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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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June 7, 2012

Anti-Israel Group Increases Outreach to High School Students

American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a Chicago-based anti-Israel organization, is planning to host a joint conference on “Palestine activism” with the High School Muslim Student Association of Southern California (HSMSA), an inter-high school network of Muslim student organizations.

The conference is scheduled to take place on June 24 at the University of California, Irvine, a center for virulently anti-Israel campus activity in recent years. It is part of AMP’s 7th annual campaign to commemorate the “Nakba,” an Arabic term that means “catastrophe” and is used by Palestinians and their supporters to describe Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

AMP organizers say the conference is designed to help “train high school, college, and non-student activists on issues pertinent to Palestine activism.” The list of speakers invited to “educate” students on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include several anti-Israel activists known for their use of rhetoric to delegitimize Israel.

Speakers include Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada blog; Taher Herzallah, AMP’s National Campus Coordinator and one of the 11 students arrested for shouting down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during a 2010 speech at UC Irvine; and Osama Abu Irshaid, an AMP board member who has previously expressed support for Hezbollah and conspiratorially alleged that the U.S. government makes decisions based on the “influential Jewish community.”

AMP targeted high school students earlier this year when it held its first high school training session in Villa Park, Illinois. The workshop was similarly organized to the upcoming conference at UC Irvine and included workshops on subjects such as the Islamic significance of Palestine, activism, and how to utilize the media.

This year’s AMP Nakba campaign consists primarily of educational and training sessions designed to “raise awareness about the occupation” and to “help bring justice and liberty to the Holy Land.” These events will be held throughout the month of June across the Southern California region, which include the cities of Hawthorne, Corona-Narco, Anaheim, Temecula, and Lomita.

AMP has increasingly made an effort to engage in facilitating student activism on college campuses and high schools nationwide. The importance of encouraging AMP’s presence among students was the central theme of the organization’s 2011 national conference, where a number of sessions were dedicated to how students can discuss the issue of Palestine in schools and on campuses. AMP’s concerted effort to engage with students has led to increased collaboration with on campus anti-Israel groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

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