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The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel

Global Intifada

by BILL V. MULLEN

On 25 July, Spanish coal miners in the northern village of Cinera blocked their roads in protest against the austerity cuts. When state subsidies fell by 63%, and miners lost their jobs, homemade slings hurled rocks at the police. This protest took place as the Spanish indignados took to the Puerto del Sol for their anti-austerity demonstrations, inspired in turn by the long siege of Cairo’s Tahrir Square that deposed neoliberal chieftain Hosni Mubarak. Miner protests were also buttressed by Left organizations like Izquierda Anti-Capitalista critical of the Spanish State’s sale of more than 32 million euros worth of weapons to Israel between 1995 and 2008 and its 1.7 billion worth of trade with Israel the previous year. Thus as the battle waged on the ground in Cinera, 42 year-old coal miner Miguel Angel Iglesias told the New York Times: “I don’t preach violence, but I guess it’s turning into our version of the intifada… When somebody is determined to take away your job and what has kept families living here for over a century, you fight to the end.”

Occupied Palestine has become the most dialectical place on Earth. Like Spain in the 1930s, or Algiers in the late 1950s, Palestine is the locus of the world’s most powerful new internationalism constructed in response to the Apartheid-Industrial Complex – the linkage between neoliberal economic policies and apartheid structures, the general logic of racist neocolonialism. Palestine is the “template” (as Ali Abunimah put it) for neoliberal authoritarian regimes worldwide.  It embodies the violent drawing together and leveling out of the world’s capitalist economies, and the historic rise of opposition to the oppression and exploitation they engender.

Palestine-South Africa

The Apartheid-Industrial Complex was birthed simultaneously in Palestine and South Africa as a labor nakba [catastrophe] against racially subordinated working classes. In Palestine the Histadrut, a Labor Zionist organization, tethered economic and military support from British imperialism to racial supremacist ideology to put down the 1936 General Strike and Arab Revolt among Palestinian workers that inaugurated a 12-year march to Israel’s Statehood. In 1946, a strike of 70,000 African mine workers was smashed by the South African Smuts government resulting in 12 deaths and more than one thousand injuries. The defeat of the strike catapulted white support for the ruling National Party and paved the way for its election to power.

Militant South African Trade Unions tied to the African National Congress began the incremental dismantling of formal apartheid that collapsed in 1991, giving inspiration to anti-apartheid activists in Palestine searching for their “South African moment.” Since the early 1990s Occupied Palestine and South Africa have also become two of the world’s most important litmus tests of neoliberal neocolonialism: in the wake of the first intifada and end of apartheid, the IMF and World Bank have become dominant entities in helping to carry out economic development strategies for both the ruling ANC in South Africa and the Palestinian Authority under Israeli occupation.

The paradox of persisting Apartheid-Industrial rule in both places has been captured by the nature of recent political protests: in September Palestinian truck drivers blocked traffic in Ramallah to protest work conditions, rising food and fuel prices that have become features of both Zionist rule and a globally subsidized Occupation (particularly from  EU and US). Two months ago, 34 Black mine workers at Lonmin, a British-based international conglomerate, were shot dead by South African police with support from the ruling African National Congress. Seen in tandem, these strikes indicate the enormous need and potential for what Vijay Prashad has called a “General Strike of the Global South” that might unite its unruly subjects in a “Post-Apartheid Industrial Complex” of their own making.

Palestine-Cairo

The roots of what has become known as the Arab Spring were arguably sown in 1977, the year Egyptian industrial workers and students took to the streets to protest Anwar Sadat’s decision to end state subsidies on daily goods. Known as the “Bread Intifada,” the demonstrations protested the neoliberal neocolonization of Egypt. Nasser’s nationalization of land and industry was undone by policies that encouraged foreign investment, began attacks on wages and unions and made Egypt heavily dependent on the International Monetary Fund. IMF policies swept through Tunisia and Algeria, drawing the region into a paralysis. The Israeli Occupation of Palestine, for many activists who crafted the Arab Spring, operated as the region’s avatar, not its exception. Egyptians were free, but they didn’t feel it. Reem Abou al-Fadi points out that during the Egyptian revolution “citizens connected their impoverishment and the erosion of Egyptian prestige internationally with Mubarak’s subservience to US and Israeli directives, and his personal profiteering from such policies…images of Mubarak adorned with Israeli symbols appeared, along with banners in Hebrew asking him to leave and chants and signs saying that he would be welcome in Tel Aviv.”

