The boycott of Israel

Image: Mohammed Abubakr


José Genoino's statement; BDS; and Roger Waters' letter to Caetano Veloso

The controversy surrounding José Genoino's statement brings us back to the reality of the BDS movement (Boycott, divestment and sanctions). To fight against the occupation of the West Bank and the apartheid that Israel imposes on Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (20% of the country's population) – who Jewish supremacists call “Israeli Arabs” to deny the Palestinian identity of the indigenous people – the BDS campaign was created a few years ago, a movement international campaign that aims to boycott Israel, its colonial and apartheid policies. BDS promotes not only economic, but also university, cultural and political boycott against Israel, its citizens and companies.

From the beginning, the cultural boycott had the support of musician Roger Waters, writer John Berger, activist Arundhati Roy, filmmaker Ken Loach, French-Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan, as well as two other personalities who have already disappeared: Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano and filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. To boycott Israel, the aforementioned filmmakers decided not to participate in Israeli film festivals.

In September 2009, the Ecumenical Council of Churches declared that it was convinced of the need for “an international boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements (colonies) in the occupied territories”. The Ecumenical Council publishes on its website the appeal launched on December 11, 2009 by the Kairos Palestine collective: “A moment of Truth; A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering” (this title makes explicit reference to a document dated 1985 and published in South Africa to fight against apartheid). Among the signatories of the document is the Palestinian theological center Sabeel.

South Africa's racist regime

The boycott movement against the racist regime in South Africa led to the end of apartheid, as we all know. The former leader anti-apartheid, Nelson Mandela – considered a terrorist by white supremacists who sentenced him to more than 20 years in prison – showed how the history of the oppressed follows a slow time in which Justice ends up imposing itself. The “terrorist” Mandela was elected president of his country after winning the Nobel Peace Prize the previous year.

Many of those who oppose the boycott against Israel prefer to see BDS as an anti-Semitic movement, which they compare to the Nazi boycotts of Jewish merchants. It has nothing to do with one thing or another. The boycott of Israel advocated by BDS is not against an ethnic or religious group but against a State that crushes Palestinians and colonizes their lands.

Even though they do not have any racist character, supporters of the boycott of Israeli companies and bilateral agreements between European and Israeli universities are often denounced in court by supporters of Israel.

The BDS movement combats the colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, fights for equal rights for Palestinians who have Israeli nationality and for the return of Palestinian refugees to their lands.

BDS acts through the boycott of all Israeli companies and products and its creation includes filmmaker Ken Loach and Bishop Desmond Tutu, among many others. It is known that it was thanks to the boycott and sanctions that the apartheid in South Africa it was defeated.

Defenders of Israel often accuse BDS supporters of threatening the existence of the Jewish state. They dare to defend the Israeli justice system and society as egalitarian. Despite a very well-documented reality that proves otherwise, Israel is often cited by them as “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

The “Third International Conference on Racism” was sponsored by UNESCO and held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8, 2001. In it, some countries attempted to resurrect resolution 3379 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “ Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination” which stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution had been adopted in 1975 and revoked in 1991. The United States and Israel withdrew from the Conference and the motion that equated Zionism with a form of racism could not be voted on.

In September 2003, during the International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, at the UN, Avia Pasternak, representative of Taayoush – an Israeli organization that fights for peace between Jews and Arabs – declared herself in favor of a boycott of international societies that have production facilities in the Jewish colonies of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.

This campaign was supported by Israeli citizens (Naomi Klein, Neve Gordon, Eyal Sivan, Yael Lerer) and Jewish federations such as the JEPJ and UFPJ (among them Michel Warschawski), the Movement against racism and friendship between peoples (MRAP), in addition to the then president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, by British, Canadian, French or Lebanese universities, by left-wing politicians and by Canadian, British and South African trade unions.

Boycott against Russia

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the European Union and the United States enacted a boycott package and drastic sanctions on Russia and all Russian companies. Why does this type of action against Israel become a scandal?

When expressing himself, José Genoíno only defended an existing boycott, without mentioning BDS.

Why was South Africa boycotted and no one accused the countries that supported the boycott of anti-black racism? Why didn't anyone accuse the European Union and the United States of anti-Russian racism when they decreed the boycott in response to the invasion of Ukraine?

Why would proposing sanctions against Israel be proof of anti-Semitism? Colonization, the apartheid, the bombings in Gaza for more than 100 days and the daily murders of Palestinians by settlers in the West Bank place Israel on the side of the “delinquent countries” (rogue states) as George Bush named Syria, Iraq and Iran in 2003.

No, in this story Israel is not the victim.

Accusing people and institutions of anti-Semitism is the easiest way to silence protests against the horror of the daily bombings of the civilian population of Gaza, victims of genocide and a new ethnic cleansing that aims to “finish the work of Ben Gurion in 1948”, as a fascist minister in Benjamin Netanyahou's government said.

