Netanyahu Lands Unexpected Endorsement: The Boycott Israel Movement

Omar Barghouti credits the prime minister for the BDS movement's success in recent years.

Emil Salman

Benjamin Netanyahu, his re-election campaign dogged by polls showing mounting voter disapproval of his performance as prime minister, has struggled of late to win decisive endorsements, even within his own Likud party.

From at least one sector, however, Netanyahu has received an endorsement as ringing as it was unsolicited – that of Omar Barghouti, a leading figure in BDS, the international movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.

Barghouti, speaking recently at an event held at Columbia University Law School in Manhattan, credited broadly negative world response to Netanyahu and his government's hardline policies, for much of the movement's success in recent years.

"We’ve got to give credit to Netanyahu," Barghouti said in remarks quoted on the pro-BDS Mondoweiss website. "Without him we could not have reached this far, at this time".

"It could have taken much, much, much, much longer, but with the help of the Israeli government, our biggest closet supporters in the world, we’re going much faster".

Barghouti said the government's deliberations over the Netanyahu-backed Jewish Nation-State bill, cast Israel as a nation which has always been anti-democratic and discriminatory toward Arabs - as BDS long argued – as well as suggesting the specter of an eventual end to Israel itself.

Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, declared, "The latest discussion in Israel about the Jewish nation state law has brought to the fore the very possibility of the unraveling of the entire Zionist project. And these are not my words, these are the words of certain very important leaders in Israel."

He later cited a recent opinion piece  by Shabtai Shavit, in which the former Mossad chief urged Netanyahu to reverse course, pursue the 2002 Arab league peace overture, and to recognize what Shavit described as the far-right and dangerously Messianic origins of "the folly of the current policy and its devastating results – up to the destruction of the Zionist vision."

In his appearance at the event, which was titled "Palestine's South Africa Moment?" and was sponsored by Columbia's Center for Palestine Studies, Barghouti said that the Netanyahu government had also greatly aided BDS in what the boycott leader stressed was the unintelligent manner in which Israeli officials have sought to battle the movement.

"They’re not coming up with rational solutions to BDS," Barghouti said of the government.

"I think their IQ is dipping, I don’t know what’s happening with Zionism. But when I went to school here, Zionists used to be very smart," said Barghouti, who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from Columbia.

"Either smarter people have abandoned Zionism or the average IQ of Zionists has gone down, but they’re really not thinking straight. Because they haven’t come up with one smart tactic to fight BDS since 2005. We’re not being cocky about that. I mean, seriously, we’re not facing serious challenges there. It’s becoming an open door."

In addition, Barghouti said, the Netanyahu government has advanced BDS in its conduct of wars in which large numbers of civilians have been killed by Israeli fire, with little or no explanation on the part of Israeli officials.

The Netanyahu government has characterized BDS as a strategic threat to the nation, but its response has been hampered by infighting between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economics and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, each vying for resources and control.

It has been further hobbled by ideological spats between Netanyahu and Bennett, and controversies over whether and how to use AIPAC to lobby against boycotts, and whether and how to employ Israeli intelligence agencies to track the activities of pro-boycott groups.

In February, Steinitz demanded a budget of NIS 100 million shekels for implementation of an anti-BDS plan, which was to include PR materials and aggressive legal and media campaigns against pro-boycott organizations. His ministry had already provided the IDF intelligence department a budget of several million shekels for the purpose of bolstering military surveillance of such organizations.

Efforts by the Netanyahu government and its right-wing supporters to combat BDS, have backfired on a number of occasions, notably in attacking and alienating leftist opponents of BDS such as J Street, and in proposing anti-boycott legislation so draconian as to leave the Netanyahu government vulnerable to charges of incipient fascism.

In his Columbia remarks, Barghouti pointed to the Jewish Nation-State law as a watershed in Netanyahu's role in advancing the boycott movement's contentions regarding Israel: "Forget democracy. This is an ethnocracy," Barghouti said. "This is a Jewish supremacist state. So – no pretense of democracy. And that’s a very important development because it’s revealing Israel’s true nature. The last mask of Israel’s so-called democracy has been dropped".