buying and paying for” allegiance in Congress, have been trying to delegitimize the Palestinian quest for equal rights under international law by portraying the BDS Call’s emphasis on equal rights and the right of return as aiming to “destroy Israel.” If equality and justice would destroy Israel, what does that say about Israel? Did equality and justice destroy South Africa? Did they destroy Alabama? Of course not. Justice and equality only destroy their negation, injustice and apartheid, and this is precisely what Israel and its lobbies are running scared of, the effective and sustainable challenge of Israeli apartheid and colonial rule.
As to the venomous and patently false anti-Semitism smear thrown recklessly and maliciously at BDS activists in an explicit attempt to bully them into silence, it is increasingly seen today as a weapon of intellectual terror that is employed to stifle debate and free speech when the subject is Israel’s occupation and apartheid or the generous U.S. support for both. This time around, though, with the BDS movement’s solid human rights and international law credentials and track record, the anti-Semitism smear is hardly working.
BDS is categorically opposed to all forms of racism, including Islamophobia, anti-black racism and anti-Semitism. Anchored in international law and universal principles of human rights, BDS calls for equal rights for all humans, without discrimination. This universalist commitment has enabled BDS to spread in recent years at a spectacular rate within the mainstream of western societies, achieving one success after another, in the economic, academic and cultural boycott spheres. Israel is conceding that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds not just in Europe but also on U.S. campuses. Thus the panic, the vilification and the bullying attempts to crush the BDS conference at Penn.
In light of the evolving popular revolutions across the Arab region and the Occupy movement that is largely inspired by them, it is crucial to effectively and consistently present BDS as being part of the global 99 percent movement for freedom, justice and equal rights. It is vital to reveal how Israel is right at the center of the 1 percent agenda, the Perpetual War Inc. that thrives on ongoing armed conflict, militarism and instability with all lucrative profits that are generated as a result, and not just for the arms industry.
The 1 percent are united, and so must we, the global 99 percent. Our aspirations overlap, our struggles converge. Unity is now a necessity, not a nicety. We must strengthen our alliance with African American and Latino communities, indigenous groups, labor, LGBT rights groups, human rights groups, faith organizations, progressive Jewish organizations and others.
There is hardly anything that Israel or its lobbies can do today to quell the healthy growth of BDS in the US and around the world. A movement that dwells in citizens’ consciences, that is rooted in an oppressed people’s heritage of struggle for justice, and that is inspired by the rich and diverse legacies of Mandela, Tutu and King cannot be defeated or co-opted. Our South Africa moment has arrived.
Omar Barghouti is a human rights activist, co-founder of the BDS movement and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (2011).
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