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August 11, 2016

Tunisian BDS Conference Raises Questions About Qatari Involvement

On August 4th, the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) launched a three-day academic conference in Tunisia titled “Boycott as a Strategy to Counter Israel’s Occupation and Apartheid: Present-day Realities and Aspirations.” The conference served as a reminder of BDS activists’ efforts to expand their agenda and further their goal of delegitimizing the state of Israel, but also illuminated potential rifts within the movement.

Panelists at the BDS conference in Tunisia

Panelists at the BDS conference in Tunisia

While ACRPS claims to be an independent research institute, it appears to have strong ties to the Qatari government. This could suggest that individuals closely affiliated to the Qatari government may be interested in playing a bigger role in advancing the BDS movement.

ACRPS registration documents list Sultan Ghanim Al Kuwari, a prominent Qatari businessman, as the founder of the Center. Reportedly, Al Kuwari, who is closely affiliated with Qatar’s royal family, is also listed as the director of several Qatari international media outlets. He is also described as the person in charge of extending the reach of the Qatari soft diplomatic power under the leadership of the Emir of Qatar. Furthermore, reports from previous ACRPS events present the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani as a regular guest of honor at many of the group’s events.

The Qatari connection could raise the hackles of BDS activists who are skeptical of Qatar’s foreign policy positions, and are concerned that the country’s involvement would transform the grassroots movement into a ‘state branding’ project. On the first day of the conference, members of the Tunisian BDS chapter disrupted the session and protested against what they consider as the Qatari government’s connection. They also protested against the director of the ACRPS, Azmi Beshara, because he served as a member of the Israeli Knesset in the past, which the activists consider as an act of treason. An earlier statement on the official Facebook page of the Tunisian chapter of the BDS movement called fora boycott of the conference because the ACRPS and the conference itself “are sponsored by the Qatari government” which, according to the Tunisian chapter, is “one of the Arab governments most active in normalization with Israel.”

This BDS conference was built on a series of previous events hosted by the ACRPS and focused on questions about the objectives of the BDS movement and the role of the Arab states, émigré communities, and Palestinians. One speaker, Osama Abu Irshaid, the National Policy Director of American Muslims for Palestine, said “it is a must to transform the BDS movement into a system and a framework that will go beyond only boycotting corporations that support Israel to the de-legitimization of Israel as well.” ACRPS issued a paper supporting Irshaid’s goals.

Other speakers at the conference included Max Blumenthal, a prominent anti-Israel blogger, Peter Slezak, the co- founder of the Australian-based Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and Richard Falk, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

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August 5, 2016

Eyes on The Prize: In Pursuit of Racial Justice, Stick to the Facts and Avoid the Fiction

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Black Lives Matter

Earlier this week, a collective of more than 50 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) released a detailed platform, A Vision for Black Lives, Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice. There are other groups associated with BLM who have not signed onto the Platform and offered different approaches. Nonetheless, the Platform is bold and provocative in its demands. It pointedly rejects many racial equality approaches tried over the past four decades. Instead, the document proposes a transformational policy frame for many ideas that previously have been articulated by activists, scholars and writers like Bryan StevensonMichelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We do not agree with many of the specific demands of the Platform, but the document appropriately highlights the need to address mass incarceration and a wide range of racial inequities and socio-economic issues facing African Americans today. Beyond hand-wringing and soul-searching, the Platform proposes a number of specific legal, administrative, and legislative remedies to address identified challenges.

We appreciate these points because the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is deeply committed to addressing many of these issues, too. ADL’s longtime dedication to fighting bigotry in all forms includes building a just society where fair and equal treatment is guaranteed for all. Along with coalition partners, we are tackling critical civil rights issues such as ending racial profiling, addressing educational equity and economic inequalities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming our criminal justice system.

This work is not new. For decades, we have been working closely with our civil rights partners in the hard fight to advance a shared agenda of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity through leadership work in education, legislation, and litigation. Where possible, we want to engage with a range of activists to achieve these goals.

But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.

Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as “genocide.” And the Platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.

