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November 4, 2010

Montreal: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, part 1/2

Reuel S. Amdur

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The conference opened on October 22 with a panel composed of Areej Ja'fari, Stephen Faulkner, and Omar Barghouti. Ja'fari coordinates the West Bank Palestine Freedom Project and has organized BDS campaigns in refugee camps. Faulkner was there representing the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). His talk drove the hall wild. Omar Barghouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for BDS and the author of The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, soon to be published in English. A French version is already available.

Ja’fari traced the idea of a Palestinian boycott back to 1920, when a Palestinian boycott was waged in retaliation for a Zionist boycott of Arab products.  In 2005, the call went out anew for BDS–Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

She identified BDS with earlier movements–Gandhi’s campaign for Indians to weave their own cloth and boycott the English product, the U.S. civil rights movement.  In the West Bank, children have been recruited to tell villagers to boycott Israeli goods and to get merchants to stop selling them.  As an alternative, there is a parallel campaign to get Palestinians to buy Palestinian goods.

For Faulkner, the key message was one of the need for solidarity.  BDS needs to be a democratic big-tent movement with leadership from the people on the ground.  There is need for a new leadership to arise to lead a united mass movement.  The struggle, he said, requires complementarity between efforts inside and outside. 

Faulkner said that it is necessary to “help our Jewish comrades to reclaim their own theology and democratic history.”  He cited the tradition of the Jewish Bund.  As well, he urged that “we need to pay attention to what happens after victory.” Beyond the defeat of Apartheid there is the matter of economic inequality. 

He reported that COSATU is raising the banner of the Palestinian cause in the International Trade Union Congress.  It has been actively promoting BDS among other African unions, up and down the east coast of the continent.  South African dock workers refuse to handle Israeli cargo and COSATU is asking dock workers in other countries to do likewise.  His is a municipal workers union, and they are endeavoring to make municipal purchasing Israel-free.  They are also waging a public information campaign. 

Barghouti began by quoting the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: “Besieging the siege.”  He cited three rights for Palestinians: the end to the occupation, equality in Israel, and a right to return.  He pointed out that two-thirds of the Palestinians are refugees.  The policy of Israel, he said, is racist.  “We are against every sort of racism, including anti-Semitism,” he declared.

When these demands are made, the reply is, “You are out to destroy Israel.”  But, he asked, “If equality destroys any state, what does that say about that state?”

Barghouti was in an optimistic mood.  People say to him, “There is no hope for you to succeed.” And “Be reasonable.” But he sees “U.S. hegemony getting weaker and weaker.”  With regard to the incident of the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, he told of a conversation he had with a pro-Palestinian Israeli.  His mother, in Tel Aviv, asked him, “When did the BDS movement recruit Netanyahu and Lieberman?” 

He sees BDS now entering the main stream, not just the Left.  In the Israeli carrot-and-stick approach, “The Zionists forgot what a carrot looks like.”  And “The Zionist lobby is losing support among Jews.”  He also cited as ground-breaking a Time magazine cover: “Why Israel is not interested in peace.”

Jews in Israel are now talking about new measures that are reminiscent of fascism.  The call for discrimination against Palestinians voiced by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, expelled from the Knesset for his racism, is now mainstream in Israel.  While in 1948 the ethnic cleansing was massive, now, say Barghuti, it is step by step.  A Bedouin community in the Negev is wiped out to make room for a Jewish National Fund park.  Families are being driven out one at a time from their homes in Jerusalem, and homes are being bulldozed.  Other Palestinians are being driven out by having their water cut off.

Yet, in the U.S., 150 major artists call for the boycott.  500 in Montreal, likewise.  The British Trades Union Congress joins a boycott of Israeli products from the West Bank. Norway’s pension fund divests from West Bank Israeli companies.  And Israel has simply gone too far: even Canada refuses to send delegates to the OECD meeting in Jerusalem because of Israel’s refusal to consider East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state.

What needs to be done?

Boycott all Israeli products. He notes that there are some who boycott just things from the West Bank, and he would not condemn them.  They are part of the movement.

On an upbeat note, Barghouti remarked, “Our South African moment has arrived.”

It would be amiss to lose a couple historical bits that Barghouti dropped into his talk. 

He said that after Israel’s 1948 victory they destroyed “tens of thousands of Palestinian books in an effort to cut Palestinians off from their culture.”  And in the 1987-88 intifada, Israel shut down all Palestinian schools in the Occupied Territories.  If Israeli soldiers and police came across children carrying books, the children were arrested.  Clandestine classes were held in mosques and churches.

One further note: Someone pointed out that there are unions that invest in Israel government bonds.  We need to see to it that that stops.

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