Interview: On the Future of the BDS Movement with BDS Palestinian Coordinator
Citizen Truth spoke with the Gaza representative for the BDS movement following recent moves by the Trump administration criticized for targeting growing support for BDS.
On December 11, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting anti-Semitism on college campuses by using Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to declare his administration would withhold federal funding from any schools found permitting anti-semitism on campus.
The executive order was criticized widely by many as an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestine and stifle the growing support on college campuses of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement for Palestinian Rights (BDS). Supporters of the executive order argue anti-Semitism is on the rise and point to recent mass shootings targeting Jews.
Trump’s executive order follows recent shifts in U.S. foreign policy seen as favoring Israel over Palestine, including the cutting off of millions of dollars in annual aid to Palestinians and support for Israel’s claim to the disputed Golan Heights, among others. The executive order also comes after the Senate passed a bill in early 2019 that would allow states to punish supporters of the BDS movement more easily.
Following the news of Trump’s executive order, Citizen Truth’s Gaza-based writer, Rami Almeghari, conducted an exclusive interview with the Gaza representative for the BDS movement, Abdulrahman Abunahel. The two discussed the recent executive order, the growth and future of the BDS movement across the world and much more in the interview below.
Background: What is BDS?
According to their official website, the BDS movement “is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”
The BDS movement was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and urges the use of boycotts, divestment, sanctions and other actions to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. Thirteen years since its launch, BDS is having a significant impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism, as described by the BDS website.
Could you introduce yourself to our audience, please?
I’m Abdulrahman Abunahel, Gaza-based coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), which is the Palestinian leadership of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
Since it has come to life, BDS has been allegedly blamed by Israel and pro-Israel bodies for being anti-Semitic, what would you tell them?
These attacks on the BDS movement are totally false, and are being made in an attempt to shield Israel from accountability under international law. The BDS movement does not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others, anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia.
The global BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality of the Palestinian people is an inclusive, nonviolent human rights movement that rejects all forms of racism and racial discrimination. Based on this principled commitment of the BDS movement to the equal rights of every human being, irrespective of identity, we stand firmly against political ideologies, laws, policies and practices that promote racism. For this reason, we reject Zionism, as it constitutes the racist and discriminatory ideological pillar of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid that has deprived the Palestinian people of our fundamental human rights since 1948.
In both Europe and the Americas the BDS movement has made significant progress, can you please brief us on the progress? Is BDS gaining more support and momentum in those parts of the world?
Despite desperate efforts by Israel’s far-right regime and its allies to repress BDS, support for our movement continues to grow in Europe and the Americas, and of course the Global South, with communities of color, progressive Jewish groups, mainline churches, trade unions, academic associations, LGBTQI groups, indigenous justice movements, and university students taking the lead.
For example, in the U.S. in 2019, the Episcopal Church, with 1.7 million members, decided to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Israel Discount Bank over their complicity in Israel’s human rights violations. 44% of U.S. Democratic voters support BDS, while only 15% oppose it. 72% of all Americans oppose laws penalizing people boycotting Israel, with 80% of Democrats opposing such laws. Also in 2019, Democratic congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and John Lewis introduced a historic House Resolution affirming the right to boycott.
In Europe in 2019, major European trade unions took steps to hold Israel accountable for violating Palestinian rights. The European Federation of Public Services Unions, representing eight million public service workers, passed a resolution calling to suspend the E.U.-Israel association agreement. The U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, representing 48 unions and six million people, voted for ending arms trade with Israel that violates Palestinian rights, and to pressure corporations to end complicity in violations of Palestinian rights. Unions that voted to boycott HP in 2019 for enabling Israeli apartheid include FNV in the Netherlands, with 1.2 million members; and Unite, the UK’s second largest union, with 1.1 million members.
Also, in Europe, more steps are being taken towards banning goods and services produced in Israel’s illegal settlement. Oslo’s City Council banned settlement goods and services from its procurements, and the European Court of Justice ruled that settlement goods must be accurately labeled. Ireland’s lower house of Parliament passed a bill to ban settlement goods, moving the ban closer to becoming law.
Recently, Brown University in the U.S. voted to support BDS activities, mainly by divesting from companies that deal with the Israeli occupation. How significant is such support for the BDS movement?
