After Being Denied US Entry, BDS Co-Founder Phones in at Jewish Voice for Peace Event

After being denied entry to the U.S., BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti virtually attended the event in Kimmel where he had originally planned to appear.

Jewish Voice for Peace demonstrators protest in front of the Ziegfeld Ballroom in April 2018. Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Excecutive Director of JVP, participated in tonight's panel discussion at NYU. (Photo by Sarah Jackson)

In light of active resistance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the U.S., activists discussed their support and experiences with the movement in an event at the Kimmel Center for University Life on Monday.

BDS supports putting economic pressure on Israel through sanctions and divestment from Israeli companies because of the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace hosted co-founder of the BDS movement Omar Barghouti, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill and JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson. CAS seniors Amanda Lawson and Leen Dweik moderated the event. WSN was not granted access to the event and reported on it using a JVP livestream.

Barghouti was supposed to speak at the event in person, but he had to phone in as a result of being denied entry to the U.S. on Wednesday. At the event, Barghouti said he felt his entry denial was ideologically and politically motivated, and due to the U.S.’s opposition to BDS.

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“[Israel] is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the U.S.,” Barghouti said.

Dweik spoke about the role of BDS at NYU. BDS has been a polarizing topic on campus, with some students supporting the boycott and others saying that support of the boycott makes them feel unsafe. In spring 2018, 50 clubs came out in support of BDS. Then, in December, the Student Government Assembly passed a resolution inspired by BDS that would have NYU divest from companies linked to human rights violations.

“I feel like here at NYU, we’ve really managed to showcase solidarity across groups,” Dweik said. “We formed a coalition of over 50 student clubs on campus and many faculty and various students in their individual capacities to vocally stand up and support BDS and the human rights of Palestinians. We passed a resolution, but there was a lot of general and institutional pushback.”

Vilkomerson touched on the scrutiny that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota — who also supports BDS — faced in response to her tweets about Israel in 2012. Omar said that Israel has “hypnotized the world,” which some people said played into anti-Semitic tropes.

“I think the tax on BDS, it’s sort of on two levels,” Vilkomerson said. “They’re trying to break the Palestine movement through silence and bullying and intimidation tactics, but they’re also trying to break the emerging left consensus and this new generation of young women and people of color who are leading to us that. That is why the heinous attacks on Ilhan Omar are very much a part of that.”

The panelists found criticisms of BDS as anti-Semitic to be unfounded and felt as if the criticisms detract from advocating for Palestinian rights. In November, when Hill was a CNN political commentator, he made comments at the U.N. in favor of Palestinians and used the phrase, “river to the sea,” which the Anti-Defamation League claimed was the same phrase Palestinian fundamentalist group Hamas uses to call for Israel’s destruction. Hill’s comments led to his firing at CNN and he said it put his tenure and professorship at risk at Temple University.

“There is an asterisk on everything from the Constitution to university guidelines to network contracts that says, ‘Except for Palestine,’” Hill said. “That exception, in many ways, determines how we talk and examine [the Israel-Palestine conflict]. The CNN firing was surprising, but what was more surprising was the university response. Temple, where I’m a full professor, was very committed, or certain people were, to taking away my tenure and finding a way to fire me.”

Vilkomerson discussed how witnessing apathy towards Palestinians while she lived in Tel Aviv motivated her to support BDS and noted how it took JVP six years to publicly endorse the boycott after she met with Barghouti in 2009. Vilkomerson has been associated with JVP since 2001 and became the Executive Director of JVP in 2009.

“That was the moment for me when I realized BDS could be an important tool,” Vilkomerson said. “Otherwise, the status quo would’ve stayed the same and there had to be some consequences so that people in Israel would feel that they had to change and couldn’t accept the way things were.”

Barghouti found inspiration to advocate for Palestinian rights in black anti-apartheid leaders in South Africa and meeting other anti-apartheid student activists when he was a student at Columbia University.

“I learned a lot about civil disobedience, I learned a lot about community activism, that liberation in South Africa was liberation for all of us,” Barghouti said. “When I was able to come back to [Palestine] with my wife, with our first child, I saw apartheid as very real, not as a theoretical aspect, I saw what occupation meant.”

Hill believed that the U.S.’s stance on Palestine has not changed under President Donald Trump’s administration, but that the administration serves as a way to emphasize U.S. policy towards Palestine.

“With regard to U.S. policy, let’s not paint Trump as the exception,” Hill said. “He is American foreign policy on steroids, but he is not different. Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is something every U.S. president has gestured to. We don’t want to romanticize Clinton, we don’t want to romanticize Obama.”

Despite the criticism BDS has faced in the U.S., including from the federal government, panelists advocated for BDS as a means to prioritize human rights and decolonization of Palestine.

“I think many oppressed communities do not have much of an imagination because their minds are colonized,” Barghouti said. “The issue of decolonizing the mind is more important than decolonizing the land.”

Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected]

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2 COMMENTS

  1. These Student groups all say that they’re only interested in Palestinian rights. Where were their voices when Syria cut off water and electricity several years ago to the largest refugee camp in the West Bank causing many deaths and much more sickness? Where were they when ISIS attacked that camp? Where are they when their brothers and sisters are jailed or executed (by Hamas) for criticizing their governments or for spending more time teaching them to kill Jews than to read and write. Since the war in 2014, Israel has sent in an estimated 5 BILLION, not million, tons of building supplies, food, clothing, medicine, etc. and yet according to world groups also trying to supply aid after the war, almost none has gone to the Gaza civilians. Hamas has rebuilt tunnels, restocked rockets, restocked the tunnels with food and water for the next war; made sure those tunnels have running water and electricity as do their military camps. A human rights group, never a friend of Israel’s, recently condemned the Abbas gov’t for silencing its critics (jail or death). Abbas unabashedly pays pensions to anyone who kills a Jew (Trump cut off Obama’s support for these payments but the Dems want to reinstate it). If you sell your land to a Jew, you are executed (dozens in 2018 according to the PA). Where are those liberal voices condemning such hatred and the total lack of civil rights for the Palestinians by their own leaders? NOWHERE.

    What the students at this University really support is the brave Palestinian freedom fighters who
    blew up a bus of schoolchildren;
    blew up a bus killing 37 incl. 18 children;
    blew up a bus of civilians heading to the beach;
    blew up a nightclub filled with young Israelis;
    blown Jewish, Christian and Muslim markets in Jerusalem;
    blown up a hotel where hundreds were celebrating Passover;
    shot up a university cafeteria;
    killed a mother of 6 in her kitchen;
    attacked a temple in Jerusalem;
    killed two parents after they watched their children being viciously killed;
    On and on and on. These students should be proud of the bravery they support.

    The PA has named hundreds of streets, schools, parks and government buildings after people who intentionally killed Jewish civilians in terror attacks. Imagine if someone donated money to build a beautiful new building at NYU but said it must be named after a great American hero like Dylan Roof. Real human beings would be mortified at the thought. Palestinians think things like that are the highest honor.

    The Palestinians set their rocket launchers and store weapons in people’s backyards, in Mosques, in schools, in hospitals and even next to UN buildings.

    Yes, the students at this University are real concerned with Palestinian rights. The only ones violating Palestinian rights are the PA and Hamas.

  2. One of the most diverse nations in the world is Israel. It is also the ONLY diverse nation in the Middle East and North Africa. It is the only nation in that region in which Jews, Christians and Muslims are all free to practice their religion 24/7. It is the only nation in that region in which Jews, Christians and Muslims are free to vote and run for any office. 20% of Israel’s citizens are Palestinian Muslim. 10% of the Legislature is Palestinian. Last year, more than 4 million people toured Israel. Only 300,000 were Jews. Israel is home to some of the world’s most holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims. ALL are welcome to come and visit and they do. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East and North Africa where gays and transgenders are safe. They can be jailed or killed in neighboring countries just for being gay. 200,000 show up every year in Tel Aviv for Gay Pride and 10,000s more in Jerusalem. Gays have served and risen in rank in the military for decades. No one thinks twice. Women have the same rights in Israel that they do in the US. No other country in the region can say that. Honor killing in those other countries is tolerated if not endorsed by the government (like the PA and Hamas). Israel is the only country in the world where more than 50% of its judges are women. There are more Muslim women in the Israeli Parliament than in the Legislatures of all the other countries in the Middle East combined.
    4 years ago, a Palestinian young woman was valedictorian at Israel’s top med school. A Palestinian Muslim man is the dean at Israel’s top law school. A Muslim heads the military’s medical corps.
    Why is Israel, a nation of 9 million people, one of the only nations on the planet that can match the US, a nation of 350 million people, in the tech and medical fields? Israel puts a premium on freedom and education. When it comes to aiding countries struck by natural disasters or disease or in supplying food and fresh, clean water to countries in need (many in Africa), why do Israel and the US lead the way? Freedom of ideas. The highest standard of education and living for Palestinians anywhere is in Israel. There are more Palestinian tech start ups in Israel than in any other country in the world.
    More and more countries in the Middle East have figured it out. Israel is not the enemy and never really has been. The problem is the Palestinians refusal to make peace. Both Arafat and Abbas were offered the land they wanted with a capital in East Jerusalem and tens of billions in aid but refused peace because they did not want to be assassinated like Anwar Sadat. Israel has tech, energy, food and other business agreements with many Islamic nations in the region. Despite, liberal attempts to boycott goods and ideas from Israel, Israel’s economy is soaring because of its hugely growing business dealings with these Mid East countries, with India, China and of course, the US. Liberals like to think that their conscience guides their anti semitic hatred of Israel but they use Israeli products on a daily basis because it benefits them to do so. Israeli technology can be found in every digital phone, tablet and laptop.
    7-8% of Israel’s Jews are black, mostly of Ethiopian descent. Tens of thousands were rescued by the Israeli government in the mid to late 80s from Sudan and Ethiopia (Project Moses and Project Solomon) where they were being starved to death. Some black Christians have found a haven in Israel from the nearly daily attacks on black Christian churches and villages throughout Africa by Islamic terror groups. Millions have died or have been enslaved and women assaulted by these terror groups.

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