BDS after the Israeli election

March 25, 2015

Bill Mullen, a Purdue University professor and leading voice in the BDS movement, analyzes the effects of Netanyahu's re-election on the Palestine solidarity struggle.

THE VICTORY of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in Israel's national elections last week was a grand triumph of racism, Zionism and settler-colonial nationalism--making more explicit than ever the state of Israel's contempt for Palestinian self-determination. The election results demand an immediate intensification of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in support of Palestine.

In the 48 hours before the elections, Netanyahu swore Palestinians would never achieve a state while he was prime minister and used Islamophobic scaremongering, warning that Arab Israelis were going to the polls in "droves." In one fell swoop, Netanyahu revealed the unwavering apartheid logic of the Israeli state, the true character of its Jim Crow "democracy," and a bold--and justified--confidence that Israeli voters would follow him further to the right.

That Netanyahu attempted to walk back his comments on Palestinian statehood immediately after the election only further exposed the Israeli ruling class's contempt and cynicism toward the Palestinian people and Palestinian sovereignty.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

As Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Palestinian BDS movement, put it after the election: "Israel, a belligerent nuclear power that completely disregards international law and basic human rights, will soon have its most fanatical government ever, with grave consequences for Palestinians as well as for world peace. Israel has dropped the mask."

Barghouti's words were echoed by solidarity organizations around the world. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PCACBI, its U.S. counterpart USCACBI and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee (IPSC) all released statements within 48 hours of the election, calling for new BDS campaigns. As the IPSC wrote:

It remains up to ordinary people of conscience to do what we can to help the Palestinian people in their continuing struggle for their human, national and democratic rights...The Palestinian people demand a true peace--but there can be no such peace until Palestinians fully enjoy their rights and self-determination.

IN THE U.S., socialists can also use the election results to demonstrate once again the complicity of the U.S. two-party duopoly with Netanhayu's racist regime.

After all, just two weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans alike stood and applauded approvingly in Congress as Netanyahu held forth against a possible U.S. nuclear treaty with Iran. This from the prime minister of a country already armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and supplied with $3 billion worth of U.S. military aid each year, ritually supported by both parties.

The mainstream media focused on the Democratic members of Congress--58 out of a total of 234--who boycotted Netanyahu's appearance before a joint session of the House and Senate, and portrayed it as a significant challenge to Israel. But most did so as a partisan protest against Republican House Speaker John Boehner's grandstanding ploy of inviting Netanyahu without Barack Obama's consent. Few if any Democrats challenged the content of Netanyahu's scaremongering about Iran.

Mainstream media reports of a possible crisis in the relationship between the U.S. government and Israel--or more specifically between Obama and the Democrats, and Netanyahu's right-wing Zionist government--should also be seen for what they are: temporary, rhetorical gestures at criticizing the overt racism of Netanyahu's regime. As Ali Abunimah wrote at Electronic Intifada, there is no chance of a significant split between the U.S. ruling class and Israel:

Since Benjamin Netanyahu's convincing re-election victory last week, the talk of a deepening breach between the U.S. and Israel has escalated. But we should be highly skeptical that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama will take any serious steps that benefit Palestinian rights.

Assessing the possible "pressure tactics" to direct against Israel that are being floated in the media, Abunimah concludes:

[T]hese are mostly empty threats. But more than that, all of them are minimal and mild. As noted, there's nothing here about using the billions that the U.S. gives to Israel every year as leverage--the no-strings-attached aid would presumably continue...

Obama must know that even if he took all the measures being floated they would generate much political heat and backlash, while doing little to bring about a "two-state solution" on his watch. But that backlash could further jeopardize his chances of getting a potential deal with Iran through Congress. So expect him to do little or nothing.

Instead, the short-term rift should be understood as a debate about the managerial style of U.S.-Israeli imperialism on the one hand and a struggle to recalibrate the two countries' relationship to fit shifting Middle East political alignments brought on by the Arab Spring, on the other. Much of this entails holding in place the counterrevolutionary forces in the region that are combatting any threat to the geo-political status quo.

The U.S. now must balance its support for Israel with its newfound quasi-alliance with Iran in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; its continuing support for Saudi Arabia and post-Mubarak Egypt; all the while dealing with a persistent international BDS movement that continues to embarrass it, especially on U.S. college campuses, where a new generation of activists seeks to challenge the old hegemony about Israel as the Middle East's only "democracy."

This situation compels the BDS movement to step up its attempts to show that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the centerpiece of Western imperialism in the region and the main axis along which the U.S. must balance, in increasingly precarious fashion, its imperialist agenda.

In the wake of Netanyahu's rejection of a Palestinian state, socialists should reiterate their call for Palestinian self-determination in whatever form it takes. While many writers and activists have argued for some time that the "two-state" solution is a dead letter, it is possible that Netanyahu's statement will pressure Israel into being forced to consider the contours of a one-state alternative.

While the BDS movement as a whole remains neutral on Palestinian statehood, its core demands for ending the Israeli occupation, dismantling the apartheid wall and respecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees are all consistent with support for self-determination. Those principles should also be articulated within an anti-imperialist framework that makes clear the legacy of settler-colonialism and Zionism, and the need to abolish both.

In the short term, the Netanyahu victory is an important opportunity to win people to the fight for Palestinian freedom. Israeli Zionism can be defeated, but only with a sustained effort by ordinary people and workers committed to a clear anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics.

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