Omar Barghouti, the Qatar-born Palestinian founding father of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, on April 27 addressed the anti-Israel Jerusalem Fund in Washington, DC. His remarks and their approving reception by about 80 sympathetic listeners filling the Jerusalem Fund’s lecture room should dispel any illusions about the BDS movement seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Jerusalem Fund Executive Director Mohamed Mohamed introduced the “human rights defender” Barghouti, recently charged in Israel with tax evasion, to an audience containing BDS supporters well-known in Washington, DC, and beyond. The Christian Palestinian-American Philip Farah has previously addressed this author and others on BDS at a Jerusalem Fund presentation, just as the former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Bud Hensgen once had an art exhibit there. His fellow former FSO Benjamin Tua revealed his solidarity with the event by stating in answer to an audience question that “Europe seems ahead of the United States on BDS” with growing sanctions against Israel.
Prominent radical anti-Israel organizations had representatives in the audience as well, such as Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a cosponsor of Barghouti’s talk. The respective Washington, DC, coordinators for Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Paul Verduin and Shelley Cohen Fudge also attended. Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin and other Code Pink members arrived at the lecture’s end.
Barghouti’s background exposed Hensgen, now a member of Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME), as outright naïve. His audience comments mentioned how he had been unable to persuade a liberal rabbi that “BDS is not anti-Israel or against the Jewish state or is ultimately calling for the end of the Jewish state.” Yet Barghouti has a long history of anti-Israel statements directly contradicting Hensgen and Barghouti’s lecture comments that BDS leaders “have never taken a position on one state versus two states.” In particular, Barghouti has stated that “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Barghouti starkly dismissed Hensgen’s foredoomed efforts of trying to persuade the wiser rabbi, stating that “I wouldn’t have spent a lot of my time trying to convince the KKK why blacks deserve equal rights.” Barghouti’s unequivocal condemnation of Israel excluded any dialogue; “we have to convince Israel to give up and give us our rights? It is not a matter of convincing; it is a matter of compelling.” “Masters never give up power, never. It is only the resistance of the slaves and the masters’ solidarity with their struggle that forces the masters to give up their colonial privilege,” he elaborated to vigorous audience applause.
Barghouti clearly denounced “Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid” with slanderous analogies of Israel with past civil rights issues that have become all-too familiar. “Why are people wedded to the idea of maintaining this one case of a racial supremacist state on Earth?” he asked. He welcomed “major artists refusing to play Tel Aviv as the new Sun City,” a reference to the South African resort boycotted under apartheid.
Barghouti emphasized the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for so-called Palestinian refugees. These now number about five million due to the United Nations’ bizarre practice of bestowing refugee status on the growing number of descendants of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians who fled the fledgling Israeli state in 1948. Thus for him:
Palestinian refugees and internally displaced Palestinians together constitute about 68 percent of our people, making the issue of refugee rights the most important, the most significant right for the Palestinian people in order to exercise our inalienable right to self-determination.
Barghouti in the past has conceded that a “return for refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” but his presentation dismissed any such concerns raised by Hensgen. Barghouti’s response that “ending a supremacist order—that is bad because?” provoked audience laughter. He deceptively argued that a “movement for Palestinian human rights…cannot be interpreted as the destruction of anything else except injustice.” Invoking canards of a Palestinian people existing since time immemorial, he stated that “we are the indigenous people of the land, we were ethnically cleansed. We have every right under international law to go home.”
Barghouti’s own comments indirectly indicated that Palestinian rejection of Jewish state is not a modern creation, but rather has origins in Arab opposition to Zionism beginning in the 1920s, including boycotts. Aside from the American civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, he noted that the “main inspiration for BDS came from a very long heritage of Palestinian nonviolent resistance.” Yet Arab opposition to Zionism, of course, also includes many violent forms, and he has previously supported Palestinian “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.”
As has become increasingly common, Barghouti cast destroying Israel as a “progressive” cause. “We have established amazing intersectional coalitions with various justice movements around the world,” including the “black justice movement” and “LGBTQI community.” He called upon this leftist community to oppose anti-BDS legislation emerging across the United States as a free speech cause, an outlook that might surprise Berkeley, California.
“Those who do not remember McCarthyism should better go back and read about McCarthyism,” Barghouti warned.
If they succeed in suppressing our freedom of speech on Palestine, they will go after every progressive movement in this country. You will gradually lose the very meaning of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the protection of free speech which is one of the gems that you still have in this country.
Observers of the BDS movement should take Barghouti and his bad company to heart. BDS leaders “wish we can genetically clone JVP in every European country and Australia and Canada,” he stated. Following the lecture, an audience member appeared to reject the very name of Israel by proclaiming that “we should always refer to it as occupied Palestine. I am sick and tired of calling it with the name they call it.”