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It’s time for progressives to get off the fence over BDS

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has come a long way since it was formed in 2005. Once known only to a relatively small group of activists, BDS now makes headlines in mainstream media the world over. One opinion piece yesterday asked, “Does anyone take the BDS movement seriously?” Appearing as it did in the New York Times, the headline answered its own question; the newspaper’s opinion editor certainly takes BDS seriously enough to commission a piece attacking it, obviously.

The Israeli government and the US Congress also take BDS very seriously. For the past four years, the former has had an entire ministry dedicated to fighting the movement. What’s more, only last week BDS was the subject of a major debate in Congress; it is no longer an obscure debating point relegated to meetings of left-wing, Palestine solidarity activists.

Having failed previously to convince or cajole enough lawmakers into support for similar efforts, AIPAC — America’s major anti-Palestine lobby group — pushed forward a resolution condemning BDS. It passed last week, with only 17 Representatives voting against it. Unlike previous attempts, this resolution did not outlaw BDS or impose penalties on BDS activists or supporters. Some of the resolution’s supporters from the Democratic Party (only a single Republican voted against it) justified their support on the basis that it did not restrict US citizens’ constitutionally protected right to free speech.

As a non-binding condemnation of BDS “and all efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel,” the resolution also claimed that the movement “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.”

The “both sides” posture here is highly misleading; Palestine is occupied by a settler-colonial enterprise running a racist military dictatorship. This is not a matter of two equal “sides” engaged in an interminably complex “conflict”. This is a matter of an oppressor versus the oppressed.

Shamefully, some of the new waves of progressive US lawmakers voted to condemn BDS, including one of the “Squad” of four demonized so openly in racist terms by President Donald Trump. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib voted against the anti-BDS resolution, but Ayanna Pressley did not.

“Voting yes on this resolution affirmed to my constituents raised in the Jewish faith Israel’s right to exist,” she claimed in justification. Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard also voted for the anti-BDS resolution. Why? “Because I support a two-state solution.” Interestingly, Gabbard has won praise by some on the left due to her stances against interventionist US wars around the world.

Neither Pressley nor Gabbard understands that Israel’s supposed “right to exist as a Jewish state” is predicated on pure racism. That is a fact. What it means in practice is the “right” for Israel to be an apartheid state permitted to exclude Palestinians from historic Palestine purely on the basis that they are not Jewish.

Both Representatives, however, also stated that they would continue to stand against any resolution which threatens any legal measures against anyone advocating BDS. They support the right to boycott Israel on a free speech basis, but not the actual act of boycotting a racist, apartheid state. This contradictory position is simply not good enough.

In Britain, there are liberals and even some leftists who take a similar position, even while claiming to be “pro-Palestinian”. They are in fewer numbers than in the US, but are here nonetheless.

Launched formally by a small committee organizing on behalf of a wide coalition of Palestinian civil society groups and individuals, the BDS movement seeks an end to Israeli occupation; full equality for everyone living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea; and the fulfillment of the legitimate right of return for all Palestinian refugees.

Hence, if you oppose BDS, what you are actually opposing is the struggle for equal rights for all, and the end of a violent, racist, military dictatorship. It is time for self-professed progressives to get off the fence when it comes to BDS and choose which side they are on: do they support justice or oppression?

The idea behind BDS is purely and simply to stop participating in Israeli crimes; stop sending arms to Israel; stop helping Israel’s economy by buying Israeli products; stop promoting “Brand Israel” by taking your band and performing there. This really is the least that reasonable people can do.

End complicity. It’s a simple but powerful idea. And it has been effective, which is why Israeli propagandists are so worried about BDS, and equally why it is time to put an end to half measures and double-talk; it’s time to endorse BDS unambiguously in all its forms.

Powerless Israel facing BDS - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Powerless Israel facing BDS – Cartoon

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