In many media reports on the recent panel held at Brooklyn College on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, BDS was subjected to relentless vilification and unfounded allegations.
This was yet another ruthless campaign to demonize and shut down all criticism of Israel. Following congressional Israel-centered bullying of secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, it is further evidence of the rise of a new McCarthyism — one that uses unconditional allegiance to Israel as the litmus test of loyalty.
Indeed, suppressed in all media coverage of the Brooklyn College controversy were Palestinian voices — like mine — who can best explain why Palestinians have embarked on this nonviolent, rights-based struggle for our rights, and how it is deeply inspired by the South African anti-apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movements.
Despite the intimidation campaign waged against it, Brooklyn College — with support from civil libertarians and influential liberal voices — upheld academic freedom and allowed the BDS event on Feb. 7 to proceed.
Mayor Bloomberg indirectly compared attempts by politicians to impose their agenda on the college to North Korea’s despotic policies. Ironically, in a 2012 BBC poll of world public opinion, Israel ranked third among the countries with the most negative influence in the world, competing with North Korea. As many now recognize, BDS has played a considerable role in exposing Israeli policies and, as a result, engendering this steady erosion of Israel’s international standing.
The BDS call was launched on July 9, 2005, by an alliance of more than 170 Palestinian parties, unions, refugee networks, NGOs and grassroots associations. They asked international civil society organizations and people of conscience to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
Specifically, BDS calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967; an end to what even the U.S. State Department slams as Israel’s “institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens; and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced.
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Our opponents call us “Jew haters.” That is a lie and a slander. BDS advocates equal rights for all and consistently opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. In fact, many progressive Jewish activists, intellectuals, students, feminists and others participate in and sometimes lead BDS campaigns in Western countries. The increasing impact of Israeli supporters of BDS has led the Knesset to pass a draconian anti-boycott law banning advocacy of any boycott against Israel or its complicit institutions.
Calling the boycott of Israel anti-Semitic is itself an anti-Semitic statement, as it reduces all Jews to a monolith that is absolutely equivalent to the state of Israel, is entirely represented by Israel and holds collective responsibility for Israel’s policies.
If boycott is “withdrawing . . . cooperation from an evil system,” as Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us, BDS fundamentally calls on all peace-loving U.S. citizens to fulfill their profound moral obligation to desist from complicity in Israel’s system of oppression against the Palestinian people, which takes the form of occupation, colonization and apartheid. Given the billions of dollars lavished by the U.S. on Israel annually, American taxpayers are effectively subsidizing Israel’s human rights violations.
Building on its global ascendance, the BDS movement is spreading across the U.S., especially on campuses and in churches. Multi-million-dollar campaigns by Israel’s foreign ministry to counter BDS by “rebranding” through art, science and cynically using LGBT rights to “pinkwash” Israel’s denial of basic Palestinian rights have failed to stem the tide.
Without increasing international pressure and accountability, Israel will carry on with total impunity its brutal and illegal blockade of Gaza; its untamed construction of illegal settlements and wall in the occupied West Bank; its strategy of “Judaization” in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev), its adoption of new racist laws and its denial of refugees’ rights.
Israel and its lobby groups often try to delegitimize the Palestinian quest for equality by portraying the nonviolent BDS 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? Alabama?
As the first edition of McCarthyism was defeated through the industrious and creative toils of brave, principled defenders of freedom and human rights, so will this new McCarthyism.
Barghouti is the co-founder of the BDS movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He is the author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.”