This month, Harvard University will be hosting a co-founder of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. Omar Barghouti, who has established somewhat of a rock-star status among BDS supporters on American campuses, promotes the illegitimacy and the dismantling of the Jewish state. According to Barghouti, White European Jews invaded Palestine in the 20th century, expelled the Palestinians, and established a “settler-colonialist” state whose laws reflect an “apartheid” regime. The Palestinian people, he claims, have asked for help to pressure the Israeli government into allowing all the descendants of the Palestinians who fled or were expelled to return to Israel, establish a majority, and create another Arab nation.
As the Executive Director of Alliance for Israel, a new organization whose leadership and members include Palestinians, Jewish refugees expelled from the Arab world, and Jews from Ethiopia, I respect the right of Harvard students to use their funds to pay Barghouti’s fees and host him on their campus. I also trust the sophistication of Harvard students to recognize the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to question Barghouti’s simplistic “good guy, bad guy” version of history, andto request evidence that the BDS campaign is a legitimate organization that is, in fact, responding to the needs of Palestinians.
Marta Braiterman Tanenbaum, a member of Alliance for Israel’s Advisory Board, has observed that BDS leaders like Barghouti use political science theories like “settler colonial” and “apartheid”as a cover for their omission of historical fact and absence of “knowledge of the region’s geography as it impacts border disputes.” Joshua Washington, the Assistant Director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and a member of Alliance for Israel’s speaker’s bureau, shares Tanenbaum’s observation and believes, “Barghouti completely ignores the aspects of Israel that disprove his claims and relies on his followers being ignorant of history…so that they view the conflict through a black/white lens.” According to Washington, Barghouti’s presentation of only a thin slice of decontextualized history is “misleading, dangerous, and intellectually lazy.”
Washington points to the story of the Mizrahi Jews as one chapter of the region’s history that Barghouti consistently ignores. Mizrahi Jews lived in the Arab world since before the Spanish Inquisition of 1478, some since the Babylonian exile when they were expelled from their homes in Israel, known then as the Kingdom of Judah. After the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, when five Arab countries attacked Israel and lost the war, Arab leaders expelled their Jewish citizens, resulting in 850,000 Mizrahi Jewish refugees. Israel took in the Jewish refugees and offered them citizenship, and today, Mizrahi Jews comprise approximately 50% of Israel’s eight million people.
Illustrating Tanenbaum’s observation that BDS leaders do not address border disputes, Barghouti typically omits mention of the 1948 attack on Israel by five Arab armies and only focuses on the 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled during that war. He refers to their flight as al-Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe,” and uses this one event to persuade his audiences that Israel forced them out, stole their land, and that they should be permitted to return. Barghouti fails to address that most Palestinian Arabs chose to remain in Israel, that they became Israeli citizens, and that as approximately 25% of the Israeli population today, they contribute to and benefit from Israel’s thriving economy as members of the Knesset, in higher education, in the medical professions, and in the arts.
Hen Mazzig, who is on the Advisory Board of Alliance for Israel, is an Israeli Mizrahi Jew with North African-Berber roots, whose grandparents immigrated to Israel from Tunisia in the 1950s. Hen travels between Israel and the United States, where he spends time on American campuses speaking to Jewish students, “who are by and large Zionist and are the subject of BDS attacks.” Commenting on Israel’s robust economy, he explains, ‘The BDS movement has not and will not harm Israel’s economy. To think that the fans of Roger Waters who are boycotting hummus will lead to stopping the billions of dollar investments into Israel is ridiculous.”
Given all of Barghouti’s omissions and misrepresentations, the most troubling is his claim that he founded BDS as a response to requests from disenfranchised Palestinians and that he is one of them. Barghouti grew up in a privileged family in Qatar and, ironically, attended Tel Aviv University and Columbia University in New York City, and currently resides in northern Israel. In contrast, Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist who was born and raised in a refugee camp, explains that the BDS campaign was never intended to help his people and instead, is a capitalist endeavor that is funded with millions of dollars and that fills the pockets of Barghouti and his colleagues.
Speaking at the Alliance for Israel’s March 27 inaugural event, Eid explained, “They are part of the conflict, not part of the solution,” noting that as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, BDS leaders benefit. “It is a commercial conflict, not a political one,” he proclaimed. “The Palestinian people are being used,” he said, noting that when Palestinians lose their jobs and their health insurance due to BDS efforts, and are left unable to obtain medical care for their children, BDS does not compensate them, “does not give them one penny and does not stand beside them.”
Eid continued to describe how each day, 120,000 Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel to work and how crates of fruits and vegetables from Israel arrive in Palestinian villages. “We can’t survive without Israel!” he exclaimed.
As I listened to Eid’s impassioned talk at our symposium, I recalled that in 2017, Barghouti was arrested for tax evasion and accused of hiding $700,000 in unreported income earned from a corporation he owns as well as from additional income earned from giving talks on American college campuses. I also remembered his now infamous declaration that, “Definitely, most definitely. We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” and his implicit yet chilling call for violence, “No Palestinian, no rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
By characterizing Bassem Eid and other Palestinians who oppose BDS as “sell-outs,” Barghouti communicates that those who do not share his views are traitors, a label that represents a self-righteous incitement for violence. This call for violence was likely responsible for the physical and verbal attacks against Eid that I witnessed in a Manhattan synagogue in 2017; for the verbal assaults I experienced when I became an outspoken anti-BDS activist in 2015; and for the current increased harassment and threats against Jewish students who support Israel on American campuses.
Barghouti and his American emissaries have also provided the impetus for the creation of Alliance for Israel and its rapidly growing membership base of Mizrahi, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi Jews; Christians, Muslims, and atheists; White and Black Americans; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; progressives and conservatives; Palestinian Israelis and Israelis from Ethiopia, Europe, South Africa, and the Arab world; straight and LGBTQ individuals – all refusing to tolerate the lies and intimidation any longer.
Alliance for Israel facilitates active collaboration among all campus stakeholders and local residents in geographical regions across the United States. Our organization proactively monitors, documents, and publicizes the activities of the inherently violent BDS campaign, ensuring that no campus administrator can claim, “I didn’t know,” when Jewish students are victimized. And, when issues arise on any given campus, our local networks are alerted, poised and ready to provide rapid online and in-person responses.
If you are interested in joining our efforts by becoming a member or by making a financial contribution, please see our website, www.alliance4israel.org, or contact Melissa Landa at Melissa@alliance4israel.org