Is solidarity for Palestine a crime? Is it a criminal offense punishable by law to express disgust at Israel’s apartheid policies? Are journalists, commentators, academics and human rights activists, in breach of any law if they articulate or advocate justice for Palestinians?

Certainly not as far as South Africa is concerned. Yet the same cannot be claimed about Europe, where moves are afoot to clamp down on solidarity activism. Of course the subtleties involved delinks crafty intimidation from being viewed as suppression of free speech. Instead, the assault on pro-Palestinian voices is framed as legitimate attempts to confront antisemitism.

The experience in many parts of Europe manifests how Israel’s Hasbara (propaganda) has increasingly relied on smear tactics to intimidate people and institutions critical of Israel’s repressive violations of international law.

These tactics are informed by devious misrepresentations reliant on slander and defamation to silence critics. The fate of many critics who persevered in raising public awareness of the tragic situation faced by Palestinians, has been to defend themselves against baseless accusations of antisemitism.

The faulty rationale applied by relentless Hasbara campaigners is that to be a critic of Israel, one has to be a Jew-hater and thus an antisemite. In other words, no self respecting anti racist would dare to oppose Israel unless the person harbours hatred of Jews. This tactic, while not new, has successfully intimidated people from expressing support for Palestine’s freedom struggle. Not new but definitely more aggressive and malicious.

The formula used is to create a correlation between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. In expounding their faulty rationale, it is claimed that antisemites use Zionism as a front to conceal their antiJewish racism. In South Africa, the most visible and internationally renowned critic of Israel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has had to endure the indignity of being branded an antisemite.

In Britain the current furore over former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s remarks, provides an insight on the viciousness of Hasbara thugs. Like Tutu, he’s able to stand his ground. However pressure on the Labour Party to which Livingstone belongs, has been unrelenting.

This particular example reflects the intensity whereby defenders of Israel are willing to not only defame opponents but also to sabotage and criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel believes that while European countries may not mount any substantial challenges to its illegal hegemony, it cannot vouch for the same as far as civil societies are concerned.

In concert with the growing international movement to advance Palestine’s struggle for freedom, equality and justice, civil rights activists have embraced BDS as a peaceful tool to lobby their respective governments. That the policies and legal underpinnings of Israel’s political, economic and social  architecture is entirely apartheid in practice, BDS can be termed as the 21st century version of the anti-apartheid movement.

For a settler colonial regime which colluded with SA’s apartheid regime throughout the dark era of racism, Israel knows very well that its sustainability is uncertain. Indeed just as SA apartheid finally ended in the dustbin of history, so too could Israel.

It is this prospect that Israel cannot reconcile itself with. Thus the malicious campaign to slander, defame and demonise. Apart from the brave and principled resistance by Palestinians within the Occupied Territories, the enormous potential possessed by people of different stripes and colours across Europe and elsewhere to effect change is real. And Israel knows it too well.

Will attempts to criminalize solidarity activism succeed? It certainly did not in the case of South Africa, notwithstanding its military might and nuclear power. Neither will it now, no matter how deep Israel’s pockets are in funding Hasbara campaigns.

Attempts to stifle free speech and to vilify human rights activists are futile. All Netanyahu has to do is call SA’s last white apartheid ruler FW de Klerk to confirm this. But since he prefers to remain adamant in believing his own false narrative, it may be prudent to remind him of the powerful views expressed by exiled Israeli author and historian Ilan Pappe:

“We in the comfort zone of the West should not cower and not give in to false accusations of anti-Semitism by Anglo-Zionists, timid politicians and cynical journalists. It is time to fight back in court, in the square, in parliament and in the media”.

Iqbal Jassat

Exec: Media Review Network

Johannesburg

South Africa

Twitter @ijassat

Iqbal Jassat

Iqbal Jassat is an acclaimed writer, analyst and commentator and one of the founder members of MRN. His analysis is featured regularly in mainstream and alternate media outlets around the world.