A male anchor on Israel’s Ynet news provided vivid insight into the state of Israeli freedom of speech this week with his reaction to a Jewish-Israeli guest who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement aimed at holding the state to account for its breaches of international and human rights law.
Jewish-Israeli IT worker and Boycott From Within activist Ronnie Barkan, a citizen and resident of Israel is first introduced as living in Italy – as if to suggest he has no concern with the Israeli state directly. The interviewee corrects the host, then moves on the explain why he and other Israeli Jews support the Palestinian-led BDS movement. He states that the BDS movement is first and foremost a human rights movement, to which the host against intervenes, stating:
“No, no, no!
This isn’t a Human Rights campaign!
You are talking about trying to harm the country and weaken it.”
The guest asks Somfalyi if he felt the boycott movement against Apartheid South Africa was justified, to which the host merely dismisses any comparison. Then, despite the fact the Barkan does not live in Italy, and has already stated so – the host demands to know:
“Who funds you so that you can live in Italy?”
Barkan is not taken off track by this question, and states simply that he is a) visiting, and b) takes no payment from anyone for his activism, but considers it a moral obligation.
“What you do here is demagoguery, bluff and lies!
I say that you’re prepared to sell out your family members in order to get funding and harm your country!
It seems perverse to me, and messed up, and sick!”
The host is breathless by now, but Barkan remains calm as he reminds him:
“Israel was founded on the basis of ethnic supremacy and ethnic cleansing” – referring to The Nakba of 1948 when Israeli armed forces ethnically cleansed more than 750,000 Arab Palestinians from their towns and cities in order to establish a Jewish State on the lands. A process which could be argued has continued at a slower pace ever since, in order to claim the entire land once known as Palestine.
“It was founded so your rights and mine would come at the expense of others, the sons and daughters of this land.”
“We acknowledge that, and demand equality for all. And if you find this idea so disturbing – then ask yourself why.”
Barkan states that there are three fundamental rights claimed by the Palestinians, which both International Law and the BDS Movement support:
- The ending of the Occupation occurring since 1967
- Equality within Israel for Jews and non-Jews
- The right of return for Palestinian refugees since 1948
But throughout this explanation, the host is hurling invective at his guest.
“If it’s so bad for you, and you’re so embarrassed by your country, why don’t you reject your Israeli citizenship?!”
Go live in Europe! Live in Italy!”
I don’t want you to be a citizen of this country!”
Barkan explains that as a “privileged Israeli of Jewish origin” he also has a responsibility. He explains that he could choose to be quiet and leave, but he has chosen to stay and use his privilege to speak out in support of those with no voice. At which point the host ends the conversation abruptly, stating:
“I don’t want to carry on this conversation anymore”
He turns to his anti-BDS studio guest to continue the attack on Ronnie Barkan and the movement.
For those outside the state of Israel, it can be hard to imagine the repercussions faced by those Israelis who stand against the illegal occupation of Palestine, the apartheid system within Israel, and the consistently devastating military attacks on Gaza and the West Bank.
During last summer’s 51-day air, ground and sea assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces killed 2,104 Palestinians, of whom 1,462 have been identified as civilians, including 495 children. They destroyed the homes of more than 108,000 people and over 10,000 people (a third of them children) were left with life-altering injuries. I was reporting on the ground from Gaza during this period and what I saw amounted to nothing short of a massacre.
But it wasn’t just the physical violence that ramped up last summer, it was the genocidal discourse in Israeli society too.
- The Times of Israel published an article entitled “When Genocide is Permissable”, which openly called for the genocide of all Muslims within Israel-Palestine.
- Banners went up across Jerusalem neighborhoods state: “There are no innocents in Gaza.”
- Israel’s Deputy Speaker Moshe Feiglin called for the total elimination of Gaza.
- Ruling Likud Party lawmaker Ayalet Shaked called for the murder of Palestinian mothers and their children.
- A Facebook page was set up called “Standing With the IDF”, where women posted revealing images of themselves covered in pro-IDF graffiti.
- A Facebook page titled “The People of Israel Demand Vengeance!” featured Israeli teens posting hate selfies. Some held placards calling for ‘Death to All Arabs’. In this example below, the sign reads: Hating Arabs is Not Racism, It’s Values’.
Outside of Israel and the U.S., the assault on Gaza combined with this rise in racist hatred, was enough to swing public opinion in support of diplomatic and personal action to halt Israel in its tracks.
The BDS Movement seeks to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel’s apartheid state in a similar way to that applied against South Africa’s apartheid state in the 1980s – only with aims to be more systematic and specific than its predecessor. It is starting to have a tangible impact that is being felt within Israel.
- Individual performers like Lauryn Hill, over 100 UK artists including film legends Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have announced and supported a cultural boycott of Israel.
- The economic boycott by the BDS Movement has cost Veolia, a company which profits from illegal Israeli settlements, billions of dollars of lost contracts across Europe, the US and Kuwait.
- Divestment pressure to have companies and organization withdraw from Israel has also had huge success. Most recently with telecom giant Orange looking to pull out of the state. They were preceded by the Bill Gates Foundation, and the entire U.S. Presbyterian Church.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared war against the BDS Movement. In recent weeks, Strategic Affairs and Information Minister Gilad Erdan’s office was given the task of fighting BDS, and awarded 10 additional ministers and an NIS100 million ($26.4m) budget increase to fulfil its mission. The propaganda efforts seem focused on branding all external BDS Movement support as “anti-semitic,” while deeming internal critics as “the enemy within.”
This increasingly bellicose positioning is isolating Israel abroad, and creating increasing disharmony and violence within the state itself. As +972 journalist Haggai Matar wrote following the violence meted out upon Israelis protesting the Gaza attacks last year:
“When the sirens sounded into the night, only one thing was obvious to all of us: the fascists in front of us are more dangerous than the rockets on the way.”
Israel’s greatest threat is not and has never been the Palestinians. The greatest threat to Israel is Zionism, and the rising fascism promoted by an ideology which says Jewish people alone have the right to live in freedom, peace and dignity in a land which has been a melting pot of several religions and ethnicities for thousands of years.
In order to preserve itself as a Jewish state, Israel must import Jews and exile non-Jews – and such conditions make democracy impossible. This is what Ronnie Barkan and his fellow anti-Zionist Israelis know in their hearts, and why they support the Palestinian-led BDS Movement despite such opposition at home – because they’re consciences will not permit them to do otherwise.
Featured Image via YouTube