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November 10, 2010

The boycott of Israel: A path to justice or an obstacle to peace?

The Canadian Charger

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Unlike the boycott of South Africa, which took 25 years to have a significant effect, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which began in the Occupied West Bank in 2005, is already having an effect, according to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian academic and cultural boycott of Israel (PACIB).

The BDS campaign, initiated by Palestinian Civil Society, calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.

Speaking at a presentation entitled Questioning the Boycott of Israel: A Path to Justice or an Obstacle to Peace,  at the University of Toronto recently, Mr. Barghouti said Israeli conduct in Palestinian territories is not only a clear violation of human rights, it is an attempt to colonize the minds of Palestinians.

  1. On April 24, 1989, Israel raided the YMCA in Ramallah and told the university professors that “Under no circumstances can you teach. If we catch anyone carrying books we will take action.”

He added that this policy mirrored the Israeli policies of the late 1940's when, after the 1948 War, Israel destroyed tens of thousands of books.

“An Israeli scholar said that in the years after the State of Israel was established, 27,000 books were destroyed.”

Meanwhile, in an attempt to counter the BDS campaign, Israel has come out with a campaign of its own. On August 26, 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched its new ‘Brand Israel’ campaign at the Miles Nadel Community Centre in Toronto. 

The campaign is an attempt to give Israel a new international image. According to the Canadian Jewish News, Sidney Greenberg, vice-president of Astral Media, Joel Reitman, president and CEO of MIJO Corporation, and David Asper, executive vice-president of Canwest Global Communications Corp, made the launch possible. All three have donated resources to Israel for the campaign, totalling $1 million.

However, Mr. Barghouti said Israeli attempts to enhance its image with the Brand Israel Campaign, is failing due to its flagrant violations of human rights and International law.

“In Gaza in 2009, they used white phosphorous to burn people in schools and shelters. The Goldstone Report - a UN Fact Finding Mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone - said the destruction of water and sanitation systems in Gaza was a deliberate and systematic policy to destroy the dignity of the people of Gaza ... Amnesty International said 90 to 95% of the water is contaminated and the nitrate level in the water is so high it has led to a new disease called blue baby syndrome.”

Blue baby syndrome is believed to be caused by high nitrate contamination in ground water resulting in decreased oxygen carrying capacity of hemoglobin in babies, leading to death.

Mr. Barghouti said that as a result of the above mentioned violations of human rights and International Law, the Israeli government is facing increasing pressure from supporters of the BDS campaign, not only from the international community, but from Israelis themselves.  In response, the Netanyahu government attempted, but failed, to pass a bill calling for Israelis who called for support of the BDS campaign to be fined, and foreigners who did the same to be banned from Israel for ten years.

“In response to this (proposed law) a group of Israeli academics called for a boycott of the Israeli parliament.”

However, this was not the end of the Israeli government's image problems.  When 60 Israeli playwrights recently called for a cultural boycott of the settlements, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel was being threatened by an attack of delegitimization, and 'The last thing we need is to be under attack by Israelis. ' ”

Subsequently, 150 US and British actors, writers and producers followed with their own call for a cultural boycott of the settlements.

Mr. Barghouti said: “This is Broadway. This has never happened before.”

With regard to the commonly cited “delegitimization” refrain, used by Israel and its supporters, Mr. Barghouti said: “Did the boycott of Sudan over Darfur eradicate Sudan? If we could boycott China over Tibet, would this be an attempt to eradicate China?”

“We're not calling for Israel to be held to a higher or lower standard than any other country.”

While some commentators have said the BDS campaign is counterproductive because it will reduce discussion, Mr. Barghouti said Naomi Klein responded: “On the contrary, the boycott, you will find, will cause discussion to pick up.”

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