What a clever way to destroy the career of a Palestinian activist. He founded an international movement, BDS, so arresting him for espionage or on a political pretext would bring the wrath of the world down upon Israel. So you look for an alternative and rip a page from the early FBI, which couldn’t topple Al Capone by conventional means. So it chose an alternative: taxes.
To add some context and motivation for this witch hunt: at an anti-BDS conference held earlier this year in Israel, ministers fell all over themselves to promise what they would do to destroy the international non-violent movement. One even called for the “civil” targeted assassination of the group and its leaders. This certainly put a target on Barghouti’s back, who was mentioned explicitly as someone the government would target, if not destroy.
The allegations against Barghouti are that he earned $700,000 from a Palestinian company that owned and serviced ATMs, for which he was a director. As an Israeli resident, he theoretically should’ve paid taxes on these earnings. Instead, so the claim goes, he spirited the money in Palestinian and U.S. banks and never declared the income.
The idea of imprisoning Barghouti for the alleged failure to pay taxes has a nice ring to it for the Israeli government. Since the BDS leader wants to boycott us, let’s get him where it hurts. Let’s make him pay the state he hates or go to jail. To an Israeli super-nationalist it’s almost divine justice.
Since I am not an Israeli tax attorney I can’t argue about or against the charges. But I can note how absolutely hypocritical they are. Every wealthy Israeli, and I mean virtually every one, has a tax avoidance strategy. Some have offshore accounts on the Isle of Jersey. Others went to Fonseca to have trusts created on their behalf as confirmed in the Panama Papers. This includes many Israeli politicians (including Bibi himself) and virtually all of the eighteen oligarch families who own 60% of the nation’s capital. Nor do they squirrel away a few hundred thousands dollars as Barghouti allegedly did. They hide millions, tens of millions in income from Israeli tax authorities. You almost never hear of any powerful Israelis arrested or charged for such offenses. Periodically you’ll hear about some poor shlub who got nabbed for tax evasion. But he didn’t share a family name with any of the Israeli élite families.
Isn’t it curious that none of the Israeli reporting on this story mentions the offenses of virtually an entire class of wealthy Israeli Jewish individuals who get away with murder? Not to mention that Barghouti, who remains under arrest, is being treated like a terror suspect. The international model, Bar Rafaeli, faced even worse charges of deliberately hiding millions of dollars in income. She was arrested and questioned, but never imprisoned.
Israeli authorities seems to be persecuting Barghouti in the same fashion they harassed Azmi Bishara. They charged him with money laundering on behalf of Israeli enemies like Hezbollah. But the Shabak never forbade him from leaving Israel, which is precisely what he did. Yet another in a long line of forced expulsions (or involuntary exile) of “dangerous” Palestinian leaders who threaten the prerogatives of the State.
This banana republic is resorting to the tactics of the former Soviet regime and the current Chinese regime. Got a guy who’s a thorn in your side? Does he promise to embarrass you on the world stage? Trump up some charge, take away his passport, even arrest him so he can’t accept that Nobel Prize. In Barghouti’s case, a 65 year-old NGO, Promoting Enduring Peace. plans to bestow on him the Gandhi International Peace Award next month at Yale University. Past recipients of the prize have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Martin Luther King Jr., George McGovern, Dorothy Day, Daniel Ellsberg, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and Medea Benjamin. The Israeli police have conveniently confiscated his passport so he can’t accept it. If they forbid him from traveling there, we must all do our best to ensure that the award ceremony is as widely known as possible inside and outside Israel.
Globes, the Israeli business publication whose story I linked above, has made one major mistake in its coverage. The Gandhi Award has nothing to do with the government of India, as the reporter states. There is a separate prize in Indira Gandhi’s name which is completely independent of the U.S.-based Gandhi Award. Also, the award is not given by Yale University, but by a New Haven-based NGO at a ceremony held at Yale University.
In a related development, Anti-BDS minister (yes, there is such a thing) Gilad Erdan, told the security cabinet he intended to begin compiling a database of Israeli supporters of BDS. The dossiers would include all relevant personal information available on these dangerous, seditious figures. I might add, that the targets would likely include individuals I hold in highest esteem. There was a wee, small problem: the attorney general thought it was a terrible idea. He said there is no statutory authority for a civilian ministry to spy on or maintain files on Israeli citizens. Besides, he said the Shabak was already tasked with such a mission. You can be sure that most of the Israeli activists you’ve read about here on in other progressive publications have their own personal Shabak files. Why do you need overkill with a second agency monitoring the same people? Why does any democratic nation (or at least one calling itself one) need to assign secret police to compile dossiers and spy on citizens supporting social justice and non-violent change?
Further, the U.S.-based Israel Studies Association, which itself was an academic discipline largely funded by wealthy pro-Israel donors seeking to present Israel in a flattering light in the classroom, protested to the Israeli government that it can no longer hold any meetings in Israel. It seems that some of its member support what I call BDS Lite, a boycott of settlement products. Even these liberal Zionists might be deported from the Jewish homeland for the crime of supporting BDS. Can you imagine an association of French or German studies professors whose work would be criminalized in the countries they studied, so they could never visit the places on which their entire professional lives are based?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.