Tunisian BDS Conference Raises Questions About Qatari Involvement

  • August 11, 2016

On August 4th, the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) launched a three-day academic conference in Tunisia titled “Boycott as a Strategy to Counter Israel’s Occupation and Apartheid: Present-day Realities and Aspirations.” The conference served as a reminder of BDS activists’ efforts to expand their agenda and further their goal of delegitimizing the state of Israel, but also illuminated potential rifts within the movement.

Panelists at the BDS conference in Tunisia

Panelists at the BDS conference in Tunisia

While ACRPS claims to be an independent research institute, it appears to have strong ties to the Qatari government. This could suggest that individuals closely affiliated to the Qatari government may be interested in playing a bigger role in advancing the BDS movement.

ACRPS registration documents list Sultan Ghanim Al Kuwari, a prominent Qatari businessman, as the founder of the Center. Reportedly, Al Kuwari, who is closely affiliated with Qatar’s royal family, is also listed as the director of several Qatari international media outlets. He is also described as the person in charge of extending the reach of the Qatari soft diplomatic power under the leadership of the Emir of Qatar. Furthermore, reports from previous ACRPS events present the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani as a regular guest of honor at many of the group’s events.

The Qatari connection could raise the hackles of BDS activists who are skeptical of Qatar’s foreign policy positions, and are concerned that the country’s involvement would transform the grassroots movement into a 'state branding' project. On the first day of the conference, members of the Tunisian BDS chapter disrupted the session and protested against what they consider as the Qatari government’s connection. They also protested against the director of the ACRPS, Azmi Beshara, because he served as a member of the Israeli Knesset in the past, which the activists consider as an act of treason. An earlier statement on the official Facebook page of the Tunisian chapter of the BDS movement called fora boycott of the conference because the ACRPS and the conference itself “are sponsored by the Qatari government” which, according to the Tunisian chapter, is “one of the Arab governments most active in normalization with Israel.”

This BDS conference was built on a series of previous events hosted by the ACRPS and focused on questions about the objectives of the BDS movement and the role of the Arab states, émigré communities, and Palestinians. One speaker, Osama Abu Irshaid, the National Policy Director of American Muslims for Palestine, said “it is a must to transform the BDS movement into a system and a framework that will go beyond only boycotting corporations that support Israel to the de-legitimization of Israel as well.” ACRPS issued a paper supporting Irshaid’s goals.

Other speakers at the conference included Max Blumenthal, a prominent anti-Israel blogger, Peter Slezak, the co- founder of the Australian-based Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and Richard Falk, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

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