Review by Joel Fishman: The Message of BDS
|No. 7559||January 4, 2011|
Omar Barghouti, Boycott, Désinvestissement, Sanctions; BDS contre l'apartheid et l'occupation de la Palestine [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions; BDS against Apartheid and the Occupation of Palestine], trs. Etienne Dobenesque and Catherine Neuve-Eglise (Paris: La fabrique, 2010), 187 pp.
The author of this recently-published book, Omar Barghouti, is a founding member of the Palestinian BDS campaign. In addition, the information on the book cover indicates that he is a choreographer and philosopher. He lives in Ramallah. The blurb of another interview, "Boycotts Work," posted on the Electronic Intifada of 1 June 2009, presents some additional biographical information, "Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian researcher, commentator and human rights activist and leader of the Palestinian campaign of boycott divestment and sanctions to force Israel to uphold international law and universal human rights." If the reader would like to form a visual impression, all that is needed is to go to You Tube. This book contains a selection of Barghouti's recent articles and interviews which have appeared in different publications including the web. His book has a solid introduction and interesting conclusion. This selection deserves careful study because it provides an authentic and timely source for the basic thought and assumptions which drive the world-wide BDS movement.
Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian intellectual elite, a new group, which should be distinguished from the older generation of PLO politicians. Members of this group are relatively young, well-educated, Western, idealistic, well-motivated, and uncorrupted (so far). They possess outstanding communications skills and know how to convey their message with the aid of classical and electronic media. They operate outside the Palestinian power structure and have a low opinion of the Palestinian Authority. In his introduction, Barghouti states that his group does not receive support from the PA and that he hopes for the PA to be reconstituted on a democratic basis. Evoking the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), he argues that, "Only the whole Palestinian people can recover its unity and will to lay siege to the siege to which it was condemned by the ‘peace process.'" Developing this idea further in The Guardian of August 12, 2010, Barghouti explains that, "Since convincing a colonial power to heed moral pleas for justice is, at best, delusional, many now understand the need to ‘besiege' Israel through boycotts, raising the cost of its oppression." It is obvious that in his quest for his type of justice Barghouti rejects a negotiated settlement with Israel, the Jewish state. He and his mates differ markedly from the colorful characters whom Thomas Freedman found so charming in Beirut of the eighties. They are lean, hungry, and dangerous. Using the tools of peaceful protest and persuasion, this relatively small group has taken the international boycott of the Republic of South Africa as its model and strives to achieve the fulfillment of the Palestinian Charter of 1974 by incremental gains.
Immediate Historical Background
While we may not be able grasp the meaning of historical developments in real time, in retrospect it is possible to reconstruct a tentative chronology and identify the relationships between seemingly detached events. While the basic idea for BDS is not new, during the past decade a sequence of events made the idea current. At Camp David in July 2000, Yasir Arafat concluded that he could not achieve his real strategic objectives through peaceful negotiations. This became evident after Prime Minister Ehud Barak put up his best offer, and the Rais simply refused to relate to it. Members of the Palestinian leadership later disclosed that Arafat, upon his return in July 2000, decided to plan the "armed struggle" and launch what became known as the Second Intifada. It should be noted that Israeli intelligence detected the Palestinian preparations for war, and that the Israel Defense Forces were prepared. In this context, it follows that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000 was not the real cause the Intifada, but it gave the other side a convenient pretext. This was the background for a new round of deadly violence and Palestinian terror attacks against large numbers of innocent Israeli civilians. The second armed uprising did not go as well for the Palestinians as they had hoped. Resorting to armed force and terror, they failed to demoralize and bring about the collapse of Israeli society.
Following this setback, the Palestinians and their supporters initiated a major campaign of political warfare whose purpose was to attain the goals which they could not achieve through terror and the armed struggle. The World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, took place between August 31 and September 7, 2001 in Durban, South Africa. For the Israelis and the United States, Durban was an ambush. One of the new developments was the accusation of Israeli racism and the practice of apartheid. In addition, Israel's adversaries made great efforts to produce a final text which would deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as a human rights issue. During the session of the NGOs it also became clear that one of their central goals was to restore the original United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 of November 10, 1975 that "Zionism is Racism." Since the days of the Soviet Union, this propaganda formula represented a harmful libel whose purpose was to destroy Israel's legitimacy. By resorting to the slogans from the Soviet era, both of racism and apartheid, it became clear that Israel's enemies had decided to discredit the Jewish state and to seek its destruction through incremental political steps. At Durban, the Palestinians and their sympathizers, both in the Arab world and in the West, with the active support of many NGOs, revived the twin accusations of racism and apartheid. Several years later, the BDS movement would adopt these slogans and make them part of its message.
