Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), is on the road again with his anti-Israel show and its pack of bigotry and lies. On January 15th, UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine [SJP] hosted him at UCLA for his talk, entitled “International Solidarity with Palestine: Towards a Global Intifada.” An apt title: though he piously insists his movement is non-violent, he banged the drum for more bloodshed against Israeli Jews, for a fight to the finish that would undo the results of the 1948 War and be Zionism’s death knell. Nothing else would do.
For Barghouti, compromises that bring peace are unacceptable. As he said, if peace did not include the right of an allegedly 8 million diaspora Palestinians and Palestinian refugees living across the Middle East and elsewhere to “return” to Israel (a euphemism since 1949 for destroying Israel by turning Jews into a minority) , peace would merely signify the “end of resistance to injustice,” and “contentment” with a “slave situation.”
The event began with SJP laying out ground rules. No videotaping, no disruptive behavior, no loud noises, no standing up and blocking the view of the speakers. These are precisely the tactics that anti-Israel groups, led by SJP and the Muslim Student Union, have used to shout down or silence pro-Israel speakers and which in those cases they defended as “free speech.” It is unlikely that the organizer saw the irony.
A slick, seasoned propagandist who postures as a reasonable academic, Barghouti presented an alternate reality of falsehoods, perverse logic and scrambled principles worthy of the “Big Lies” perpetrated in 1930’s Germany. He had clever, practiced answers to deflect most questions. The audience of approximately 120 people, mostly students who reflected UCLA’s diversity, could come away with only two clear messages: Israeli Jews and their supporters are racist and wantonly evil, and have deprived Palestinians of justice and of their humanity; and being anti-Israel aligns you with the romantic, heroic social justice movements of the past.
Indeed, Barghouti began by claiming that BDS follows the heroic legacy of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and the anti-apartheid movement, and that now was “Palestine’s South Africa moment.” He insisted his calls for boycotts against Israel were akin to the boycotts of Apartheid South Africa, conveniently ignoring the fact that they are more akin to the Arab nations’ historic boycotts against Jews. Arab leaders called for boycotts against the Jewish community in pre-state Israel in the 1930’s; the Arab League instituted a cultural, economic, and diplomatic boycott in 1945 before Israel was even reestablished, and have maintained it since, though they relaxed it minimally in the 1990’s.
Much of his litany of false accusations he’d presented before, cherry picking anomalous examples or making up “facts” such as that Israel steals Palestinian water (it gives Palestinians 30% more Israeli water than it even agreed to give in the Oslo Accords), that checkpoints are choking Palestinians (B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group very sympathetic to the Palestinians, reports there has been free movement in the West Bank for the past few years and the Israeli government reports that only nine checkpoints remain which are manned only during terrorist alerts). He likes inventing terms to make his accusations seem more sinister. Absurdly claiming Israel is systematically destroying Palestinian education, he accused it of “scholasticide,” and omitted the fact that he himself attended graduate school at Tel Aviv University. He praised the American Studies Association’s vote for an academic boycott of Israel, claiming it showed BDS was succeeding, despite the fact that the most prestigious American academic associations and over 200 major universities unequivocally condemned the resolution as an assault on academic freedom and an unfair singling out of Israel.
But Barghouti didn’t stop there.
He hurled blood libels. Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children “for sport.” Indeed, they “provoke” the children, “entice them like mice, and then shoot them” for no reason. Often, it is just because the soldiers are “bored.”
He justified terrorism against Israelis, defending the Palestinians’ right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.” When he insisted that the only way to end terrorism was to end the “root cause”—that is Israel’s alleged oppression of Palestinians– the audience erupted into finger snapping, is the way college audiences show approval.
He shamelessly told lies. When asked how Israel could be called an apartheid state given the prominent positions of Israeli Arabs in government and the judiciary, he snapped back that every evil system has its collaborators. He claimed there were even Jews in the Nazi government.
He declared that many large Jewish communities don’t accept a Jewish state, and cited a Satmar rabbi for proof. When UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller interrupted to protest that the Satmars are only a fringe group that doesn’t represent the vast Jewish community, the organizer reprimanded him and threatened to have him removed. The Rabbi stormed out, declaring “This is anti-Semitic!”
Barghouti repeatedly denied that Jews are one of the indigenous people of the region. When an Israeli stood up and said he is a 10th generation Israeli and indigenous, Barghouti scoffed. “You aren’t indigenous just because you say you are.” He allowed that colonialists could be indigenized but only if they melded and intermarried with the existing society, not if they sought to disenfranchise the real indigenous people. The Boers, he explained, described themselves as an indigenous people when they fought British colonialism.
He denied that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination. They are not a people, he declaimed, and the UN’s principle of the right to self-determination applies only to colonized people who want to acquire their rights. While he insisted that Palestinians must have “the right to have rights,” he denied that the Jewish people had any collective rights.
He claimed that Israel’s fears about terrorism and potential massacres if there were a one state solution are merely “projections” of what Israelis really want to do to Palestinians. Indeed, according to Barghouti, Israel’s self-defense measures are “routine terrorism.”
When asked what he is doing to bring Hamas, the popular Palestinian fundamentalist movement that oppresses women and minorities and wants to establish a theocracy, to share his supposedly progressive vision, he sidestepped the question. He said BDS can’t deal with every social rights issue. The anti-apartheid movement couldn’t deal with social and economic issues until it succeeded. Similarly, first the occupation must end, then these problems can be addressed. Meanwhile, Hamas violence and its violent ideology are excusable and even justifiable in Barghouti’s world view.
I have often wondered what Jews or decent people could have done to push back against the anti-Semitic propaganda of 1930’s Germany. I don’t know. But I do know that Omar Barghouti follows in that tradition of the “big lie,” the dehumanization of Israelis, and incitement that would lead others to justify or excuse those who murder Israeli Jews. Historically, Jewish blood has been cheap too many times. It is critical that people of good will mobilize to protest and discredit the lies, educate the public, and re-educate the students who have been misled by the heady blend of bigotry, idealism and furious outrage that animates extremists like Barghouti.