By Omar Barghouti and Sid Shniad
For several decades, the world has watched in frustration as the crisis in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory deepened. Confused by the details of what is alleged to be a highly complicated situation and loathed to be attacked for criticizing Israel lest they be vilified as anti-Semites, people who would otherwise be expected to play an active role in striving for an end to Israel’s occupation, colonization, and system of discrimination in accordance with international law have chosen to focus their attention elsewhere.
In recent years, however, this state of affairs has begun to change dramatically as a growing number of activists and intellectuals—including members of the Jewish communities in the West, who could once be counted upon by Israel to be either unquestioning supporters or silent in their acquiescence to its actions—have begun to find their voice on this matter. For example, it has recently surfaced that, consistent with its long tradition of engaging on matters of social justice, the United Church of Canada plans to debate its own version of a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resolution at its national conference, set for Kelowna in August.
The fact that Israel’s decades-old oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine defies the fundamental notions of justice and respect of the rule of law has informed this gradual transformation of people of conscience advocating social justice everywhere. The most recent scenes of Israeli jets and heavy armour mounting savage attacks on defenceless civilian populations—first in Lebanon in 2006, and then in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009—compounded a growing perception among international civil society of Israel as a pariah state that is flouting international law and basic human rights with utter impunity.
There is a growing understanding of the fundamental issues that drive the crisis: the occupation of Palestinian land by Zionist Jews claiming a right to do so by virtue of an alleged historical-Biblical entitlement; the expulsion of masses of Palestinians from their homeland—first by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel—at the time of Israel’s establishment; the legalized and institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the ongoing military occupation and colonization of Palestinian and other Arab lands conquered in 1967.
As a result, a long-overdue determination has arisen in the ranks of civil society around the world, a determination to take concrete steps to generate tactics and strategies to bring a satisfactory resolution to this ongoing crisis by addressing its root causes. One of the most important manifestations of this new determination is the rise of an international movement endorsing the non-violent, morally consistent, universalist strategy of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel to compel it to comply with the international law and human rights principles. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa was one of the key inspirations behind this quickly spreading movement.
As expected, the prevailing Zionist response to this development has been a vitriolic denunciation of the individuals and organizations involved and a sustained attempt to bully them into silence. This usually involves an ascription of anti-Semitism as the motive for such action. In April 2009, however, when Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) joined the growing number of organizations endorsing BDS to promote a just peace based on international law, the Zionist establishment chose to ignore the development—presumably because Jews endorsing the strategy strongly challenged the false notion of a monolithic Jewish voice in support of Zionism and Israel. From the Zionists’ perspective, engaging IJV on the subject would focus attention on the underlying substantive issues and neutralize their most powerful tools: brow beating and intimidation. Zionist organizations continue to use intimidation in dealing with non-Jewish critics of Israel, however. As was to be expected, they have aimed their big guns at the United Church, attributing all sorts of vile motives to it for even considering a BDS resolution.
We urge the United Church to ignore this thinly veiled smear campaign and to join this global movement in the pursuit of sustainable peace based on freedom, equality, and universal justice.
Omar Barghouti is a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Sid Shniad is a co-chair of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.