Samah Idriss spoke on a panel along with Carrie Lester and David from CAIA at Israeli Apartheid Week tonight. It was a historically significant event for two reasons. First because we don’t hear a lot of voices from the Arab world outside Palestine in relation to the boycott Israel movement, and second because of the analytical links he made between armed and civil struggle in the Lebanese context.
Lebanon is a very different environment in which to do organizing for the boycott of Israel than North America. The first reason is, boycotting Israel is already the law. This would seem to be a large advantage. However, Israeli and Israeli linked companies have found ways to circumvent the anti-Normalization legislation and penetrate the Lebanese market. The fact that so many apologists for normalization exist in Lebanon, especially among intellectuals, is according to Idriss evidence that the laws that prescribe the boycott of Israel are no replacement for consciousness-organizing. Another reason is Idriss campaign is not actually part of BDS – his “Campaign to boycott supporters of Israel” began before the BDS call, and was motivated from watching the Israeli massacre Palestinians in Jenin. Idriss’ campaign is not opposed to BDS, however, but rather that the specific context of Lebanon requires a different approach than is appropriate in countries where boycotting Israel is not already a state law.
Idriss is a key link between boycott organizing and the Arab League boycott of Israel. Despite the fact that Syria is in the grips of an uprising, the Arab League boycott of Israel committee is still meeting once or so per year, and the presence of his movement at these meetings has caused the Arab League Boycott to adopt this boycott of several new companies including cosmetics companies operating in Lebanon, as well as to re-instate Nestle to the boycott list, which seems to have only been removed because of some corruption inside the Syrian regime.
Idriss is a key figure also because he edits an important cultural magazine. Imagine if a major editor of a significant cultural magazine in North America was pro-BDS! This publication is a major opportunity to call out collaborators with Israel, including perhaps business people working in North America on projects which are subject to Boycott but who have personal ties to the Arab world such that it would be embarrassing for their business dealings with Israel to be widely known. This is my own speculation, however, Idriss did not address this in his talk, or speak about any of the implications of editing an important magazine.
Idriss affirmed that organizing to boycott Israel is not opposed to armed resistance, or even a way of avoiding armed resistance, but rather that boycotts as civil resistance, and armed resistance must work together to resist the Israeli entity. He affirmed that without the use of armed resistance, Lebanon would still be occupied partially by Israel, and Israel would have colonized Lebanese lands up to the Litani river. He also pointed out that the resistance was initially secular and leftist. Lebanon is a key example of resistance, and successful resistance, against the Israelis, however paradoxically the success of armed resistance is sometimes used to dismiss the importance of civil resistance such as boycotts. However precisely because Lebanon is seen as a beacon of the resistance, convincing Lebanese people that boycotting Israel could have knock-on effects throughout the Arab world. For example, Idriss’ movement campaigned to prevent the screening of a film made in Tel Aviv by a Lebanese director (entitled “The Attack”) was successful, and subsequently it was banned in many other Arab countries.
In the question period, Idriss affirmed that his organization is committed to protecting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from racism and bad treatment. He in fact claimed that in Lebanon there is Apartheid against Palestinian refugees. He dismissed the claim that granting Palestinians normalized status, i.e. the rights to study and work, would somehow work against their right of return. He also spoke about the direct work his organization has been doing to protect the rights of a Palestinian worker who was recently fired for having a Palestinian accent.