Despite Entry Ban, Activist Omar Barghouti Speaks to DC Audience


Peter Beinart (l) and Omar Barghouti (on the screen)  discuss the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. (Staff photo S. Tayeb).

The day before Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, was set to begin a speaking tour in the U.S., he was notified by authorities at Ben Gurion Airport that he would not be allowed to board his flight to the United States. Told it was an immigration matter, the order came from the U.S. consulate in Tel Aviv via U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His denial of entry came despite Barghouti holding a U.S. visa valid through January 2021.

On April 11, Barghouti was scheduled to speak at an event co-hosted by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and New York University (NYU) at NYU’s Washington, DC campus. AAI President James Zogby called Barghouti’s entry denial not just a violation of his rights, but also a “clear violation of our rights as American citizens.” He went on to say that “our regressive, discriminatory immigration laws are an impediment to free speech” and that AAI would be exploring legal options to allow Barghouti into the country.

Barghouti appeared at the event via Skype with NYU professor Peter Beinart, who stated that he was not in support of the BDS movement and challenged Barghouti on his pro-BDS stance.

When pressed by Beinart about his personal views on violence, Barghouti reiterated his, and the BDS movement’s, commitment to nonviolence. While highlighting Palestinians’ right to resist under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Barghouti stated that the movement does not take a stance on legitimizing violence of any kind. Instead, the movement seeks ways to end all violence. “To end all violence we must end the root cause of violence, that is occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid,” Barghouti said.

Beinart asked whether or not the BDS movement has failed in its goals of isolating Israel since the country presently enjoys close relations with the leaders of the U.S., Brazil, India, the Arab Gulf States, Eastern Europe, and several African countries. Noting that the governments Beinart mentioned all have far-right nationalist or authoritarian leaders, Barghouti responded by saying that “no Israeli should be comfortable with the fact that Israel has [now] become the poster boy for the far-right under Trump’s leadership.”

Citing a Likud Knesset member, Barghouti went on to say that the paradigm in Israel has shifted to where it is now acceptable for world leaders to be anti-Semitic, as long as they support Israeli policies and actions. Barghouti said that while Israel is winning the far-right, it is losing its moral stature around the world—including with Jewish millennials, who cannot reconcile their liberal values with what Israel is doing today vis-à-vis Palestinians.

Looking internally at the BDS movement, Barghouti was asked why the movement does not take a stance on a political settlement (one-state vs. two-state solution) to the conflict. Stating that taking such a position is beyond their mandate as a human rights organization, he said the movement focuses on highlighting Israel’s oppression in the hopes that international awareness and action will help bring about Palestinian self-determination and a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

During the question-and-answer session, the Washington Report asked Barghouti for the BDS movement’s response to Arab Gulf normalization with Israel, as well as anti-BDS legislation in the U.S. Barghouti responded by saying that while relations between Israel and Arab Gulf regimes are making headway, these closer relations do not resonate with the people of these countries. Citing statistics from 2018, he stated that the question of Palestine is still the leading issue for the majority of citizens in the Gulf States, and thus until Israel ends its oppression of Palestinians there can be no complete normalization of relations with Israel by these states.

Furthermore, he said he was horrified by the number of lies and fabrications found in BDS legislation in the U.S. “How can the United States, with its proud heritage of respecting boycotts as a matter of freedom of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution, accept this McCarthyism?” he questioned. He added that, “when states pass anti-BDS legislation, they’re not betraying Palestinian rights only, they’re betraying the U.S. Constitution, they’re betraying your civil rights, and no one is safe.” If they get away with [doing] this, who knows who’s next?” he said.

After the event, Barghouti released a statement regarding his entry denial:

“This U.S. entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality. Israel is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing; it is increasingly outsourcing its outrageous, McCarthyite repression to the U.S. and to xenophobic, far-right cohorts across the world.”

During his trip to the U.S., Barghouti was also scheduled to attend his daughter’s wedding.

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