Faced with a choice of peace and BDS, Israel chooses BDS

first published by the Middle East Monitor on 10 August 2016

Israel’s recent decision to form a taskforce to target Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists for deportation is in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent claim that BDS had been defeated. Speaking at a special session of the State Control Committee on the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s public diplomacy, Netanyahu dismissed claims of Israeli failures against the BDS movement. Instead he claimed “we are acting against BDS and this is why they are on the defensive.” He noted that “anti-Israel activists” around the world are now being forced to fight over the issue of whether they even have a right to boycott Israel. “They are taking hits of many fronts. We have beaten them.”

It seems rather bizarre then that on Sunday 7 August, Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan decided to form a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They stated that “we must not allow BDS activists to enter the State of Israel. This is a necessary step, given the malicious intentions of these activists to delegitimise and spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region.” Erdan added that the boycott movement against Israel “must have a price.”

“Fighting against Israeli boycott starts by fighting those who undermine the State of Israel,” Deri said. “We have a responsibility to do everything possible to crush any boycott and to state clearly that we will not allow the State of Israel to be harmed. Forming the task force is an important step in that direction.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee strongly condemned the establishment of the taskforce. Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, commented that “deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot. If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists’ home countries.”

“This latest weapon in the intensifying Israeli legal, espionage and propaganda war against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights is a strong indicator of how desperate and irrational Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has become in its futile attempts to hinder the impressive growth of the BDS movement around the world.”

Israel, it seems, is struggling to find a solution to its continually declining reputation despite throwing millions of shekels at it in recent years. Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Sima Vaknin told Israeli lawmakers recently that Israel is perceived a “pariah state” in the international community. Vaknin made her comments during a meeting of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information. She committed to “reversing this stance in the next decade”, adding that “victory for me will be a change of narrative in the world toward Israel – that the narrative in the world won’t be that Israel equals apartheid,” Vaknin said. “[T]oday in the countries of the world, Israel is a pariah state. Our goal is that in 2025 no one in the world will question Israel’s right to exist.”

It seems the penny is finally dropping in Israel that a major effort is needed to deal with its declining image.  However, as it has done in the past, its strategy is flawed because it once again plans to deal with the effect and not the fundamental cause. It sees BDS as a strategic threat which it claims delegitimises the state. How can a peaceful movement which has at its core three legal and moral demands be a strategic threat to one of the strongest military states in the world? How can calls for ending the illegal occupation, for equality for all citizens and the respect and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees be a strategic threat?

The strategic threat to Israel, if it exists at the alarming level it claims, comes from its own policies, which are designed to entrench its illegal occupation and which have in my view ended any prospect for the long touted two-state solution. It comes from its continual pursuit of discriminatory roles and actions against its own non-Jewish citizens. Fundamentally though it comes from Israel’s refusal to acknowledge the wrong committed against the Palestinian people through its creation on their land and without their consent. For as long as it continues to refuse to see Palestinians both under occupation and its own citizens as equal to its Jewish citizens it will fail to sell a narrative of a “normal state” that is a victim.

Israel delegitimises Palestine and the Palestinian people on a daily basis, fighting tooth and nail to wipe away our history, culture and snuff our aspirations for freedom, independence and return. Its strategy will fail because of the steadfastness of the Palestinians and the growing support for their cause. When US Secretary of State John Kerry launched his last round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in 2013, he warned Israel that if the talks failed it would face boycotts on steroids. Israel is now facing this because when it has been called on to choose between a just peace and BDS, it chooses BDS and then blames others for its self-inflicted delegitimisation strategy.

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