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Karim Traboulsi

The BDS Bulletin: Doing the right thing will cost you dear

Support for the non-violent BDS movement targeting Israel's occupation is growing globally [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2019

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From academic blacklisting to legal prosecution, supporting the Palestinian dream of freedom from occupation could cost you dear; but it's the right thing to do.

The BDS Bulletin is a new regular feature brought to you by The New Arab. To receive The BDS Bulletin in your email each week, sign up here.

From academic blacklisting to legal prosecution, supporting the Palestinian dream of freedom from occupation could cost you dear; but it remains the right thing to do.

In the past few weeks, there has been no shortage of proof of how Israel and those who unconditionally support its oppression of Palestinians bully their opponents, especially those who use non-violent tactics to help end the multi-generational occupation of the Palestinian territories.

But more on that later.

The threat of non-violence

Since the early 2000s, the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking to end Israeli occupation has come to represent the international face of a reborn non-violent Palestinian resistance movement.

After decades of armed resistance, which strayed into terrorist tactics and turned international public opinion against their cause, violence failed to achieve national liberation for the Palestinians.

This is precisely why Israel fears BDS; for it was non-violence that secured India's independence from British colonialism, and South Africa's emancipation from White apartheid, when the balance of power had been heavily skewed in favour of the oppressor.

Before the end of the Cold War, most Arab countries and their close allies in the Global South had boycotted Israel. Although Israel has since been keen to reverse that and it has achieved no small measure of success, from Rabat to Beijing via New Delhi, such a boycott was never perceived as an existential threat.

Everything changed when support for justice for Palestinians spread from the peripheries of global power and made inroads into Western bastions on which Israel relies to maintain its upper hand and perhaps its very survival.

For some time now public opinion in the UK, France and Germany has been more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli. Trade unions, student unions and a growing number of artists are shunning Israel, officially or implicitly endorsing BDS. Pro-BDS NGOs have even received EU funding, as The New Arab reported in January.

Tel Aviv has perhaps reconciled itself to the fact that it will never win back hearts in liberal Western Europe, although the establishments in these countries remain reluctant to reflect grassroots views in much of their foreign policies. Israel thus did not panic until the contagion reached the shores of the New World

Support for BDS has been growing dramatically in the United States, well outside Arab and Muslim communities.

Once upon a time in America

Support for BDS has been growing in the United States, well outside Arab and Muslim communities. Beginning on liberal university campuses in California and the north-east in the wake of Israel's atrocious wars on Gaza in 2012 and 2014, support for BDS has today deeply infiltrated the American mainstream.

Last month, speaking to Time magazine, Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal organisation that advocates against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said: "[...] More and more people are supporting Palestinian rights as part of a broad progressive agenda, and so people who support Palestinian rights are also the people who support the fight for $15, support Medicare for all and want to abolish ICE."

That was in the wake of an anti-Semitism row unleashed in February by BDS-supporting Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali-American Congresswoman, when she mocked pro-Israeli politicians she said were beholden to AIPAC. Omar and Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib have both brought the Palestinian issue and BDS into the floors of the House of Representatives, an unprecedented development in the history of the United States.

Anti-Semitism is very real. Hatred of Jews is rearing its ugly head once again in Britain, France, Germany and the United States, fuelled by the rise of the populist right. Supporters of Palestinian rights against racism must at all costs avoid all forms of prejudice, and must never use anti-Semitic tropes to make any point, valid or otherwise. And to her credit, Ilhan Omar apologised for using what has been construed as anti-Semitic stereotyping to make her point.

Yet she refused to backtrack from criticising AIPAC and its toxic role in US foreign policy.

But as Dominique Vidal wrote in The New Arab last month, Israel has a peculiar history of cynically manipulating the real problem of anti-Semitism to silence valid criticism. And it is by exploiting anti-Semitism that Israel has mobilised its foreign policy machinery, its lobbying arms, its allies, to engage in "lawfare", seeking to criminalise BDS in the US and other Western nations.

Israel has also sought to fabricate links between the BDS movement and "terrorists", but even the Associated Press noticed the accusations were fake and weakly argued.

As The New Arab reported early last month, the US Senate has now passed a bill that effectively criminalises support for boycotting Israel. This follows a series of similar moves by individual US states that punished support for BDS with sacking and blacklisting, and even denying aid in times of natural disaster.

Perhaps one of the most well known targets of this bullying is Dr. Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor who wrote for The New Arab on BDS

The bullying backfires

Perhaps one of the most well known targets of this bullying is Dr Steven Salaita. A Palestinian-American professor who writes for The New Arab on BDS, Salaita's support for the struggle for Palestinian rights led to a campaign of bullying that cost him his tenure-tracked career.

Dr Steven Salaita [Getty]

In a poignant blog post last month, Salaita said he was now working as a school bus driver to earn a living, but was keen to point that there was more dignity in that honest work than working in a deeply corrupt academia.

Israel is thus keen to make the cost of doing justice very high. But being on the wrong side of history always backfires.

In February, The New Arab reported that a US federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Steven Salaita over his support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The Republican-dominated Senate's attempts to criminalise BDS are also unlikely to be passed by the Democratic-controlled House, where the high number of progressive representatives are sure to vote it down.

More and more judges in the United States are accepting the argument that support for BDS, far from being an expression of anti-Semitism, falls under freedom of speech arguments, sacred in the US constitution's Second Amendment.

In fact, by over-reacting to criticism and refusing to make a single compromise on Palestinian rights, Israel is helping make its worst nightmares a reality: BDS is now being debated in the highest ranks of the Democratic party - several Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls voted against the Senate anti-BDS bill, namely Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Israeli lobbying has also come under the glaring spotlight of America's most prestigious newspapers.

And perhaps most alarmingly for Israel, young American Jews, most of them liberal leaning, are diverging from Israel, increasingly illiberal and right-wing.

In short, BDS is here to stay. It is here to grow. And it is here to win. And The New Arab will be here to report.

Stay tuned. 

The BDS Bulletin is a new regular feature brought to you by The New Arab. To receive The BDS Bulletin in your email each week, sign up here.

Follow Karim Traboulsi on Twitter: @kareemios

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