BDS Movement Co-Founder, Set to Speak at NYU, Denied Entry to US

Student activists are urging the university to condemn the U.S. government’s actions.

A view from Washington Square Park (Photo by Katie Peurrung)

A prominent Palestinian rights activist, scheduled to speak at NYU, was denied entry to the U.S. on Wednesday.

Omar Barghouti, slated to give a talk on Monday, is the co-founder of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. The movement primarily emphasizes economic pressure on Israel through initiatives such as sanctions and divestment from Israeli companies because of the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

At NYU, Barghouti was supposed to speak at “Jim Crow to Jerusalem: Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” an event to be co-hosted by two main activist groups — Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace — which advocate for BDS on campus. Now, he will phone in to the event. Barghouti was also supposed to speak at an event at NYU D.C. on Thursday, at Harvard University as part of Israeli Apartheid Week and attend his daughter’s wedding in Texas while in the U.S.

In the U.S., the BDS movement has come under increasing scrutiny, with 27 states, including New York, passing laws that would punish companies that support the movement. Such punishments include losing out on government contracts. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in February that gave states the right to oppose the boycott, although some people like former U.S. president Jimmy Carter have argued that legal decisions regarding the boycott limit free speech. According to The New York Times, others believe that opposition to BDS fights anti-Semitism and protects Israel.

Barghouti wrote in a press release, sent to WSN and posted to the BDS website, that his entry denial was reflective of the recent criticism BDS has faced in the U.S.

“This U.S. entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality,” Barghouti wrote. “Israel is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing; it is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the U.S. and to xenophobic, far-right cohorts across the world.”

The BDS movement has been a hot topic on NYU’s campus in particular. In spring 2018, 50 student groups pledged solidarity with the BDS movement in a letter of support, led by NYU Jewish Voice for Peace and NYU Students for Justice in Palestine — the two groups hoping to host Barghouti on Monday. A semester later, student government members, including President of JVP and CAS senior Rose Asaf, began efforts to get a resolution passed that she told WSN was explicitly part of the BDS movement. The resolution passed the Student Government Assembly in the fall and has since been revised to exclude mention of BDS, though it has maintained its broader ask for a socially responsible investment policy.

Asaf voiced her disapproval of Barghouti being denied entry via Twitter, and shared a petition that the greater JVP organization and the Arab American Institute plans to send to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

“It is an outrage that Omar Barghouti was denied entry into the United States,” Asaf said in a tweet on Thursday. “This was an intentional move to silence the movement for free Palestine and BDS. Please sign and share this petition to demand accountability and justice.”

In their letter, the two groups — JVP and AAI — demanded that the committees reinstate Barghouti’s ability to travel to the U.S. and investigate why he was denied entry in the first place. Since his denial, the NYU chapter of SJP has worked to ensure that Barghouti will be able to attend the event virtually. Professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University Marc Lamont Hill and Executive Director of the JVP organization Rebecca Vilkomerson are still expected to speak at Monday’s panel event.

In a public statement, SJP asked NYU to condemn Barghouti’s denial.

“NYU SJP calls on the administration of New York University to condemn this new instance of the U.S. government using immigration to curb free expression and debate,” the statement reads. “This issue is one of freedom of expression on college campuses nationwide, and we demand the NYU administration to rebuke Omar Barghouti’s denied entry.”

The university did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 15, 2019, print edition. Email Meghna Maharishi and Victor Porcelli at [email protected]

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