Reprinted from Mondoweiss
Israel's large Palestinian minority held its first-ever conference on BDS -- boycott, divestment and sanctions -- this past weekend in spite of anti-boycott legislation introduced five years ago that exposes activists in Israel to harsh financial penalties.
One participant called it a sign that the Palestinian minority was slowly emerging from the law's "reign of terror."
The dangers of promoting BDS inside Israel were highlighted by the difficulties of finding a venue. A private cinema in Nazareth agreed to host the event after several public venues in Haifa backed out, apparently fearful that they risked being punished by the Israeli government.
The question of how feasible it is for Israel's 1.6 million Palestinian citizens to promote BDS was high on the conference agenda, with speakers addressing issues of legality and strategy.
In a sign of a tentative shift towards political support for BDS by the Palestinian leadership in Israel, the opening statement was made by Mohammed Barakeh, head of the High Follow-Up Committee, an umbrella body representing all the political factions.
Barakeh said BDS was "an important form of solidarity with Palestinians" and was causing increasing panic among the Israeli leadership.
He said there was a link between "support for BDS and our survival in the current conditions" of rising Israeli racism, the killing of Palestinians by security forces, the expansion of the settlements and entrenchment of the occupation.
He noted arguments, echoing those of apartheid's supporters in South Africa, that BDS would chiefly hurt Palestinian workers. "The anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa had a simple retort: 'Apartheid hurts us more.'"
Barakeh admitted BDS posed unique problems for Palestinians in Israel. "We cannot boycott everything. We need schools, passports, social security. We have the right to be citizens and live in our homeland."Legal threats
The conference -- titled "BDS and '48 Palestinians: Between International Influences and Local Contexts" -- had been a long time in the making.
In 2009 Israel's Palestinian political factions set up a working group called the Boycott Committee '48 -- in reference to the Palestinians who managed to remain on their lands in 1948 and eventually became Israel citizens -- to examine the issue of support for BDS.
The law exposed anyone inside Israel calling for a boycott, even of the settlements, to potential bankruptcy in Israel's civil courts. Companies, Israeli citizens and settlers were entitled to claim unlimited damages.
The conference had been made possible now, organizers conceded, because last year the supreme court, while rejecting an appeal against the law, placed limits on how vigorously it could be applied.
The event was sponsored by three groups: the Boycott Committee '48; Mitharkeen, a direct-action movement comprising Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; and Hirak Haifa, a youth group based in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.