Lessons for the Young Activist – BDS Do’s and Don’ts

I’m very satisfied that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement conducts itself with the utmost ethical consistency and respect to international law (if it didn’t, I wouldn’t advocate it). It’s true that it’s following the South African model, but at the same time it’s setting an example of its own. As a young activist, it’s a pleasure learning from its outspoken leaders. In my involvement in the movement, every step presents us with an ethical challenge. Avoiding the pitfall of a sweeping, uncommunicative action, the Global BDS movement, led by the Palestinian people, is employing guidelines of a “smart boycott”, differentiating institutions from individuals and Zionists from Jews. It’s never simple and dedicated research and much debate goes into every initiative. As a student of the boycott tactic, it’s just as important for me to learn what not to do, and examples are ample.

How Not to Sanction Ethically – Lessons from Israel
It’s a shameful thing, but whenever I want to learn how to not conduct myself ethically, I look to my government. The Israeli government has never been big on permits, when it comes to Palestinians, but the latest display of unchecked power can be called nothing else but extortion [limited by my translation]:

The tension between Israel and the Palestinian Authority worsens, following the Authority’s appeal to the international court in Hague, demanding investigation of the claims of war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the IDF at the time of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza strip. Israel recently conveyed a message to the Authority that it will condition the permit to allow a second cellular phone company into the West Bank with the withdrawal of the appeal to the Hague.

This isn’t the first time the Israeli government has tried to torpedo this 300 million dollar project. It seems control over the airwaves of the territory formerly known as Palestine can also be subjected to “security considerations”:

Initially the israeli reservation was about the frequency question. The frequency that the Palestinians are asking to allocate to the second cellular company is very close to the frequencies that serve the IDF for sensitive security activity.

The power to not permit a second cellular company isn’t enough for the Israeli occupier, it had the gall to demand that the Palestinians force the first share holder to allocate some of it’s frequencies to the second share holder. So much for “the only democracy in the Middle East’s” beloved free market.

The boycott movement can learn from this little unethical sanctioning. As one of my friends at the Israeli BDS group brilliantly pointed out to me: When Israel is asking the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to overlook it’s crimes in Gaza, it’s not only practicing the age old colonialist tradition of divide-and-conquer, it’s also applying economic and political pressure in order to get the Palestinian Authority to disobey international law. And all this while negotiating peace negotiations.

How Not to Boycott Ethically – Lessons from Egypt
Zionists always hate it when I only blame Israel, so here’s a lesson on how not to boycott ethically, brought to you by an Egyptian media group:

The boycott… includes a ban on meeting with and interviewing Israelis, and a ban on participation in events (seminars, conferences, lectures) in which Israelis are taking part… the board of directors also banned Israelis from entering the building housing the Al-Ahram offices. The ban includes Israeli diplomats stationed in Egypt… it was decided to take action on the matter of Dr. Hala Moustafa, the editor of Al-Ahram’s Democracy magazine, after she stirred anger and disapproval earlier this month when she met with Israeli ambassador Shalom Cohen…

The above statements seem to me like a perfect example of what the boycott movement shouldn’t do:

  • Not interviewing Israelis means you disregard people such as Neve Gordon, for example, who support the boycott movement.
  • Not meeting with Israelis is ridiculously self-restrictive.
  • Not participating in events in which Israelis are taking part could work, if you make the distinction between state sponsored events, and occupation opposing individuals.
  • Not allowing Israelis into the building is just as vile as not allowing Jews into the building, or Palestinians in Petah Tiqva coffee shops, for that matter.
  • Persecuting Dr. Hala Moustafa sounds to me like muzzling of the press.

Even more puzzling is the statement issued by Al-Ahram to Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak:

A senior editor at the Al-Ahram daily said that the Al-Ahram group has always been a supporter of dialogue, and an opponent of discrimination, including discrimination against Israel, but the fact that Israel has “gone against peace and elected an extremist government which opposes peace and supports killing and destruction” had changed the group’s outlook.

