US, EU wink at Israel’s travel ban on BDS co-founder

Activists view Israeli travel ban on BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti as threat to rights of Palestine solidarity campaigners everywhere.

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Human Rights Watch wasted no time in condemning Israel’s imposition of an effective travel ban on Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.”

Previously, in light of direct threats against Barghouti by Israeli ministers, Amnesty International had expressed its concern for the “safety and liberty” of Barghouti, amid what it called “an escalation of acts of intimidation” by the Israeli government against human rights defenders.

Activists are urging thousands of people to contact the US State Department to protest the Israeli move.

EU passivity

But given opportunities to speak out in defense of human rights, the Obama administration and the EU have decided to give Israel a wink – amounting to tacit support for its crackdown on Barghouti’s freedom of speech and association.

“The EU Delegation in Israel and the European Union Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closely following the case of Mr. Omar Barghouti, who lives with his family in Acre in Israel,” the spokesperson for EU foreign affairs and security policy told The Electronic Intifada in an email.

“The EU recalls regularly that compliance by states with international human rights law, including accountability, is a cornerstone for peace and security in the Middle East.”

The spokesperson added that in January, EU governments had jointly “highlighted the importance of civil society being able to work unhindered both in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.”

But apart from these generalities, the EU would not dare stray into specific criticism of Israel’s repression of Barghouti, nor call on Israel to reverse its effective travel ban on a person who has been a champion of nonviolent, civil society-led resistance to injustice – values the EU regularly alleges that it supports.

Nor did the EU give any commitment to activate its institutional mechanisms for protecting human rights defenders under threat. Indeed, the EU delegation in Israel has expressed its determination only to reward Israel even as its human rights record worsens.

US complicity

At the US State Department briefing on Wednesday, journalists Said Arikat of the newspaper Al-Quds and Matthew Lee of the Associated Press both raised Barghouti’s case.

“We’ve seen the reports,” spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau responded. “We would refer you to the Israelis for comments.”

It seems that when it comes to Palestinians, the US, which has opinions on everything on Earth, outsources its views on human rights to Israel.

Pressed to give a view on the direct threats Israeli ministers had made against Barghouti in March, Trudeau responded, “I can’t speak to those comments.”

But while adamantly refusing to get into the specifics of Israel’s move against Barghouti, Trudeau did at least concede that “as a general principle, we support freedom of movement for Palestinians and permanent residents of Israel.”

“Platitudes”

Omar Barghouti himself is, needless to say, unimpressed.

“By repeating platitudes about Palestinian human rights but then persistently failing to criticize Israel when it denies them, the US administration is protecting Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from accountability,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

Barghouti sees the move against him – and the failure to clearly condemn it – as a threat more broadly to the rights and freedoms of everyone working for justice in Palestine:

“In effect, this administration is giving Israel a tacit green light to violently repress Palestinian, Israeli, American and other human rights defenders who are struggling nonviolently for the realization of Palestinian rights under international law through the time-honored tactics of boycott and divestment.”

Barghouti added that with the “pernicious rise of the influence of the far-right, settler-dominated Israeli government in the US Congress in recent years, the US administration has surrendered any attempts to hold Israel to account, even when it undermines US policy interests.”

As a result, “Israel has secured the flow of billions of American taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize its regime of racial oppression at the expense of education, health and social programs in the US.”

The US is currently in the midst of negotiations to give Israel the largest military aid package to any country in history – despite an alleged rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Action alert

The complicity of the EU and US in Israel’s bald violations of Palestinian human rights is hardly a surprise.

That is a key reason Palestinians turned to BDS as a tactic in the first place – to challenge the complicity of governments in Israel’s occupation and other crimes.

The good news is that grassroots education and mobilization are succeeding in changing the views of a whole generation of young Americans.

Aggressive efforts by several European governments and US states, in response to the demands of Israel and its lobby, are failing to halt the momentum of the BDS movement.

But it is going to take a lot more grassroots work. As an example, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace and CODEPINK put out an action alert calling on the public to contact US Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on Israel’s “blatant act of political repression” against Barghouti.

In an email to members, JVP director Rebecca Vilkomerson said she hoped activists would “flood Secretary Kerry’s office with tens of thousands of messages” because “this is more than just an attack on one political leader. It’s an attack on the right to nonviolently organize for justice, freedom and equality.”

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Perhaps Barghouti ought think himself lucky, or perhaps we may say we have progressed a little since 1972 when Israel murdered eleven Palestinians who were in Europe highlighting the cause of the Palestinians.

Look for : 'For a Palestinian' edited by Janet Ven Brown. Out of print but occasionally comes up in second hand sales.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.