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2012-03-26

Boycotting Israel: Mustafa Barghouthi vs. Rabbi Arthur Waskow on BDS Movement, Palestinian Solidarity

Guests

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament. He is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. He was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

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The Park Slope Food Coop, one of the oldest and largest in the country, is set to vote Tuesday on whether to hold a referendum on boycotting goods from Israel to protest the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. We host a debate on the international advocacy effort called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS for short, which is inspired by the international boycott movement against apartheid South Africa. "We believe this campaign is for the sake of both Palestinians and the Israelis, because it would help us liberate ourselves from the last segregation and occupation system in the world. And it would help liberate the Israelis from the last colonial settler system in modern history," says Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament who supports the BDS movement. "The result of the way BDS is framed, on almost everyone I have talked to who feels attracted to it, is that the society, as well as the government, of Israel is wrong, and it must be attacked," counters Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who is opposed to BDS. He is the founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. "That, even using methods that are not outright violence, is not a nonviolent approach." We also discuss the case of Hana Shalabi, the Palestinian hunger striker protesting the Israeli policy of administrative detention. She has been on hunger strike for 39 days. This past weekend, an Israeli military court rejected her appeal. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The global issue of Israel-Palestine is being played out at the community level in Brooklyn, New York. A vote is set Tuesday at the Park Slope Food Coop to decide whether to hold a referendum on boycotting goods from Israel to protest the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians. The debate has divided many in the Coop. The turnout at the vote is expected to be so large that organizers have shifted the meeting from its usual location at a synagogue, which accommodates 350 people, to a venue that can hold about 3,000.

The attempt at a boycott is part of an international advocacy effort called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS for short. It’s inspired by the international boycott movement against apartheid South Africa, when civil society groups called for people all over the world to engage in a nonviolent campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction the country until it complied with international law.

Well, much like the Israel-Palestine issue globally, members of the Park Slope Food Coop have conflicting views on the boycott at home. Democracy Now! spoke to members of the Park Slope Food Coop last night.

JESSICA ROSENBERG: I support the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for a boycott and divestment and sanctions of Israel until they end the occupation, equal rights for Palestinians inside Israel, and provide right of return—support right of return for Palestinian refugees. So, it’s part of an international movement. I support that movement. And I think where we get our food is extremely political.

LINDA KATZ: I do not support the boycott of Israeli products. If you really believe in helping the Palestinian people, this isn’t going to do this, because if—it potentially can hurt the Palestinians and their work potential. And I think that if we really want to stand up and say that we want peace, then we should make a statement about pushing for there to be better talks. So I think we have to decide what our real intent is. Is it anti-Israel, or is it pro-peace?

AMY GOODMAN: Linda Katz and Jessica Rosenberg, members of the Park Slope Food Coop, speaking to Democracy Now! last night outside the Coop.

Well, today we’ll host a debate on the wider BDS movement, the call to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is joining us from Washington, D.C. He supports the movement. He’s a member of the Palestinian Parliament. He’s the secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. He was also a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections. Rabbi Arthur Waskow is opposed to BDS, founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Barghouthi, why don’t you start off by explaining what BDS is and why you think this vote in Brooklyn, New York, is so important?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, BDS is a part of a larger movement of nonviolent resistance in Palestine, civil resistance, very similar to the civil actions and civil activities that were led by Martin Luther King here in the United States against segregation, and very similar to what Gandhi led in India as a nonviolent resistance against foreign dependence of India. What we live in as Palestinians is a situation of apartheid and segregation and occupation that has become the longest in modern history, and this segregation is destroying our life.

The talks, the so-called peace talks, have become a peace process that is a substitute to peace. It’s not producing any results. It has become a cover for Israeli expansionist policy of settlement activity that is destroying the very last opportunity of two-state solution. And there can be no results of talks as long as there is no balance between the two sides, as this, there is no—as long as there is no change in the balance of power. And the whole nonviolent movement is about changing the balance, about producing a new situation which would allow a solution and allow peace to take place.

BDS—Boycott, Divestment, Sanction—campaign is one way of international solidarity with the Palestinian people, as was the case of BDS with the struggle of the people of South Africa against apartheid. It’s nonviolent. It’s peaceful. It’s not against Israelis as Israelis; it’s against Israeli occupation, against Israeli apartheid and against Israeli segregation. At the end of the day, we believe this campaign is for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, because it would help us liberate ourselves from the last segregation and occupation system in the world. And it would help liberate the Israelis from the last colonial settler system in modern history. Without Palestinians being free, Israelis themselves will not be free. And that’s why a BDS movement in a place like the United States can help also change the United States’ policy, as has happened in the case of the struggle of the people of South Africa against apartheid system.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, why are you opposed to BDS?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: First, Amy, let me say, shalom, salaam, peace, to you, to Dr. Barghouthi. And I want to say, Dr. Barghouthi—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Shalom to you, too.