So now the Al-Ahram daily doesn’t oppose discrimination anymore? Doesn’t support dialogue anymore? Furthermore, when has Israel not “elected an extremist government which opposes peace and supports killing and destruction”? The Al-Ahram statement defies logic and- personally speaking- sounds like they were looking for an opportunity to run with what seems like a blatantly discriminative agenda. A media group shouldn’t be banning nations, it should be exposing the truth about them, in order to help the public make an informed decision.

A Special Place in Hell is Reserved for the Sanctimonious
Finally, a word on the Israeli media and the boycott. Slowly, but surly, the BDS movement is gaining achievements. When they happen, there’s an article here and there. The Israeli public can’t connect the dots of each achievement and doesn’t realize how concentrated the global BDS effort is. This is all the work of the Israeli mainstream media, that is so paranoid, I’d expect a much more conspiratorial angle of reporting. Instead, the Israeli media chooses to portray each case of BDS as a single case of detached, hallucinatory people, or extremist anti-Semites.

The one man in Ha’aretz, constantly dealing with the boycott, is Bradley Burston. A shrill voice of sanctimony, that titles his blog “A Special Place in Hell”. There’s nothing this Zionist enjoys more than to misinterpret the boycott for the Israeli public (from as far back as 2006!), thus further sending them into feverish accusations of anti-semitism and complete misunderstanding of international reality, as it changes before their hazed eyes.

In his latest sermon, titled “The cowardice, the vanity, the sin of boycotting Israel”, Burston not only trivializes the Toronto protest, which got significant media attention, but also attempts to separate it from the rest of the BDS movement, and no less than blames it for the possible eternalness of the occupation:

There is something in Ajami’s nuance that helps explain why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, of which the Toronto protest was an ingenuously unacknowledged bastard cousin, has proven a wholesale failure.

What Ajami shows, in continually surprising revelations, is the essential core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: people on both sides trying to protect their loved ones and keep them alive, often with heartbreaking consequences.

This is what the BDS movement and the Toronto group cannot begin to accept. This is why they continue to alienate peace activists working in Israel and Palestine, and continue to blunder their way into doing the bidding of an eternal occupation.

Burston goes on to elevate Jane Fonda as the voice of reason. No personal offense to Fonda, but her actions were irresponsible, inconsistent and contrary to the group’s own statements. As a young activist, her conduct was yet another perfect opportunity for me to learn how not to act. While the first statement of Fonda’s, Burston quotes, is enough to dismiss her completely:

I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough…

The second statement is infuriating:

…it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.

Not only does Fonda’s statement contradict the fact that the BDS movement has been very communicative and has compiled an abundance of written and video information, but it also creates the erroneous assumption that the Toronto letter (or any other BDS document) is inflammatory in nature.

The next logical step for a smear campaign is to attack one of the most vocal leaders of the movement, Omar Barghouti. Apparently Burton sees a contradiction in the fact that the Palestinian Barghouti studies in Tel Aviv university. According to his logic, Palestinians should boycott Israel in the same way the international community should boycott Israel. So, while they starve, because they can’t buy food at the local market, Burston will finally give them his stamp of approval for what he deems consistent behavior.

I’ll give Burston this: He was consistently not making sense. His conclusion for the BDS movement:

Come here. Do the work. Take the risks. Put your slogans and your posters and your buttons and signs and t-shirts and open letters to the test. Put your life where your sloganeering is.

You despise Israel, we get that. You dismiss the capacity of Israelis for good faith and humanism. We get that too. But if you talk struggle in Toronto and San Francisco and Irvine, it’s no more than talk, and wasted breath at that.

Maybe Someone should let Burston know that there’s a BDS group in Israel. Maybe someone should explain to him that the BDS movement is global, that it knows no boundaries of geography, religion, or ethnicity, for the simple reason that it’s fueled not by feelings of hate and self-righteousness, but solidarity and a respect for human rights.

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