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Denied Entry to U.S., BDS Co-Founder Omar Barghouti Condemns McCarthyite Repression in U.S. & Israel

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Critics are demanding answers after the Trump administration refused to allow prominent Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti to enter the United States for a speaking tour, despite his valid U.S. visa. Barghouti is co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. When he arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on April 10, Barghouti was told the United States was denying him entry. He was not given an explanation. Barghouti and his supporters say the move was motivated by his involvement with the BDS movement, calling it a form of “McCarthyite repression.” We reached Omar Barghouti in Ramallah to talk about his travel ban, the growth of the BDS movement and attempts to quash it, and the recent Israeli election that saw Benjamin Netanyahu re-elected prime minister for a fifth term.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the ongoing crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism here in the United States. Critics are demanding answers after the Trump administration refused to allow prominent Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti to enter the United States last week, despite his having a valid U.S. visa. Barghouti is co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. He was scheduled to be in the U.S. this week to speak at Harvard and NYU and meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. But when he arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, April 10th, Barghouti was told that the United States was denying him entry. He was not given an explanation. Omar Barghouti and his supporters say the move was motivated by his involvement with the BDS movement, calling it a form of, quote, “McCarthyite repression.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is just the latest attack on the BDS movement in the United States, which has gained steam in recent years. More than a hundred measures targeting boycotts and other acts of Palestinian solidarity have been introduced in state and local legislatures and in Congress since 2014. According to the website Palestine Legal, at least 27 states have now adopted anti-boycott laws, including five executive orders issued by governors. Earlier this year on Capitol Hill, senators passed a bill that included a controversial anti-BDS provision aimed at preventing opposition to the Israeli government by allowing state and local governments to sanction U.S. companies boycotting Israel.

Well, for more, we are turning to Omar Barghouti. He was scheduled to join us here in our Democracy Now! studio in New York today, but instead he’s joining us from Ramallah in the West Bank. Omar Barghouti is the author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

Omar, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe what happened when you got to the airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Sure. The airline told me there was an issue with my visa. And there wasn’t. My visa was valid until 2021. So they called the U.S. Consulate in Tel Aviv. And after a long delay, just as I was boarding, they prevented me from boarding, saying that the U.S. Consulate had told them that there’s an “immigration issue,” a ban of sorts by the U.S. immigration against me, which was quite unbelievable. I’ve been to the United States many, many, many times, including on this same visa.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Omar Barghouti, in the past it’s been Israel that has tried to limit your ability to travel and banned you. How were you able to get a suspension of the Israeli efforts to stop you from traveling? And were you surprised that this time it was the United States that stepped in?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Yes, indeed. Since 2014, Israel has prevented me—or tried, quite a few times—prevented me from traveling, through de jure and de facto travel bans, by refusing to renew my Israeli travel permit, without which I cannot leave and re-enter the country. This was condemned by Amnesty International, including very recently, in February of this year, as an arbitrary measure of punishing me for my human rights activities in the BDS movement.

Indeed, this was quite surprising that Israel has outsourced this type of micro-repression of the BDS movement to its allies in the White House. Israel has outsourced quite a lot of its repressive, McCarthyite policies to the United States. As your report correctly mentioned, 27 state legislatures have passed clearly unconstitutional, anti-democratic, anti-BDS measures. But this is the first time, that we’re aware of, that this micro level of repression is done by the U.S. as a proxy for Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to your denial by the Trump administration into the United States? What do you have to say to them?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Yes. I think this is just another step that shows how this right-wing administration, which is completely in alliance with Israel’s far-right regime, is terrified of our voices, is terrified of telling the truth. They’re trying to prevent me from meeting U.S. lawmakers in Congress, mainstream media, to speak at a synagogue, to speak at Harvard and NYU, and so on and so forth, and certainly denying me the right to be with my daughter for her wedding, which is happening next Sunday. So, by this, the U.S. administration is just adding to its already very deep record of complicity in Israel’s violations of international law, but this time they’re violating U.S. law, because this is an ideological and political exclusion. And ACLU, PEN U.S. and other organizations are investigating this issue, whether the U.S. State Department is denying me entry over my human rights views.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, as a founder of the BDS movement—and you’ve been watching the increased efforts worldwide by the Israeli government to squelch and repress the BDS movement—your reaction to the recent reports that ex-Mossad agents have harassed U.S. students and BDS activists here in the United States in an effort to intimidate them?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: There are so many ways of intimidation that Israel has resorted to, Israel and its lobby groups, whether the traditional Jewish establishment lobby or the Christian Zionist lobby. They’re involved in true McCarthyism. I mean, I call it McCarthyism 2.0, an evolved form of the earlier McCarthyism, with loyalty to Israel being the litmus test.

But Israel is certainly spying on U.S. citizens who are active in the BDS movement, as revealed in Al Jazeera’s documentary report, The Lobby, and as Alain Gresh wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique, and Electronic Intifada have revealed. Israel is indeed spying and using legal persecution against activists to silence BDS activists. Several of Israel’s lobby groups are funding the so-called Canary Mission, which is smearing activists on campus, especially Jewish activists, who support Palestinian rights. And they realilze that the number of Jewish activists in the U.S. who support Palestinian rights, and even who support BDS, is in the ascendance.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to an interview we did last year, when we spoke to Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who’s filed a lawsuit against the Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas and the Texas state attorney general, after being forced out of her position for refusing to sign a pro-Israel pledge in her contract. Amawi explained she doesn’t consider herself a BDS activist but does try to avoid purchasing products that support the Israeli occupation.

