International BDS Movement Challenges Israel’s New Ultranationalist, Far Right Government

Interview with Ofer Neiman, a member of the Israeli group Boycott from Within, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

As the most extreme, ultranationalist far-right government in Israel’s history took power in the new year, two groups inside Israel that support Palestinian rights were joined by progressive Jewish organizations in the U.S., Germany, the U.K., South Africa, Australia, France, Ireland and Canada to issue an open letter denouncing the new government. Headlined, “Fascism strengthens Israeli apartheid – The masks are off with the far-right movement in the Israeli government,” the letter stated, “…We do not draw a line between the old and the new. Successive Israeli governments have never created a state for all of its inhabitants and citizens. The Palestinian people have always been excluded – diminished and considered ‘infiltrators’ and strangers in their land since 1948.”

The letter called for support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent campaign initiated by Palestinian civil society groups advocating for Palestinians’ right of return to their lands;  the safeguarding of the lives of Israeli Jews who resist the targeting of Palestinians, and the protection of all LGBTQ+ individuals whose rights are already being targeted by the far-right movement.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ofer Neiman, a Jewish Israeli citizen and member of the group Boycott from Within, one of the signatories to the letter, that represents Israelis who support the BDS movement. Here he talks about the importance of that campaign and why the new extremist government may actually weaken support for the occupation and Israeli apartheid.

OFER NEIMAN: Our role as Israeli citizens is to first and foremost legitimize the campaign. To tell the world that there are some Israeli citizens who support this campaign. Unfortunately, as a whole, opposition to occupation and apartheid within Israel is not strong enough, so we cannot simply end apartheid directly for now through the Israeli Parliament or demonstrations. But we can – those of us who are a minority who support Palestinian rights – we can tell the world that this is something to support.

MELINDA TUHUS: Ofer Neiman, you’ve talked about how past Israeli governments have been extremely repressive of the Palestinians and opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state.

So, do you think maybe this extreme right-wing government might actually open a space for both Palestinians and Israelis like yourselves who support the Palestinians? I was thinking you would be more repressed and it would be hard to even run your organization within Israel. You don’t think that’s going to be the case?

OFER NEIMAN: If anything, perhaps this government is going to make opposition to Israeli policies a little easier, especially in the U.S.. One example is Israel’s liberal supporters in the U.S., they are now hard-pressed to come up with good reasons to stand behind the Israeli government. There’s also a lot of homophobia coming from senior figures in this Israeli government.

So, this whole idea of trying to promote Israel as this cool, hip democracy which everybody should like because it’s a tolerant, liberal place, this marketing campaign becomes harder with this new government. So, opposition to Israel’s occupation and apartheid may become stronger now and opposing Israel’s policies may be easier.

Regarding our status as Israeli dissidents, there’s an ongoing process of trying to restrict our freedom, but overall, we’re still quite privileged.

We have free speech here. For example, I could say Netanyahu is a war criminal and no one will arrest me. Palestinians don’t have that free speech.

Whether this government will try to clamp down on Jewish Israeli dissidents, I’m not so sure. I think they want to be careful because there is a fairly wide coalition of Jewish Israelis, including those who are not necessarily opposed to the occupation, who are already lining up against this government, for example, based on these homophobic statements.

Netanyahu already has too much on his plate from this perspective, trying to market this new government as a government that is reasonable, not a government of fundamentalists. So, for us, for Jewish Israeli dissidents here, I don’t think things are going to worsen all that much.

For Palestinians, things are not going to get better, but hopefully more and more people across the world, especially in the U.S., will realize what’s going on here and we’ll see stronger opposition.

Obviously, supporting the BDS campaign is crucial, especially in the U.S. Another ongoing campaign is the campaign against the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. IHRA means International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

And this is a very disturbing definition of anti-Semitism. And again, of course, it is very important to counter anti-Semitism and overall, anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise in the U.S., mostly from the circles of white nationalism and the MAGA and Q-Anon crowd.

It’s very important to counter that, but this IHRA definition of anti-Semitism seeks to silence criticism of Israel. According to the examples attached to this definition, saying that Israel is a racist endeavor amounts to anti-Semitism. This is something we are unwilling to accept.

Our own universal principles and values of human rights and our Jewish heritage have led us to this campaign to end occupation and apartheid here. And we do feel that Israel overall is a racist endeavor; it’s an apartheid state.

How dare they try to silence people, including us, who are calling Israel out on these racist policies. And this will be a very prominent campaign in 2023.

Learn more about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign by visiting Boycott From Within Israel at boycottisrael.info, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement at bdsmovement.net and The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions at icahd.org.

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