In due course, Ariel Sharon became the Prime Minister of Israel (from 2001 to 2006), and during his administration several new developments took place which transformed the situation. On March 27, 2002, a Palestinian terrorist murdered thirty Israelis and injured one hundred and forty who gathered at the Park Hotel in Netanya to observe the Passover Seder. Following this massacre, Prime Minister Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield (April 1-11, 2002). This operation brought the war to centers of Palestinian terror, particularly Jenin. In the war against Palestinian terror, the Sharon government began construction of the famous Security Barrier in July 2003. Its purpose was to reduce Israel's vulnerability to the high number of deadly Palestinian suicide bombings launched from the West Bank and to prevent the Palestinian Authority from turning these areas into a strategic enclave from which they could launch a continuous guerilla war.
Lisa Taraki, a faculty member at Bir Zeit University and founder of the BDS movement, wrote that Palestinians did not initiate the boycott movement. According to her, "The initial call was made in the UK in April 2002, at the height of the Israeli assault upon Palestinian cities and towns…. The British initiative was not a call for a blanket boycott of the Israeli academic community, but was a restricted call for a moratorium on European research and academic collaboration with Israeli institutions." Two years later, in July 2004, the International Court at The Hague ruled the construction of the Security Barrier was illegal according to international law. During the same year, the Palestinian cause gained a big boost when the American Presbyterian church endorsed its cause and joined the divestment movement. One year after the decision of the International Court in The Hague, on July 9, 2005, a group of Palestinian activists, joined by one hundred and seventy signatories, met in Ramallah and launched the BDS movement. Among the drafters and signatories were Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki. By choosing the anniversary of the court decision, this group laid claim to the higher principles and morality and international law and declared that their goal was to force Israel to submit to justice, as they understood it.
The BDS movement emerged both from long-term and short-term developments. The long-term developments were related to the consequences of the Second Intifada and the Durban Conference. The main short-term events which gave the movement impetus were Operation Defensive Shield and the construction of the Security Barrier. Only if one intentionally negated Palestinian responsibility for the failed Intifada and its terror and rejected Israel's right to assure the security of its citizens, would it be possible to regard Israel's acts of self-defense as a form of willful aggression. Of course, if one took the position that Israel has no right to exist, and that its civilians were fair targets, everything would then make sense.
The Operational Importance of the BDS Message
Before relating directly to the message of BDS, let us devote some attention to its basic political program. The professed objective of BDS is to lay Israel under siege. Beyond the specific agenda of isolating Israel and interrupting its cultural and commercial ties, there is another goal: to shift the consensus of world public opinion against Israel. At present, Israel generally enjoys a high level of good will and respect in the West. Accordingly, the objective of BDS activists is to undermine this consensus among Israel's Gentile supporters abroad and where possible to undermine the alliance between Jews and Christians. In this context, one can understand that the purpose of related organizations, such as JStreet in the United States and JCall in Europe as well as their counterparts in Israel, is to undermine Jewish and Israeli consensus in support of Israel. Looking back several decades, we should remember that the Israeli "peace activist," Ury Avneri considered his greatest accomplishment to be the cultivating of a consensus among Israeli intellectuals in favor of a Palestinian state. Similarly, Feisal Husseini, whom the press described as a "Palestinian moderate," expressed the same view. However, in his last interview, in 2001, he revealed that the Palestinians were "ambushing" the Israelis. Shifting the consensus to support the Palestinian cause is a major strategic goal for the long term. This explains why someone like Omar Barghouti lectured at the anti-apartheid week which took place in Canada in 2009. Such preaching through the various media - not the least the spoken word -- represents a form of political dawa and is part of the BDS war of information.
