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I was stopped from speaking out against Israel’s crimes – Britain’s complicity in Palestinian repression must end

My visa wasn't issued in time to allow me to talk at Labour Party conference. There have always been attempts to muzzle our voices, and to break our spirits and bodies, but wherever we live, at home or in exile, Palestinians remain steadfast

Omar Barghouti
Monday 23 September 2019 11:40 BST
The British government prevented me from being in the UK to speak yesterday, but they have failed to silence me
The British government prevented me from being in the UK to speak yesterday, but they have failed to silence me (AFP/Getty)

I was set to take part in a Labour Party conference fringe event this weekend talking about my work advocating for Palestinian rights – but was unable to travel to Brighton because of a peculiar delay in the processing of my UK visa application. I suspect that Israel’s far-right government has once again outsourced its desperate war of repression against those supporting Palestinian rights to another western government.

I was invited to two different events, organised by the National Education Union, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Momentum-aligned fringe event The World Transformed, to speak about the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and our nonviolent resistance to Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

I was planning to expose the deepening complicity of the British government, corporations and institutions, in enabling Israel’s brutal system of oppression, while highlighting how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – a non-violent tactic against the occupation – has become a significant partner in a growing international progressive wave fighting the global far-right led by Trump.

Yet the space in which advocates of Palestinian rights can – without persecution – expose decades of Palestinian dispossession, forcible displacement and daily humiliation by a settler-colonial regime is shrinking rapidly.

After a charity event in Tower Hamlets advocating for Palestinian rights was blocked by the council, keenly aware of this shrinking space and expanding repression by public institutions in the UK, Palestinian figures wrote, “The rights of all British citizens to accurately describe, inform and convey the reality of ongoing Palestinian dispossession, and to call for action to resist these illegalities, belongs in the public space. All public bodies have an obligation to protect and defend these rights, to maintain democracy.”

The clearest case of this rising suppression of freedom of expression is the collusion of western establishments in Israel’s desperate war to delegitimise the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.

In May, the German Bundestag passed a resolution smearing BDS as “antisemitic”. More than 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars, including authorities on antisemitism and history of the Holocaust, condemned the “deceitful” resolution, saying it did nothing to “advance the urgent fight against antisemitism” and ignored the BDS movement’s explicit condemnation of “all forms of racism, including antisemitism”.

Daniel Blatman, a prominent Israeli Holocaust era historian and chief historian of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, was even more blunt. He wrote, "That is how a country where antisemitism was a political tool that contributed to the rise of the Nazis' murderous enterprise became a country that promotes distortion of anti-Semitism as a tool to facilitate the political persecution of a nonviolent [BDS] movement that fights the occupation, the oppression of the Palestinians and the war crimes Israel perpetrates in the territories".

In the UK, communities secretary Robert Jenrick promised days ago to go after local authorities that adopt BDS-related measures that aim to end complicity with corporations implicated in violating Palestinian human rights, again citing antisemitism.

At the root of these and similarly weaponised claims of antisemitism is a desperate attempt to promote a new, anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism that “serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law”, as stated last year by more than 40 international Jewish groups.

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Dozens of UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have also denounced this new definition as a thinly veiled attempt “to silence a public discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948, when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled”.

In spite of this political persecution, our inclusive BDS movement is growing substantially - its impact is multiplying rapidly through building principled and intersectional alliances with global movements fighting for racial, indigenous, social, economic, gender and climate justice. As Angela Davis always reminds us: justice is indivisible.

Just last week, the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), representing millions of working people, voted for ending military trade with Israel and to pressure corporations to end complicity in its violations of Palestinian rights. In its conference last year, the Labour Party adopted a freeze of arms sales to Israel. Unite the Union, voted in June to boycott HP-branded companies over their involvement in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

These and many other expressions of support for Palestinian rights give us hope and inspire us to continue our march to liberation. There have always been attempts to muzzle our voices, and to break our spirits and bodies, but wherever we live, at home or in exile, Palestinians remain steadfast in our commitment to fight not only McCarthyism and repression but apartheid and settler-colonialism. We will persist in the pursuit of our UN-stipulated rights, including self-determination, and the return of our people made refugees through ethnic cleansing.

They prevented me from being in the UK to speak yesterday, but they have failed to silence me. I spoke via video about my people’s tireless struggle for our rights and about the legal and ethical necessity to end UK complicity in maintaining Israel’s denial of those rights.

They fear our shining a light of truth that reveals their lies. They dread our tireless quest for justice. They loathe our love for freedom and our insistence on nothing less than an existence with dignity and "the full menu of rights", to borrow from South African leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Omar Barghouti is a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights

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