Reciprocally, public demonstrations in the West Bank since Tahrir have underscored both Israel’s Occupation and the neoliberal policies of the Palestinian Authority as interrelated targets of protest. As one driver recently told Al-Jazeera, “They want to distract us with roads until our country is gone.” Said another, “They think they can buy our love with money.” “We don’t want their money, we want their help in other ways. We want them to respect our rights and our perspective.” Words like these are likely to underwrite a Third Palestinian Intifada that may yet complete the Arab Spring.

Palestine-New York-Washington

Two months ago the New York City Police Department announced it would open a NYPD branch in Israel’s Sharon District Police headquarters in Kfar Saba. The announcement raised the prospects of Israel’s apartheid regime fine tuning its domination with the help of NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance, Anti-Terrorism and Stop and Frisk tactics.

These are however merely the latest gestures in the creation of a neoliberal security state over Palestine intended to uphold and carry out the Apartheid-Industrial Complex. For example from 2005 to 2010 former US Army Brigadier and Iraqi war veteran Keith Dayton worked in Israel to train Palestinian Authority Security Forces in paramilitary tactics against the indigenous population. The EU runs a “mission” in the Occupied Territories known as EUPOL COPPS (EU Police Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support). Yet as Electronic Intifada notes these EU and US funded security services “come with a twist: the police and intelligence services are also protecting the security of Israel…Forces are trained and equipped to react to the demand of Israeli agencies in quelling armed groups.” Here we might understand in dialectical counterpoint the implications of Michelle Alexander’s argument in The New Jim Crow that mass incarceration is neoliberalism’s single heaviest club against Black America. Policing is its most portable feature, hence the easy slippage of the “War on Drugs” into US foreign policy discourse, and the easing of figures like Keith Dayton and the NYPD into the security contact zone of the Middle East. Is it any wonder as Alexander points out that years ago artists and activists began referring to 24/7 police presence in Black and Brown US neighborhoods as “The Occupation”?

Palestine-BDS

There is a specter haunting Israel. In 2005, Palestinian Civil Society called for a boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s illegal occupation.  Modeled on the successful South African BDS movement that helped to undermine apartheid, PACBI has become to date the most successful and sustained campaign to build global resistance to  both the apartheid-industrial complex and illegal Occupation of Palestine.

The BDS Handbook Targeting Israeli Apartheid produced by the London-based Corporate Watch is arguably the Capital of the BDS movement. The 383 page book details how since 2001 Israel has embarked upon an intensified neoliberalization of the Occupation to fuel $55 billion in exports including $24 billion to the US, its primary export market, and more than $12 billion of EU imports. For example, Israel’s agricultural export economy depends upon Palestinian migrant labor which harvests produce grown on stolen Palestinian lands while workers receive around half of the minimum wage and no contracts, sick pay or health insurance. Israel also operates ten illegal mining quarries in the West Bank producing one quarter of the sand and gravel used in the Israeli construction industry. One quarter of this is used in Occupied Palestine, the vast majority for the construction of the 700-kilometer apartheid wall and illegal housing settlements in the West Bank.

Section 12 of the Handbook is titled Academia. The chapter is a devastating indictment of the complicity of Israeli universities in the Occupation, detailing how under the guise of academic freedom, in Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s words, they provide the “window dressing of the Occupation.” While Palestinian citizens constitute more than 20 per cent of the Israeli population, they form less than ten per cent of the student body in Israeli Universities, and one per cent of academic staff. According to Uri Yacobi Keller, “Palestinian applicants are three times as likely to be rejected by Israeli academic institutions than Jewish applicants.” Most importantly, “all Israeli universities have links with the Israeli arms industry,” which extend from “training arms industry managers and engineers to in-house research into building ‘defence’ and ‘surveillance’ tools designed to keep Palestinians living in giant open prisons.” The most notorious example of this is the Technion, a weapons-specialist in development of missiles and drones.

In 2011 New York City authorized the use of public funds to support collaboration between Technion and Cornell University on Roosevelt Island. In its public letter of protest USACBI (the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) wrote that the Technion-Cornell collaboration “means the active participation in an apartheid regime” and called for academic support of the BDS campaign until Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects, and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

These demands, shared by the Palestinian BDS movement worldwide, have thus far compelled dozens of companies to divest from Palestine, and thousands of world citizens to support the BDS campaign against the Israeli Occupation. Academics and activists everywhere should follow suit. The illegal, genocidal, exploitative and racist Israeli occupation of Palestine should compel each of us to join with workers, Palestinians and indignados of the world who have nothing to lose but their chains, and a world without Occupation to win.

Bill V. Mullen teaches at Purdue University and is a member of the USACBI Advisory Board.