We strongly disagree with the Platform’s erroneous broad-brush conflating of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with civil and human rights abuses discussed in the document. Although Israel is far from a principal focal point in the more than 40,000-word document, it’s the irresponsible and completely over-the-top references to the Jewish state — as well as later gross mischaracterizations of Israel as “an apartheid state,” and calls for support of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) that alienate us and bear little resemblance to reality. These points are wrong on the facts and offensive in tone. Importantly, for ADL and many in the Jewish community, such false characterizations and misguided calls to action distract us from the task of addressing other, critically-important justice and equality priorities.

So let’s work to keep our eyes on the prize.

In the past few weeks, we have seen significant progress in pushing back against state voter suppression laws and advancing criminal justice reforms. The Justice Department is appropriately highlighting the need to address the criminalization of povertyThe President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is actively promoting many worthwhile ideas to increase police accountability and enhance police-community relations.

The vital issues of racial justice we are confronting now — and the need to directly combat extremism, hate violence, immigrant bashing, and stereotyping — require sustained commitments. They necessitate a disciplined, relentless focus. They demand clear-headed, fact based approaches.

We cannot walk away. We cannot be distracted or dispirited. Those of us committed to justice cannot afford to stray from addressing the very real injustices facing our communities.

We are committed to doing just that.

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March 10, 2016

The Economic Costs Of Boycotting Israel: An Arab Perspective

Anti-Israel activists have often argued that the goal of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign is to encourage Israelis to think critically about the “economic cost of the Occupation,” but a recent article published by Al-Hayat, one of the leading daily pan-Arab newspapers, may be challenging them to consider thinking about the costs some Arabs endure as a result of calls to resist normal relations with Israel.al hayat

“Resisting Normalization [with Israel] in Jordan adds economic losses to the defeat” by Jordanian journalist Ibrahim Gharaiba, which appeared on the international edition of Al-Hayat on March 7, offers a realistic picture of the real price Jordanians are paying as a result of calls to boycott Israel.

According to Gharaiba, the Israel–Jordan peace treaty, known as Wadi Araba, could have transformed the status of war between the two counties into great economic and development opportunities for Jordan. “Israel, which its status has changed into a non-enemy country is located at the same geographic region as Jordan, and it has an advanced economy which achieves very high levels of human development.”

This Israeli success story, according to the article, is focused around areas with strategic importance for Jordan, such as water desalination and agriculture.

“Jordan, which suffered a military defeated in 1967 and regional crises creating a refugee proportion close to 70 percent of the population, is also plagued by bizarre political trends working against its best interest in a puzzling way. [This political trend] turned work in Israel, export to and import from it, and training and technical cooperation with it into something taboo.”

Israeli goods burned as part of the BDS activities in the Arab world

Israeli goods (and goods perceived as Israeli) burned as part of the BDS activities in the Arab world

The author also defends his fellow Jordanian citizens who seek work opportunities in Israel against attempts to criminalize their actions. “Citizens who work in Israel are trying to preserve their [human] dignity, especially as the unemployment rate [in Jordan] is too high.”  Gharaiba also responds against those who label cooperation with Israel as “treason” by offering a paradoxical realistic definition: “Treason is when a government abandons the interests and economic opportunities of its people.”

The article compares the consequences of such political rhetoric about boycotting Israel with the situation in 1967 when Jordan joined several other Arab countries in attacking Israel. Many in the Arab world remember the political rhetoric in these years, which rejected any compromise with Israel. According to the author, today’s calls to boycott Israel would add an economic defeat to the military defeat of the Six Day War.

Gharaibah is not the only one in the Arab world who emphasizes the economic hardships that are shaping the future of the Arab world. A number of Arab intellectuals have challenged attempts to mask the role of economic conditions in triggering frustrations of the Arab youth.

While many who support the BDS movement may be motivated by what they believe to be the human rights agenda of its leaders, they often choose to disregard realities on the ground when it comes to the real burden endured by the average Arab citizen. This article is a sobering reminder that the BDS movement’s rhetoric is disconnected  from the reality of the citizens of Jordan and potentially others in the Arab world, many of whom are in serious need of the economic benefits that could come from further cooperation with Israel.

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