Israeli Apartheid Won’t End Itself

It’s BDS or bust.

by Omar Barghouti

15 May 2023

Men wearing jeans and black jackets walk through a series of metal gates with two guard towers on either side
Palestinians pass through Israel’s Qalandia checkpoint as they make their way to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque to attend Friday prayers during Ramadan, April 2023. Photo: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

In her video message celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the European settler colony of Israel atop the ruins of Palestine, Ursula von der Leyen gave voice to the colonial racism and hypocrisy embedded deep within the European establishment. “You have literally made the desert bloom”, said the European Commission president, repeating a trope that erases the indigenous Palestinian society and whitewashes Israel’s destruction of Palestinian land and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of its people.

Von der Leyen’s cavalier celebration of Zionist colonialism – which includes a vicious occupation, siege and repeated massacres that have brought two million Palestinians in Gaza to the verge of starvation – is perhaps no surprise given the half a millennium of Western hegemony she represents, whose brutal legacy includes transatlantic slavery, colonialism and genocides across every inhabited continent. But as Western hegemony finally begins to wane, so will the prospects for Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Indigenous people of Palestine.

Palestinians who see the writing on the wall are not delusional. We understand the current Israeli government – the state’s most far-right, racist, fundamentalist, authoritarian, corrupt, sexist and homophobic ever – as both a decisive indicator of this creeping demise and its strongest catalyst to date. This government, with its explicitly fascist and genocidal tendencies, constitutes an unmasked continuation of Israel’s ongoing regime of colonial oppression and, simultaneously, a rupture with the status quo in its far-reaching plans for judicial, social, and cultural “reforms” predominantly affecting Jewish Israeli settler-colonial society.

These policies, in the context of an ongoing Palestinian resistance, have drastically impacted the financial and economic sectors. Capital flight, high-tech migration, Moody’s credit outlook downgrade, disappearing investments and collapsing investor confidence have combined to prompt the former chair of Israel’s national economic council to predict two scenarios for Israel’s economy: “a heart attack or cancer”. Israel’s chief economist Shira Greenberg estimated that Israel’s reduced credit rating would eliminate half of its growth in GDP over the next five years, and over 250 Jewish American business leaders warned of the “destruction” of Israel’s economy, saying they may be compelled “to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment”.

All this provides Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian liberation worldwide with an unprecedented opportunity to further our struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. But opportunities alone do not lead to change; they only provide the fertile ground for it. We still need to further build people power and strong intersectional alliances that integrate the struggle for Palestinian liberation within the global struggles for racial, economic, social, gender, Indigenous, and climate justice. As in the struggle against South African apartheid, we cannot simply wish for Israeli apartheid to crumble – we need to tear it down.

Enter BDS.

With its theory of change that focuses on cutting the links of state, corporate and institutional complicity with Israel’s regime, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, led by the largest Palestinian coalition ever, is the most effective form of international solidarity with our struggle to dismantle settler-colonialism and apartheid.

Launched in 2005 by the largest Palestinian grassroots and civil society coalition both in historic Palestine and in exile, BDS calls for an end to Israel’s military occupation and system of apartheid, as well as for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and receive reparations.

Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BDS movement categorically opposes all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and antisemitism. It targets complicity, not identity. A growing number of anti-colonial Jewish-Israeli BDS supporters play a significant role in the movement, and a 2022 poll shows that 16% of all Jewish Americans support BDS, with the percentage rising sharply for those under 40.

Over the last 17 years, the BDS movement has built a massive worldwide network, supported by trade unions and farmers’ coalitions as well as racial, social and climate justice movements, together representing tens of millions of people. It has made large multinationals, like Veolia, Orange, G4S, HP and others totally or partially end their involvement in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. Famously, Ben and Jerry’s last year removed Israel from the locations in which it does business.

Giant sovereign funds in Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand and elsewhere as well as the $55bn Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all divested from companies and banks implicated in Israel’s occupation.

Dockworkers unions in Oakland, California, and Durban, South Africa have refused to handle Israeli ships.

Mainstream churches in South Africa have endorsed BDS, while major churches in the United States have divested from complicit companies and Israeli banks.

Last month, the Belgian city of Liège voted to end all ties with Israel, citing Israel’s regime of “apartheid, colonisation and military occupation” against Palestinians, and the city council of Oslo, the Norwegian capital, announced an end to trade with goods and services produced in illegally occupied areas. Both moves follow the example set by Barcelona’s mayor, who suspended all ties with apartheid Israel earlier this year.

All the above reflects a growing understanding that Israel has become a model for much of the world’s far right, harming not only Palestinians but also millions of others around the world; that it partners with fascist groups in the West, most of whom are antisemitic to the core, and with far-right and authoritarian regimes; that it sells its military-security technologies and colonial doctrines as “battle-tested”. For instance, Israel exports its military doctrines and weaponised spyware technologies – like NSO’s Pegasus, and other cyberwarfare, disinformation and election-rigging services – as a diplomacy tool worldwide.

Unfinished work.

Despite these gains, many states, corporations, and institutions remain deeply complicit in Israeli apartheid. Meaningful solidarity with our struggle must therefore start with ending complicity. This requires principled and strategic, gradual and goal-oriented boycott and divestment campaigns in all fields, designating Israel as an apartheid state and, accordingly, pushing for lawful, targeted sanctions against it, starting with a comprehensive military-security embargo.

Pressure must be put on city councils and public institutions to divest from and exclude from procurement all companies involved in grave human rights violations, including in Israeli apartheid – – even as governments including Britain’s attempt to ban them from doing so.

Palestinians are calling on progressives worldwide to channel their moral outrage about Israel’s regime of oppression into strategic pressure and building people’s power that can contribute meaningfully to finally ending the Nakba that has plagued our people for 75 years.

Omar Barghouti is the co-founder of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights and co-recipient of the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award.

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