Biden administration: Where do BDS and B'Tselem fit in?

One pro-Palestinian group appears to have benefited from an Israeli NGO without directly asking for its help.

THE HIZMA checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
THE HIZMA checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Regional leaders have known for some time that the best way to politically reach American officials is through Israel. The United Arab Emirates wanting to buy F-35 fighter jets realized that they needed the Israeli help, Sudan wanting to be removed from the terror list had to turn to Tel Aviv and Morocco badly needing America to recognize Western Sahara as sovereign Moroccan territory realized that they had no choice but to seek the help of the Israeli prime minister.
One pro-Palestinian group appears to have benefited from an Israeli NGO without directly asking for its help.
The leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, issued a report entitled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.” The report describes the area under Israel’s control as a single political entity that must be held accountable for its human rights record. “One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government,” B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad was quoted by the Associated Press. “This is not democracy plus occupation. This is apartheid between the river and the sea.”
The January 12 report was widely published in English around the world, but didn’t see the light in Israel’s Hebrew language publications, a signal of the concern that it could cause major domestic political injury to a polarized Israeli public that is due to hold the fourth elections in two years.
This was not the first time that Palestine and Israel have been mentioned geographically in the same sentence. In 2018, a CNN analyst Marc Lamon Hill lost his job for six words in which he referred to the river to sea phrase during a speech at the UN. Peter Beinart also made waves when he argued the need for a comprehensive bi-national solution that ignores the green line.
YEARS EARLIER, during the First Intifada, Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh said that Palestinians and Israelis must agree to either share the power or share the land. You either divorce us or marry us, is the phrase he often used in this regard. Even Donald Trump in his first days in office said that Palestinians and Israelis need to agree to either two states or one state.
But the well-documented report will have an important impact on attempts to discredit pro-Palestinian nonviolent protests around the world, and especially in the US. Israel and its apologists, as well as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, have repeatedly attacked the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as being antisemitic because it erases that line between Israel on the one hand and the West Bank and Gaza on the other hand. BDS leaders have repeatedly argued that the policy in the occupied territories can’t be separated from that of the State of Israel, which has ruled the area. BDS leaders were slammed for not taking a stand of either the two-state Palestine and Israel solution or the one state equal rights to all citizens solution. BDS supporters have been tarnished as antisemitic because it was argued that this position implies that they don’t recognize Israel, something that they vehemently deny. Pro-Israel groups and lobbies have introduced legislation both on the national and state levels, aimed to criminalize the BDS movement and denying Americans the constitutional right of expressing themselves, including by means of a nonviolent protest.
The B’Tselem report’s most damming conclusion is that Israel is continuously committing the war crime of apartheid. While a military occupation is abhorrent, it is not considered a war crime by international humanitarian law. For example, moving citizens of an occupied country to the occupied areas or moving prisoners from the occupied area to prisons in the occupying country is a violation of the IV Geneva Convention. Israel had initially refused to vaccinate Palestinians imprisoned inside Israel. But B’Tselem goes a step further and bunches all Israeli crimes in the territories as falling under the crime of apartheid, which has been declared a war crime in the aftermath of the south African protests.
The report by a well-respected Israeli human rights organization totally debunks continuous efforts in America and some other countries to delegitimize the nonviolent calls by BDS and others to punish Israel economically and morally for its failure to end its policies the disenfranchise millions of Palestinians and deny them their political rights, including the right of self-determination.
The Israeli elections due March 23 have so far avoided any discussion of the status of the territories. All major parties are divided between supporting or opposing the continued premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been charged with multiple counts of corruption.
But the report by B’Tselem comes at the time that the Biden administration is due to be sworn in and has telegraphed that it will give high priority to human rights in its foreign policy decisions. While many expect this position to apply to authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, and the Philippines, the B’Tselem report indicates that to be consistent, the Biden administration will also need to hold Israel responsible for the major crime of apartheid in the way it is handling Palestinians under its military rule.
The writer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter @daoudkuttab.