Israeli-Arab Normalization Hits a Snag
By: Omar Barghouti
Published Saturday, April 28, 2012
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions activists pressured Qatar into canceling the Music and Dialogue Festival, scheduled for April 30 - May 4, marking another milestone for the growing anti-Apartheid movement.
News about Qatar’s cancellation of a visit planned by Israeli musicians due to “current political developments in the region” would be ordinary if not for the long history of overt Qatari-Israeli and Arab-Israeli normalization, even during the revolutions.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) welcomed the decision and urged Arab countries to make public their official position on supporting the Palestinian people and to end all forms of normalization with the occupation and apartheid state.
Qatar’s announcement that it would host Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim at the Doha Festival for Music and Dialogue in coordination with Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra did not come as a surprise.
The orchestra is proud to have both Israeli and Arab musicians and publicly aims to build bridges of normalization between them. But it does not recognize Palestinian rights or reject Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.
It was the fourth time that Qatar had invited Barenboim in spite of his being a Zionist. Although he rejects the 1967 occupation, he also rejects the return of refugees to the homes they were thrown out of during the nakba [in 1948].
Barenboim attempts to cleverly clean up Israel’s image by accepting some Palestinian rights, but at the same time he repudiates the most significant of Palestinian rights.
How could an Arab country that proclaims its support for Palestinians welcome Zionist Israeli artists as brothers, while the Arab world is in the midst of popular Arab revolutions that some Arab countries claim to support, albeit with peculiar selectivity?
In 2010, PACBI criticized the Qatari authorities for hosting the Divan Orchestra on the first anniversary of the aggression on Gaza. But the issue does not stop with Qatar or artistic collaboration.
Since the Oslo agreement in 1993, Arab-Israeli normalization became “over the table” and proliferated in Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority, becoming almost a normal occurrence.
In the academic field and the midst of the “educational goldrush” of US-based universities to establish campuses in the Gulf, Egypt, and Jordan, the issue of normalization is not even subject to a debate.
Under pressure from Zionist movements in the US, branches of US universities in the Middle East have made commitments not to exclude Israeli academics and students.
For example, Georgetown University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies in Qatar’s Education City regularly hosts academics from Tel Aviv University.
In sports, the promotional film for the 2022 World Cup – which will be held in Doha – caused widespread outrage in Arab countries. It contained a segment in Hebrew expressing hope that Israel and an Arab country would reach the finals and play against each other with supporters of both teams cheering side by side “to get to know each other.”
The UAE heads the list of normalizing Arab countries in the sports field. It regularly welcomed Israeli athletes in international competitions held on its territories, unashamedly hoisting the Israeli flag.
At the end of 2011, the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee released a statement condemning the UAE swimming federation’s invitation to its Israeli counterpart to participate in an international competition in Dubai. The invitation was extended “with the aim of expanding collaboration with neighboring countries in the Middle East.”
It is not unusual for Dubai to host Israeli swimmers considering that it already hosts a branch of the Israeli-based diamonds company Leviev.
But we should not forget the tremendous efforts of anti-normalization activists in Arab countries and their achievements in Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and others.
Algerian Judo champion Maryam Moussa boycotted a match with an Israeli wrestler in the world championships in Rome, thereby sacrificing her chances of competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Academics at the American University of Cairo prevented the participation of Israelis in a conference at the university.
BDS activists in Kuwait stood against the infiltration of Israeli products into the market, supported by the official boycott office. In the past couple of months in Morocco, activists have succeeded in cancelling academic and cultural events that aim to promote normalization with Israel.
Lebanon’s active BDS movement was successful in cancelling the entertainment events of Gad Elmaleh and Lara Fabian due to their support of Israel. In Palestine, activists of all factions, succeeded in stopping normalization events sponsored by Palestinian authorities.
Saudi Arabia also disqualified the French company Alstom from the project for the Haramain High Speed Rail Project for its involvement in Israeli projects aiming to Judaize Jerusalem.
In the meantime, the Mufti of Al-Azhar (actually the former court Mufti of Cairo) conducted a shameful and normalizing visit to Jerusalem. His excuse is that he was “visiting the prisoner.”
In this case, the Mufti may need to be reminded that solidarity with prisoners is through helping them break their chains, not by helping their jailers through normalization and covering for them.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.