Preamble by NAJ Taylor: Following the reaction to my blog post on the application of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel campaign in October, I decided to approach five members of the Middle East diaspora and community in Australia to each discuss, in their own words, the following proposition:

“To what extent is the BDS effective at balancing competing “harms” – the use of “non-violent” harm to injure Israel economically, politically, reputationally and militarily and the relief of the “violent harm” endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation? How useful is a campaign that “balances competing harms” for the Israeli and Palestinian, as well as Jewish and Muslim, diaspora – and wider Middle Eastern community – in Australia?”

Discussant 5 of 5 (below): Moammar Mashni is the co-founder and manager of Australians for Palestine. He works to articulate the concerns of Australia’s Palestinian communities among politicians, churches, unions, universities and the media and to raise Australian public awareness of the Israel-Palestine conflict’s dynamics. Moammar was born in Australia to a Palestinian refugee family.

BDS – the only game in town

by Moammar Mashni

Melbourne, AUSTRALIA: When I first read that Palestinian Civil Society had called on the rest of the world to help it implement a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, I was elated by the fact that there was a new wave of vigour in support of Palestinian rights. For too long, the tit-for-tat cycle of violence had dominated the political landscape, but now there was a new kid on the block – BDS.

BDS has enjoyed an extremely successful track record in its short history. Artists such as Elvis Costello, Snoop Dogg, Meg Ryan and Roger Waters have all refused to perform in Israel. Companies such as Alstom, the French transport conglomerate recently lost a US$10 billion contract in Saudi Arabia. Unions across the world, including Australia, have passed resolutions in support of the Palestinian call for an Israeli boycott until the basic demands of the call are met.

In case you had not familiarised yourself with the tenets of BDS, here they are:

  1. Recognise the inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees;
  2. End the illegal military occupation;
  3. End the systematic discrimination of Palestinian citizens within Israel.

What should be made abundantly clear is that the BDS call is from Palestinian civil society. It is a direct request from hundreds of Palestinian unions, universities, refugee groups and human rights institutions amongst many others.

There are the detractors who say that BDS is about ‘wiping Israel off the map’ or that it’s a tool to ‘delegitimise’ Israel and it only foments ‘anti-Israel’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ sentiments. Here in Australia, the BDS campaign has mostly been centred on the Max Brenner Chocolate stores. Setting aside the fact that most of the journalists covering the story failed to discover that ‘Max Brenner’ the individual does not even exist, the coverage in the mainstream media was patently biased – as is often the case on the Israel/Palestine issue.

One of over 24,000 Palestinian homes demolished since 1967 by Israel. Source: Alternative Information Center

A case in point is a poll conducted by research company Roy Morgan – which received almost no coverage – found that 64% of Australian voters did not support the construction of settlements on Occupied Palestinian land. This construction necessarily means the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, whose greatest crime is that they were not born Jewish.

One of the most comical manifestations of the anti-BDS campaign was the debate in NSW parliament over the issue. So unfamiliar were these elected members with the information, some Legislative Councillors in the debate could not even recall correctly the name of the establishment they were so vigorously defending – parliamentarians simply regurgitated the lies and misinformation that the pro-Israel lobby had provided.

Once again, any reasonable person would find it difficult to find hate, violence or racism in any of this, surely? Yet when sycophants for the Israel cause make the hyperbolic claim that BDS is like 1930’s Nazi Germany, no one in the media holds these people to account for their fictitious claims.

In June, I was in Canberra meeting with MP’s, Senators and their staff. After meeting with the chief-of-staff of a very senior Coalition MP and detailing just how bad the situation on the ground was, their response, to put it mildly, was mind-blowing  – “well , everyone should just have equal rights, that’s the only fair thing isn’t it?” they said. I’m sure it was only a couple of seconds before I spoke again, but it felt like an eternity had passed as I tried to fathom what had just been said. Mind you, I had not even broached the subject of BDS.

Human Rights are universal, yet it is patently obvious that their implementation is very selective. Why? It is a very interesting question that has some rather distasteful answers sadly.  Whilst Israel claims to be a democracy, under any reasonable definition of what is happening in all of historic Palestine (i.e. all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) more closely resembles apartheid.

This is a hotly contested term for those closely monitoring the intricacies of the conflict but recently the publisher of Haaretz, Amos Schocken, made a statement that those on my side of the debate have long advocated:

“The term “apartheid” refers to the undemocratic system of discriminating between the rights of the whites and the blacks, which once existed in South Africa. Even though there is a difference between the apartheid that was practiced there and what is happening in the territories, there are also some points of resemblance. There are two population groups in one region, one of which possesses all the rights and protections, while the other is deprived of rights and is ruled by the first group. This is a flagrantly undemocratic situation.”

Schocken’s epiphany, if that is what you can call it, merely adds to the long list of those who have already boldly made the apartheid assertion including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, David A. Kirshbaum from the Israel Law Centre and of late, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. And for those looking for more reasons why the term can be applied to Israel, the ever increasing racist laws that privilege Jews over Palestinians can be found here.

Sadly, Israel is hell-bent on a collision course with disaster; whether it is the Likud Charter, the continued construction of settlements and home demolitions or the ongoing occupation which has an enormously deleterious impact on the Palestinians, the future is indeed bleak.

I had a long discussion with Professor Avraham Sela (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) in June this year. He made it clear to me personally and to others more broadly, when he spoke at the La Trobe University forum, that Israel is, and will continue to be so politically instable that change will never come from within.

If that is the case then surely that change that is required will have to come from the outside, and hence BDS is likely the only effective tool to at least bring Israel to the table to discuss the issues in an honest and open manner as equals with the Palestinians.

Moammar Mashni is the co-founder and manager of Australians for Palestine. He works to articulate the concerns of Australia’s Palestinian communities among politicians, churches, unions, universities and the media and to raise Australian public awareness of the Israel-Palestine conflict’s dynamics. Moammar was born in Australia to a Palestinian refugee family. 

The other discussants: 

Discussant 1 of 5: Amin Abbas is a Diaspora Palestinian.

Discussant 2 of 5: Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based independent journalist and author who has written for The GuardianHaaretzThe NationSydney Morning Herald and many others. His two best-selling books are My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is currently working on many projects, including a book about vulture capitalism, a book on the Left in contemporary politics and another title on Israel/Palestine.

Discussant 3 of 5: Kim Bullimore is a long-time socialist, political activist and anti-racism campaigner.  Kim is a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS-Palestine), the only all women international peace team working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.   She also writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action and blogs at Live from Occupied Palestine.  In 2010, Kim co-organised the first national Australian BDS Conference.

Discussant 4 of 5: Les Rosenblatt is a Melbourne writer and political activist with a strong interest in Middle-Eastern politics and history. He has written several book reviews and articles on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for Arena magazine and elsewhere. Les also promotes the science of climate change and is seeking to understand how best to respond to the GFC Mark 2. Les was active in the Australian Jewish Democratic society over many years and participated in a Middle East Dialogue project organised by La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue a couple of years ago.