Israel’s detention of Omar Barghouti on Sunday is the “latest desperate chapter of repression and intimidation” against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement co-founder, the civil society coalition that guides the movement stated on Wednesday.
Israeli media have reported that Barghouti, who lives in the coastal city of Akka in present-day Israel, is suspected of tax evasion. The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee accused the Israeli government of “fabricating a case” against him.
Barghouti and his wife were detained for 16 hours on Sunday and Barghouti was being interrogated for the fourth consecutive day, the committee said on Wednesday.
The committee said the investigation of Barghouti was part of Israel’s “systematic efforts to criminalize the BDS movement, intimidate activists and stop free speech.”
Barghouti “has for years been subjected to intense threats, intimidation and repression by various arms of the far-right Israeli government, particularly after it considered the movement a ‘strategic threat’ to its entire system of injustice against Palestinians,” the committee added.
Last year the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel had established a “dirty tricks” or “tarnishing” unit which would target BDS groups.
The committee said that the case against Barghouti was an attempt to “tarnish his image and intimidate him.”
Threats against Barghouti
In the past year, Barghouti has been subjected to a travel ban and open threats by Israel’s top ministers.
During a “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem last March, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists “will know they will pay a price for it.”
Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for shaping Israel’s response to the global BDS movement, added, “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”
During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel’s intelligence minister Yisrael Katz called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for “targeted killing,” or extrajudicial execution.
Israel’s interior minister Aryeh Deri told conference attendees that he was considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.
In response, Amnesty International expressed its concern for the “safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other boycott, divestment and sanctions activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers.”
Barghouti is due to travel to the US in April to receive the annual Gandhi Peace Award given by the Connecticut-based organization Promoting Enduring Peace.
“It is in this context that the Israeli tax department’s investigation of Omar and his wife, Safa, must be understood,” the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee stated.
“After failing to intimidate them through the threat of revoking Omar’s permanent residence in Israel, and after the effective travel ban imposed on him proved futile in stopping his human rights work, the Israeli government has resorted to fabricating a case related to Omar’s alleged income outside of Israel to tarnish his image and intimidate him.”
Attempts to undermine BDS
Meanwhile, Israel’s global standing continues to deteriorate, according to its top strategists.
Earlier this month, Israel reacted with outrage after the publication of a UN report that concludes Israel is an apartheid state and urges national governments to “support boycott, divestment and sanctions activities and respond positively to calls for such initiatives.”
Last year the European Union stated that while it objects to BDS, it recognizes the right of its citizens to boycott Israel.
The United States – Israel’s principal ally and bankroller – backed the right to boycott in November.
Gilad Erdan, the minister tasked with combatting the boycott, this week proposed compiling a database on Israeli citizens who support BDS.
The move is “not at all surprising,” Mahmoud Nawajaa, coordinator with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, said on Tuesday.
“Israel’s repressive efforts to suppress the BDS movement further illustrate the justice of our cause and will thus only strengthen worldwide support for our nonviolent struggle for our freedom and rights.”