Indeed, the message is a matter of great importance for the BDS movement because it provides the organizing principle which holds the members of this group together and gives them direction. Writing in Al-Jazeerah on January 19, 2006, Eyad Kishawi, an American member of the BDS movement living in San Francisco, explained that since the movement was decentralized, the principle of coherence of outlook is a matter of critical importance:
The most important fabric of any mass movement is its coherence of outlook. In this context, coherence translates to consistency of strategic goals, coordination of action and an agreement in analysis that is used for expanding the movement and recruitment of qualitative talent. Coherence allows proponents of Divestment to propagate the same messages in different institutions at different geographical locations, across all sectors until a critical mass is achieved resulting in a marked shift in consensus and eventually the balance of powers. Coherence is essential in a decentralized movement because a battle victory at one institution is immediately transferable to another carrying the same objectives. In this case all the efforts invested in the movement should point largely towards the strategic goals. In addition, the movement requires an analysis of Israel that is consistent with the indigenous narrative of the Palestinian people, if it were to further the struggle of a people with whom it stands in solidarity.
The decentralized form of organization offers flexibility and, as Kishawi noted, provides better shelter from law enforcement authorities. He disclosed that "proponents of Divestment have agreed that movement's decentralization will achieve maximum outcome, especially in light of the US governmental targeting of activists and Israeli extra judicial and illegal activities. Not only that there is safety in numbers, there is also power in individual conviction and collective action."
In the United States, the activists of the Tea Party Movement chose the model of the decentralized organization. As their guide, they used The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. Its authors, Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom liken the decentralized, leaderless organization to the starfish which can continuously regenerate itself, as opposed to the hierarchical model symbolized by the spider. Applying this organizational principle, the Tea Party activists succeeded so well that they shook up the American political landscape. According to this book, the characteristics of the starfish model are: that people are its main asset; it operates like a neural network, ideology is the glue which holds it together, and its values are the organization. The BDS movement fits this description,
The BDS Message as Articulated by Omar Barghouti
Certain ideological themes recur in Barghouti's various writings and some of his most important theses appear below:
- Anchored to a long tradition of non-violent popular resistance in Palestine and largely inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, it [the BDS movement] is based on the principle of the universal rights of man like the civil rights movement in the United States. It firmly rejects any form of racism, notably antisemitism and Islamophobia (p.23).
- ….If the State of Israel is a populated colony, it should be replaced by a secular democratic state offering its citizens equal rights, [both] to the Palestinians (including the refugees) and to the Israeli Jews. This type of state is the only one which can reconcile ethically that which appears [to be] irreconcilable: the inalienable rights, recognized by the U.N., to self-determination, to repatriation and equality, of the indigenous people of Palestine according to international law, and the acquired and internationally recognized rights of the Israeli Jews to coexist - as equals and not as colonists - on the land of Palestine (p. 25).
- ….After fifteen years of the so-called peace process, Palestinian civil society has regained the initiative by articulating the Palestinian demands and the international struggle for justice long obscured by misleading "negotiations." Unprecedented, the BDS appeal was launched by the representatives of the three parts of the Palestinian people: the refugees, the Palestinian citizens living in Israel ["the 1948 Arabs"] and those living under the occupation of 1967. For the same matter, it "invited" the Israelis of conscience to support its claims. [Note that Barghouti placed the word, "invited," in quotation marks. Here, he is literally describing "dawa," whose original meaning is a "call" or invitation. "In the religious sense dawa is the invitation that God and the prophets address to the people to believe in Islam, the true religion."  ] The Palestinian boycott movement has managed to impose some new parameters and to establish some new goals for the international support network, and it triggered or supported some boycott and disinvestment campaigns in several countries (pp. 29-30).
- Western committees of solidarity were legitimately concerned by the conspicuous absence of an official Palestinian body behind the calls for boycott. "Where is your ANC [African National Congress]?" was the difficult and generally sincere question to which the partisans of the boycott were continuously obliged to answer. The PLO, which was in complete disorder for years, remained silent. The Palestinian Authority, with its extremely limited mandate and the constraints which have been imposed upon it by the Oslo accords, is by nature incapable of sustaining an effective strategy of resistance, particularly if it is also a matter of raising the injustices which took place before the occupation of 1967. Beyond the rare exceptions, the action of the Palestinian Authority has always harmed the efforts of civil society to isolate Israel (p.30).
