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‘Freedom Is Never Voluntarily Given’: Palestinian Boycott Of Israel Is Not Racist, It Is Anti-Racist

Claims made by Democratic New York City mayoral
, Andrew Yang, in a recent
in the Jewish weekly, ‘The Forward’, point to
the prevailing ignorance that continues to dominate the US
discourse on Palestine and Israel.

Yang, a former
Democratic Presidential candidate, is vying for the Jewish
vote in New York City. According to the reductionist
assumption that all Jews must naturally support Israel and
Zionism, Yang
an argument that is entirely based on a
tired and false mantra equating criticism of Israel with

Yang’s pro-Israel logic is not only
unfounded, but confused as well. “A Yang administration
will push back against the BDS movement which singles out
Israel for unfair economic punishment,” he wrote,
referring to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions movement.

Yang compared the BDS movement to
the “fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses”, most likely
a reference to the infamous
Nazi boycott
of Jewish businesses in Germany of

Not only does Yang fail to construct his
argument in any historically defensible fashion, he claims
that BDS is “rooted in anti-Semitic thought and

BDS is, in fact, rooted in history, not
that of Nazi Germany, but of the Palestinian General
of 1936, when the Palestinian Arab population
took collective action to hold colonial Britain accountable
for its unfair and violent treatment of Palestinian Muslims
and Christians. Instead of helping Palestine achieve full
sovereignty, colonial Britain backed the political
aspirations of White European Zionists who aimed to
establish a ‘Jewish homeland’ in Palestine.

the efforts of the Palestinian natives failed, and the new
State of Israel became a reality in 1948, after nearly one
million Palestinian refugees were uprooted and
ethnically cleansed
as a result of a decidedly violent
campaign, the aftershocks of which
to this day. Indeed, today’s ongoing military
occupation and apartheid are all rooted in that tragic

This is the reality that the boycott movement
is fighting to change. No anti-Semitic, Nazi – or, according
to Yang’s ahistorical account, ‘fascist’ – love affair
is at work here; just a beleaguered and oppressed nation
fighting for its most basic human rights.

ignorant and self-serving comments were duly answered most
appropriately, including by many anti-Zionist Jewish
intellectuals and activists throughout the US and the world.
Alex Kane, a writer in ‘Jewish Currents’
that Yang made “a messed up, wrong
comparison”, and that the politician “comes across as
deeply ignorant about Palestine, Palestinians and BDS”. US
Muslim Congresswoman,
Ilhan Omar
, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee (ADC)
their voices to numerous others, all pointing to
Yang’s opportunism, lack of understanding of history and
distorted logic.

But this goes beyond Yang, as the
debate over BDS in the US is almost entirely rooted in
fallacious comparisons and ignorance of history.

who had hoped that the unceremonious end of the Donald Trump
Administration would bring about a measure of justice for
the Palestinian people will surely be disappointed, as the
American discourse on Palestine and Israel rarely changes,
regardless which President resides in the White House and
what political party dominates the Congress.

reducing the boycott debate to Yang’s confused account of
history and reality is, itself, a reductionist understanding
of US politics. Indeed, similar language is regularly
infused, like that
by President Joe Biden’s nominee for United
Nations envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield while addressing her
confirmation hearing at the Senate’s Foreign Relations
Committee on January 27. Like Yang, Thomas-Greenfield also
found boycotting Israel an “unacceptable” act that
“verges on anti-Semitism.”

While the presumptive
envoy supported the return of the US to the Human Rights
Council, UNESCO and other UN-affiliated organizations, her
reasoning for such a move is merely to ensure the US has a
place “at the table” so that Washington may monitor and
discourage any criticism of Israel.

Thomas-Greenfield and others perpetuate such inaccurate
comparisons with full confidence that they have strong
support among the country’s ruling elites from the two
dominant political parties. Indeed,
according to
the latest count produced by the pro-Israel
Jewish Virtual Library website, “32 states have adopted
laws, executive orders or resolutions that are designed to
discourage boycotts against Israel.”

In fact, the
criminalization of the boycott movement has taken center
stage of the federal government in Washington DC.
Anti-boycott legislation was passed with overwhelming
majorities in both the
and the
House of Representatives
in recent years and more are
expected to follow.

The popularity of such measures
prompted former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to
the Israel boycott movement to be anti-Semitic,
describing it at as ‘a cancer’ at a press conference in
November, alongside Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu, while in the illegal settlement of

While Pompeo’s position is unsurprising, it
behooves Yang and Thomas-Greenfield, both members of
minority groups that suffered immense historical racism and
discrimination, to brush up on the history of popular
boycott movements in their own country. The weapon of
boycott was, indeed, a most effective platform to translate
political dissent into tangible achievements for oppressed
Black people in the US during the civil rights movement in
the mid-20th century. Most memorable, and consequential of
these boycotts was the
Montgomery Bus Boycott
of 1955.

Moreover, outside
the US, numerous volumes have been written about how the
boycott of the White supremacist apartheid government in
South Africa ignited a global movement which, combined with
the sacrifices of Black South Africans, brought apartheid to
in the early 1990s.

The Palestinian people do
not learn history from Yang and others, but from the
collective experiences of oppressed peoples and nations
throughout the world. They are guided by the wisdom of
Martin Luther King Jr., who once said that “We know
through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily
given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the

The boycott movement aims at holding the
oppressor accountable as it places a price tag on military
occupation and apartheid. Not only is the Palestinian
boycott movement not racist, it is essentially a rallying
cry against racism and oppression.

Ramzy Baroud is
a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He
is the author of five books. His latest is “
Chains Will Be Broken
: Palestinian Stories of
Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press).
Dr. Baroud is a non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the
Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the
Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is

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