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OMAR BARGHOUTI has warned of the wider threat to human rights and justice movements if the British government’s BDS ban is passed.
Mr Barghouti, who co-founded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said yesterday that the ban would not only suppress Palestinian rights advocacy but activism for the climate, LGBT+ rights and economic justice.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed last month that his government will move to ban public bodies from boycotting Israel and other oppressive regimes.
Speaking at an anti-racism event at King’s College London, Mr Barghouti compared the proposed legislation to Margaret Thatcher’s ban on local councils’ ability to boycott apartheid South Africa.
“Let’s be clear, if they succeed in suppressing advocacy for Palestinian rights, no other justice movement will be safe,” the human rights activist warned.
If the legislation is passed, public bodies including universities will not be allowed to boycott products or divest from companies on ethical grounds — including from fossil fuels.
The proposed ban is the latest case of “lawfare” to silence and delegitimise the non-violent grassroots movement which calls for economic and cultural boycotts of Israel.
It follows similar bans in 27 US states and a motion passed by Germany last year to recognise the movement as anti-semitic under pressure from Israel.
But Mr Barghouti pointed out the hypocrisy of Israel’s charges of anti-semitism against BDS, highlighting the country’s cosy relations with anti-semitic European leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“Israel is in no position to throw around false accusations of anti-semitism,” he told the crowd at King’s.
“Its fraudulent anti-semitic smears against human rights defenders in the anti-racist BDS movement in particular sound as credible as Donald Trump’s environmental protections or Boris Johnson’s promises not to sell off the NHS after Brexit.”
Mr Barghouti, who lives in Israel, has also been personally targeted by the powerful campaign to delegitimise BDS.
Israel’s far-right Likud party is currently leading a campaign to revoke his citizenship. Last year he was denied entry to the US — and later to Britain — despite having the required travel documents.
A group of about 25 members from the Israeli society at King’s heckled Mr Barghouti and waved an Israeli flag.
He spoke alongside a panel of human rights advocates including rapper Lowkey, NUS black students’ officer Fope Olaleye and journalist Dan Glass.
The event, “Forming an anti-racism front,” which was co-hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and KCL Action Palestine society, also explored the threat to boycott movements on campus.
PSC campaigns officer Huda Ammori noted the millions of pounds British universities are funnelling into companies complicit in Israeli apartheid.
“As Palestinian students, we are paying tuition fees towards these institutions that are going towards the oppression of Palestinian people,” she said.
“So how can any university claim to be diverse and claim to have values against racism when they are investing in companies involved with the racist oppression of Palestinians?”
Ms Olaleye linked the struggle of the Palestinian people with global struggles against injustice.
She said: “It was never a question for me about why should we care about the Palestinian people, or why should we care about BDS. Because my freedoms are intrinsically tied to the freedom of the world.”
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