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September 24, 2012

Anti-Israel Teach-in Held During Occupy Wall Street “Free University Week”

A working group affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement held a teach-in over the weekend on advocating for and supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel. The group, known as the “Global Justice Working Group,” used the session to demonize Israel and to demonstrate how the pro-BDS agenda goes hand-in-hand with the goals of OWS.

A sign at the Occupy BDS teach-in New York

The event was held on Saturday, September 22, as part of an OWS-organized weeklong program in New York called “Free University Week.”

Speakers during the event condemned Israel as a “European settler movement” and Israeli policy as extremely oppressive. Riham Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and activist with Adalah-NY, a local pro-boycott group, described the situation for Palestinians as a “struggle of indigenous people against colonizing settler tactics.” Another speaker accused Israel of having “violated every article in the 4th Geneva Convention.” The speakers represented a variety of domestic anti-Israel groups, including Adalah-NY, Punks against Apartheid, New Yorkers against the Cornell-Technion Partnership and CODEPINK’s “Stolen Beauty” campaign, which calls for a boycott of AHAVA products.

The activists also repeatedly sought to demonstrate that  the goals of OWS and the BDS movement are interconnected. One OWS speaker, for example, warned the participants that Israel trains American law enforcement and equips police with weaponry and riot control tools. A representative of the Occupy Oakland movement then deliberately “connected the dots,” alleging that the “same type of tear gas being used against them [Occupy Oakland] is being used against the Palestinians.”

Saturday’s event represents the latest effort by anti-Israel activists to inject their cause into the now year-old OWS social protest movement. Up until now, these efforts – which included waving anti-Israel signs and chanting anti-Israel slogans at OWS demonstrations – were not officially sanctioned by OWS or any of its affiliated groups. In what could be a possible shift, the teach-in was sponsored by a group formally tied to OWS and was promoted on the official New York General Assembly website, which hosts content from “dozens of groups working together to organize and set the vision for the #occupywallstreet movement.

While one might imagine that a group called “Global Justice Working Group” would focus on a variety of issues of global injustice, the group seems to maintain a singular focus on criticizing Israel. Indeed, its Facebook page and website are regularly updated with anti-Israel content, including claims that Israeli checkpoints are a “tool of suppression” and calls for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to refuse to perform in Israel. [The concert was held as planned on September 10.]

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