Getting BDS RightThursday 02/05/2019

This past week, the founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, was denied entrance into the United States.

Barghouti’s chief allies claimed this amounted to a gross human rights violation. Others charge the Trump administration for failing to uphold press freedoms. Some American Jewish leaders, notably Peter Beinart, argued that providing a platform for Barghouti’s views would have demonstrated the maturity and vitality of Judaism.

Here is how Barghouti himself characterized the move: “Israel is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing. It is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous McCarthyite repression to the U.S., and to xenophobic, far right cohorts across the world.”

To weigh their criticisms, right or wrong, we have to get BDS itself right.

Omar Barghouti is a Qatari who grew up in Egypt, moved to Israel, and then styled himself a Palestinian. He belongs to a wealthy, politically connected Arab clan that includes two cousins active in explicit anti-Israel terrorism.

Barghouti has written books in Arabic which deny any ancient Jewish claims to the Land; repudiate decades of international law which gave sovereignty to Israel alongside similar grants of sovereignty for other Arab states; and ignore the absolute rejection by Palestinians of multiple Israeli offers to share peace within the Land. He believes Jews in Israel never had, and so do not have, even today, any rights to collective self-determination, and has often stated that “no Palestinian can ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Interviewed after the visa denial, Barghouti repeated the baseless charge on which he founded BDS:  “Since its creation, Israel has always been an apartheid state.”

The American action may well have arisen from conviction that Barghouti is, at root, an anti-Semite working slyly by stages towards the elimination of Israel. This accords with his life history, BDS strategy and numerous public statements. It would hardly represent a novel interpretation by the Trump administration. Many have charged Barghouti with antisemitism over the years. His scheduled NYC workshop included one main speaker recently fired by CNN, hardly a conservative outlet, as an anti-Semite. The other has stalwartly defended Ilhan Omar against all-too-credible charges of antisemitism.

The novelty, even shock that Barghouti experienced over his rejection, comes from this President’s continued determination to act upon pronouncements which have often served as mere diplomatic posturing for past administrations. This decision may also be connected with the recent appointment of Elan Carr as the face of U.S. opposition to BDS and growing antisemitism world-wide.

Some have suggested another reason the American government has refused comment on Barghouti’s visa denial. They, as well as the Israelis, may suspect he planned other activities along the way similar to the ones which led to criminal tax evasion charges in 2017.

In any case, the visa denial could not have stemmed from the obvious delusion that this would somehow suppress, successfully, the speech rights of Omar Barghouti, let alone from some absurd, hypocritical right-wing ‘fear’ of free speech. Undoubtedly, and this must have been anticipated, his trip has received far more public attention, even sympathy, than if he had traveled physically. Notably, those condemning the American position have not commented on Barghouti’s virtual presence at the same panels for which he was scheduled. Some of these critics have been central participants to these discussions.

For Barghouti, this could become a case of ‘be careful what you wish for, lest it happen’. He has always craved the media spotlight, which has now been turned up brighter than ever before. Naturally, he has wasted no time in reframing his finely-honed narrative to include this unexpected embarrassment.  However, first Israel, and now America, has put Barghouti on public notice that they are also watching his actions, on- and off-stage, with ever-increasing attention. The latter may finally be getting BDS right.

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