BDS Founder Accepts U.S. Peace Prize at Yale, Sparking Controversy

Yale distances itself from students' decision to give Barghouti the Gandhi Peace Award; Israel approved overseas trip amid tax fraud investigation against him

Omar Barghouti listens during an interview with the Associated Press in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
Nasser Nasser, AP

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, flew to the U.S. to accept a prize at Yale University from a Connecticut peace group on Sunday, sparking controversy and prompting the prestigious university to distance itself from the award.

>> Freed to travel to U.S., BDS founder blasts 'colonizing' Israeli Jews>>

The journey was made possible after the Israel Tax Authority let Barghouti travel to the United States to accept the prize, despite the cofounder of the BDS movement being under investigation in Israel for suspected tax evasion.

The Gandhi Peace Award was presented to Barghouti by Promoting Enduring Peace (PEP), in a ceremony held on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, alongside his co-winner, political activist Ralph Nader.

Barghouti was being honored for his political activism and advocacy on behalf of Palestinians. He is the co-founder of both the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the BDS movement. 

PEP said in a statement it was “delighted” Barghouti had been “able to come to the United States to accept this well-deserved award for his leadership in the nonviolent struggle for Palestinian human rights.”

In a ceremony cosponsored by the Yale Chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, Barghouti received his prize from Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Together with honoring Barghouti, the group has advocated for his cause, sponsoring an online petition calling on the Israeli government “to drop the gag order on the case for which he was arrested, dismiss charges against Omar Barghouti and to restore his permission to travel abroad and to return to his home.” 

The petition’s background statement says, “Given the history of threats against BDS and Omar Barghouti personally, the assumption should be that the Israeli government is making good on its threat to eliminate Palestinian BDS activists, starting with Omar Barghouti. This appears to be political persecution.” 

Reflecting the controversial nature of the BDS cause on campus, Yale University officially distanced itself from the ceremony that took place in its Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.

According to a statement by the university published in the New Haven Register, “A student organization reserved space for the awarding of the Gandhi prize, which is given by an organization not affiliated with Yale. Yale honors requests by our community to invite speakers and groups to campus in accordance with our academic mission of fostering the free exchange of ideas. Views expressed at these events are those of the individuals involved and do not represent the views of the university as a whole.”

Barghouti is under investigation in Israel for suspected tax evasion and had been forbidden to leave the country pending the resolution of his investigation.

Barghouti was arrested by the Israel Tax Authority in March, on suspicion of tax evasion on 700,000 shekels ($192,000) of unreported income.

According to the authority, he had failed to report 10 years’ worth of income from his company. Barghouti is an executive at a Ramallah-based firm called National Computing Resources, which markets automated teller machines and other equipment to the Palestinian Authority. 

The authority also suspects Barghouti of failing to declare money he may have been paid for lectures around the world.