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Boycott Israel campaign succeeding despite minimal resources

January 30, 2014 at 1:41 am

Two indirectly-related stories from the US this week struck me in a particular way. Firstly, it was a big week for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. The membership of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted in favour of the academic boycott of Israel. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also endorsed BDS.

Two other significant BDS victories this year came in May when Professor Stephen Hawking decided to join the academic boycott of Israel and in March, when the Israel lobby’s “lawfare” strategy against BDS in British courts was dealt a serious blow. Ronnie Fraser, the director of “Academic Friends of Israel” attempted to sue the University and College Union, for merely discussing BDS. He failed, as an employment tribunal threw his case out.

I’ve been a supporter of the BDS movement for years, and have followed its slow-but-steady progress closely. The Palestinian national committee established to coordinate and lead the global movement earlier this year put out an interactive time line charting many successes over the previous eight years. These achievements are all the more impressive in light of the meagre resources that pro-Palestinian campaigners have at their disposal to advance the cause. BDS is a Palestinian-led phenomenon and the campaigners who have responded to the cause are genuine grass-roots activists.

This brings me onto the second story that caught my attention this week. This was a blog post at Mondoweiss about a new list of top earners at Jewish non-profit organisations in the US. Pro-Israel groups feature prominently.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman is paid a reported $688,000 a year. The head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gets over half a million dollars. Meanwhile, the CEO of the quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund in the US (an intrinsic part of Israel’s apartheid land regime), Russell Robinson, probably feels hard done by, receiving a miserly $344,000 annual salary.

It’s safe to say that only one of these salaries could fund entire pro-Palestinian organisations for several years and yet it is these under-funded groups that are winning more and more significant milestones in the struggle towards building the BDS counter-siege on Israel. No wonder Zionist organizations are worried. The infamous Reut Institute recommendations for Israel to “sabotage” pro-Palestinian justice groups rated BDS as much as a threat to Israel’s apartheid system as armed resistance. Reut dubbed the former a “delegitimisation network” and the latter the “resistance network”.

Israel’s partisans still seem blind to the main strength of BDS: that it is part of a wider moral campaign for justice in Palestine. As the academic Steven Salaita wrote about the ASA decision to join the academic boycott this week: “It’s quite simple, really. Palestinians have explained. The people have listened.”

One of the main reasons for the BDS movement’s success in mobilising activists is the fact that its three demands are just, easily understood and have a consensus amongst the Palestinian people: the end of the occupation, the return of the refugees and equal rights for all.

While BDS is only one aspect of a wider Palestinian liberation struggle it has now become “the new and permanent address of the international solidarity with the collective resistance and struggle of the Palestinian people,” as Palestinian journalist Ramzy Baroud wrote this week.

BDS is proving hard for Israel to defeat too. What it calls its “lawfare” strategy – tying up campaigners in the courts – is proving more and hopeless, as Ronnie Fraser’s failed case and other cases in France show.

It is my fear that as BDS grows steadily and slowly in strength, Israel may use its covert global assets to take the concept of “sabotage” to a more aggressive level than court cases. Time will tell. Nevertheless, apologists for Israeli war crimes are merely plugging holes in the dam with their fingers. BDS is coming for them.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.