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Omar Barghouti's Lectures: A case study of dangerous propaganda

By Roberta Seid and Roz Rothstein

If you ever wondered how groups like the Nazis, Hutus, or America’s southern racists incited hatred and prejudice, you have a case study every time Omar Barghouti speaks on a college campus. Consider his comments when he toured California campuses in January 2012.

A co-founder of the anti-Israel boycott movement, Barghouti hurled distortions, half-truths, and lies about Israel.  He invoked—and consistently misrepresented—principles of human rights, international law, and justice to try to convince audiences that the Jewish state is so uniquely evil, and the Palestinian situation so uniquely unjust, that Israel should be punished as the pariah of nations. His real agenda, as he has frequently written, is marshaling support for destroying Israel and replacing it with one Palestinian-majority state.
Barghouti distorted history and facts in order to charge that Israel has practiced the worst evils of the 20th century.  He stripped away context to accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” conveniently ignoring the Arab and Palestinian wars against Israel that caused displacement of Palestinian Arabs. He  characterized Palestinian opposition to Israel as “non violent resistance,” despite the campaign of suicide bombing and terrorism that began in 2000, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 Israelis and wounded over 7,000.  And he ignored the fact that in 1948, Israel urged Arabs to stay and accept citizenship, with 160,000 deciding to do so, and that their population has soared to over 1.2 million Israeli Arab citizens. He also neglected to mention that since 1967, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have had among the highest population growth rates in the world. This is the opposite of ethnic cleansing.
Furthermore, Barghouti claimed that Israel constantly violates international law and committed “willful acts of genocide” during its war against Hamas from December 2008 to January 2009, and he cited the UN Goldstone report as proof. He didn’t mention the human rights of the Israelis, who were unrelentingly assaulted by over 7,000 rockets launched by Hamas, which necessitated the war, or that the Goldstone Report itself said it had “proved nothing” and was discredited by the world’s liberal democracies for being hopelessly biased and unreliable. He also neglected to tell audiences that Judge Goldstone himself retracted key accusations in the UN Report.
Barghouti charged that Israel is guilty of “apartheid” and “racism.” But even he knows that while Israel, like other liberal democracies, has challenges fully integrating its minorities, it is one of the world’s most multicultural, ethnically diverse nations, and its progressive legal system enforces the equality of all citizens—women, gays, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, and others. In the face of this reality, he justified smearing Israel as practicing apartheid by absurdly arguing that there are different forms of apartheid—apparently including its mirror opposite.  
And he tried to prove the smear of apartheid through deception, such as claiming that Israeli Arabs are restricted from buying land. In fact, 93 percent of the land is state land. No one can buy it, but all Israelis—Jewish and non-Jewish—can lease the land. Barghouti can’t even accept Israel’s status as one of the world’s most progressive nations on LGBT issues. He denigrated praise of Israel’s LGBT record as “pink washing,” allegedly a ploy to distract people from the plight of Palestinians, even though Palestinians regularly seek refuge in Israel to escape virulent anti-gay persecution in the West Bank and Gaza.
When Barghouti could not come up with facts to prove his charge that Israel cruelly mistreats Palestinians, he invented them. He charged that Israel “steals” Palestinian water, when in fact, Israel is giving some of its own water to Palestinians—40 percent more water than it promised to give in the 1993 Oslo Accords—and Israel has helped Palestinians modernize their water system. Barghouti also used singular examples of misdeeds to claim they are general Israeli policy. For example, he declared that Israel performs medical experiments on Palestinians, but the example he cited for proof demonstrates the high standards of Israel’s medical system and the fact that Palestinians receive the same high-quality care as Israeli Jews. Six doctors at a Kfar Saba hospital compared the effectiveness of two drugs commonly used for diabetes but received approval from the ethics committee only after the study was completed. Israeli doctors discovered the infraction, reprimanded the six doctors, and withdrew the study.   The 60 patients were Palestinians and Jews.
Finally, Barghouti accused Israel of trying to “colonize” Palestinian minds. He made the absurd charge that Israel “criminalized” Palestinian education during the First Intifada, converting a temporary measure—closing universities that were identified as breeding grounds for violence during the Intifada—into a general policy motivated by malice. He completely neglected the fact that it was Israel that oversaw the establishment of the seven universities that now exist in the West Bank, it was Israel that greatly expanded elementary and vocational education, and it was Israel that enforced freedom of the press after the years of Jordanian repression.  
Nor does Barghouti admit that Israel fosters Palestinian education and accepts Palestinians as students at Israeli universities. Barghouti himself is working on an advanced degree at Tel Aviv University. When he has been asked why he isn’t following his own advice and boycotting the school, he has responded that “oppressed people can’t choose” their schools—even though he could have gone to any of the universities in the West Bank or resumed his studies at Columbia University in New York, where he got his undergraduate degree.
Even more astonishing, Barghouti claimed that in 1948 and after, Israel destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian books in order to commit a “cultural massacre” and “Judaize Palestine.” In fact, Barghouti’s source reveals that Israel collected books from abandoned Palestinian libraries to save them from destruction in the chaos during and after the 1948 War, and it painstakingly catalogued and stored them. They are available in Israeli libraries for all researchers to use. Barghouti simply turned the facts upside down in order to stigmatize Israel. Israel preserved, not destroyed, Palestinian books and the culture they represented.
After this litany of lies, Barghouti shamelessly posted a slide that claimed the boycott movement supports “Freedom, Justice, and Equality,” and he tried to associate it with the American civil rights movement, asking, “What would Martin Luther King do?” Barghouti may claim that the boycott movement is a “rights” movement, but it is not. It is an effort to vilify and deny the rights of Israeli Jews. Its real agenda is to destroy Israel’s image through misinformation and to enlist support for a Palestinian state without Israel.  
As mirrored in the boycott movement he founded, Barghouti is an extremist who opposes peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestinians and who will violate facts and reason to spread hatred for Israel. Our universities should invite Barghouti to speak on their campuses, not because he represents a legitimate and informed point of view, but because his presentation is a case study of dangerous propaganda. Tragically, history is replete with examples of what such lies and demonization can lead to.  

Roberta Seid, PhD, is the research director for StandWithUs,
Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs.
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