From Consortium News
On March 19, Israeli tax officials arrested Omar Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Omar and his wife Safa, an Israeli citizen, were detained for 16 hours and have been subjected to daily interrogation sessions.
Barghouti's arrest is indirect evidence of the growing strength of the BDS movement, a worldwide non-violent challenge to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, a protest campaign that the Israeli government has identified as an existential threat to Israel.
Israel is particularly sensitive in light of the new United Nations report concluding that it has established an "apartheid regime" and recommending that national governments support BDS activities to challenge Israel's illegal system of oppression of the Palestinians. The report was co-authored by Richard Falk, an international law expert and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, "We will defend ourselves against slander and boycotts."
Barghouti wrote in the New York Times, "Having lost many battles for hearts and minds at the grass-roots level, Israel has adopted since 2014 a new strategy to criminalize support for BDS from the top" in order to "shield Israel from accountability."
Last year, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs established a "tarnishing unit" to tarnish the reputation of BDS human rights defenders and networks.
According to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, the "inflammatory fabrications" against Omar Barghouti constitute the "latest chapter of repression and intimidation" against him. For years, various arms of the far-right Israeli government have subjected Barghouti to intense threats, intimidation and repression.
The investigation of Barghouti is part of Israel's "systematic efforts to criminalize the BDS movement, intimidate activists and stop free speech," the Committee said.
"After failing to intimidate them through the threat of revoking Omar's permanent residence in Israel, and after the effective travel ban imposed on him proved futile in stopping his human rights work," the Committee stated, "the Israeli government has resorted to fabricating a case related to Omar's alleged income outside of Israel to tarnish his image and intimidate him."
The latest travel ban against Barghouti, imposed in connection with the investigation, coincidentally comes shortly before he is scheduled to travel to the United States to accept the Gandhi Peace Award, along with Ralph Nader, at Yale University.
In addition to the travel ban on Barghouti, top Israeli officials have threatened BDS activists in general and Barghouti in particular. At a "Stop the Boycott" conference in Jerusalem last year, Israeli public security and strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan warned that BDS activists "will know they will pay a price for it."
During the same conference, Yisrael Katz, Israel's intelligence minister, called for attacks on BDS leaders. Katz utilized the same Hebrew word the military uses for "targeted civil elimination," or civil assassination. Aryeh Deri, Israel's interior minister, told attendees at the conference that he might revoke Barghouti's residency permit.