BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States

Photo by Kate Ausburn | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Kate Ausburn | CC BY 2.0

Dr. Jeff Halper, a co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was detained in the West Bank in the middle of leading a tour of an Israeli “colony” there. Halper, an Israeli, who immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s from the U.S., was allegedly detained for possessing materials from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS).

Two laws passed by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, one recent, affects the BDS movement. The first allows Israeli companies to sue BDS protesters for compensation. To date, that law has not been used against those who support the BDS movement. The second bans supporters of the BDS movement from entering Israel. There are no such laws that apply to Israelis who distribute BDS materials, or support the BDS movement in Israel, but official sanctions are not always the most effective kind. In Israel, those who oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories are often harassed and threatened.

With the right-wing Trump administration in power, the right-wing government of Israel has received a green light to continue building settlements. Over the last several years, aid from the U.S. continued to flow into Israel uninterrupted, even despite the obvious dislike between former President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the end of the Obama administration neared, the U.S. agreed to provide Israel with $38 billion of new military aid over the next decade.

Halper was conducting a tour of the Ma’ale Adumin colony in the West Bank when he was detained. That settlement is not small, with 40,000 residents and a substantial infrastructure. Jerusalem can be seen in the distance from the settlement. He was detained for “incitement,” by simply possessing materials about the BDS movement (“BDS Activist Speaks About His Arrest by Israeli Police,” The Real News Network, March 17, 2017). In other words, he was being an obvious thorn in the side of consensus politics in Israel and taking part in a movement for justice that most Israelis do not support.

“It was only when Haaretz did a story about it, Haaretz Newspaper that they contacted the police. And the police told them that I was detained for incitement, that’s what it was. It wasn’t so much BDS per se.”

Halper believes that Israelis “don’t know anything when it comes to these kinds of issues… occupation, Palestinians, war, peace, and so on, human rights, are completely non-issues in Israel.” Halper believes that the issue of BDS has “impacted the American Jewish community much more than Israelis” (The Real News Network). He believes the latter is true because of the general nature of liberalism among the Jewish community in the U.S.

The attacks against the civil liberties of BDS supporters in Israel isn’t the only human rights issue that’s pressing there. Recently, Sarah Moody, a young woman studying to become a rabbi, was “knocked to the ground” while attempting to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site. She was attacked by a mob of zealots who yelled taunts of “evil-doers” and “anarchists,” as the bruised rabbinical student got back on her feet (“Banned and barred, Israel’s women stand up to religious hardliners,” The Guardian, March 18, 2017).

“Over the last decade in different parts of Israel, women have been barred from sections of buses, banned from speaking at cemeteries, blocked from pavements, physically attacked for their clothing choices, airbrushed from newspapers and magazines and removed from the airwaves and photos” (The Guardian).

Segments of the ultra-Orthodox community have been behind these assaults against women. Courts in Israel have stood for the rights of women, but the enforcement mechanisms on the streets of Israel are sometimes missing in defense of women’s rights.

Although a comparison is very imperfect, it merits noting that one of the reasons touted by the U.S. in its presence in Afghanistan after the beginning of the war in 2001 was to improve the rights of women. Strange that one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, Israel, has not come to terms in some ways with this most basic of human rights.

In December 2016, the Brookings Institute published a poll that showed 60 percent of Americans favored economic sanctions against Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The figure of support among those  Republicans polled was 31 percent (“Nearly half of Americans support sanctions on Israel, poll finds,” +972 Magazine, December 3, 2016).  Compare the support for sanctions among those polled in the U.S. with the fact that 22 U.S. states now have legislation “that punishes companies for answering the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.”

National security states, whether republican democracies or not, can give rise to some destructive and hateful outcomes. The other, or dissident, can easily be cast into the domestic enemy in the service of power.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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