WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Activists struggling to end the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have launched a multi-faceted strategy to undermine support for the Zionist state in this country.
The first facet is an escalation that has been spreading since late March, of a tried and proven tactic. It’s called “BDS: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” and it is patterned after the anti-apartheid campaign in the 1980s which branded the White-minority government in South Africa as a pariah, according to organizers including BDS Metro DC, Code Pink DC, the DC Statehood Green Party, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship of DC, among others.
Then there is a national-capital-area region-wide advertising drive sponsored by the Peace Riders Campaign. The campaign will feature 100 “End US Aid to Israel” billboards all across the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority subway lines. It will stretch across the most heavily traveled metro system in the country, in the District of Columbia, and in the suburbs of Virginia, and Maryland.
“We planned this ad campaign to coincide with AIPAC’s (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) convention, where more than 5,000 pro-Israelis are registered to attend and the Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu is a featured speaker,” organizer Mai Abdul Rahman said in an e-mail obtained by The Final Call.
The AIPAC convention, scheduled for mid-May has sparked a number of protests, under the heading “Move over AIPAC,” will include demonstrations opposite the U.S. Capitol where Mr. Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of Congress, and a series of lectures and meetings with critics of Israel, including veteran journalist Helen Thomas who lost her place in the White House press room after saying Jews should leave Palestine and go back to Poland, Germany and the United States while arguing that the European powers and U.S. had allowed the Holocaust to take place and should have provided a place for Jews. Palestinians are suffering but played no role in the deaths of Jews, she said.
Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on May 20 and to address a joint session of Congress four days later. Ms. Thomas will give the keynote address at the Move Over AIPAC conference, and will receive an award from Code Pink.
In early April, a BDS coalition met and gathered letters to Gazans, to coincide with the next planned aid flotilla this month, set to breech the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip by sea, delivering humanitarian supplies as well as messages of solidarity to the Gaza residents.
At least 250 activists met on that occasion with Omar Barghouti, founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Mr. Barghouti recently released a book on BDS (“Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights”). He has been on a book tour that included Columbia, Harvard, Brandeis and other universities.
“Some people say BDS is not fair and not effective,” Mr. Barghouti said, reading from a statement. “Israel is a democracy. On almost every level, Israel is only a democracy for one ethnic group. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is calling Israel an apartheid state, and the main refutation of this is that Israel allows Palestinians to vote.
“Apartheid is not defined according to whims of this or that scholar. Apartheid is when the discrimination is legalized. Now there are commissions to accept new residents into communities. Imagine an Irish White guy saying: ‘We don’t accept this Latino guy; his food smells funny, he doesn’t fit?’ But in Israel now it’s legal.
“Israel is losing the battle for hearts and minds at the grassroots level. It maintains connections with the elite, but competes with Iran and North Korea as the most hated countries in the world,” Mr. Barghouti continued.
“International boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts helped topple South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime,” Ms. Abdul Rahman told The Final Call. And while Israelis condemn the BDS tactic, Jews were the first to employ the tactic, she said.
“(In) the first international Jewish boycott (against Nazi Germany), they exactly, similarly, argued against–this is 1933–against residency laws, non-Jew-citizenship revoking, and those are the exact same things that are happening in Israel.
“It’s like the South African boycott. That’s what I say. They all said this is about our moral conviction, and they recognized the futility of the economic impact, but it was about shaming Germany, and shaming South Africa, and their brand, and that was successful,” she said.
The BDS global movement was launched in 2005, when a coalition of civil rights groups, non-governmental organizations, and faith groups issued a statement, calling on people of conscience to non-violently protest the Israeli occupation and its discriminatory laws, she said.
“It was picked up by the entire world. On March 30 (2011) every continent in the world had a BDS action, every continent. This is the wonderful part about BDS. BDS allows members to do any form of protest, non-violently, in a way and manner to raise awareness about discriminatory laws and the occupation in Palestine,” said Ms. Abdul Rahman.
Upscale grocer Trader Joe’s has been a target of BDS information campaigns, she pointed out. Protestors pass out information to shoppers “about products that are made in illegal Israeli settlements. We call people to build peace by avoiding the purchase of these items.”
The goal, she said, is not to shut down Trader Joes’s, but to alert the chain “that there are products made in illegal Israeli settlements. These are illegal settlements according to international law. These settlements have free access to water, resources. They’re taking land from Palestinians. They pollute Palestinian villages, and they’re enforced on the Palestinians by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).”
The BDS campaign has caught the attention of top Israeli government officials. “The stage is being set to stigmatize Israel as an apartheid South Africa leading to eventual sanctions–that’s the assessment of Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” according to published reports.
In his view, this September a UN General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 border lines (in accordance with various Security Council resolutions) would trigger such a move.
“There are factors quite strong in the world including various employee associations, academicians, consumers, and ‘green’ parties that are part of a movement for sanctions against Israel, similar to those imposed on South Africa,” Mr. Barak said in a recent interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. In his view, the worldwide anti-Israeli movement would “start like an iceberg moving toward Israel from different directions.”
There are bodies in the European Council that deal with imports and exports and they could cause serious damage to the Israeli economy, without any government taking an actual decision. Actions could also be imposed by academic institutions as well as by unions and consumers and this could permeate into governments.
Mr. Barak warned that Israel’s failure to act in the diplomatic arena was more dangerous than the public realized. In his view, Israel had ruled another people for 43 years, something that was without precedent. And there is “no chance the world would accept it indefinitely.” The Israeli government, he said, must initiate wide-ranging political steps in order to avoid what he called a “diplomatic tsunami.”
South African Archbishop likens Palestinian life to life under apartheid (FCN, 11-16-2007)