Should People Boycott Israel?
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. I'm in Ramallah, Palestine. And now joining us from ["la-ROOJ"] Café in Ramallah is Omar Barghouti. He's a founding member of the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Thanks for joining us.
OMAR BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL: Thank you.
JAY: So what is this boycott about?
BARGHOUTI: The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel actually is one part of a general Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS for short. We started Academic and Cultural Boycott in 2004, and the general Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign was in 2005. The BDS campaign, from the very first moment, was endorsed by more than 170 of the main groups in Palestinian civil society, including the major trade unions, women's unions, political forces, NGOs, and so on and so forth. So this is a movement that has as close to a consensus as you can get, and it's not just among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, including East Jerusalem, but also Palestinians inside Israel, and the largest component of the Palestinian people, those in exile in the Diaspora.
JAY: And specifically what you're asking people outside of Israel to do is what?
BARGHOUTI: The main focus of the boycott campaign is to hold Israel accountable to international law by making it recognize our three basic rights. So it's a rights-based approach. The three rights are ending the occupation, the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab territories, the Golan Heights and so on. The second is ending this system of racial discrimination within Israel. There's an institutionalized, legalized system of racial discrimination within Israel that we're calling for it to end.
JAY: For example?
BARGHOUTI: I'll get to that after I finish the third point, which is the right of return for refugees. And this is the key point. According to UN Resolution 194, Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes of origin. So these are the three components. The second one is the least understood, ending the system of racial discrimination. But people say, but isn't Israel a democracy? Well, actually, not even according to the US State Department. [inaudible] US [inaudible] not exactly a human rights beacon or reference. But even the US State Department human rights reports consistently have condemned Israel's legalized societal discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens, the Arab citizens of Israel, the Palestinians, the indigenous Palestinians of Israel. The discrimination is in almost all the vital domains of the state of Israel, from the way the state defines itself as the Jewish state rather than a state of its citizens—so this is the only state in the world that does not define itself as a state of its citizens.
JAY: Now, if you make that one of the issues that the boycott's about, then you're saying there's a boycott until there's no longer a Jewish state.
BARGHOUTI: No, we're not saying that. Until there's no discrimination. They can call themselves whatever they wish. But until discrimination ends, until legalized, institutionalized discrimination ends.
JAY: So give some examples of things you want to stop.
BARGHOUTI: For example, discrimination in land ownership. Palestinians inside Israel are not allowed to own, rent, or live on almost 93 percent of the state lands, which are reserved purely for the Jewish citizens of Israel or any Jew in the world. Israel has this system where only if you're Jewish you become a national. A Palestinian born in Israel who is a citizen is not a national of Israel. This distinction between citizen and national is where the discrimination comes in. So a Jewish Canadian can come to Israel tomorrow and have more rights than my wife, who was born in Haifa inside Israel, because he would be an Israeli citizen and a Jewish national.
JAY: What would be an example of a right this person would have that your wife doesn't?
BARGHOUTI: Ownership, for example, in most of the land of Israel. He can buy land almost anywhere, rent, and so on. My wife cannot.
JAY: Your wife can't own a condominium in—.
BARGHOUTI: In most places in Israel, I mean, in 93 percent.
JAY: Barred by law.
BARGHOUTI: By law.
JAY: What else?
BARGHOUTI: Jobs. At every level, if you're not Jewish, in most cases you're not entitled to even apply for these jobs.
JAY: For example, what would be a job you couldn't apply for?
BARGHOUTI: Most government jobs, most government jobs. We're talking about the total number of Palestinians who are employed in ministries, in all the government positions, is tiny, tiny minority, well below the number of Palestinians, the proportion of Palestinians in Israeli society. But even in issues like health, health-care, education—.
JAY: What would stop a Palestinian Israeli going to the high-end health-care hospital in a Jewish neighborhood? Is there anything that stops them from going?