- However, the applicability of the crime of apartheid to Israel, as defined in UN conventions, for the most part, has been either inadvertently glossed over or intentionally ignored as an explosive subject that has every potential to invite the vengeful wrath of powerful pro-Israel lobbies. Regardless, one cannot but examine the facts and analyze Israel's system of governance accordingly (pp. 167-168).
- The strongest argument given by -- sometimes well-meaning -- experts who dismiss the apartheid label for Israel is that the analogy between Israel and South Africa is not exact and, in many respects, Israel's oppression [of the Palestinians] is even more severe, demanding a different designation altogether. The problem with this argument is that it assumes, quite incorrectly, that apartheid is a South African trademark and, therefore, every regime accused of practicing apartheid must be shown to be identical to South Africa's apartheid regime of yesteryear. Although Apartheid had achieved world attention and was given its name by the racist regime in South Africa, it has been recognized by the UN for decades as a generalized crime with a universal definition (pp. 167-168).
- It is necessary to repeat, the Palestinians - and the Arabs in general - do not have the least responsibility for the Nazi genocide, committed in Europe against essentially European populations, Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others. It is not for the Palestinians to pay with their life, their land and their means of existence the necessary price to relieve the Europeans of their collective feelings of guilt for this genocide. Just as progressive Jewish intellectuals recently said, the "never more [never again]" should always be understood as "never more against anybody." (p. 180)
One may piece together Barghouti's theses and reconstruct his Weltanschauung, or world view, and that of the movement for which he is an ideologue. At the very least, this corpus of thought represents a program of "resistance," a call to overturn the status quo and a rejection of a negotiated peace with Israel according to the premises of Oslo. Significantly, it reveals the great desire to restore an Arab majority in Palestine.
Two points deserve special attention. The first is the assertion that the Palestinians and Jews do not have equal rights to the land. Barghouti argues that the Palestinians have inalienable rights, while those of the Jews were acquired, even if they received international recognition. This proposition introduces the principle of inequality. It makes the Palestinians more equal than the Jews, and historically is wrong. The second, Barghouti's assertion that "the Palestinians - and the Arabs in general - do not have the least responsibility for the Nazi genocide, committed in Europe against essentially European populations, Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others," is not supported by verifiable historical facts.
Barghouti omits Nazi support of the Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936 and the Arab role in securing the White Paper in 1939 which blocked an important escape route for European Jewry during the Holocaust. He makes no mention of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who lived well in Berlin during the Second World War and collaborated with Nazi Germany. For example, the protocol of the conversation between Hitler and the Mufti which took place on November 28, 1941 documented the Mufti's appeal to Hitler for an open declaration of German support for the elimination of the national Jewish homeland (and everything this implied). Moreover, Husseini aggressively endeavored to block the escape routes for Jews from countries under Nazi domination, such as Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Italy, which still retained a measure of independence. Bernard Lewis wrote that "in May and June 1943, the mufti sent letters to all four governments demanding that they withdraw their authorization for Jewish emigration and urging them instead to send their Jews to Poland ‘where they are under active control.'"
Barghouti omits the central role of the Mufti in the Nazi propaganda broadcasts of Radio Zeesen to the Arab world, calling for a Holy War, a jihad, against the Allies and the Jews. One of the Mufti's remarkable contributions was his address on Balfour Day, November 2, 1943, which described the close affinity of Nazis and Moslems. On this festive occasion, he declared, "….that which brings the Germans closer to us and brings us to their side is the fact that Germany has never invaded any Arab or Islamic land, and its long-standing policy of friendship for the Moslems is known. Germany is also fighting against the common enemy which oppressed the Arabs and Moslems in their different lands. It [Germany] recognized the Jews exactly and decided to find a final solution to the danger that came from them [the Jews], which will end their mischief in this world."
Recent publications have brought new information to light. Wolfgang Schwanitz who consulted German, Arabic, and English sources, came to the conclusion that there is no longer any doubt that the Mufti knew what was transpiring in the death camps in Eastern Europe. Schwanitz made use of a new source, the Memoirs of the Grand Mufti, in Arabic, which were published in Damascus in 1999. Here, the mufti openly discusses his close relationship to SS chief Heinrich Himmler whom he often met for tea. "In the memoirs, the Grand Mufti also describes what Himmler said to him in that summer of 1943 …. Following some tirades on ‘Jewish war guilt,' Himmler told him that ‘up to now we have exterminated [abadna] around three million of them.'" In addition, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers published an extensive article describing the plans of Nazi Germany to carry out genocide in Palestine making use of Palestinian Arab collaborators in the actual murder of the Jews of the Yishuv.
