BDS is our weapon to defeat Israeli apartheid

At a rally for Gaza on July 13. Photo: Peter Boyle.

The article below is based on a speech given at a Socialist Alliance forum on July 20 in Sydney after the thousands-strong rally against Israel's assault on Gaza.


I have been an activist for justice in Israel-Palestine for 25 years. My parents were refugees from Hitler and I have drawn from them a strong humanist ethic.

I have visited Israel-Palestine many times and worked along side fellow Jews and Palestinians and international activists in actions to alert the world to the situation of the Palestinians.

I am a spokesperson for Jews against the Occupation. We have been campaigning as Jews for justice in Israel-Palestine since 2006. We feel it is important that we speak out as Jews. It cuts the ground from under the Zionist propagandists who like to claim that they speak for all Jews. They claim that Jews who challenge Israel are “self-hating” and “not real Jews”. We say otherwise.

We are in the tradition of many Jews who defended universal human rights and fought, often as revolutionaries, for social and political progress.

World-wide, more and more Jews are speaking out and taking action for Palestinians. I personally feel a strong responsibility to connect with fellow Jews in the mainstream and debate the issues with them.

At times like this, with Israel framed as the victim and opposition to Israel as “anti-semitism”, these emotions are in control and the facts have little chance to get through.

However, silence is consent. If Jews remain silent, they can be tarred with the same brush as their so-called “leaders” and become the focus of the rage of the oppressed.

This is another more self-interested reason I speak out as a Jew. The situation within Israel these days is very dark indeed. A whole raft of legislation enshrines Jewish rights at the expense of Palestinian rights.

Palestinian spouses of Israeli Palestinians are not permitted to reside with them in Israel. It is unlawful to publicly mark the Nakba — the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948.

With Israel defined as the “state of the Jewish people” and not the “state of all its citizens”, Jews are privileged over other citizens.

In Israel within the Green Line, the cease-fire line of 1948, there is structured discrimination in land allocation, education and allocation of services. This is a Jewish supremacist, racist state.

Not one new town has been permitted for Palestinians in Israel since the beginning of the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. This is a Jewish supremacist, racist state. In the West Bank, Jews and Palestinians live under separate legal systems.

Palestinians face severe constraints on mobility. They face gross discrimination in the allocation of water, electricity and other services. This is apartheid on steroids.

Those who experienced South African apartheid have noted that this brand of apartheid is much harsher than what they experienced.

That's not surprising. South African apartheid wanted the labour of black Africans. Israeli apartheid wants the land of Palestinians, but they don't want the Palestinians.

The more Palestinians they can force to leave by making their lives unbearable, the better. Palestinians call this the “silent transfer”.

We are again faced with another onslaught by the state of Israel on the people of Palestine. They claim “self-defence”. But the boot is very much on the other foot. Who is attacking whom?

The occupation is itself is an attack. Injury, home demolitions, incarceration without trial and killings, are the daily reality of occupation. Under international law, the occupied are entitled to resist.

Yet again, we are in another round of more death and destruction. So what can we do?

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is principled, non-violent and is the weapon of the people against the might of power.

The BDS campaign, called by more than 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005, has made enormous strides. All over the world, unions, churches and governments are applying BDS in different ways.

Here in Australia we have defeated the attack on Jake Lynch for his upholding the academic boycott, specifically of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As many as possible of the various Palestine solidarity groups need to combine to adopt a concrete campaign plan to advance BDS on a strategic basis. Our aim is freedom and justice in Palestine.

We need to focus more on doing the quiet, patient work of building support, having the conversations, connecting with as many groups as possible who share our aims. There is obviously a place for the loud-hailer in the public sphere in fighting for our objectives. But we have neglected the power of face-to-face communication in smaller places.

Before the plant of resistance to injustice can grow and flourish, we must till and nourish the soil.

We convince and bring people along one by one: in our individual conversations in our families, workplaces and communities. Let us explore creative ways of organising and communicating in a wider variety of strategies. This is not spectacular work. It requires patience and persistence.

This we can learn from the Palestinians and their remarkable sumud — perseverance. With their popular struggle, they are our inspiration. Let us honour their sacrifice and answer their call with our own commitment and hands of solidarity across the globe.

Together we can do it. The people united will never be defeated.

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Please provide a list of Israeli companies etc. we can boycott, and the means by which our boycott might be most effective.