The Next Phase in the War on BDS:
Why Israel Detained Omar Barghouthi
By Ramzy Baroud
April 3, 2017
BDS co-founder Omar Barghouthi
The Israeli state has violated
international law more than any other country, yet has rarely, if
ever, been held accountable for its crimes and misconduct.
Israel’s successful public relation campaigns through the ever-willing
western media partners, coupled with the relentless
work and pressure carried out by its powerful backers in Washington
DC, London, Paris and elsewhere, has borne stupendous results.
For a while, it seemed that Israel was capable of maintaining its
occupation and denying Palestinians their rights indefinitely, while
promoting itself as 'the only
democracy in the Middle East'.
Those who dared challenge
that skewed paradigm through resistance in Palestine were eliminated or
imprisoned; those who challenged Israel in public arenas anywhere in the
world were smeared as ‘anti-Semitic’
Things seemed to move forward nicely for Israel. With
American-western financial and military aid, the size, population and
economy of illegal settlements grew
at a fast rate. Israel's trade partners seemed oblivious to the fact
that settlement products were manufactured or grown on illegally
occupied Palestinian land.
Indeed, for a long time the occupation
was very profitable with very little censure or pressure.
All that Israeli leaders needed to do was to adhere to the script:
Palestinians are terrorists, we have no peace partner, Israel is a
democracy, our wars are all carried out in self-defense and so on. The
media repeated such misleading notions in unison. Palestinians,
oppressed, occupied and disowned were duly demonized. Those who knew the
truth about the situation either faced the risk of speaking out - and suffered
the consequences - or remained silent.
But as the saying
goes, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the
people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
Justice for Palestinians, which once appeared as if a 'lost cause'
received a massive resurgence during the Second Palestinian Intifada
(Uprising) in 2000.
Growing awareness resulting from the
dedicated work of many intellectuals, journalists and students saw the
arrival of thousands of international activists to Palestine as part of
the International Solidarity
Academicians, artists, students, religious
officials and ordinary people came to Palestine and then fanned out to
many parts of the globe, utilizing whatever medium available to spread a
unified message to their numerous communities.
It was that
groundwork that facilitated the success of the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
2005, BDS was a call made by Palestinian civil society organizations to
people around the world to take part in exposing Israeli crimes and to
hold accountable the Israeli government, army and companies that benefit
from the subjugation of Palestinians.
With large and growing
networks already in place, BDS spread quickly and took the Israeli
government by surprise.
In the last decade, BDS proved resilient
and resourceful, opening many new
channels and platforms for discussions on Israel, its occupation,
Palestinian rights and the moral accountability for those who either
support or ignore Israel's violations of human rights.
worries Israel most about BDS is what it calls the movement’s attempt to
Since its inception, Israel has fought for legitimacy.
But it is difficult to achieve legitimacy without respecting the rules
required for a country to be legitimate. Israel wants to have it both
ways: sustain its profitable occupation, test its latest weapon
technology, detain and torture, besiege and assassinate while receiving
international nods of approval.
Using threats, intimidation,
cutting off of funds, the US and Israel have labored to silence
criticism of Israel, the US main ally in the Middle East, to no avail.
As recently as days ago, a United
Nations report said that Israel has established an ‘apartheid
regime’; although the author of the report, Rima
Khalaf resigned under pressure, the genie cannot go back to the
Progressively, BDS has grown to become the incubator of
much of the international censure of Israel. Its early impact included
artists who refuse to entertain in Israel, then companies started to
shut down their Israel operations, followed by churches and universities
divesting from Israeli economy. With time, Israel has found itself
facing a unique, great challenge.
So, what is Israel to
Ignoring BDS has proved dangerous and costly.
Fighting BDS is like launching a war on civil society. Worse, the more
Israel tries to disrupt the work of BDS, the more it legitimizes the
movement, offering it new platforms for debate, media coverage and
In March 2016, a large
conference brought together Israeli government officials, leaders
from the opposition, media pundits, scholars and even entertainers from
Israel, the US and elsewhere.
The conference was organized by
one of Israel's largest media companies, Yediot Achronot.
a rare display of unity in Israeli politics; hundreds of influential
Israelis and their backers trying to forge a strategy aimed at defeating
Many ideas were put on the table.
Israeli Interior Minister,
Aryeh Dery, threatened to revoke the residence of Omar Barghouthi, BDS
co-founder and one of its most effective voices.
and Atomic Energy Minister, Israel Katz, called for the 'targeted civil
elimination" of BDS leaders, signaling Barghouti, in particular.
Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, wanted BDS activists to 'pay the
The war on BDS had officially started, although the
groundwork for that battle was already in motion.
government announced earlier in the year that it was illegal to
"refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in arms trade,
fossil fuels, tobacco products, or Israeli settlements in the occupied
That same month, Canada
passed a motion that criminalizes BDS.
A couple of months
earlier, the US Senate passed the Anti-Semitism
Awareness Act, conflating the definition of anti-Semitism to include
criticism of Israel on US campuses, many of which have responded
positively to the call made by BDS.
Eventually, the UK adopted a
similar definition equating between legitimate anti-Jewish hate crimes
and criticism of Israel.
More recently, Israel passed a law
that bans individuals accused of supporting the BDS movement from
entry to Israel. Considering that entering Israel is the only way of
gaining access to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Israeli ban
aimed at severing the strong rapport that has been connecting
Palestinians to the global solidarity movement.
campaign finally culminated in the detaining and interrogation of Omar
On March 19, Israeli
tax authorities detained Barghouti and accused him of tax evasion.
By doing so, Israel has revealed the nature of the next stage of
its fight, using smear tactics and faulting leading activists based on
charges that are seemingly apolitical in order to distract from the
urgent political discussion at hand.
Along with other steps,
Israel feels that defeating BDS is possible through censorship, travel
bans and intimidation
However, Israel's war on BDS is destined to fail,
and as a direct result of that failure, BDS will continue to flourish.
Israel has kept global civil society in the dark for decades:
selling it a misleading version of reality. But in the age of digital
media and globalized activism, the old strategy will no longer deliver.
Regardless of what transpires in the case of Barghouti, BDS
will not weaken. It is a decentralized movement with local, regional,
national and global networks spanning hundreds of cities across the
Smearing one individual, or a hundred, will not alter the
upward movement of BDS.
Israel will soon realize that its war on
BDS, freedom of speech and expression is unwinnable. It is a futile
attempt to muzzle a global community that now works in unison from Cape
Town, South Africa to Uppsala, Sweden.
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has
been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books
include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his
latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His
website is www.ramzybaroud.net.
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