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Should people boycott Israel? Pt.4 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 we’re joined again by Omar Barghouti. He’s a founding member of the Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Thanks for joining us again. So we were talking about the Palestinian voice in the United States. If there’s going to be a successful boycott campaign, Palestinians have to start cutting through, in terms of American public opinion. There’s a lot of strength, obviously, of the Israeli lobby, as people call it, in the media and so on. But to what extent do you think part of the problem is the Palestinian messaging itself? And I’m going to give you one specific example. I know that all criticism of Israel is often called anti-Semitism, and certainly not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, but some of it is. Shouldn’t Palestinians recognize that? And shouldn’t Jewish Americans be aware that Palestinians understand that? ‘Cause I don’t think they do.

OMAR BARGHOUTI, PALESTINE CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL: I think that is a huge exaggeration. Anti-Semitism is used as a scarecrow to shut dissent and to muzzle people from dissenting and from criticizing Israel. So I don’t think it’s a genuine charge that’s made, because the great majority of anti-Israel politics and anti-Israel criticism has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Palestinians and our supporters around the world predominantly are targeting Israel because it’s a colonial, apartheid state. It has absolutely nothing to do with their religious identity.

JAY: Yeah, I’m not talking specifically about your campaign and your supporters. I’m talking about all the messaging that comes from the Palestinian resistance. I almost never hear a recognition that some of the critique of Israel is anti-Semitic. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a tactic to call all criticism anti-Semitic. Clearly there is. But there seems so little recognition that Jews did suffer a genocide. It’s part of the psyche of many Jews, and particularly, you know, many Jews—I’m not talking Israel now; I’m talking the United States. And there seems to be a lack of how to talk to the American people. You don’t think that’s part of the problem?

BARGHOUTI: No, I don’t think that, because the majority of Palestinians do not have a problem with recognizing the Nazi genocide. It’s understood. People recognize it. Most Palestinians make a clear distinction between Jews, Israelis, Zionists, non-Zionists. This is something kids learn in school, they talk about in school, they debate in school, and so on. So we do make a distinction. Many people in the boycott movement, for example, are Jewish in the Western world. Many of the leaders of the boycott movement, the anti-Israel boycott movement, are Jewish. So we clearly do not have a problem with any specific group. With the messaging, I don’t think that is a big problem. The main problem is that we’re shut out of the mainstream media very intentionally, very deliberately.

JAY: Yeah, let me say again, I’m not talking about the boycott movement, ’cause I think the boycott movement clearly—.

BARGHOUTI: [inaudible] Palestinians are shut out the mainstream media, not just the boycott movement.

JAY: But the voices that get heard most is not the boycott movement. It’s Hamas’s voice, to some extent Fatah’s voice. But, actually, partly because of the bias of American media, they would much prefer to hear Hamas’s voice. But is that not part of the problem is that the examples that are given, some of the things that are taught in schools by Hamas, some of the material is racist? Some of the material that certainly used to show up on Al Jazeera Arabic was overtly racist. Without recognizing that, isn’t it harder to have a rational discourse with people about why Israel is a racist society?

BARGHOUTI: It is, but it’s very selective. If you are to look at Israeli curricula, Israeli political discourse, academic discourse, you will find the racism, and even support for fascist ideologies, far more prevalent than in Palestinians, by far more prevalent. But the media is extremely selective. So in the entire civil society discourse among Palestinians, they select very, very few examples that are racist. Absolutely. Of course. There is racism, even in Palestinian society, although racism is also a power relationship. So while being oppressed, we can’t really have a full racist structure against Israelis, ’cause they’re our oppressors. But yes, there are racist discourse incidences that we need to deal with. But it’s so selective. The Western mainstream media has been extremely biased in covering Palestinian voices. Authentic Palestinian voices from civil society are shut out of the debate. Usually when you have a debate on Israel, it’s a Jewish American and a Jewish Israeli, or two Jewish Americans disagreeing, or you might get this odd white non-Jewish person in the debate. You hardly ever hear Palestinians joining the debate on Israel, on something that’s very relevant to our oppression.

JAY: One of the things in the American psyche, certainly as a result of American media and otherwise, but still it’s there, that Hamas’s lack of recognition of the state of Israel is equivalent to Hamas saying all the Jews should get out of the region, and there’s an equal sign there in people’s minds that if you won’t recognize, you really mean “get out”, first of all, what do you make of that? And how do Palestinians get over that?

