The Institute for Middle East Understanding / April 11, 2022
Fiercely attacking the George W. Bush administration’s case for what he called a “Hiroshima-style” aggression on Iraq in 2003, Edward Said wrote that the U.S. position was “monumentally hypocritical” for accusing the Iraqi regime of atrocities and crimes that had been “the stock in trade of every Israeli government since 1948.” The diametrically opposite U.S. positions on Palestinian rights vs. Ukrainian rights today have all the hallmarks of this same level of hypocrisy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to unequivocally condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying: “The Council members should stop using language implying that all sides bear equal responsibility for the unprovoked attack of one side. … The same goes for members who argue, falsely, that denouncing human rights abuses is ‘politicizing’ the situation. It is failing to speak up about human rights abuses that politicizes the situation.” In the same speech, without any sense of irony, Blinken condemned the Council’s investigation of Israel’s grave abuses of Palestinian human rights.
This blatant double standard has been condemned by Palestinians and many others, particularly given the U.S.’s massive military funding and diplomatic shield that enable Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land and apartheid “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” as the leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, describes it.
Adding insult to injury, many U.S. lawmakers who are calling for sweeping sanctions on Russia are simultaneously fighting to demonize, deter and prohibit support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement for Palestinian rights, including by recently reintroducing the so-called Israel Anti-Boycott Act to Congress. Several federal courts have struck down similar anti-B.D.S. bills, condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union as “unconstitutional, McCarthy era tactics” designed to suppress nonviolent advocacy of Palestinian rights. Recent polls show an inspiring rise in support for B.D.S. among Democrats and a whopping 72% of all Americans opposing anti-BDS laws.
Led by the broadest coalition in Palestinian society, B.D.S. calls for ending Israel’s military rule over Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed during Israel’s establishment in 1948.
The B.D.S. movement has publicly opposed Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine as a violation of the UN Charter, regardless of persistent NATO provocations. It has also condemned the “patently illegal and immoral US- or NATO- led wars of the past decades.”
Western reactions to Russia’s war, however, have exposed blatant hypocrisy. Merely weeks into the war, boycotts animated by what one critic describes as a “mob mentality” have targeted everyone and everything Russian from academics, to cultural figures (including Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky), to cats. The Western-dominated international football federation, FIFA, has hit Russia with severe sanctions, while hundreds of Western corporations have ended business there.
Yet, many of the same corporations and institutions have been implicated in Israel’s much longer military rule over Palestinians. FIFA has rebuffed 174 Palestinian sports clubs’ demands to suspend the Israel Football Association (IFA), ignoring not just Israel’s ongoing occupation but also the IFA’s inclusion of illegal settlements’ teams in violation of FIFA’s own statutes. Companies that have pulled out of Russia but are still complicit in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians include HP, Hyundai, Caterpillar, General Mills, Puma, IBM, and G4S, among many others.
When rejecting B.D.S. demands, governments, corporations and institutions have rhetorically argued that the arts, business relations, academic endeavors, sports, or fill-in-the-blanks are “above politics.” As Ali Farag, a squash world champion, recently noted, “we’ve never been allowed to speak about politics in sports, but all of a sudden now it’s allowed. And now that it’s allowed I hope that people also look at oppression everywhere in the world. The Palestinians have been going through that for the past 74 years.”
Hypocrisy aside, not all boycotts are morally equivalent. Adhering to anti-racist principles, B.D.S. targets institutions — not ordinary individuals — based on complicity, not identity. This stands in sharp contrast to the xenophobic boycotts targeting Russians because of their identity or views.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, we are pressuring states, corporations and institutions to end complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. To do no harm, at the very least, they are legally and morally obliged to end their involvement in Israel’s illegal policies of forcing Palestinians out of their homes from the Al-Naqab (Negev) desert to Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem and elsewhere; the siege of two million people in Gaza; environmental destruction, and land grabbing construction of illegal walls and settlements which suffocate Palestinians in the West Bank in ever shrinking areas. Through these and a myriad of other policies Israel treats Palestinians as “an inferior racial group,” as Amnesty International stated in a recent watershed report that designates Israel as a system of apartheid.
Palestinians and millions worldwide who support our liberation struggle, will now more than ever insist on moral and legal consistency, on our right to live in freedom, justice and equality and to demand an end to complicity and to all this monumental hypocrisy.
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights defender, co-founder of the BDS movement, and recipient of the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award