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A Palestinian womanís response to Israelís Naomi Chazan on BDS (recommended reading)
There are good things to be said about Professor Naomi Chazan, a scholar of
contemporary Africa and a former member of the Israeli Knesset (on behalf of the
center-left Meretz party). When an extreme right-wing and US funded Israeli
student group like `Im Tirtzu` runs a venomous campaign against her, smearing
her (in the Israeli public eye) as `Naomi Goldstone-Chazan`, it is safe to
assume she has been getting some things right. Indeed, signing a petition in
demand of an `immediate halt to the attack carried out in Gaza by Israeli
forces`, just one day after Israel began its `Operation Cast Lead` war on Gaza`s
inhabitants in December 2008, was not a consensus act in her rather mainstream
political circles. Prof. Chazan is also the president of the New Israel Fund
(NIF). This self-proclaimed `leading organization committed to equality and
democracy for all Israelis` has supported, through funding and consultation,
numerous Israeli NGOs whose goals are to promote the rights of various
minorities and disenfranchised groups in Israel. In view of all this, local
peace activists held high expectations ahead of Prof. Chazan`s recent series of
talks in Australia on behalf of NIF. Alas, her message to the Australian public
and the local Jewish community was a bitter disappointment to many concerned
Australians. In spite of NIF`s credentials, many grassroots activists for the
Palestinian cause have come to regard the fund as a significant part of the
problem, and not just a part of the solution. All this is illustrated by Samah
Sabawi`s lucid critique, which follows.
One of NIF`s main efforts in the past year has been an aggressive campaign
against the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiative. Started
in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, BDS has already proven effective at
several levels. So why does NIF oppose the BDS initiative? Surely this has a lot
to do with the views held by its liberal Zionist donors, who tend to be hostile
towards attempts to pressure Israel from the outside.
NIF could have reached a compromise between the desires of its donors and the
urgent need to effectively address the reality of Israel`s apartheid and
occupation policies by opting for agnosticism on the issue of BDS. Instead of
doing so, the fund has attempted to derail significant BDS initiatives.
Moreover, it has campaigned against proposed measures that were extremely
selective and restricted in scope. A primary example would be the fund`s appeal
to the University of California at Berkeley, against divestment from two
American companies, General Electric and United Technologies, companies that
sell Israel military equipment which is used in occupied Palestinian territory
to sustain Israel`s occupation and land grab policies (for the anti-divestment
declaration co-signed by NIF:
student-senate-bill-on-israel/). On top of its Berkeley anti-divestment
campaign, NIF has announced recently that it would no longer allow its payment
transfer mechanism to be used by US donors who wish to support the Coalition of
Women for Peace (CWP), a vibrant women`s rights and anti-occupation NGO. The
decision was made due to CWP`s support of the BDS campaign.
On Monday, the Knesset passed the Ďanti-boycottí bill which renders boycott
advocacy a tort. Peace Now, an Israeli group which is always willing to cater to
the Israeli mainstream, has in defiance of the new law announced that it would
promote a boycott of settlement products. So what is one to make of NIF`s
staunch defense of the American arms industries? Nobel Prize laureate Mario
Vargas Llosa (who is also a Conservative, Pro-American politician) once stated,
during a visit to Israel, that `only the dissidents will save Israel`. Whether
one is interested in saving Israel, saving Palestine, or just saving human lives
and dignity, one has to ask which actions can bring about a change in Israel`s
policies, and which Israelis are true dissidents. It seems clear that Israeli
governments will not be swayed by Israeli NGOs that, by their very nature, can
cover only a narrow segment of the activism spectrum. It is evident that Israeli
decision makers can be swayed by boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives.
If the New Israel Fund lacks the moral backbone to support such initiatives, it
should refrain from undermining the attempts of dedicated human rights activists
in Israel, Palestine and the entire world.
A Palestinian womanís response to
Israelís Naomi Chazan on BDS
by Samah Sabawi
Australians for Palestine
Naomi Chazan, the President of the New Israel Fund (NIF) gave a talk in
Marrickville NSW during her recent Australian tour offering a critique of the
Palestinian Civil Society call for Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions (BDS)
Although she presented herself as a veteran Israeli peace activist, Chazanís
mission here in Australia was ostensibly to promote NIF. This is important
because everything she said about BDS must be understood within the context of
her mission Ė to gather funds and support and to convince Jews in Australia of
the need to continue to invest in Israel through NIF. This clear conflict of
interest makes Chazanís criticism of BDS far less credible.
Chazan named six reasons why she believed BDS was harmful.
BDS is not effective because Israel has a very strong economy: South Africaís
economy was also booming when the boycott movement against that regime began in
the late 1950s. Decades later the movement succeeded in bringing down the South
African apartheid regime.
Many Israeli leaders, including Ehud Barak, Ben-Eliezer, Shimon Peres and
others, have already stated that BDS is a `strategic threat;` what they mean of
course is that it is a serious threat to Israelís system of occupation,
legalized racial discrimination (conforming to the UN definition of apartheid)
and denial of refugee rights. We only need to look at the millions of dollars
the Israeli lobby groups in Western nations including Australia are spending in
efforts to `sabotage` the movement to know that it is indeed effective. The
fact that Chazan focused so much on BDS in her Marrickville talk confirms this.
