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Should people boycott Israel? Pt.2 with Omar Barghouti

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Ramallah, Palestine. And now joining us again is Omar Barghouti. He’s a founding member of the Palestine Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. So we left off the first segment of the interview talking about the rightward move in Israel to the extent that you can have ethnic cleansing as a public conversation involving the foreign minister of the country. How does Israel get there?

OMAR BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL: That’s a very good question. I think there are many factors. We cannot reduce it to one specific factor. There are many factors. But it’s showing the real serious crisis in the Zionist project. Zionism is reaching a stage where it can no longer hide behind a facade of democracy. Zionism is showing its real face as a settler-colonial ideology based on exclusion and racism. For way too long, Zionism got away with this image of democracy, image of enlightenment, of this Western society implanted in the middle of the barbaric East, so to speak, and it’s not flying any longer.

JAY: Why? I mean, where is the pressure causing it to go there?

BARGHOUTI: The pressure is from inside and outside. Israelis are feeling that they cannot get away with this in the world, with their attack on Lebanon, with their attack on Gaza, with committing war crimes. They’ve committed war crimes all along, but now it’s becoming public with something like the UN report offered by Justice Richard Goldstone and his team—who happens to be Jewish, Zionist, with connections to Israel, and he still condemned Israel for committing war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity. So it’s become public knowledge that Israel is committing war crimes. Apartheid within Israel is becoming much more talked about, much more debated around the world. And that was Israel’s biggest secret. Israel always presented itself as a democracy that’s also doing some occupation business which is bad. So with this revelation, of Israel’s true system of oppression against the Palestinians, pressure from outside is increasing, at least civil society level. We’re not seeing it at government levels [inaudible]

JAY: Yeah, not [inaudible] serious mainstream levels, either from the US or, really, for that matter, from Europe. But even if there was, why would that force a more overt racist right-wing position? You’d think there’d be more of a attempt to present a friendlier face.

BARGHOUTI: Well, not yet. I think this is the natural tendency for colonial societies. We’ve seen it in South Africa. We’ve seen it in Northern Ireland. We’ve seen it in many other colonialist situations, in Algeria, definitely. When a settler-colonial society feels that it’s no longer able to carry on with its system of oppression and get away with it, with this image of civility around the world, it shifts to the extreme right until it loses any hope that it can maintain that, and then it starts thinking of how can I maintain any normalcy by giving up my oppression. White Afrikaners in South Africa, the worst period of the repression of the black majority was towards the very end.

JAY: To what extent do you think that Palestinian tactics coming from Hamas, but not only Hamas—suicide bombing, attacks on civilians rather than military targets—has this been a contributing factor to this strengthening of the far right in Israel?

BARGHOUTI: I think it played a role, but not a major role, because the violence of the oppressed is always a reaction to the violence of the oppressor. So it’s never an action that causes a reaction inside Israel. Israel’s shift of a very repressive system of mass killing, of ethnic cleansing, of destroying Palestinian infrastructure, and so on is what caused a Palestinian reaction, no matter what we think of that reaction in moral terms and legal terms. So it’s always—.

JAY: I’m not asking the question, trying to judge it either morally or legally.

BARGHOUTI: No, I understand.

JAY: I’m—it’s from the point of view of the interests of Palestinians that attempt to help create more unity in Israel and strengthen the right in Israel.

BARGHOUTI: No, that’s what I’m saying. It’s—the cause and effect are upside down. It’s the other way around. It’s Israel’s shift to an agenda that’s far more repressive is what caused this type of Palestinian resistance to emerge. It’s not the other way around. Now, has this type of Palestinian resistance caused any further coherence within Israel? It might, but it’s not a major factor. It’s not a real major factor. And the proof is for the last couple of years we haven’t had any such attacks on Israeli civilians, almost none, very, very, very rarely [inaudible]

JAY: And because of a decision by the Palestinian [inaudible]

BARGHOUTI: Decision by Hamas and other resistance movements that this is not the most effective form of resistance at this point. Personally, I feel it’s not an effective or morally justified form of resistance at any time, now or ever. I believe that, yes, international law gives us the right to resist occupation by all means, including armed resistance, but we should stick to ethical guidelines and to international law in practicing our resistance.

JAY: Which means you don’t target civilians.

BARGHOUTI: You don’t target civilians. Exactly. And you pick the resistance that’s more effective, as in boycott, as in popular resistance, as we’re seeing in Bil’in and Ni’lin against the wall, as in so many other forms the Palestinians have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s not something we just learned from South Africans or Indians. We also have had civil resistance throughout our history of combating settler colonialism.

JAY: To what extent is the pressure of the coming demographics that Olmert talked about the idea that if you’re going to have a Jewish state, one, the Palestinian population inside Israel that can vote, and then the issue of what happens to the occupation? Sooner or later, Olmert said, you either have to have another state, or people are going to force us to give these Palestinians a vote, which means the end to the Jewish state. In terms of not knowing how to deal with this and still call yourself a democracy and still have a Jewish state, is this a kind of an internal process that winds up strengthening the right?

BARGHOUTI: I don’t know if it strengthens the right, necessarily, but Olmert and even Barak have come to the conclusion that a Palestinian state is a necessity for Israel’s continued existence, because otherwise we’re heading towards apartheid. And of course they don’t recognize that they are already apartheid within Israel itself, and including in the West Bank. But I think this recognition, this sounding of a big alarm in Israel, that we must give up some territory to get rid of Palestinians, not because of believing Palestinian rights, neither Olmert, Barak—I mean, there is no difference between right and left in the Israeli establishment: they all believe, we want to get rid of the Palestinians. It’s a matter of how best to get rid of them. The right is saying, we want that land, that entire land, and the so-called left in Israel is telling them, well, then you have to live with millions of Palestinians that you control. So they’re trying to find a bantustan solution, à la South Africa, and they’re learning a lot from the South African experience.

JAY: But [Avigdor] Lieberman and the far right in Israel don’t even want to have that conversation. You know, if you were serious about that conversation, you would have had some settlement freeze, at least enough to have a conversation go on, and even freezing settlements in Jerusalem. And they don’t want to even go there. So, that one big segment of Israeli society doesn’t even want to have this bantustan conversation.

BARGHOUTI: But the bantustan solution does not necessarily demand a freeze in settlements, because the bantustans are really the population centers without the fertile lands, without the water resources. All Israelis agree: we want the land and the water without the Palestinians.

JAY: But it needs to be done at least with the cover of negotiations and an agreement. You can’t just—they can’t unilaterally do it and think anyone’s going to recognize it.

BARGHOUTI: Well, it depends how much they can get away with without US and European pressure, precisely why we’re resorting to boycott, divestment, and sanctions, to pressure governments to take a position, ’cause, yes, they can get away with it if there isn’t enough resistance. What would stop them?

JAY: Well, in the next segment of the interview, let’s talk about resistance and what’s happening in terms of the split with Fatah and Hamas and other forms of struggle amongst the Palestinian people. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Omar Barghouti on The Real News Network.

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Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian researcher and human rights activist. He is a founding member of the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. His views have been presented on CNN, Bloomberg and BBC and opinion pieces published in the New York Times, New York Daily News, the Guardian, among others.