Wearing a BDS t-shirt in France is now a criminal offence. This latest move by the French authorities to invoke legislation targeting anti-Semitism against such symbolism is an attempt to harass and intimidate Palestinian solidarity activists. In the context of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign it is not only ridiculous, but also borders on insanity, and follows desperate attempts by Israel to stem the phenomenal growth of BDS across Europe. Many observers have noted that the boycott movement is embraced as enthusiastically in European cities as the anti-apartheid movement was against South Africa.
This is obviously a frightening challenge for Israel’s racist right-wing regime, which knows only too well that unless drastic measures are taken, BDS can snowball into its worst nightmare. However, unlike the brutal violence it uses to crush Palestinian resistance in the Occupied Territories, Israel cannot opt for the military option to crush popular dissent on the university campuses and streets of London, Paris or Brussels.
Neither student movements nor academics in Europe will stand in muted silence as the horrors of Zionism are visited upon Palestinians. Their peaceful mobilisation to oppose the Zionist colonial project is through well-organised BDS campaigns. The impressive gains made thus far point to an escalation of public support in tandem with greater awareness of Israel’s human rights violations.
So what has the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resorted to? Banning orders, similar to those used by South Africa’s apartheid regime to silence the voices of the people.
Israel has imposed an effective travel ban on BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti. This repressive move is being seen as a step towards revoking his residency rights, as Israeli ministers threatened a few weeks ago. They have also made thinly-veiled threats of physical violence serious enough to prompt Amnesty to express concern “for the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti.”
In addition to arbitrary banning orders and restrictions on freedom of movement, Israel has yet again exploited Western guilt over the Nazi Holocaust. At Netanyahu’s insistence, governments in the US, Britain, France, Canada and elsewhere are introducing anti-democratic measures to undermine the BDS movement. Israel is also using its security services to spy on BDS activists across the world, in collusion with foreign intelligence agencies.
This repression of human rights defenders and the BDS movement is designed to shield Israel from being held accountable for its violations of international law, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. The fact that it is taking BDS so seriously illustrates the campaign’s potential for success.
Nevertheless, while Israel believes that playing the anti-Semitism card will do the trick, the opposite is true. European activists, academics, journalists and student movements will not be browbeaten into silence.
Having just returned from two very successful conferences on Palestine, one in Tehran and the other in Istanbul, I can confirm that the levels of consciousness and determination to oppose Israeli apartheid is at an all-time high. Many of the participants from Europe and America were students, academics and media professionals. Their understanding of the devious methods whereby accusations of anti-Semitism are used as a diversionary tactic to conceal Israeli crimes, is reassuring; Israel’s domestic and international anti-BDS onslaught is doomed to fail.
Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.