You can tell that the Palestinian movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is picking up steam: the United States is beginning to treat its leaders like security threats.  The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has inexplicably delayed the granting of a visa for Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist, effectively cancelling his scheduled book tour in the U.S.  (Barghouti will be speaking in Cambridge on March 9.)

What's so dangerous about Barghouti and his book?  When the U.S. bans a visitor from the Middle East we almost expect to read racist, orientalist articles describing a “bearded cleric” inspiring “terrorist attacks.”  But not this time: the U.S. is afraid of Barghouti for another reason.  Barghouti is a leader in the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid and for Palestinian human rights.  The BDS movement, called by hundreds of Palestinian civil society groups in 2005, has three simple demands: equal rights for Palestinians living in the State of Israel, the end to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the right of return for Palestinians living in exile—in short, the BDS movement demands human rights for the three sectors of Palestinian society.

Evidently, the U.S. government finds the nonviolent BDS movement as dangerous to its allies and interests as the supposed “Muslim extremists” who are more typically (though equally spuriously) banned.

Is BDS dangerous?  It is seen as dangerous by the Israeli state and its supporters in the U.S. government.  Zionist groups in Israel, the US, and the UK say that boycott is anti-semitic and that Israel is being unfairly 'delegitimized' and 'demonized'.  But BDS is not anti-semitic: it is supported by many Jewish groups such as the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, not to mention enough boycott activists inside Israel to make the government scared enough to pass a bill in the Knesset this week prohibiting boycott activity from within the State of Israel.

Calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions does not 'demonize' or 'delegitimize' the Jewish people—it demonizes and delegitimizes the gross oppression and denial of rights that the Israeli state has visited on the Palestinians.  From my perspective as a Jewish person, it's Israeli apartheid that gives Jews a bad name, not the people trying to fight it.  The BDS movement has as its vision that Jews and Palestinians might live together in historic Palestine on an equal footing.  But at present, that is not the case.  Palestinians within the State of Israel lack equal rights; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to a brutal occupation; and Palestinians in the diaspora are denied their human rights, as refugees, to return to the land from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948.

Boycott is a time-honoured tactic of international pressure on rogue states, most well-known for its success in challenging apartheid in South Africa.  Though there are certainly many differences between Israeli apartheid and South African apartheid, the essential features are the same: a denial of human rights to a huge portion of the population on the basis of their race.  It is no surprise that Palestinian activists made the strategic decision to mobilise the same non-violent solidarity tactics that brought the end of South African apartheid.

The BDS movement against Israeli apartheid has picked up steam across the world, with boycott activists holding special ire for companies that benefit from the occupation, such as Caterpillar, who manufacture custom-made bulldozers to destroy Palestinian homes; or Ahava, who produce beauty products from stolen resources on illegally settled land.

In Cambridge, BDS activists are preparing a CUSU referendum to push the University to drop its contract with Veolia, a multinational environmental services company involved in a light rail system connecting illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.  Veolia's light rail system is essentially a “whites only” mode of transport that serves only the Jewish settlements.  The University has a contract with Veolia for disposal of hazardous wastes: the real hazardous entity that needs to be disposed of is the discrimination, population control, and restriction of freedom of movement that Veolia support.

The campaign against Veolia in Cambridge is just one part of the increasingly widespread BDS movement.  Through BDS, the world is rallying against the oppression of the Palestinians and making it clear that Israeli apartheid will not be tolerated.  It makes sense that Israel's backers in the U.S. are afraid: the rising success of the BDS movement and the fall of corrupt pro-Israel dictators in the Middle East bodes poorly for the continued dominance of Zionism.  Barghouti and the other backers of BDS are fighting a non-violent campaign for a future of equality and human rights for all, and the U.S. attempts to silence him won't deter it.

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