Photos © by Bud Korotzer Commentary by Chippy Dee
On the evening of May 6th in NYC at Alwan for the Arts the space was filled to capacity with people gathered to hear Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS campaign against Israel, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, discuss the BDS campaign as it reaches its’ 10th anniversary. The meeting was organized by Haymarket Books.
Barghouti began by explaining the philosophy behind boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). It is about building awareness of the ethicality of resistance. How does an oppressed people resist oppression without unduly harming the oppressor. Both communities have to be humanized and the trap of collective responsibility is to be avoided. An Us vs. Them mindset is not productive – Israelis should be encouraged to join the movement.
The minds of Palestinians have to be decolonized. Realizing there would be enormous resistance Zionists knew very early on that they would have to colonize the minds of Palestinians, building an iron wall there by removing all hope. If hope is taken away the Palestinians would be defeated. This was recognized as early as 1923 when the Zionist Vladimir Jabotinski wrote his political allies about destroying the will of the Palestinian people, “A living people make such enormous concessions…only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups… lose their sway….”
Last, people have to be mobilized for goal oriented action, one with a considerable chance of success.
Only 38% of the Palestinian people live on the West Bank and in Gaza. 12% are Israeli citizens and 50% are in the diaspora. It is not enough to say end the occupation. Israel has divided the Palestinians, leaving them scattered all over the world. The 3 goals of BDS: end the occupation, full and equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return will reunite the people of Palestine. Our goal is freedom, justice and equality. We must have consistent pressure to achieve these goals. That means resisting/opposing the regime that stands against this.
Israel is feeling very threatened because the economic and cultural boycott is growing and Jewish support for BDS is also growing. People are coming to realize that either they support a colonial venture or they don’t. The “Brand Israel” campaign has failed. Now the Israeli fight-back is based on propaganda and ‘lawfare’, legal challenges to BDS. They seem not to know how to deal with this non-violent principled resistance which is demanding basic rights for the Palestinian people under international law.
Vilkomerson said that JVP fully endorses all elements of the Palestinian call for BDS and believes that it provides the best tactics to bring justice to Palestine. JVP also wants to bring pressure on the US government not to be complicit in this struggle. There have been many victories here in this country – 60 members of congress did not go to hear Netanyahu’s speech. JVP stands with the divestment of the Presbyterian church and with SodaStream closing their West Bank factory. JVP also supports the many Students for Justice in Palestine chapters that have been fighting for divestment, often winning, on their campuses.
But the closer we come to winning this fight, the stronger the push-back will be. Big money is going into this fight against the BDS campaign from the Jewish community, including on campuses. There are constant accusations of anti-Semitism which, unfortunately, dilutes real anti-Semitism.
Blacks, Latinos, and young people are most likely to support Palestine and over the past year there has been an enormous growth of solidarity between the Palestinian struggle and the fight against the oppression of Black people in this country. JVP fully supports, with feet in the streets, the Black Lives Matter fight. JVP is an anti-racist organization that sees the Palestinian and the Black struggle as the same fight for justice and will be there in solidarity because it is a joint struggle. BDS is a tool of anti-racist ideology.
JVP is now 3 times the size it was before the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer. They now have 200,000 on line supporters because people are coming to recognize that the Palestinian struggle is the world’s great moral issue of our time.
I remember when people used the phrase ‘PEPs’, Progressive Except Palestine, to describe those who were generally progressive on most issues but would not or could not support Palestinians. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that there is no such thing. If you don’t understand and support the Palestinian struggle for human rights you cannot call yourself progressive.