‘Why would Israel, a nuclear power with a strong economy, feel so vulnerable to a non-violent human rights movement?” wrote Palestinian author and prominent human rights activist, Omar Barghouti, in a New York Times op-ed in 2014.
Barghouti was referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is increasingly challenging the Israeli occupation and violations of human rights.
The answer to the question lies in the deep and troubling fault lines that have accompanied the state of Israel since its infamous birth atop the ruins of Palestine. Founded upon the racist Zionism ideology, Israel has claimed Palestine as a home to world Jewry, while systematically destroying and imprisoning the Palestinian nation.
This process is identified by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, as the ‘incremental genocide’ of the Palestinians, which has never ceased since 1947-1948.
As an urgent call for action, BDS was the most logical and timely response to two main events: The continued Israeli aggressions against militarily-occupied and besieged Palestinians, and the lack of any international mechanism to rein in Israel or hold any Israeli accountable for these unlawful practices.
BDS’ origins are also wholly Palestinian.
In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called for a boycott of the Israeli government and academic institutions for their direct contributions to the military occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. This was followed in 2005 by a sweeping call for boycott by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations.
Since then the movement has grown exponentially.
BDS is now a large, decentralised, civil-society-led global initiative that harnesses the energies of ordinary people across the globe to serve as a platform for Palestinian solidarity. Its aims go beyond boycotting Israel, to instigate a desperately-needed discussion on Israeli occupation and the sinister relations between Washington (and other western capitals) and Tel Aviv, which have allowed Israel to go unpunished for many years.
US mainstream media has long avoided any honest discussion on the Israel-Palestine issue, overtly implying that the mere acknowledgement of a Palestinian point of view, let alone Palestinian rights, is in itself a sinister act.
Were it not for alternative media and varied margins available in international media, the Palestinian voice would have been completely silenced, and Palestinians would merely exist as notorious ‘terrorist’ figures — obstacles in the path of Israel’s supposed western-style democracy.
In fact, this is the very image that is constantly peddled by the Israeli government, its official propaganda (hasbara) machine and its many allies in the US.
It is this conglomerate of individuals and the massive interests they represent that is often referred to as the “lobby”. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) is the central piece in the lobby’s intricate web, which has, to a large degree, succeeded in tainting the oppressed Palestinian as an aggressor, and militarily powerful Israel as a victim.
To ensure that ordinary Americans never understand that the reality is entirely different from what the media reports, the Palestinian voice is habitually muffled, and the Palestinian intellectual hidden from view. For many years, the ‘debate’ has rarely focused on Palestinian rights, but has been a one-sided Israeli diatribe about its security, future and twisted, convenient and ever-flexible definition of anti-Semitism.
But the rise of the BDS movement has posed a serious challenge to Israel’s self-tailored narrative. Contrary to the typical behaviour of the Israeli lobby, the BDS movement sought the solidarity of civil society organisations, churches and student groups. It engaged people in meaningful discussion and used direct democracy as a vehicle to propel action.
Thus far, every attempt at demonising and silencing BDS has failed, simply because the movement’s just demands speak for themselves: Ending the Israeli military occupation, equal rights to Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, and respecting and protecting the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Every demand is supported by international and humanitarian laws and basic human rights and morality.
Aware of its failure, and the noteable success of BDS, the Israeli government and its wealthy supporters across the US began deliberating the need for a well-financed, coherent strategy to combat the movement.
The pinnacle of the Israeli campaign is now to lobby the United States Congress to officially ban BDS and punish its supporters. By doing so, Israel and the lobby entered new, uncharted waters as the war on Palestinians is now becoming a war on freedom of speech in the US, as protected by the First Amendment. Cheered on by Aipac and others, the US Congress is now leading the Israeli war on Palestinians and their supporters. In the process, they are attempting to demolish the very core of American democratic values. The build-up to this particular battle began when Aipac declared in its ‘2017 Lobbying Agenda’ that criminalising the boycott of Israel is a top priority.
The Congress, which has historically proven subservient to the Israeli government and its lobbies, enthusiastically embraced Aipac’s efforts. This resulted in a Senate Bill (S. 720) — also known as the ‘Anti-Israel Boycott Act’ — which aims to ban the boycott of Israel and its illegal Jewish colonies in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank.
The bill quickly acquired the support of 48 Senators and 234 House members. Unsurprisingly, it was drafted mostly by Aipac itself. Punishment of those who violate the proposed law ranges from $250,000 (Dh919,500) to $1 million, and 20 years in prison. Since then, 22 US states have passed and enacted legislation to criminalise BDS efforts. State Attorneys General have systematically coordinated pushing their agendas from a state level to Washington DC itself.
S. 720, if passed, will cement the new US status, that of ‘flawed democracy’, as opposed to a full democratic nation that legislates and applies all laws fairly and equally to all of its citizens.
On July 17, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a letter calling on lawmakers who signed the Senate version of the Bill to reconsider their decision. Also, all 50 US governors joined in, when they recently signed a letter, itself composed by the Israel lobby, condemning BDS and making outrageous accusations against the non-violent, peaceful movement.
But none of this will succeed, because, put simply, noble ideas cannot be defeated.
Dr Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.