The accusation of anti-Semitism is “intolerable blackmail”, the thesis of the book of articles by Jewish authors, including Étienne Balibar and Judith Butler, Antisemitism: l'intolerable blackmail.

I think that José Genoino wanted to defend the boycott of Israel and not of Jews, of individuals. BDS is international, exists and is practiced in dozens of countries and is used against Israeli companies that engage in apartheid of the Palestinians and in the insidious colonization, protected by the army and the Benjamin Netanyahou government, as well as by all those who preceded him.

To conclude, I remind you that in 2015, when Caetano Veloso was going to perform in Tel Aviv, singer Roger Waters, known for his activism for the Palestinian cause, wrote the letter below.

Roger Waters' letter to Caetano Veloso

Dear Caetano,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my letter. Dialogue is really important. I will respond to the points you raised. I fear you may be viewing Israeli politics through rose-colored glasses. The fact is that for many decades, since the Nakba (catastrophe, expropriation of the Palestinian people) in 1948, Israel's colonial and racist policies have devastated the lives of millions of Palestinians.

The BDS movement, which I am asking you to join, is a global movement demanding freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. It is increasing rapidly because of growing international awareness of the oppression that Palestinians have endured over the past 67 years. Netanyahu's current far-right regime is just the latest government perpetrating cruel acts of injustice and colonization. But this is not just a right-wing problem. It was, in fact, the left-wing Labor party that founded the illegal settlement program and that also failed to end the occupation of Palestinian lands and make peace.

In your letter, you say that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir believed in Israel before they died. That may be so, but that was at that time, perhaps at the time they did not know or understand the brutality of the occupation of Palestinian lands and the subjugation of their people. However, I do know this, the wine and coffee splattered floors of Café Flores and Les Deux Magots today would reverberate with the sound of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir turning in their graves upon hearing their names used in vain. and nailed to the mast of occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

You mention Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, he is among those who embrace BDS, as he has observed Israel's actions and has deep empathy with the Palestinian people. There is, as he pointed out to you, an apartheid in the occupied territories that is as definitive and dehumanizing as that which existed in apartheid South Africa, when infamous and racist passage laws were in practice. As in South Africa, Palestinians and their legal rights are defined by their racial or religious origin. Can you imagine something like that in Brazil or England or the USA or the Netherlands or Chile, or? No, why not?

Because it's unacceptable, that's why not.

Caetano, if I may ask a question, why wouldn't you reject complicity in such injustice now, just as you would certainly have rejected white racism against the black population of South Africa in the 1980s?

Your letter suggests that you believe your upcoming show in Tel Aviv could help change Israeli politics. I would suggest that this is a naive position. Unfortunately, it's not just the Israeli government that needs a change of heart. Polls indicate that a staggering 95% of the Israeli Jewish public supported the bombings of Gaza in 2014 (561 children killed), 75% do not support a Palestinian state based on the long-negotiated 1967 borders, and 47% believe that Palestinian citizens of Israel should be stripped of their citizenship.

No, Caetano, playing in Tel Aviv will not move the Israeli government or the majority of Israelis an inch, but it will be seen as your tacit approval of the status quo. Your presence there will be used as propaganda by the right and will provide cover and moral support for the Israeli government's outrageously racist and illegal policies.

It's a dilemma, I know, but if you really want to influence the Israeli government, you will join us on the BDS picket line. We are having a powerful effect, as you can see by their reaction, the bullies coming in full force to try to crush our voices of dissent and silence us.

We will not be silenced, we are strong, and together we can help free not only the Palestinian people from the yoke of Israeli oppression, but also the Israeli people from the oppression of their own exceptionalism and dogma, which is fatal to both peoples.

I ask you not to participate in Tel Aviv. Instead, take the opportunity to visit Gaza and the West Bank and see for yourself what Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did not live to see. I believe your resolve to play in Tel Aviv will dissolve in a sea of ​​tears and regret.

Caetano, I don't know you, we've never met in person, but I believe you have good intentions and I don't carry any resentment. If you go to Tel Aviv, despite our heartfelt pleas, and if you visit Gaza or the occupied territories, you may well have an epiphany. If you do, please reach out to us, all of us, not just in the Palestinian and Jewish communities, but all of us in solidarity in Brazil and elsewhere, all of us in BDS around the world working for justice and equal rights in Holly Land. We will hug you.

I thank you again for joining this conversation. Please go and see things for yourself, but without showing up there, without crossing the Palestinian boycott picket line. Maybe UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) can help, they certainly helped me when I was looking for reality. Go and see for yourself, you won't have to use your imagination. The reality is devastating beyond anything you can imagine. Thanks,

Your colleague,

Roger Waters

*Leneide Duarte-Plon is a journalist. Author, among other books, of Torture as a weapon of war – from Algeria to Brazil: How the French military exported death squads and state terrorism (Brazilian Civilization). []

Originally published on Democracy Station Network.

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