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Recently, the government of South Africa endorsed sanctions against Israeli goods, cultural events and academic exchanges. This move, made by a government founded in opposition to a policy of exclusion, discrimination and persecution very similar to the regime Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank currently live under, is a major advance for the movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The policy of occupation, ever more commonly referred to as Israel’s version of apartheid, is the reason the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement exists. Birthed during the first Intifada in the late 1980s, this movement continues to gain support from around the world. Indeed, support for the movement has already surpassed a comparable moment in the historical movement against South African apartheid the BDS call is based on.
Despite the movement’s recent successes, the drive to expand it remains an uphill battle. In addition to the harsh opposition of Tel Aviv and its friends, there is a hesitation to join the boycott among many artists, performers, academics and others whose support is essential. Furthermore, the support from governments, unions, and churches, while gathering steam, must expand if the goals of the movement are to be reached. In a repeat of the arguments of many who came late (if at all) to the boycott of South African apartheid, there are those that argue for engagement with the oppressor state, not a boycott and sanctions.
That is why a recently published book from Verso is so important. Simply titled The Case for Sanctions Against Israel, this collection of essays by organizers and champions of the BDS movement provides clear arguments for international sanctions against Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians. Always emphasizing the grassroots nature of the campaign, the essays in this book include writers from Palestine, Israel, South Africa, and the United States plus several other countries. Some are academics; some are professional writers; some are neither. All are organizers.
All too often, the voices of the trod upon and underrepresented are drowned out by the considerably louder and better-financed powerful of the world. This has been the case throughout history. This is certainly the case when it comes to the situation in Palestine. Voices supportive of Israeli occupation and its accompanying brutality rule the media in Israel, the United States and much of Europe. Only rarely do Palestinian and other voices opposed to Israel’s rampage through Palestine break into the mainstream discourse. This is not an accident. Just like the apartheid regimes in South Africa and the United States maintained their oppressive rule with the assistance of much of the mainstream media, the Israeli government depends on compliant media to spread its view of the occupation. By doing so, the parameters of the discussion become limited to whether the occupation is being carried out humanely and efficiently, not whether it should be carried out at all. This is why grassroots popular opposition campaigns that involve millions of people around the world are so important. Just like the black freedom movement ended apartheid in the United States and South Africa, so will a Palestinian liberation movement end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While the frontlines are naturally in Palestine, the support of a worldwide movement is essential to the entire movement’s success. Historically, nothing proves this better than the multi-decade struggle against South African apartheid.
Some of the essays discuss the history of the movement, the debates within and without concerning its direction, and its politics. Others discuss the Israeli occupation, the Holocaust, and South African apartheid. One debate especially relevant to many liberal residents of the United States examines the manipulation of LBGT politics by the Israeli government to gain LBGT support for its apartheid regime. The essays are not just good reading; they are also an eloquent call to the world to give a damn.
In short, this excellent collection of essays is an essential text for anyone interested in why they should support the movement to boycott Israel. While Israel grows more repressive and less democratic, those that feel it the most are the Palestinians. Like their predecessors in South Africa, their freedom demands the support of the world’s people. The BDS campaign provides individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments with a very real way to support that freedom struggle. This book provides all of these elements with the inspiration to do so.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.