Middle East Monitor / March 30, 2022
The historical campaign to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine is nearing its “South Africa moment”, according to Omar Barghouti. The Palestinian activist spoke about the campaign he co-founded in 2005, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, with Democracy for the Arab world Now (DAWN), in light of the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which include harsh sanctions against Moscow.
“These acts have effectively demolished all the anti-BDS excuses propagated by Israel and its anti-Palestinian apologists in the West over the last 17 years to try to thwart our calls for accountability and justice,” said Barghouti denouncing what he calls “the West’s blatant hypocrisy”.
Barghouti explained that, in addition to the West’s blatant hypocrisy, the speed with which all cultural, academic and political organizations, and sports, businesses and parliaments have imposed blanket boycotts and sweeping sanctions against Russia and even against ordinary Russians, only days after the invasion of Ukraine, sends a very clear, racist message to Palestinians, Yemenis, Iraqis, Afghans, Latin Americans, Africans—to many, many peoples across the Global South, that our lives and our rights as people of colour do not count in the eyes of the imperial West.
“It’s a clearly racist message,” which Barghouti argues is not the case with BDS. Russians have been targeted based on their identity and political speech, claims the 58-year-old, and not because of their actual complicity in any crimes. “They are completely antithetical to the ethical principle of the BDS movement, which is that BDS targets complicity, not identity. And that’s a very important point to mention,” Barghouti said. “We’ve only called for boycotts against institutions, not individuals. And whenever an individual is targeted because they represent a complicit institution—an institution that’s part of Israel’s apartheid system—it is never based on identity.”
Commenting on the push back in the West against BDS, Barghouti spoke at length about what he called “McCarthyite measures” to stifle and criminalize a peaceful movement to end apartheid which proved to be extremely successful in bringing down the apartheid regime in South Africa. The hypocrisy is evident, Barghouti explained, pointing to the dozens of state-level laws and other measures in the US and across the West, in general, targeting boycotts of Israel.
Despite efforts to suppress BDS, the result on the ground has been the opposite, says Barghouti pointing to the groundswell of support for the Palestinian cause and the stream of report by prominent human rights groups which concluded that Israel is practicing apartheid. “The writing on the wall,” he said, “our South Africa moment is nearing”.
For Barghouti, the apartheid designation by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and several other prominent right groups is extremely important, because he says “unlike colonialism, unlike occupation, it is a very clearly defined crime against humanity in international law. And we have the South African experience as the gold standard of how apartheid should be treated.” Such a designation, he says, “terrifies” Israel, which is why the occupation state has reacted aggressively to undermine the work of prominent right groups.
“Whitewashing Israeli apartheid and its daily brutalities against Palestinians is becoming a real challenge, even for the very well-oiled Israel lobby groups, not just in Australia and South Africa, but also in the US, Europe, South Asia, Latin America,” Barghouti pointed out.
“From pink-washing, to green-washing, to art-washing, to sports-washing apartheid, Israel needs a lot of washing. And it has spent massive sums of money and allocated enormous human resources to cover up and divert attention from and to normalize Israel’s everyday horrors against Palestinians. But it is not working.”