Israeli BDS Activists Welcome Minister's Threat to Blacklist Them: He Made Our Job Much Easier

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Activists Ronnie Barkan and Lihi Rothschild hold signs that read, "Welcome to Palestine" in Tel Aviv, 2012.
Activists Ronnie Barkan and Lihi Rothschild hold signs that read, "Welcome to Palestine" in Tel Aviv, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israeli anti-occupation activists are far from distressed by the revelation that Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has been working to set up a database of citizens promoting and supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel or the settlements.

On the contrary, they say Erdan has done boycott advocates a favor by proving them correct when they point to the deterioration of Israeli democracy and free speech.

Ronnie Barkan, the co-founder of Boycott from Within and a longtime BDS activist said that like Israel’s original 2011 anti-boycott law and the recent travel ban barring foreign BDS activists from entering the country, he views Erdan’s attempts to compile a blacklist within Israel as a positive development. 

“The more these forces are desperate in light of our basic demand for democracy, the more they expose their true nature and rip off the mask of the supposedly democratic regime,” he said. “It is a good sign that we're on the right track, and makes us better able to crack through the liberal Zionist propaganda, exposing the true face of Israel and showing what the government is doing on a daily basis.”

“Erdan’s idea is a provocation so we will respond with a counter-provocation,” said Amiram Goldblum, a longtime anti-occupation activist and chemistry professor at Hebrew University.

Goldblum, whose Facebook page features a map of “The State of Israel” alongside one of “The Apartheid West Bank Under Israeli Control,” approximates that he has called for “a total economic, cultural and academic boycott of settlements about 100 times,” which likely assures him a place on any blacklist, although he says he does not support full-on boycotts of the state. 

Goldblum said that he and other activists have launched a new international petition calling for a full-scale settlement boycott inspired by Erdan’s blacklist, similar to a petition they created in reaction to the 2011 law.

Haaretz revealed Tuesday that Erdan has already set up an intelligence unit to collect information on foreign BDS activists and now wants to collect data on Israelis involved in the movement. According to officials, Erdan has discussed the matter with other ministries, most prominently the Justice Ministry. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is vehemently opposed to Erdan’s proposal. According to one senior official, he said such a database would undermine Israelis' right to privacy and that Erdan has no legal authority to collect information on citizens.

Goldblum concurred with Barkan, that ultimately, such steps represent an achievement, not a setback, for the BDS movement.

“This is another step that will be helpful for people like us who talk with leadership and parliaments around the world. It will be very helpful in showing the deterioration of Israeli democracy,” he said.   

Goldblum pointed out that not even one activist has been tried under the 2011 law outlawing BDS, and “it is only there for intimidation, provocation.” Similarly, he said, the specter of a blacklist primarily represented “an attempt to scare and frighten people” and pander to the political far right. 

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a British-Israeli peace activist and a member of the Palestinian group Jahalin Solidarity, sees the blacklist as a “Stalinist” tactic, representing “a willful need on the side of this government and the right wing to control everything."

"These aren't people who believe in 'live and let live,' the ability to come and go freely, to have democratic rights, or free speech," she said. "They define anyone critical, who doesn’t fall in line with their extreme right-wing neo-fascist doctrine as an an enemy of the state. There is a lot of deliberate misinterpretation going on, and brainwashing, that people who want BDS are calling for the destruction of Israel instead of working to end the occupation non-violently.”

Though the Netanyahu government has always been far-right, she says she sees the bid to create the database as a symptom of the post-Obama era. “It is very worrying, there is a sense of Trump greenlighting and taking the brakes off, to the extent that people here are no longer worried about what the U.S. will say,” she said.

Still, Godfrey-Goldstein hopes that internationally, Erdan’s proposal will help raise “extra awareness about how far right-wing and McCarthyite this government has become.”

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, editor-in-chief of the +972 website, views the travel ban and the blacklist as an “escalation” of the 2011 law. 

To him such measures represent attempts to “move goalposts of acceptable behavior.” More than that, he said, they are largely political posturing, reflecting what has been a “ministerial tug-of-war over who gets to be responsible for fighting BDS” and the fact that Erdan is “competing to attract the hard-core party base,” along with his colleagues in the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties.  

What they ultimately boil down to, Omer-Man and the activists say, is simply applying restrictions and surveillance to Europeans, North Americans and Israeli Jews who previously enjoyed “immunity” from the difficulties faced by Arabs and Palestinians.

“While I’m not trying to minimize its impact or severity, the threats of blacklisting and monitoring, though it's not a new thing, it is just threatening to affect the Jewish population in ways that we haven't seen,” Omer-Man said.

Barkan says that to those who have long been monitored by the Shin Bet and called in for “warning talks” by authorities, the prospect of being put on a ministry blacklist will do little to deter them.

“There is nothing new in this approach and that practice and it has already been being carried out against Palestinian political activists," he said. "The only difference is that they are now applying these dark practices to those of us in the privileged group who struggle alongside the underprivileged in demand for their basic rights It’s not a different practice, it's just a question of who they apply this practice to.” 

“While these forces that work in the dark are doing everything in secrecy, we, who demand equality, freedom and justice do everything in public. Those who stand by the basic rights of all people who have nothing to hide do so proudly and transparently,” he added.

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