Omar Barghouti: 'Change can only come from a strong international movement to challenge Israel's occupation'

October 9, 2023
Palestine webinar Barghouti Loewenstein
Omar Barghouti was joined by Antony Loewenstein on a webinar hosted by Jews Against the Occupation and the Tzedek Collective, on September 28. Background photo: Jacob Andrewartha

“Alone we cannot win against the Israeli colonial-settler regime, which is linked to corporations and governments worldwide,” said Omar Barghouti, Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Barghouti spoke to more than 100 participants in a webinar hosted by Jews Against the Occupation and the Tzedek Collective, on September 28.

The webinar also featured independent journalist, filmmaker and author Antony Loewenstein, author of The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World.

“Change can only come from a strong international grassroots movement to challenge the Israeli occupation,” Barghouti added.

“In 2023, a new phase is opening up opportunities for the anti-Zionist campaign.

“The current far-right Israeli government has caused a rupture in support for the regime among Jewish citizens, especially in the US. And Jewish Israelis are now facing a threat to their democratic rights from this extreme right government.

“This development has created a sentiment for ‘Jewish liberation from Zionism, in Israel and internationally. The Palestinian struggle against Israeli Apartheid is now intersectional with the support for ‘Jewish liberation from Zionism’ inside Israel and abroad,” Barghouti said.

Loewenstein gave a summary of his personal background, coming from a “liberal Jewish home in Melbourne”, where Zionism was not central to his family life.

However, when he began writing about Palestine and Israel about 20 years ago, “It caused a furore among the Zionist lobby in Australia. I agree with Omar that this year we have seen a change.

“The new far-right, fascist government in Israel has opened a space for a conversation about where Israel is going, including within the Jewish community in Australia,” Loewenstein said.

The webinar was moderated by Dr Alana Lentin, professor of culture and social analysis at Western Sydney University.

During the discussion, Barghouti noted that the impact of Israeli policies and of the BDS campaign was “drastically affecting the Israeli economy. There has been a sharp decrease in investments from the US and elsewhere,” he said.

In the United States, a statement has been released by 250 business leaders, “re-evaluating their positions on investments”, Barghouti said.

“At the grassroots level, building a large movement to support Palestine must always be allied with other struggles, around human rights, anti-racism and climate change,” he added.

Finally, “there cannot be democracy in Israel until the occupation of Palestinian lands ends” he said.

Loewenstein said “Israel is now the 10th largest arms supplier in the world. It makes $12.5 billion in weapons sales to other countries, including Arab regimes.

“In Australia, politicians and others, including journalists, continue to take free trips to Israel, funded by Zionist organisations here. No critical reports are seen in the mainstream media.

And the most Australians see from the Labor government and politicians are "occasional comments and ‘expressions of concern’ over right-wing Israeli extremists,” Loewenstein said.

“Another challenge in Australia is the very effective Jewish private school system, which also funds free visits to Israel for students. The shift in Jewish community opinion seen in the US is still behind in this country.

“On the other hand, we are very encouraged by the Australian Greens' new, more progressive policy on Israel/Palestine. And the Labor Party, which still officially supports Israel, is facing a growing ‘insurgency’ of pro-Palestinian voices, including former NSW Premier Bob Carr, pushing the ALP in a better direction,” Loewenstein said.

Barghouti added: “BDS is growing internationally, and solidarity with the Palestinian cause is becoming stronger in the Global South. Israel is now a model for the far-right Christian evangelical movement world-wide, which is helping to undermine its support among the Jewish community, especially youth, internationally,” he said.

“Pressure from the BDS movement has led to the British security company G4S pulling out of Israel, for example,” Barghouti noted.

The question of how to struggle against Israeli Apartheid in Australia was raised in the discussion. This included the need to step up the campaign to win over wider sections of the population, and especially, the “liberal Jewish community”, to oppose Israel’s policies.

This would need to include teaching the truth about Israel and Palestine in the education system, to influence the non-Jewish community in a positive direction.

Participants also discussed the importance of halting military aid to Israel.

The threat Zionism poses to “Jewish values” and that the liberation of Palestine “is in everyone's interest” were key points raised in the discussion.

The ties between Indigenous struggle in Australia and elsewhere and the Palestinian cause was also emphasised, as was the erasure of the Palestinians by Zionism.

While there are serious challenges ahead in the anti-Zionist struggle, the “possibility of change is now stronger than ever”, the speakers confirmed. “Positions are evolving, and there are strong signs of shifts in consciousness” in Australia and elsewhere, the meeting concluded.

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