To the Editor: On Mischaracterizations of My Words

In her opinion piece, Natalie L. Kahn whitewashes Israel’s apartheid regime and misrepresents both the BDS movement and my personal views.

Basic facts about BDS are worth reiterating. Inspired by South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, BDS is rooted in decades of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It was launched in 2005 by the broadest Palestinian coalition, calling for ending Israel’s military occupation that began in 1967, upholding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands that they had been ethnically cleansed from since 1947-1948, and ending Israel’s apartheid “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” as the leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, describes it.

B’Tselem is not alone. Following the lead of many Palestinian, South African, and international human rights advocates and experts, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also designated Israel as an apartheid state. The latter’s report concluded that Israel treats all Palestinians as “an inferior non-Jewish racial group.” A former Israeli Attorney General has also weighed in saying: “You simply cannot be a liberal democracy if you operate apartheid over another people. It is a contradiction in terms because Israel’s entire society is complicit in this unjust reality.”

In its struggle to dismantle this regime of oppression, the BDS movement has consistently opposed all forms of racism, including antisemitism, witnessing an inspiring rise in support among Democrats and Jewish-Americans. It belongs to the intersectional progressive wave that upholds what Angela Davis calls, the “indivisibility of justice.” It joins Indigenous, racial, economic, gender, BGLTQ, climate, and social justice struggles in the fight against fascism, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and neoliberalism.

Reflecting on these cross-struggle bonds and expressing a widely shared analysis among U.S. progressives, congresswoman Cori Bush once said: “The fight for Black lives and the fight for Palestinian liberation are interconnected. We oppose our money going to fund militarized policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma. … [W]e are anti-apartheid. Period.”


Finally, the BDS movement takes no position on the ultimate political solution. I personally do. But Kahn repeats a distorted and misleading interpretation of my position promoted by the right-wing Israel lobby group AIPAC. Here’s what I actually said:

“A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically.

“Just as we would oppose a ‘Muslim state,’ or a ‘Christian state,’ or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.

“Accepting modern-day Jewish-Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous, rational offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. So don’t ask for more.”

What’s wrong with a non-racial democracy and equal rights for all?

Omar Barghouti is the co-founder of the BDS movement.