This month, the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices (ACCRIP) at Brown University in the U.S. issued a non-binding recommendation that the University divest from “companies identified as facilitating human rights abuses in Palestine.” This is not “support for BDS” but rather fulfilling a legal and ethical obligation by Brown to remove its investments from companies implicated in serious human rights violations, wherever they occur, including Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
The Brown University administration will now decide whether or not to implement the recommendation.
The Brown committee set a very important precedent, as the first investment advisory body at one of the U.S.’ prestigious “Ivy League” universities to recommend divesting from Israel’s crimes, and it moved Brown University further down the path towards divestment. This victory builds on the hard work of student organizers at Brown who mobilized students to vote for divestment in Spring, with great support from progressive Jewish groups on and off-campus.
Since the BDS movement was launched in 2005, students at over 50 North American colleges and universities have passed motions calling for divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s human rights abuses. Through the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa, 168 North American colleges and universities passed divestment motions over 31 years, until South Africa’s apartheid government fell.
Students have often been at the forefront of movements for social justice in the U.S. and worldwide, as they are today – leading divestment campaigns for Palestine, climate justice and against mass incarceration and militarization. The victory at Brown University is another sign that our movement for freedom, justice and equality is gaining support in the U.S.
Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting anti-Semitism on college campuses but critics condemned as an attack on college support for the BDS movement. How would you respond to that?
Two weeks ago Donald Trump signed an anti-democratic executive order, with the purported aim of combating anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. Its real aim, though, is to bully universities into suppressing academic freedom and freedom of speech in support of Palestinian rights under international law, to stifle criticism of Israel, and to ebb the steady growth of accountability measures coming out of U.S. campuses that give Palestinians hope. This McCarthyism is a serious threat to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution itself, not just to freedom of speech in support of Palestinian rights.
The Trump administration is desperate to repress growing grassroots support in the U.S. for Palestinian rights and BDS. We have no doubt that principled academics and students will continue to stand up to attacks on the rights to education and academic freedom, and important organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have committed to challenging Trump’s Executive Order in court.
We can expect more anti-Palestinian measures from the Trump administration, which is even more closely aligned with the far-right Israeli government than previous U.S. administrations. But our principled allies in the U.S. will continue to oppose those measures, and to fight for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people, and those include progressive Jewish groups that see this executive order for what it really is: a frontal attack on freedom of speech.
Is BDS active in the Middle East, mainly in Arab countries, like Morocco and the Gulf States? How would you respond to moves taken by some Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel, such as hosting Israeli delegations during sports and economic occasions, as well as meeting with Israeli officials?
There are several active BDS partners in the Arab region, including in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and some Gulf states, despite the lack of democracy in many countries in the region. The ongoing normalization between some despotic Arab rulers and Israel represents a shameful alliance between Israel’s regime of apartheid and occupation and repressive, undemocratic Arab regimes. It goes against the will of absolute grassroots majorities across the Arab world who consider the Palestinian cause the most central one and participate in resisting Israel’s colonial regime. Through acts of normalization, these Arab regimes are ignoring the demands of their citizens and are complicit in whitewashing the Israeli violations of international law.
Israeli officials often claim that normalization between Israel and Arab states is on the rise. How would you respond to those claims?
As the isolation of the far-right racist Israeli government has grown, Israeli officials have placed more emphasis on their relations with some despotic Arab regimes. But there’s nothing good about increased relations with repressive regimes that deny people their basic freedoms and rights, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which are complicit in war crimes in Yemen. By developing relations with repressive regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, Israel is dropping the thin mask of “democracy,” and further exposing its reality as a regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism.
Finally, what would you like to say, ahead of the New Year?
Years ago the U.N. projected that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020, but it has already become so before 2020. The situation is growing even more dire in Gaza due to Israel’s ongoing siege and military attacks, but primarily because of Israel’s denial of fundamental Palestinian rights, including Palestinian refugees’ right to return. The U.S. administration and many governments, in addition to corporations and institutions, are complicit in these crimes.
It’s high time, and more urgent than ever to act against the decades-old injustices that all Palestinians are subjected to. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is a principled, nonviolent and particularly effective way to support Palestinians’ struggle for freedom, justice and equality.