BAHIA AMAWI: I am not actually an active member of the BDS at all. Just personally, for myself, if I’m aware of a product that is—you know, supports Israel or is made in the country, then I just have a personal—I make a personal choice to avoid it, because I don’t want to support their ongoing occupation and aggression and subhumane treatment of the Palestinians, that’s making me kind of like a silent participant complicit with the whole occupation. So, I actually—I’m not aware of it. I don’t even go through and find out the list of things. I just happen to know about it, or, you know, if somehow I find out, then I just avoid it. But other than that, really, I’m not an active member.

AMY GOODMAN: So, she declined to sign her contract, she said, quote, which said she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contracts” and that she will not take any action that’s, quote, “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.” This was in her contract as a speech pathologist with the company that was working in the schools, and she had been a beloved speech pathologist there for years. Omar Barghouti, how common is this?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: This is quite common. Most of the 27 state legislatures that have passed anti-BDS laws or signed executive orders by governors look very much the same. They’re suppressing the free speech of American citizens. And it’s as ACLU has called it; it’s reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths. And those contracts say that you will not engage in a boycott of Israel or of the territories “under Israel’s control.” That is the occupied Palestinian territory or the occupied Syrian territory. Israel and its lobby make no distinction between Israel in the pre-’67 border and the occupied territory of 1967.

And indeed this is raising concern among liberals, in general, not just supporters of Palestinian rights. We’re seeing that across the United States. People understand very vividly, especially people of color, especially women, LGBTQ groups and so on, understand vividly that if Israel and its lobby get away with undermining the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment, by suppressing free speech on Palestine, no one is safe. No one is safe. No one can tell who’s next. As the earlier version of McCarthyism has shown us, it wasn’t about the communists. It was about all dissenters, all those opposed to U.S. imperialism and intervention and right-wing politics. Similarly, this McCarthyism 2.0 will not stop at Palestine supporters, will not stop at silencing pro-Palestine voices. It will go on to suppress other justice struggles, be it climate justice, gender justice, sexual justice, ethnic, religious justice and racial justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Omar Barghouti, I wanted to ask you about the latest news about Airbnb. Originally, Airbnb, after protests by human rights activists, had agreed to remove the listings of thousands of homes of Jewish settlers in the West Bank that had been listed previously on their site. But then, just yesterday, they reversed that, and they said they’re going to keep those listings on, even though, obviously, these are listings in a territory where there are illegal settlements, according to international law. Your reaction to Airbnb apparently caving in to pressure?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Indeed. Yes, Airbnb has fallen—has surrendered to Israel’s bullying, and bullying by Israel’s lobby in the United States, in a very shameful way indeed. Instead of calling Israel’s settlements as they are, as the United Nations and almost the entire international community calls them, illegal settlements, illegal economies in occupied territory, that no one should deal with, Airbnb has bowed to Israel’s pressure and is not going to delist those settlement properties. That’s a clear violation of international law, and it will subject Airbnb to possible boycotts by human rights activists around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happened in Israel in the last week and how it affects you? The election, once again, the record five-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the fact that the attorney general says he’s going to charge him with corruption, what does it mean for where you are, in the West Bank, and Gaza?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think Palestinians can expect really troubling times ahead, really darker—a darker era of repression, of violation of our rights, land theft, resource theft, a more brutal siege on Gaza, more ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the Negev and the Jordan Valley. We can expect all that to escalate, with fascist forces, openly fascist forces, potentially joining the next Netanyahu government, the so-called Jewish Power party, which is a Kahanist party, that is absolutely fascist and openly calls for ethnic cleansing. At least they’re honest. Other more mainstream Israeli parties endorse ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and indeed are doing it piecemeal everywhere, but they’re not calling it that. So, at least Israel, with this new government, might lose its final mask, its really worn-out, thin mask of “democracy,” as it never was. Since its creation, Israel has always been an apartheid state. And now its claim to democracy, its claim to liberalism are completely shattered with this latest election.

On the one hand, this will cause more suffering to us, Palestinians everywhere, in the 1967 area, in the 1948 area, in Israel’s pre-'67 borders. And certainly Palestinian refugees in exile will be even further denied their basic rights. But there's also a silver lining, because Israel’s real face as an apartheid, colonial regime is being exposed to the whole world. And it’s being at the center of the rising far-right, white supremacist and fascist tendencies, from Bolsonaro in Brazil to Orbán in Hungary to the White House and many in between. So, with this, with this exposure, with this loss of any mask, this will further escalate the BDS movement and other solidarity movements to isolate Israel’s regime of oppression in all fields, academic, cultural, economic and otherwise.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights defender, co-founder of the—


AMY GOODMAN: —Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, scheduled this week to give talks at NYU, which he did by Skype, interviewed by Peter Beinart last night, Harvard University, and to meet U.S. lawmakers, Trump administration barring him from entering the United States, which also means he cannot come to his daughter’s wedding. Omar Barghouti is the author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the attack on freshman Congressmember Ilhan Omar as she says there’s a spike in death threats against her, as the Trump administration, and particularly President Trump himself, attacks her. Stay with us.

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