There is other evidence of BDSís effectiveness.
The Deutsche Bahn withdrawal from the Israeli rail project connecting Tel Aviv
with Jerusalem has been a watershed for the movement. It was the first time
that a German government-owned company withdrew from an Israeli project over
concerns of violation of international law. The French company Veolia`s loss of
billions of dollars worth of contracts because of its involvement in the illegal
Jerusalem Light Rail project also points to the impressive success of BDS
campaigning, especially in Europe.
The fast growing list of superstars and prominent music bands heeding the
boycott of Israel makes Tel Aviv look very similar to the South African resort
of Sun City under apartheid. That city was a key target for the cultural boycott
The University of Johannesburgís severance of ties with Ben Gurion University
over the latter`s complicity in violating Palestinian rights is the most
concrete victory to date for the academic boycott campaign.
And, there has been sweeping trade union support for BDS in the UK, Brazil,
Ireland, South Africa, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium, India,
Turkey, and elsewhere.
BDS undermines the existence of the state of Israel: The demands are clear -
full equality in Israel for the Palestinian citizens of the state, an end to
occupation and a fulfilment of Israelís obligation towards the refugees. If
these demands threaten to bring an end to Israel`s `existence, we have to ask
what does this really say about Israel?
A state that is truly democratic and built on the foundations of justice and
equality would not be threatened by demands of equality and an end to
occupation. Boycotts did not bring an end to South Africaís existence, they did
not destroy it, and they certainly did not `delegitimize` whites: they only
destroyed South Africaís system of injustice, inequality and racial
BDS is actually ďa code word for one state solutionĒ which defies the right of
Israelis and Jews to self-determination: BDS does not aim for either a one or
two state solution, but for Palestinian rights. One of those rights is for
Palestinians to be free in their own land without the yoke of Israeli occupation
and system of racial discrimination. Whether that is in one state for both
peoples or two sovereign, democratic states side by side has yet to be decided.
The movement is consistently neutral on this, regardless of the diverse personal
political views held by its various spokespeople.
BDS is counter-productive because it entrenches the victim mentality of those in
Israel who believe the whole world is against them which inevitably strengthens
the right wing in Israel while weakening the left: Right now, the fanatical
right is taking over the entire Israeli society, but once boycotts begin hurting
Israelís carefully nurtured public image, dissenting voices will become much
more vocal, as happened in South Africa. Then, the
current consensus in support of apartheid and colonial rule will crack.
BDS is against academic freedom and singles out Israeli academics: Chazan is
purposely misleading in this regard. As any relatively well-informed observer
must know after seven years of the Palestinian academic boycott campaign and
hundreds of articles written on it, the academic boycott is institutional in
nature and has therefore never targeted individual Israeli academics. BDS has
consistently been directed at academic institutions because of their persistent
and grave complicity in planning, implementing and justifying Israel`s
violations of international law.
Chazan`s claims that Israeli academics are progressive and opposed to the
occupation have absolutely no foundation. In 2008, a petition drafted by four
Jewish-Israeli academics calling on the Israeli army to allow access at
checkpoints to Palestinian academics and students to reach their educational
institutions was distributed to all 9,000 Israeli academics in the hope that
most would sign this minimal expression of respect for academic freedom:
only 407 out of 9,000 academic actually did so.
BDS singles Israel out: This criticism is so often tendered that one has to ask
whether Chazan and others posing it want more action on other causes or silence
on the Palestinian cause. In any case, people are rising up against tyrannical
regimes and seeking change in just about every Arab state in ďIsraelís
neighbourhood.Ē Some of these governments are now being subject to international
sanctions, so why not Israel which has for decades defied the UN and violated
An equally important question to ask here is why not advocate for Palestinian
rights? Indeed, why are Palestinians being singled out as the only people who
cannot be championed? We can speak out for all other issues, so it is
tendentious to suggest that speaking up for Palestinian rights singles Israel
The principled Israeli left camp which respects equal rights for all, the UN-
sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees, and an end to colonial oppression
should Ė and indeed does -- invest its time challenging its governmentís
apartheid policies and oppression of the Palestinians rather than criticising
the Palestinian non-violent resistance model that encompasses BDS.
Chazanís efforts to undermine BDS need to be seen in context. At the end of the
day, Chazan will go home to Israel where she is a privileged Jewish citizen with
all her rights intact. She is part of and an enabler of the establishment that
denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms, and as such, she is not in
a position to be dictating to the Palestinians their methods of struggle or
acting as gatekeeper for the international solidarity
movements, preaching to them what is allowed and what is not in standing with
the Palestinians. As in every human struggle for freedom, justice and equality,
that right is the prerogative of those who live behind the walls, hindered by
checkpoints and held captive to siege and military oppression.
Samah Sabawi is the Public Advocate of the Australian advocacy group Australians
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