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Omar Barghouti speaks about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

By Fiona Lockyer
On May 3, 2011

  • The Palestinian leader of the BDS movement compared modern-day Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. Maya Shemtov

On April 13, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace sponsored Omar Barghouti, an independent Palestinian commentator and human rights activist, to speak about the history and the reasoning behind his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which draws strong ties between modern-day Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. Barghouti, who recently published a book titled Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, is a founder of the Palestinian BDS movement, according to his biography.

Prior to the start of his book tour, Barghouti had been denied a United States visa from Jerusalem for an undisclosed reason. In March he was granted a visa for entry and began to give lectures in the U.S. on the BDS movement, the subject of his latest book.

Barghouti spoke about his goal to "force" Israel to abide by international law through the use of BDS and ending "the system of racial discrimination in Israel" in which people living within the country are divided between being Israeli by nationality and by citizenship.

"In Israel if you're a citizen, you're not necessarily a national, to be a national you have to be Jewish, because Israel does not define itself as a state of citizens." Barghouti explained. "It's the only country on Earth that does not define itself as a state of its citizens; it is the state of the Jewish people."

Some students wore neon shirts that read "I support Israel because..." on the front and listed reasons on the back and challenged Barghouti with questions after the event, asking questions such as why he chose to attend an Israeli university and whether he would call for an end to BDS if Israel ended occupation in the West Bank.

To the first question, he responded, "when you are under a system of oppression, you don't have a moral choice" to choose another university, explaining that his desire to remain in his homeland necessitated going to the University of Tel Aviv.

To the second question, he responded that BDS will not stop until all three goals of the movement are reached: ending Israel's 1967 occupation, ending Israel's system of racial discrimination inside of Israel and establishing a right to return for Palestinian refugees.

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