Omar Barghouti, a human rights activist and co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said on a Canadian speaking tour, that he is among the most optimistic in the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israeli apartheid, but is himself surprised at the rapidity of its growth.

The support for BDS / PACBI campaign, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society groups, is growing among student activist groups on campuses around the world, human rights and community groups, major musicians (American rock band The Pixies, Britain’s Elvis Costello, rock guitarist Carlos Santana, and poet-musician Gil Scott-Heron), leading academics and cultural figures, trade unions across the globe, queer groups, and others. “We never thought we would get here so fast because in the South African experience of the anti-apartheid movement it took about 25 years… to see anything happen in the mainstream of Western society.”

Barghouti explains the dramatic growth of the BDS movement not only because of the “wonderful activists” in “saia, CAIA, QuAIA… Faculty for Palestine… Independent Jewish Voices and [groups in Palestine], but it’s not just about that.” There was also an “objective opening in the political spectrum” related to changes in public opinion, even in the establishment, that emerged in the wake of the United States and its allies’ wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The BDS / PACBI campaign is based on the “application of international law consistently to everyone,” and basic, liberal human rights principles. Its primary goals, says Barghouti, are to pressure Israel to uphold international law and end its illegal occupation of the Occupied Territories and to introduce universal human rights principles involving full equality rights for Palestinians:

“The main aspect of the BDS call is its rights-based approach… Its focus is on three basic rights of the Palestinian people, which together constitute the minimum of the requirement to realize the right to self-determination: (1) [ending] the occupation of the 1967 Occupied Territories, all of them, (2) ending the system of racial discrimination within Israel, which is a system of apartheid, and (3) [instituting] the right of return for Palestinian refugees, who constitute the majority of the Palestinian people.”

Barghouti says, “Ultimately, as the indigenous population, the most generous offer we can give to our colonial settlers is equality, but nothing more. Don’t ask for colonial privileges. You will not get it.”

In the Q&A period, Bargouti said the PACBI campaign is a mainstream, consensus movement focused squarely on BDS. Although Barghouti says he personally supports other progressive agendas, such as the anti-neoliberal globalization movement, women’s rights, and so forth, the BDS movement focuses narrowly on BDS goals in order to remain broad-based and effective. It, however, defers to groups around the world on how to implement BDS in their local communities, whether they are “half measures, quarter measures 1/100th measures, that’s okay. The University of Toronto does not have to boycott Israel tomorrow. We’ll be very happy if they clean out their pension funds of stocks of companies invested in occupation that are in direct violation of international law. We’ll be happy if they don’t even go that far and just condemn Israel’s siege of Gaza. We’ll be happy if academics in the Faculty Senate call for the end of the occupation. These are half message along the way-any step helps-so long as you recognize our basic rights-that’s the key issue.”

But Barghouti does not support the Sullivan Principles promoted by some in South Africa, which called for codes of conduct by transnational corporations in apartheid regimes, such as equal treatment of employees, regardless of race, because those companies’ presence and taxes still support and legitimize apartheid in the state. [part 10 of 11] He supports the critical statement Bishop Desmond Tutu made in reference to the Sullivan Principles: “We don’t need anyone to polish our chains. We want to break the chains altogether.”

The conversation with Barghouti, entitled “Questioning the Boycott of Israel: A Path to Justice or an Obatacle to Peace?” was presented by the University of Toronto Middle East History and Theory Workshop, and endorsed by the Political Spaces Research Cluster of the Department of Geography and the Graduate Students Union Social Justice Committee at the University of Toronto. The event was introduced and moderated by Jens Hanssen, Associate Professor of Middle East and Mediterranean History at the University of Toronto.

October 26th, 2010

Bahen Centre, University of Toronto

Video Production: Anita Krajnc.

The entire 11 parts of Barghouti’s lecture can be viewed on rabbletv’s YouTube channel.


Anita Krajnc

Anita Krajnc

Anita curates rabbletv’s best of the net and writes on protest art, social movements and independent media. She serves on the steering committee of the Campaign for Media Democracy, helps organize...

Alex Samur

Alex Samur

Alexandra Samur was’s managing editor from 2010 to 2012, books and blogs editor from 2007 to 2012. Alex’s career in independent media spans more than a decade and includes stints...