BARGHOUTI: First, it’s a false equation, and again it’s blaming the victim rather than looking at the victimizer. Israel does not recognize Palestinian rights, period. Israel does not even recognize that it’s occupying the West Bank and Gaza. Up till now, Israel does not recognize that it’s in occupation, let alone the other injustices. So it is a complete reversal of who’s not recognizing whom. Second issue is: what do you recognize? Do you recognize Israel’s right to exist as a racist state? Is apartheid a regime that should be recognized? No, it shouldn’t. So not recognizing Israel’s regime, political regime, its oppressive regime, does not mean that you do not recognize the right of Jewish persons, Jewish citizens to exist in this land. In Hamas’s program, in Fatah’s program, in the secular program, no one is questioning whether Jews should stay or not. This is not the issue. This is not being debated. It’s what’s the regime, political regime that’s ruling this land. Currently it’s an apartheid, colonial regime.

JAY: The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in and of itself—there’s other states that are ethnic/religiously based states, and they get recognized. I mean, Iran is a religiously based state. They call themselves an Islamic republic. Pakistan essentially calls itself an Islamic republic. It’s not the only—Israel’s not the only religiously based state. So why make that the issue of recognition or nonrecognition?

BARGHOUTI: There are major differences between the two. First, Israel is a colonial state. It’s not like Iran or Pakistan. It’s a colonial state.

JAY: So is the United States, and people recognize the United States.

BARGHOUTI: And the United States is exactly a perfect example that’s very connected to Israel. It’s a settler colonialist state that did genocide against an indigenous population, so you don’t have an indigenous problem anymore. The Native Americans are so few that you can ignore them and oppress them and just completely shut them out of the system. In Israel, they cannot get away with this. In the 20th century and 21st century, you couldn’t have mass genocide against the Palestinians. It wouldn’t work, especially because Israel supposedly came out of the genocide against the Jews. It didn’t, but that’s the main claim, that because of the Holocaust we had to establish a Jewish state. This is the main argument of the Zionist movement, which is a false argument. But regardless, the main issue about Israel is not just that it’s a settler colonial state. So it’s existing—you brought colonial communities to settle in a country against the will of its indigenous population. But it’s also a racist state. Unlike Pakistan and Iran, it does not recognize its own citizens as part of the definition of the state, plus it practices discrimination against them by law, institutionalized discrimination, at every level. So in Iran, for example, a citizen is a citizen. There is discrimination in Iran, of course, like there’s discrimination in France and the US and in many countries, there is discrimination, but it is not a discrimination that says, you’re not even—this country does not belong to you if you’re not Muslim.

JAY: But you certainly do get that in many Arab countries. I mean, you get it in Qatar, you get it in Saudi Arabia. I mean, the children of guest workers born in Qatar or Saudi Arabia are not citizens. In fact, if you go to Qatar, the majority of people in the country are not citizens [inaudible] 250,000.

BARGHOUTI: They’re not indigenous.

JAY: But people—their children who get born there—.

BARGHOUTI: And there is discrimination, of course. Of course. I mean, I will not defend the horrific human right abuses in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, all the Gulf, against the Indians, the Pakistanis, the [inaudible] I mean, discrimination is horrific. It’s near slavery the way they treat laborers in those countries. And that’s something—as a human rights activist, I absolutely condemn that. I will not defend human rights violations just because Arabs or Muslims are committing them. One thing about human rights is you have to be very consistent, and I am.

JAY: I guess what I’m getting at here is the issue of recognition doesn’t mean approval. Fatah has recognized Israel least, but certainly it says it recognizes the state’s right to exist. It negotiates. The forces that don’t, primarily Hamas, I mean, we know Hamas actually does negotiate with Israel. They do prisoner exchanges. They de facto have said they’re willing to have a negotiation. If that’s the case, why give the Israeli right this card, which is they want to throw us all into the sea, that’s why they won’t recognize us?

BARGHOUTI: The Israeli right does not need a card; it’s oppressing us regardless. The best example is what you said.

JAY: But it’s a propaganda card in the United States, ’cause we are talking about American public opinion.

BARGHOUTI: It’s true. But, again, the issue with American public opinion is that we have no access, we, as in all Palestinians, have no access to that mainstream media. Absolutely, the corporate mainstream media has shut us out. But the right does not need an excuse. And the best example is the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. It recognized Israel, it recognized everything Israel wants, and what do we get? More colonization, more ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, more oppression, more killings. Nothing has improved. Nothing has improved. So if this is the argument, that if you recognize us, then we’ll recognize that we’re occupying you, we’ll end the occupation, give you your rights, that is not true, because otherwise, why isn’t it happening in the West Bank?

JAY: Okay. So in the next segment of the interview let’s talk about other forms of resistance that you think the Palestinian people should be taking up. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Omar Barghouti.

End of Transcript

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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.