By Susan Abulhawa
George Galloway walked out of a debate at Christ Church in Oxford when he learned that his opponent was Israeli. He said, “I was misinformed. I don’t debate with Israelis. I don’t recognize Israel.” He later stood his ground in a twitter statement reading, “No recognition, No normalization. Just Boycott, divestment, sanctions,” which prompted the BDS national committee to issue a statement that “BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.”
It is unsettling that a Palestinian movement would distance itself from a man like George Galloway, and even so without any qualifications acknowledging his unyielding commitment to justice for Palestinians. No matter where we were or what criticism the world hurled at us, Galloway never waivered in standing by our side. He is and always has been a good friend. That must be honored, even in situations where his views are perceived as not fully aligned with one Palestinian group or another.
Because human relationships of solidarity in a resistance struggle matter.
Because he has done nothing egregiously out of line. Because he has never done anything injurious to us. To the extreme contrary.
And because a resistance movement should be careful not to become an institution that gets lost in the cold prose of its own dictates and statements that it loses sight of the fire that ignited it in the first place or the warmth of the human solidarity that feeds it.
While a seemingly large portion of Palestinian society (there are no polls to support this, however) embraces the platform of BDS, myself included, its central committee was not elected and does not represent the will of Palestinian people. I hope we are not witnessing a central committee that is becoming a gatekeeper of Palestinian activism. There was nothing at all wrong with George Galloway refusing to engage Israelis. He didn’t claim to speak for BDS or for the Palestinian people in doing so. So, there was no reason for BDS to issue a statement.
The statement provided a gloating opportunity for Galloway’s haters. Immediately following the statement, Rachel Shabi, apparently an Israeli ‘activist’ I had never heard of before, wrote a piece for the Guardian in which she couldn’t resist a personal insult to George Galloway, suggesting that his goal was to “generate publicity for himself” rather than supporting Palestinians. She went on to praise the statement by BDS, ostensibly because it may help to overcome what she clearly thinks is an important goal for BDS – to gain the support of leftist Israelis. Since when does that matter? And why should they matter? BDS is firmly grounded in principles that are adherent to tenets of international law and basic human rights. Adjustments or amendments should never be made to appeal to one group or another. Why is it not enough for BDS to simply state its three guiding aims?
Rachel Shabi further took the opportunity to close her piece with the following:
“To state the obvious: any just, blood-free solution on the ground will be between Palestinians and Israelis. Even if, as part of this solution, Palestinians and Israelis decide to construct a sound-proof wall precluding conversation between them, that decision will have to be agreed by talking to each other. Anyone else who doesn’t want to speak to Israelis is free to take that decision, of course. But for the good of the movement as a whole, it’s probably best to make this a personal act, rather than to invoke the cause to defend your own prejudice.”
I fail to see how it is an “obvious” truth that Palestinians must talk to Israelis. If she is of the belief that our only path to liberation is through talking to the thieves and racists who have robbed and oppressed us, then she is sorely mistaken. I further can’t help but raise an eyebrow when someone with such ideas is championing BDS.
Finally, let me just make an important statement that this article is not meant to provide support in petty arguments of those who are critical of BDS. Rather, I put it forth to first, to show George Galloway a fraction of the support he has shown to us over the years. And second, to provoke thoughtful discussion on the nature of the boycott campaign, because, frankly, I want to see this movement grow to an expansive, global campaign that takes humanity another step closer to universal dignity; one that supports the valiant struggles of hunger strikers, villagers using their bodies to protect their lands, and ordinary human beings trudging through the terrain of racism to earn a daily living or get to school. Publicly rebuking our friends is antithetical to its success. Let BDS remain a movement grounded in human rights and nurtured by the solidarity of those who passionately believe in and fight for those rights. Let it be a movement that intuitively recognizes friends from foes. And let it never ever make a move to appease.
– Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin, and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, a children’s NGO. Autographed copies of her book can be purchased here. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.