Once the extent of Arab, including Palestinian Arab collaboration with Nazi Germany is documented, it is not possible for the likes of Omar Barghouti to claim the moral high ground. Barghouti writes: "It is not for the Palestinians to pay with their life, their land and their means of existence the necessary price to relieve the Europeans of their collective feelings of guilt for this genocide." The historical evidence demonstrates that the leadership of the Arabs in Mandatory Palestine and of the Arab world firmly sided with the Axis Powers. It was indeed implicated in the "Final Solution" and rejoiced in its accomplishment. Let us reverse Berghouti's proposition and ask if it is still right to expect that there should be no consequences.
History matters. If one is ignorant of this history, he or she becomes the fair game of counterfeiters with their false narratives, accounts and claims. As mentioned above, Barghouti's account of recent events suffers from a distorted selection of evidence combined with fabrications. There is no doubt that he has inverted the historical record. That is why, as a matter of self-defense, an active mastery of history is necessary to challenge and discredit the message of BDS.
Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of the JerusalemCenter for Public Affairs.
Dr. Fishman also serves as Book Review Editor for the SPME Faculty Forum
 See: Joel S. Fishman, "The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology," Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 517, 2-16 May 2004. http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp517.htm.
 In fact, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi recently described this as a religious duty. With regard to the obligations of Muslims residing in the West, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states the following: "There are many religious duties for a Muslim who lives in the West. Some of those religious duties may be classified as follows:
…. Duty to Adopt and Champion the Rights of the Muslim Ummah:
Such kind of duty involves championing the Cause of Palestine, Iraq, Kosova, Chechnya(and other places where Muslims are facing great ordeals), with the sincere intention to return back the usurped rights to their legitimate owners.
Nowadays, we see the Jews, from the four corners of the world, championing and backing Israel, and we call on all Muslims in all parts of the world saying that it is high time to champion the rights of their Muslim Ummah."
IslamOnline.net, February 22, 2010, Click here
 Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (New York: Portfolio, 2006).
 The term in Arabic is, "dawa." Shammai Fishman, "Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat: A Legal Theory for Muslim Minorities," Hudson Institute, Research Monographs on the Muslim World, Series No. 1, Paper No. 2 (October 2006), p. 4.
 The historian who pioneered this approach was Eberhard Jaeckel, who wrote Hitler's World View; A Blueprint for Power, tr. Herbert Arnold (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).
 See: "Hitler's Visitor on 28 November 1941," in Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. 103. Also, Gerhard Hoepp, Mufti-Papiere; Briefe, Memoranden, Reden und Aufrufe Amin al-Husainis aus dem Exil, 1940-1945 (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2004). See particularly item 73, 19 March 1943, Speech of the Mufti on the Prophet's birthday, p. 152. Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers, Halbmond und Hakenkreuz; Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palaestina (Darmstadt: WBG, 2006), and Klaus Gensicke, Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationsozialisten; Eine politische Biographie Amin el-Husseinis (Darmstadt: WBG, 2007).
 Bernard Lewis, Semites & Anti-Semites (New York: Norton, 1986), p. 156.
 See: Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) and Matthias Kuentzel, Jihad and Jew-Hatred; Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, tr. Colin Meade (New York: Telos Press, 2007).
 "Rede zum Jahrestag der Balfour-Erklaerung, 2.11. 1933," Hoepp, item 91, p. 197.
 Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, "Amin al-Husaini and the Holocaust; What did the Grand Mufti Know?" World Politics Review, May 8, 2008, http://www.trafoberlin.de/pdf-Neu/Amin%20al-Husaini%20and%20the%20Holocaust.pdf.
 "Elimination of the Jewish National Home in Palestine: The Einsatzkommando of the Panzer Army Africa, 1942," Yad Vashem Studies 35: 1 (Jerusalem 2007), pp. 111-141.