Open Letter from PACBI to the ECCP Conference, Geneva 25-29 May 2006
Indeed, as in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, we have learned that colonial and racist regimes do not voluntarily give up their oppressive control; they must be compelled to do so. This is where international civil society plays a crucial role, particularly in the absence of any pressure from world powers to end injustice.
While the recent “Call of Civil Society” issued by Swiss groups in solidarity with Palestine adopts the philosophy of pressure, it ignores key dimensions of Israel’s oppression, particularly its persistent denial of Palestinian refugee rights and its racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens, as exemplified by the recent racist ruling of the Israeli High Court upholding a ban on the reunification of Palestinian citizens of Israel with their spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territory and therefore infringing, on ethnic grounds, upon the basic human right to choose one’s partner.
Furthermore, the Swiss Call fails to spell out how ordinary European citizens who feel morally responsible to support the struggle for justice, equality and true peace can participate in applying this pressure against Israel. The proposed divestment, suspension of military collaboration and penal proceedings are mostly addressed to sates and elected official bodies, not citizens. We strongly believe that boycott is not only a morally and politically sound form of resisting injustice that solidarity movements ought to advocate -- in one form or another -- but it is also the most practical measure for mobilizing at a grassroots level.
We cannot accept the disingenuous criticism levelled at advocates of boycott in Europe as “inadvertently promoting anti-Semitism.” As Etienne Balibar says, “Israel should not be allowed to instrumentalize the genocide of European Jews to put [itself] above the law of nations.” There is simply no logical or political connection between boycott and bigotry against any group. The Palestinian BDS Call certainly does not target Jews, or even Israelis as Jews. It is directed at Israeli institutions specifically for their complicity in perpetuating Israel’s distinct form of apartheid, whether in the OPT or within Israel itself. To the oppressed, the ethnic and religious identity attributes of the oppressors are never the issue; it is only the oppression that really matters.
Finally, appealing to your sense of moral consistency, we sincerely hope that groups working for a just peace in Palestine/Israel will heed the appeals of Palestinian civil society, as reflected in the BDS Call, and treat Israel exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations.
 Etienne Balibar, A Complex Urgent Universal Political Cause, Address before the conference of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP), Université Libre de Bruxelles, July 3rd and 4th, 2005.