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —for me, you are a respected, important and creative leader of the Palestinian people, and I think the BDS movement, as it is presently shaped and framed, is a mistake. It targets all of Israeli society, which is not a way of enacting, in the present, a future in which, as I know you have said you believe, there should be a two-state solution. You mentioned Dr. King. Even when Dr. King clearly, publicly, vigorously opposed the Vietnam War, he did not call for a boycott of all American products and producers. He didn’t do that in Europe or in the United States. He targeted where he was aiming. And I think BDS, as presently framed, doesn’t target. I, myself, don’t buy products made by, produced by Israeli settlers on the West Bank, and I encourage others not to do that. But that’s a laser-beam boycott. That’s a boycott of the oppressive acts of the Israeli government and of settlers on the West Bank. It is not a demonization of Israeli society as a whole. And it seems to me that the present framing of BDS, that it aims at all Israeli institutions and processes and products, and that it talks about not only ending the occupation, but, for example, it seems to be talking about the return of millions of descendants, families, of refugees to within the legitimate boundaries of Israel. I think that is—adds up to an attack on the legitimacy of Israel as a whole. You may not intend that, but I—and I know that you have called for a two-state solution, but the result of the way BDS is framed, on almost everyone I have talked to who feels attracted to it, is that the society, as well as the government, of Israel is wrong, and it must be attacked. That, I think, even using methods that are not outright violence, is not a nonviolent approach.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and we’re going to come back to this discussion, just 30 seconds. Rabbi Arthur Waskow is with the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of Palestinian National Initiative and a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections. This is Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in 30 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, who is in Washington, D.C., right now, and Arthur Waskow, who is in Philadelphia, the Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center. Before we continue the debate, I wanted to ask Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi about Hana Shalabi, the Palestinian hunger striker protesting the Israeli policy of administrative detention, on hunger strike for 39 days. This past weekend, the Israeli military court rejected her appeal. Shalabi was detained February 16th. The military court initially ordered her held for six months. That was later reduced to four months, a decision she unsuccessfully appealed. The Israeli army has said the 30-year-old is a global jihad-affiliated operative and was re-arrested on suspicion that she posed a threat to the area, but no charges have been filed against her, no specific allegations have been made public. Dr. Barghouthi, can you talk about her case and how it compares to the international outcry around Khader Adnan, who is also on hunger strike for some 66 days? Ultimately, the Israeli government agreed to free him. He will be freed in mid-April.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, the case of Hana Shalabi resembles the suffering and the oppression that Palestinians are subjected to. Hana Shalabi was released in the exchange deal which led to the release of Shalit. According to the agreement, the Israeli army has no right to re-arrest her again. She was re-arrested, and there were no specific charges against her, so she was put under what they call administrative detention, which is a regulation that Israel used from the old British Mandatory laws that were canceled in Britain. And this law allows Israel to arrest any Palestinian for an unlimited amount of time without charges. There are people who have been in Israeli jail for more than six years without charges under this administrative detention.

Hana Shalabi, like Khader Adnan, decided to challenge this regulation by going into one of the most peaceful acts that can be done, which is hunger strike. Khader Adnan, as you said, was on hunger strike for 66 days. His life was under very big threat, ’til the Israelis bent down and allowed—decided to release him in April. Hana Shalabi is on her 40th day, but her health is very fragile and she can die at any moment. And unfortunately, the Israeli government is very stubborn and is refusing to release her and continues to violate international law by what they are doing. I want to add that [no audio] today on hunger strike in solidarity with Hana and against administrative detention. And I think what we need today is a very strong solidarity with Hana Shalabi to save her life.

And if you allow me, I want to respond to some of the issues that Rabbi Waskow has mentioned. I respect him. I thank him for his good intentions. But let me say that when he speaks about boycotting settlement products only, let me tell him that this is a very difficult thing to do, because it is not possible anymore to differentiate between settlement products and usual Israeli products, because the settlers and the Israeli government is recycling the Israeli settlement products within Israeli companies. So practically, you cannot differentiate between settlement products and Israeli products.

And what we are not—what we are doing is not delegitimization. What—practically, those who delegitimize Israel are those who are conducting the process of apartheid, those who are consolidating a system of segregation, those who are continuing an occupation for more than 46 years, making it the longest military occupation in human history. Those are the ones who are delegitimizing Israel, and those are the ones who are delegitimizing the future of two-state solution.

And what we need here is to be effective. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanction campaign is part of a nonviolent resistance act, and it’s part of making this nonviolent resistance effective, because at the end of the day, if we don’t change the balance of power on the ground, nothing will change. And what we hope for here is that people would understand, especially people like Rabbi Waskow, who is supporting peace, that the time has come to pressure Israel. In front of my eyes and his eyes, Israel is continuing to kill the two-state solution by building settlements. What can be done to stop these actions? We have to be effective. And that’s why BDS becomes an important international instrument, side by side with the Palestinian nonviolent resistance, which is growing everywhere in the Occupied Territories in the best traditions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Arthur Waskow, if you could respond? And also, would you describe Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories as apartheid, similar to the system in apartheid South Africa?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: In the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government’s policies are disgusting and probably analogous to apartheid. But I want to point out that the two hunger strikes were pointed like laser beams at very particular disgusting and vile behavior of the Israeli government. They were not directed at all of Israeli society. I think the hunger strikes, aimed as they were, as I say, like a laser beam, at the illegitimate detention and the illegitimate occupation, they are laudable, praiseworthy, and they were not directed against all of Israeli society.

