Israel Targets BDS Movement Co-Founder With 'Civil Elimination' Plan

Omar Barghouti speaks out on Israel’s state-orchestrated campaign to silence him and crush free speech.

If the cold-blooded, documented murder of an already wounded, disarmed, and prostrate Palestinian youth on a public street carried out by a member of the  Israeli army by an almost casual shot to the head is only the most recent in a long series of what Amnesty International has called “extrajudicial executions” of Palestinian men, women, and children, it is not unfair to regard it as a particular index to the profound depths of moral poverty to which Israel has fallen. That Israeli municipalities and politicians are rallying on the soldier’s behalf and holding him up as a national folk hero is still more depraved.

The attempt to hide blatant human rights abuses from the world has motivated the State of Israel’s recent  attacks on human rights organizations, and the accusation that Israeli NGO’s like B’tselem are simply “moles” for foreign entities intent on “delegitimizing” Israel.  One has only to reflect on that formulation for a moment to see the equation being made between holding Israel responsible to international human rights conventions and international law with its supposed “delegitimization.”  By what standards then is Israel legitimate?

The attacks on human rights NGO’s are synonymous with the onslaught that Israel and its lobbyists across the West have released upon the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. Where they once dismissed and mocked BDS, they now attack it precisely because it is so effective. Forged through a consensus of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, the BDS movement has captivated the world’s attention and drawn its gaze to the egregious historical situation of the Palestinians.  BDS has finally presented a Palestinian counter-narrative to the dominant one so long put forward by the state of Israel and amplified by corporate American media.

It is within this new context that the horrors endured by Palestinians from the ruins of Gaza to the settler colonial nightmare of Hebron are being understood finally by the world.  Therefore it is easy to see why Israel has now turned, with particular viciousness, to silence in every way it can dissidents in Israel-Palestine and elsewhere. Among its chief targets is Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Detailing the myriad threats and attacks he has endured in just the past few weeks, Barghouti told AlterNet, “One of the objectives of the current mafia-like Israeli regime's attack on Palestinian human rights defenders in the BDS movement is to silence Palestinian voices and prevent[ing] us from reaching people of conscience around the world.”

At a conference in Jerusalem dedicated to countering the rising influence of BDS, hardline Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called for a "targeted civil elimination" effort specifically aimed at BDS and leaders such as Barghouti.  Such euphemistic language is commonly deployed by members of Netanyahu’s far-right governing coalition, and is part and parcel of its efforts to mask the reality of the situation.  This call may be interpreted as a vague yet sinister threat that might include nearly any kind of action—from intimidation to confinement, legal harassment to physical violence.  Its open-endedness is no doubt calculated so that Israel can do just about anything inits name to attack NGOs, BDS, and dissidents of all kinds.  It also gives a green light to aggressive settler violence. 

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor: “Whether one agrees or disagrees on the goals of BDS, it is a form of peaceful protest practiced in different countries around the world, especially Europe and the United States… The Israeli Minister’s call … provides cover to violation of human rights and international law, which protect the security of persons exercising freedom of speech.”

In the fall of 2015, Barghouti, the BDS movement co-founder, was scheduled to speak at a number of events in the United States.  At Stanford, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other groups acted as sponsors for a talk.  A date was set, a venue booked, Barghouti received a visa from the United States.  Yet weeks and then months passed as he waited for Israel to grant him a re-entry visa, which to this date it has not done.  It seems now that Israel is in effect acting to punish those who seek to bring the case of the Palestinians before the court of world public opinion.  Nonetheless, Barghouti will appear via Skype. The episode offers a hint of what “civil elimination” might entail.

More recently, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri pledged to act on a call from right-wing elements to revoke Barghouti’s permit to live in Israel.  In February, ultra-nationalist Israeli member of Knesset Nava Boker wrote to Deri: “Barghouti spends most of his time lecturing around the world and calling to isolate Israel and boycott it… I ask you to use your authority to revoke Mr. Barghouti’s permanent residence status.” Catering to an increasingly militaristic public, Deri -- a former supporter of the peace process -- has endorsed the unprecedented call to strip an activist’s residency because of their political views.

At the recent Jerusalem anti-BDS conference, Deri noted that “The revoking of citizenship or residency is a tool that is hardly ever used because it constitutes a human rights violation.” Yet what he says immediately after that, as seen here at 1.04, is that he is “inclined” to carry out that measure.  Once again, human rights considerations take a back seat to Israeli populism.

In his email to me explaining why he could not travel to Stanford to accept the invitation I had extended to him, Barghouti wrote: “If they think by preventing me from travel and threatening me with ‘civil assassination,’ whatever that means, they will intimidate me into silence, they are hopelessly delusional. I shall speak at Stanford, at the United Church of Christ conference and elsewhere, albeit remotely. Our voices, our thoughts, our moral quest for freedom, justice and equality cannot and will not besilenced.”

Israel’s efforts to prevent Barghouti from traveling to the US are of course meant to break the strong ties of solidarity that have developed between the Palestinianstruggle and activists here in the US.  As in Israel, politicians here are stepping up their attacks on BDS from this side of the equation.  

As I pointed out in Salon, “several states have passed resolutions condemning BDS. All told, at least 22 bills attacking the BDS movement were introduced last year. The organization Palestine Legal explained, “These bills are part of a broader effort to shut down the movement for Palestinian rights, and BDS efforts in particular.’ It has now compiled a number of documents on these bills, showing that what they all have in common is leveraging the power of state legislatures to silence criticism of Israel. This is unique in American political life — the harnessing of US state bodies to protect foreign governments from criticism.”

Israel may have succeeded in eliminating Palestinian leadership through lethal force, but it has utterly failed to kill the rising solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for equality.  The censorship and veiled threats against activists like Barghouti along with the slate of anti-BDS bills are acts of weakness in the face of a movement whose time has come.

David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. Follow him on Twitter at @palumboliu.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World