In 2005, Omar Barghouti founded the infamous boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement; a movement which on its surface appears to promote the rights of Palestinians by pursuing economic, academic, and cultural boycotts of Israel. Beneath the surface, however, it becomes clear that this movement’s true goal is to bring an end to the State of Israel and replace it with a sovereign Palestinian state.
BDS is an extremist, anti-Zionist movement masked as human rights activism. It should thus come as no surprise that Barghouti also aims to portray himself with the same kind of mask. However, if we take a closer look at his actions and beliefs, we see a very different picture. Who, then, is the man behind the movement?
Omar Barghouti was born in Qatar to Palestinian parents, grew up in Egypt, and received a master’s degree from Columbia University before marrying an Arab-Israeli woman and gaining permanent residency status in Israel. He has since received a second master’s degree as well as a PhD from Tel Aviv University in ethics. The irony of this is almost laughable, given that a founding principle of the BDS movement is an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, scholars, and studies. He has enjoyed invaluable benefits from Israeli academic institutions, yet actively promotes boycotting those very institutions. When questioned about this hypocrisy, Barghouti cites personal matters and refuses to comment any further. He also conveniently does not mention that despite a petition among TAU students to remove him from the university, the university allowed him to complete his degrees. It should also be noted that there are 12 universities in the West Bank, one in East Jerusalem, and nine in Gaza. Yet instead of choosing to support any of these Palestinian academic institutions, as would be expected of a Palestinian nationalism activist, he received not one but two degrees from an Israeli university.
BDS, Barghouti claims, is a “non-violent human rights movement that seeks freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people” and is against the oppressive Israeli regime, not against individuals. However, the BDS movement boycotts Israeli individuals based on their nationality, and Barghouti himself refuses to work with Israelis – even those sympathetic to his cause. A true activist puts the movement above his own personal bias. Yet Barghouti goes so far as to say that Palestinians who engage with Israelis are “clinically delusional,” once again undermining his own movement by placing more significance in his personal prejudice than in achieving the goals of his movement.
In addition, Barghouti has publicly expressed disapproval for a two-state solution, instead favoring a single Palestinian state with a Jewish minority presence. He believes that a Jewish state and a Palestinian one are incompatible. Even though the BDS movement claims to not advocate for any particular solution, the nature of the movement and the intentions of its founder suggest otherwise. While BDS appears to support one people’s self-determination, the heart of the movement aims to destroy that of another. Implicit in the movement’s advocacy is Barghouti’s personal goal of the elimination of the Jewish state.
Finally, Barghouti is vocal about making false claims of Israeli apartheid, violence against Palestinian children, colonization, and more. At the same time he denies violence and persecution against Jews in Arab states. Furthermore, the BDS movement portrays only one side of the conflict by refusing to even acknowledge the other perspective. By boycotting Israeli academics and culture, and by refusing to teach that there are two or more sides to every story, the BDS movement promotes a culture which values a narrow-minded outlook over balanced learning. Barghouti himself is hypocritical by spreading false information for the purposes of “education” while standing behind a movement which denies the opportunity to question this information.
Truly progressive and open-minded education does not present only one side of the story. Omar Barghouti and the BDS movement use dangerous tactics to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish state while hiding behind a mask of human rights advocacy. True activism, however, should not need such a mask. If Barghouti practiced what he preached, BDS would be more compelling. The need for him to completely shut down the other side’s perspective, to hide his hypocritical actions, and to use soft language to cover up an extremist ideology show the flaws, as well as the hypocrisy, in his arguments. Hiding behind a mask of human rights advocacy does not take away from his true intentions. The sad irony in all this is that the boycotting of Israeli businesses in the territories actually hurts the Palestinians themselves more than Israelis because it causes Palestinian unemployment!
In order to effectively promote human rights, we must promote all human rights. Palestinian self-determination cannot come at the expense of that of the Jews. We must find a way to support the rights and dignity of all people. Only then can we hope for a future of peace.