There’s perhaps no greater barometer to measure the lengths to which Israel will go to defame, attack and sabotage the global movement for Palestinian rights than its attitude towards BDS.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, remember, is nothing more than an attempt to told Israel accountable under concepts of international law and basic human rights, where national governments have for decades refused to do so.
BDS calls for a full boycott of Israel until it concedes the three central Palestinian human rights it is currently violating: freedom, equality and return.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (along with the Syrians of the Golan Heights) live under an illegal military occupation, now into its 52nd year. Palestinians thus demand freedom.
Palestinian citizens of Israel – while having some token civic rights – do not have equality, with more than 65 laws (and counting) that discriminate against them for the crime of not being Jewish. Palestinians thus demand equality.
And Palestinian refugees across the world live in now-entrenched, sprawling refugee camps, deprived of their homeland after they and their ancestors were expelled at the barrel of a gun by the Zionist militias which founded the Israel army. Unlike in any other conflict in the world, they are deprived of their basic right (under both international law and basic morality) to return to their homeland. Palestinians thus demand the right to return.
All three of these demands are contained in the 2005 BDS Call, the foundational document of the movement, which is endorsed by the entirety of Palestinian civil society.
Human rights under international law are no bargaining chips to be bartered away under the pretence of being “reasonable” or “realistic”. Palestinian rights, like the rights of all humans, are therefore inalienable, and cannot be given away by any quisling or political leader of any stripe.
The BDS movement has Israel on the defensive.
It has an entire government “ministry” now devoted purely to combatting BDS – in what it calls a “war”. Using Israel’s common euphemism for an assassination, Israel’s spy minister Yisrael Katz in 2016 threatened “civil targeted thwarting” of BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti. The following year, Barghouti was subjected to travel bans and was the victim of a fabricated “tax evasion” legal case.
This so called ministry – the Ministry of Strategic Affairs – has in effect become a new branch of Israel’s spy agencies. It is led by former high-level military intelligence officer Sima Vaknin-Gil, and most of its staff are drawn from the various Israeli spy agencies.
It is engaged not only in “monitoring” of the global BDS movement, but in active sabotage. The veteran Israeli intelligence journalist Yossi Melman has called this “black-ops”.
The global nature of this threat means that Israel is engaged in active subversion on foreign soil, including in the UK, quite possibly in violation of local laws.
Israel is openly interfering in the electoral systems of the US and UK to a degree that vastly overshadows anything Russia has even been accused of, let alone credibility proven.
The covert sabotage campaign has several fronts, including the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, but the primary target around the world is the BDS movement. Unlike previous “strategic threats” to Israel’s system of racism and occupation, the strategic affairs ministry understands that BDS has no singular leadership that can be “decapitated”, like it did with the many Palestinian leaders – of armed and unarmed struggle alike – which it has murdered in the past.
So it is instead engaged in a multi-faceted sabotage campaign targeting this Palestinian-led global movement.
It is a rather hilarious symptom of how afraid Israeli planners are of the BDS movement that the government seems to have taken out a form of “BDS insurance” to protect the planned Eurovision song contest due to be held in Israel next year.
In June, BDS campaigners against the Israeli Eurovision claimed their first victory. Having blatantly politicised the competition, Israel’s culture minister (and arch-racist) Miri Regev was forced into a humiliating climb-down.
Regev had insisted that Eurovision be held in Jerusalem, or not held at all. She took this stand as an attempt to add legitimacy to Israel’s illegitimate claim that Jerusalem is its capital.
The problem of course is that, despite Trump’s highly controversial move of the US embassy to the city earlier this year, no European country recognises Israel’s claim, and all maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv for that reason.
The Israeli press reported that she had to climb down because of the backlash, and that Tel Aviv is now being considered as the venue for the tacky pop show. BDS campaigners have called for the pressure to be maintained until it’s cancelled altogether.
Although Israeli propagandists have in the past attempted to publically make a show of ignoring BDS and dismiss it as an irrelevance, those days are long gone.
This “BDS insurance” is a sign of how serious a threat to Israeli occupation BDS is considered. The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported this week that the public broadcasting corporation is in negotiations with Israel’s finance ministry over the terms of a massive $13.5 million loan to cover the costs of putting on the contest.
According to the paper, “the Finance Ministry would commit to cover the loan amount if the competition is ultimately not held in Israel, due to extenuating circumstances such as earthquake, war or a boycott organised by BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”
The final terms have apparently not yet been agreed, but this kind of “BDS insurance” is probably a sign of things to come.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East. He writes for The Electronic Intifada where he is an associate editor and also a weekly column for the Middle East Monitor.
Opinion/Analysis 08/14/18: The Palestinian David