As for effectiveness, I’m sorry to say that I think, no matter whether the boycotts would be directed like laser beams or broader, none of them are going to be effective. There is only one center of power capable of changing the Israeli government’s behavior by appealing to the desires of the Israeli people, and that’s the government of the United States, which has utterly failed for the last three-and-a-half years to do what many of us hoped, to have said, "This is not acceptable." The Arab League’s proposal for a full peace treaty, a region-wide peace treaty with Israel, with a Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, that is a policy of decent peace. And the United States government has not insisted to the Israeli government that it will bring this about, that it will insist on this happening. I understand why a president of the United States might be so frightened of domestic politics as not to do that. Perhaps after the next election, it will be possible for the next president of the United States to say, "It’s pass nisht! This doesn’t go," to use Yiddish. "This doesn’t go." And the occupation has to end. There has to be an independent Palestinian state at peace with and alongside Israel, in exchange for which Israel gets peace and security with all its neighbors. That probably has to be expanded to include Iran, as well as the Arab states. But that is what effectiveness would be.

So I ask you to imagine—Dr. Barghouthi, please imagine not that the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, etc., in the United States are—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: May I respond?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —wiggling on the edge of supporting BDS.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, I’m going to give you—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: But imagine that they decided that every Presbyterian and Episcopalian church in the United States were, in the next year, going to bring an Israeli and a Palestinian to talk about support, call for American support for the Geneva Initiative for a two-day solution—

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to give you each one minute.

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —that you and an Israeli, together, speaking in churches throughout the United States and demanding that the American government, the government of the United States, change its policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Waskow, I’m—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: That would be effective.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to give you each—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: That would make an enormous difference.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to give you each a final comment of 30 seconds. We’ll start with Dr. Barghouthi.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, I would like to say to Professor Waskow that it’s very clear that, of course, if the United States changes policy, we will be in good shape. But it will not. And we have to rely on ourselves. We have to be self-reliant as Palestinians and even as Israelis who struggle for peace. And we have to change the situation from the grassroots. I remember a time four years ago when I was speaking on CNN, and somebody mentioned the United States policy. And I reminded them that at that time, four years ago, Nelson Mandela was the most respected leader in the world, who every American president wanted to have an opportunity—a photo opportunity with. At that time, four years ago, Mr. Mandela was still on the terrorist list of the American Congress. It changed only after that. We need to change things on the grassroots. We need to create a strong, powerful international solidarity movement here in the United States and in other places in Europe. We need to change people, and then parliaments, and then the governments will change. But I am sure of one thing: one day, we, the Palestinians, will be free from this apartheid system. And we are doing it through our nonviolent resistance. And one day, we can have peace, based not on oppression, not on imposed agreement like Oslo Agreement, but based on peace and coexistence and mutual respect and respecting the Palestinians’ rights to freedom, dignity, and an end of this terrible segregation system, which is destroying the future of both people.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Arthur Waskow?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: I totally agree that there needs to be a grassroots movement. I just described one, rooted in the churches, where a grassroots movement would in fact change U.S. governmental policy. I think there needs to be an alliance among the majority of American Jews who do support a two-state solution, regardless of the top-down institutions that won’t act in favor of it, even if they say they are for it, and an alliance, a coalition, with Christians who support that and with Muslims who support that. I think an Abrahamic alliance inside the United States, at the grassroots, demanding change by the United States government, that is a grassroots movement. And I think that is the only thing that will make a difference. And in terms of BDS, I urge Dr. Barghouthi to rethink the holistic critique attack on Israeli society as a whole, rather than focusing like a laser beam on the occupation.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: But it is not against the Israeli society. It’s against—not against Israeli society. This is against occupation, against apartheid, against segregation—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: If it were against occupation—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: —which is destroying—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —it would be focused on the occupation.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: —which is destroying the future—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: And it would say that it would end—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: —of the Israeli society.

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —when the occupation ends, which it doesn’t, as of now. That needs to change. And if my—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me get in the last point—

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: —maybe more than 30 seconds is up by now, let me just say again—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that time is up, but I want to ask that question of Dr. Barghouthi, Arthur Waskow’s point of saying that it would say that it would end when the occupation ends, the BDS movement.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Of course. The BDS movement is not about continuation of something that is not needed. It’s exactly about ending occupation, about ending the segregation system, about guaranteeing the Palestinian rights.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. But I thank—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: And—yes.

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: Let me and again by saying, shalom, salaam, adding, by the way, the Farsi word for peace, the people of Iran, solh. Peace.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there.

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: Let us work for it.

AMY GOODMAN: We thank you very much, both of you, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. And that does it for this debate today. The Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn’s vote is set for Tuesday evening to decide whether to hold a referendum on boycotting goods from Israel to protest the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians. There are more than 15,000 members of the Park Slope Food Coop. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. It has been moved to Brooklyn Tech, which—seating around 3,000 people. Back in 15 seconds to talk about whistleblowing in the United States.

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