Monday, 11 April 2016

The Spectres Haunting Israel - The Ghosts of Palestinian Civil Society

'A spectre is haunting Europe', Marx and Engels famously wrote, opening their Communist Manifesto in 1848, 'the spectre of communism'.  With these words, Marxist revolutionism brought into being that to which it aspired: the active movement of the communist left across the globe.

The spectre haunting the Zionist state of Israel these days is not the prospect of Syrian armoured divisions ready to break through into the Galilee, as it apparently was in 1973; nor the prospect of an Iranian ballistic missile striking Tel Aviv with a nuclear warhead, red herring as that notion always was; nor even the prospect of another war with Hizbollah like the one that bloodied the nose of the IDF so dramatically in 2006.  Rather, the ghost in the Israeli machine is the spectre of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which takes its cue and its beginning from the call from 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 for a worldwide boycott of Israeli state institutions until the occupation is brought to an end, and Palestinian national rights are properly recognised.

BDS is a movement which has been gathering ever-greater pace in recent years. Corporations and religious institutions have withdrawn from investments previously made in Israeli companies or businesses.  The Irish company, Cement Roadstone Holdings, finally last year got rid of its shares in Nesher, the major Israeli group supplying the concrete for the construction of the West Bank Wall.  And on campuses around the world, students, scholars and teachers have rallied to boycott events which are sponsored by or with Israeli state assistance.

For long derided and marginalised by mainstream politicians, smeared by its enemies as a mere expression of anti-Semitism, BDS and boycott specifically have attained recognition by powers of the highest stature and most conventional nature - this exemplified in February 2014 when American Secretary of State John Kerry warned Israel, as bilateral talks with the Palestinian Authority broke down once more, that it might eventually find itself isolated on the world stage and suffering a 'economic boycott'.

Israel is rattled by BDS.  Israeli politicians and state officials complain of a campaign to 'delegitimise' the Jewish State.  American presidential hopefuls, such as the odious Hillary Clinton, have made obeisance to the Israel lobby in the United States (this always being part of the presidential race), and declared that they will take action against BDS campaigns on university campuses.  France - the home of liberté, egalité and fraternité and the perfervid defender of the right of Charlie Hebdo to discuss Islam in racist terms - has legislated to make advocating BDS an offence punishable by law.  The Conservative government in the United Kingdom is aiming to bring in similar restrictions.

Recently, a conference was held in Israel, organised by the widely-read newspaper Yediot Ahronoth, and entitled 'StopBDS'.  It was addressed by a rather motley array of speakers, including the President Reuben Rivlin, the American TV comedienne Roseanne Barr, and ministers of the ruling right-wing coalition.  In his speech to the conference, Israel's Transport Minister, Israel Katz, called for a policy of 'focused civil elimination' to be applied to leading figures in the BDS movement, most obviously Omar Barghouti. 

The terminology is directly reminiscent of that used to refer to Israel's policy of 'targeted assassination' deployed against Palestinian guerrillas and militants in Gaza and the West Bank.  The armed and physical violence of extra-judicial execution in one sphere is to be matched by the anticipated discursive and representational violence in the other sphere.  Remembering the fate of a Palestinian advocate and intellectual such as Ghassan Kanafani, killed by a car-bomb in Beirut in 1972, one wonders at what point one kind of 'elimination' will turn into the other, or when civil elimination will be seen not merely to anticipate but to justify physical elimination.  At the very least, we have here an example of an Israeli cabinet minister inciting hatred and, potentially, even murder.

Where is the protest and criticism from the 'international community'?

Some further reading on this grim topic.

First, a report on Alternet on the StopBDS conference:

Watch: Israeli Gov't Calls for 'Civil Elimination' of Left-Wing Activists and Roseanne Barr Goes on a Rampage

Second, distinguished Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu, also on Alternet:

Israel Targets BDS Movement Co-Founder With 'Civil Elimination' Plan


Third, also from Alternet, a report on the French government's attack on BDS campaigning:

France's Shocking, Wrong-Headed Repression of Protests Against Israel's Violent Policies


And fourth, from Mondoweiss, a rallying call by a leading American BDS campaigner, Nada Elia:

As threats against BDS grow, it is time for ‘sumoud’ in activist communities







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