The international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) must be doing something right! In just 13 years its campaign in defense of Palestinian human and homeland rights has unmasked long-hidden criminal deeds by the State of Israel. A vicious backlash against BDS has been launched by Israel that uses familiar tactics — lies, intimidation and bigoted lawmaking.
Thanks to BDS, most of the world now knows that Israel has for seven decades stolen Palestinian land to build an exclusively Jewish state. It jails hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial, and thousands for protesting oppression. It has blockaded impoverished Gazans for a decade. It segregates Jews and Arabs in an apartheid society.
During the ongoing Great March of Return Israeli snipers have killed nearly 200 unarmed protesters along the Gazan border fence and injured more than 18,000. On just one day, soldiers massacred at least 61 Gazans and wounded 2,700. They were protesting Trump moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May.
BDS achievements. World opinion, and indeed world Jewry, have joined the critics of Israel and defenders of Palestinians who call for single, secular state with equal rights for all. BDS was founded in 2005. Since then, dozens of U.S. student governments and academic organizations have endorsed university boycotts and divestments. Pension and church funds have been withdrawn from Israeli banks. Major European companies have pulled out of Israel. Musicians and artists continue to boycott Israel.
BDS’s campaign revolves around three fundamental demands: (1) freedom for residents of the occupied territories; (2) equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; (3) the right to return for Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. Hence, by definition, BDS politics contradict the exclusivist and segregationist principles of Zionism. As an Israeli commander of the battle against BDS, Yossi Kuperwasser, says, “The core issue is whether they [BDS] are going to be successful in implanting in the international discourse that Israel is illegitimate as a Jewish state.”
Israel’s witch-hunt. BDS’s successful activism and education have spun Israel into a desperate campaign to shut BDS up. A secret website, Canary Mission, publishes and posts a blacklist of pro-Palestine students and faculty, accusing them of allying with “Palestinian terrorists to perpetuate BDS and Jew Hatred.” Visitors to Israel are barred at the border if they have connections to BDS.
Israel passed a new Basic Law in July, 2018, which defines Hebrew as the only official language (Arabic and English were originally included), and declares that only Jews have the right to self-determination. Tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs in Israel demonstrated against these laws in August.
In the U.S., Israel’s backlash is fortified by the Trump White House, Zionist organizations, and legislators. They falsely define anti-Semitism as any criticism of Israel. Zionist Kenneth Marcus, of the Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, openly plans to use this definition to prosecute pro-Palestine students. In the meantime, genuine anti-Semitic attacks plague the schools and, since the October 27 killings in Pittsburgh, Jewish synagogues. The white nationalist murderer had spewed racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic sentiments online.
Two dozen states have passed laws against pro-Palestine activity. A Texas city devastated by Hurricane Harvey tried to force recipients of financial aid to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Then there’s the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” a proposed bill in Congress which Jewish Voice for Peace characterizes as a “cynical attempt to silence human rights on college campuses.”
Defending free speech. Such bigoted laws are galvanizing BDS and free speech allies. Coalitions are forming in several states and lawsuits being filed and won. Social justice groups will surely join this urgent defense of free speech. For it is integral to resisting the far-right, white supremacist assaults on many fronts in this country. The fight against lies and bullies is winnable — with fearless defense of truth and human rights everywhere.
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