by Steve ChaseAugust 13, 2018
Since 2013, advocating boycotts on behalf of Palestinian rights has been illegal under Israeli law. Supporters and lobbyists for the Natanyahu government have also been working hard to pass similar laws in the United States.
Israel's effort has already yielded some success. Twenty-five US States have passed legislation making boycotts targeting Israeli policies illegal. Fifty US governors and the mayor of Washington, D.C. have also signed on to an anti-boycott letter supporting such laws, and the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” has now been introduced in both the US House and Senate with bipartisan support.
In January 2018, the Israeli government went a step further and announced a list of 20 international NGOs whose staff are no longer allowed entry into Israel/Palestine because they support boycotts against Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
The Israeli government banned these organizations because the 20 NGOs support the 2005 Palestinian call for international civil society to engage in a nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting companies and institutions that enable what is seen by many as Israel’s oppressive policies of displacement, occupation, and discrimination against Palestinians.
The core goal of the Palestinian-led BDS campaign is to push the Israeli government to comply with international law and respect the human rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people. The specific demands are for Israel to:
The campaign is modeled on the successful international BDS campaign against the apartheid policies of the government of South Africa and it has already won some victories around the world. This growing movement is causing increasing panic among Israeli and US politicians.
The two US-based organizations banned from Israel/Palestine for supporting this boycott movement are Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The banning of these two groups is ironic from a historical perspective.
In June 1934, as the rise of Nazi fascism was causing alarm around the globe, Professor Henry Cadbury, then the AFSC chair, gave a keynote address to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In his talk, Cadbury told the assembled Jewish leaders to seek only dialog and negotiations with the fascists and not “fight back” in any way.
He specifically urged the rabbis not to support boycotts to pressure the German regime to change. Cadbury said boycotts—and all the nonviolent resistance tactics used by Gandhi in the struggle to end British rule in India—were “simply war without bloodshed.” He said such warlike tactics should be avoided by all adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Instead, he claimed, a strategy of non-resistance would put an end to the Nazi persecution of Jews “more effectively and earlier” than any form of resistance.
Cadbury’s advice to these Jewish leaders—which he and the AFSC later rejected—is actually very similar to the advice frequently given to Palestinians by officials of the Israeli government and other supporters of the status quo in Israel/Palestine. Cadbury’s message, however, was not well received by the US rabbis. Samuel Schulman, the honorary president of the conference, declared that he could not in good conscience "subscribe to the principle of non-resistance to evil which Dr. Cadbury advocated.”
Rabbi Stephan Wise, who The New York Times said “led a wave of objection to the advice of Professor Henry J. Cadbury,” said from the conference podium: “A boycott is a rightful refusal to not have any relation morally or economically with any government which has persecuted us and done injustice to our people.” Wise added: “A boycott is not war. It is a moral and economical weapon of self-defense.”
Ultimately, the conference participants adopted a resolution rejecting Cadbury’s advice and asserted instead that “moral persuasion should be supplemented by every manner of nonviolent resistance,” whenever people face violent repression, social injustice, economic marginalization, and systemic inequality or persecution.
Sounding like Jewish Voice for Peace, the conference president, Rabbi Samuel Goldenson, also warned: “Realizing then, as everyone must, that in the spread of intolerance we Jews are always the first victims, it behooves us to be especially watchful of our own conduct and not commit the folly of believing that similar illiberalisms may not develop among ourselves.”
Jewish Voice for Peace believes that such illiberalism has long marred Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and is now exemplified by Israel’s attempts to criminalize boycotts around the world. As such, the DC JVP chapter organized several public speaking engagements this June for Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian scientist who directs the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability and the Palestine Museum of Natural History in Bethlehem. Dr. Qumsiyeh is also a human rights activist committed to nonviolent resistance and is the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine (Pluto, 2011), the first comprehensive history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance for human rights and self-determination since the late-1800s on.
During his visit to DC, ICNC spoke with Dr. Qumsiyeh to hear his perspective on Palestinian nonviolent resistance in general and on the BDS movement in particular. Below is a video excerpt from our discussion.
The questions Qumsiyeh answers in this short video are:
Steve Chase is a long-time activist, educator, and writer and previously worked as Manager of Academic Initiatives for ICNC. He is currently the Assistant Director of Solidarity 2020 and Beyond, a solidarity network and community of practice for grassroots movement organizers in the Global South using advocacy, peacebuilding, and nonviolent resistance to win sustainability, rights, freedom, and justice.Read More