Today, I would like to explore two issues about Israel that may not immediately appear connected but about which there is a link.
The first issue is that of BDS, which stands for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, a movement that was established in 2005 to encourage people from all over the world to impose boycotts and implement divestment initiatives aimed at Israel.
Coincidentally, 2005 was also the year in which Israel unilaterally disengaged completely from Gaza and part of the West Bank by shutting down 25 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and 4 in the northern part of the West Bank. In one fell swoop, thousands of Jews were transferred from their homes and moved elsewhere in the country. Overnight, the Jewish population of Gaza became zero.
The gesture of ending Israel’s occupation of Gaza was not met with any attempt at nation building and did not elicit any concessions toward the Jewish State from either of the major Palestinian groups, Hamas or the Palestine Authority ruled by Fatah. Hamas rained thousands of rockets on Israeli communities near its border with Gaza while incitement and hatred against Jews continued incessantly in the areas controlled by the PA including in its own media.
Despite this, the BDS movement sees Israel as the bad guy and compares Israel to apartheid South Africa in attempting to replicate the boycott movement, which it believes played a part in bringing down the apartheid regime.
The basic premise of the BDS movement is ludicrous. While blacks had no representation in South Africa’s Apartheid Parliaments and indeed, had no vote, Israel has 14 Arab and Druze Knesset members and back in 2007, an Arab was acting President for a short period. Jewish and Arab citizens share public transport, restaurants and hospitals, of all which would never have been possible under the apartheid system.
Compare this to the discriminatory PA laws against Jews and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent statement that he “will not agree that there will be Jews among NATO forces and I will not allow even one Israeli to live amongst us on the Palestinian soil” – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (see more). What Abbas is advocating here is purely and simply a system of Apartheid but this seems to have been lost on those calling for a boycott.
Last Friday an article entitled ‘Unions want ACTU to endorse protest plan against Israeli settlements’ which reported on various unions including the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Finance Sector Union all passed resolutions supporting the international campaign against Israel. Communications Electrical Plumbing Union national secretary Peter Tighe declared, “We had a 30 or 40 minute presentation from a delegate who had visited Palestine… The council decided we would support the BDS. We are not anti-Jewish; we just think the human misery over there is outrageous.”
That it took a 30 or 40 minute presentation from someone who visited one side of the story to put the reputation of Tighe’s union and others on the line to support BDS is incredible. Clearly, they were unconcerned at the potential damage such a decision might have on Palestinian workers and on the movement to bring about peace and reconciliation between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours?
Approximately 22,000 Palestinian workers presently have jobs in Israeli settlements. It is naïve to believe that a boycott on Israeli goods will not have an effect on the employment levels among then and on their general standard of living. It will also have an effect on Palestinian membership in trade unions, which will in turn have an effect on the competence of the trade unions to act independently.
What I find most interesting about the idea of unions wanting to boycott Israel is that is does not to promote any sort of partnership between Palestinian and Israeli trade unions, and on a broader level, does nothing to promote peace between the two sides at all.
In 2008 the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the Histadrut (the General Federation of Labour in Israel) signed a landmark agreement which among other things enhanced the rights of Palestinian workers.
Would the unions in Australia not be better serving the course of peace by backing initiatives such as the global initiative TULIP – Trade Union Linking Israel and Palestine – which supports the two-state solution and aims to “work together with Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists and associated NGOs to find ways to provide practical on-the-ground assistance – rather than empty slogans” (see more).
TULIP has been spearheaded by Paul Howes, who is the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union. Paul Howes recently spoke on the issue of BDS at the Biennial Conference of the Zionist Federation. To read his speech, click here. Please also read Bren Carlill’s fantastic piece in today’s Australian entitled ‘Union sanctions not helping the Palestinians’.
Regrettably, BDS supporters and half supporters do the Palestinian people a disservice because BDS is not disposed to promoting positive ways that Israelis and Palestinians can work together to promote a peaceful two-state solution. Indeed, BDS is sinister in its opposition to any possible peaceful outcome to the Israel/Arab conflict and this is precisely why BDS is so dangerous.
One only need watch this video, produced by StandWithUs to understand the true intentions of the global BDS movement.
Omar Barghouti, the founder of the BDS Movement and a student at the Tel Aviv University, has been quoted as saying that he does not buy into the two-state solution, a fundamental element of the peace process that has been agreed to by successive Israeli and Palestinian leadership for decades. He has declared, “If the refugees were to return [to Israel] you would not have a two state solution, you would have a Palestine next to a Palestine, rather than a Palestine next to Israel”. He has publically stated that he opposes Israel’s right to exist. If Israel and the Palestinians were to make peace, Barghouti’s call for BDS would not end.
Of course, the very fact that not only can Omar Barghouti study at the Tel Aviv University but the university defends his academic freedom to do so, gives the lie to claims that Israel practices apartheid.
Fairfax writer Paul McGeough recently delivered a dreadful speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas quoting Huwaida Arraf, the head of the Free Gaza Movement as saying, “I don’t want to engage with them [the Israelis] in armed conflict. I want to use the strengths we have, and weaken their sources of power. This means using demonstrations, direct action, civil disobedience, boycotts and encouraging divestment and sanctions to hit at Israel’s legitimacy and their ability to rule”.
In the same article McGeough quoted Hamas MP Aziz Dweik as saying, “the Gaza flotilla has done more for Gaza than 10,000 rockets”. In any language, comments such as these expose the true intention of BDS – to use these tactics to deligitimise Israel’s very existence.
Ronnie Kasrils, another staunch supporter of the BDS movement has stated, “BDS will help to bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine”.
And that brings me to my second point, concerning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s recent visit to Lebanon. The reason I feel that the two are linked is because here you have someone who is completely dedicated to bringing about the defeat of Israel, and who is not ashamed to say it whenever he gets the opportunity. Upon his return from Lebanon he declared, “Grounds are being prepared for the Zionist regime [Israel] to go to hell soon and any country supporting this regime will join it on its trip to hell as well” (see more).
Ahmedinejad met a hero’s welcome throughout Lebanon and as he spoke to supporters near Lebanon’s border with Israel he declared, “The whole world knows that the Zionists are going to disappear… the occupying Zionists today have no choice but to accept reality and go back to their countries of origin” (see more). As someone on Twitter pointed out ‘250,000 Iranian Israelis say no thanks!’
There is a world-wide movement to undermine Israel’s very existence, and when individuals or groups are saying things that could easily fall out of Ahmedinejad’s mouth, you know you are dealing with an extreme movement.
The fact is that BDS and Ahmedinejad are two sides of the same coin. They are inextricably bound together. Neither is interested in achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and peace cannot be achieved when people such as these are operating against it.