BARGHOUTI: There are many bureaucratic rules that make it very difficult for you to get service in a clinic not in your place of residence. I'll give just one very concrete example: cancer research, something very benign. The state of Israel, the Ministry of Health, carried out a very long, multi-year research into the causes of cancer and the pollutants that might cause cancer, and see the correlation between pollutants and the rate of cancer. What they did throughout those years, they skipped every single Palestinian village and town inside Israel except for one. And this blatant racism, that you're not even researching cancer in Palestinian communities inside Israel, was questioned, and they said, oh, budget problems. But why did budget problems apply only to Palestinian communities? And some researchers reached the conclusion that in most of the pollutant sites, they're right next to Arab villages or Arab towns, so if you had studied them, you would have proven that the rate of cancer is rising so rapidly among Palestinians, double the Jewish population in many places, because all the pollutants are built near Palestinian towns.
JAY: So what effect is the boycott movement having now? Where is there some success? And what effect is it having on the Israeli economy or cultural life?
BARGHOUTI: Okay. So the boycott movement is five, six years old. It's too early to discuss how much impact it's having on the Israeli economy. It is having, but not a huge impact. At this stage, the point is not about making Israel's economy lose a lot. We cannot do this so rapidly. It's about presenting Israel for what it is, an apartheid state that is practicing occupation and colonization as well. It's a very unique combination of occupation, colonization, and apartheid. And this to counter Israel's brand in the West, if you will, as a democracy that has some problem of occupying a neighboring territory. It's not just about occupation; it's also about the system of apartheid within Israel and the most important form of injustice, the denial of Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights to return. We've had many successes in those five, six years. Actually, compared to South Africa, the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa, our South African comrades tell us we're going much faster in comparison, because in five, six years we've reached the mainstream in several Western societies, including Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Norway, and so on, not to mention South Africa. Our South African supporters [inaudible] the biggest civil society organizations in South Africa, have come out and supported the boycott. But even in Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, for example—it's a national union—it has come out in support of the boycott. The Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario has come out in support, and several others, including—.
JAY: What about in the United States?
BARGHOUTI: In the United States we don't yet have unions, but there are many groups that have joined the boycott. One example is the academic and cultural boycott campaign in the US. It's called US ACPE. US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has just released a statement that they reached 500 endorsers—academics and artists—in the US supporting this boycott. So by American standards 500 is a small number, but relatively speaking that's a big step forward.
JAY: There's been some critique from inside Israel, from professors and academics, particularly, who are critics of Israeli policy, like, for example, were against the attack on Gaza. But some of these professors are saying, you're isolating us from having contact, you're actually, for example, by saying Western universities shouldn't have anything to do with Israeli universities, you wind up also isolating progressive Israeli academics. What's your answer to that?
BARGHOUTI: I think they overestimate their proportion in the academic community in Israel. And they're very Israel-centric. I mean, the world revolves around them. It's about Palestinian rights and Israeli oppression and injustice and the role of the Israeli academy as a partner in the system of oppression. In fact, no Israeli university has ever come out against the occupation, ever. The total number of Israeli academics that have ever condemned the occupation, just the occupation, let alone apartheid in Israel or the denial of refugee rights, is a few hundred out of a community that's 9,000. Just very recently, in 2008, 4 Jewish-Israeli academics started a petition calling upon the Israeli military in the territories—they did not even call it "occupied territories"—in the territories to allow passage at military roadblocks to Palestinian academics and students going to their schools and universities—the most banal demand for academic freedom—and they sent it to all 9,000 academics, hoping almost everyone would sign. Any decent self-respecting academics should endorse this basic requirement. Only 407 signed this petition, out of 9,000.
JAY: Well, to be fair, their argument isn't that they're going to lose some privileges. At least that's not the argument they made. Their argument is that it weakens their hand inside Israel [inaudible]
BARGHOUTI: There is no left movement in Israel. They're individuals who are not that relevant in the Israeli society. If you look at the parliamentary elections, Israel is shifting fast to the far right, and to a certain extent to the fascist right in some parties in Israel—and I'm using that term very deliberately. There are fascist parties in Israel that resemble fascist parties in Europe and elsewhere. And Israeli society is shifting very far to the right, with ethnic cleansing becoming a mainstream term that's used in academia, in the media, in parliament, in conferences. It's openly called for, discrimination at all level.