Palestinian mayor sparks BDS storm by admitting he works for Israeli company

Social media awash with condemnation and mocking of Beit Jala’s Nicola Khamis for revelation he also works as Tnuva sales rep

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Beit Jala Mayor Nicola Khamis. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Beit Jala Mayor Nicola Khamis. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The mayor of the West Bank Christian town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, on Wednesday dropped a bombshell by admitting that he also works as a sales representative for Tnuva, the Israeli food processing cooperative specializing in milk and dairy products.

Nicola Khamis made the admission during an interview with the Palestinian Wattan TV.

The mayor’s revelation drew strong condemnations, and many satirical remarks, from a large number of Palestinians on social media.

Several Palestinians pointed out that the mayor’s revelation was a severe blow to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which has long been spearheading a worldwide campaign to promote various forms of boycott against Israel.

Illustrative photo of Tnuva milk products (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“Some say that the reason behind the recent decline in your popularity is attributed to the fact that in addition to your job as mayor, you are also the representative of the Israeli company Tnuva in the [Bethlehem] area. What is your response to this claim?” Khamis was asked.

The mayor replied: “I’m glad you asked this question. I’m a representative of the Tnuva company,” he said, adding that he had been for some time. “I’m like any Palestinian citizen, like anyone from Palestine who goes out to work in settlements. We built their settlements, we built their houses, we paved their roads, we worked in their homes. This is our situation. All the people are seeking to earn a living.”

A Tnuva plant near Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Khamis said that if the Palestinian Authority government makes a decision not to work in Israel and with Israelis and not to purchase Israeli products, he will be the first to abide by it.

He pointed out that when the PA took a decision last year banning Israeli products from entering the territories under its control, he obeyed the order for the full 19 days and did not market any Israeli goods.

“I work in accordance with the Palestinian law and regulations,” the Beit Jala mayor added. “Palestinian law does not ban Palestinians from working with Israel, including purchasing and selling.”

He said he would be prepared to quit his job as a Tnuva representative if the law is changed. “But I’m not going to stop working [with Tnuva] if someone comes to me and asks me to stop while others are doing the same thing.”

Khamis also pointed out that the Palestinians were continuing to purchase cement and iron from Israel. “We bring many things from Israel, and I’m not different from anyone else,” he said. “In the end, I’m working in accordance with the law, and I have a license from the [PA] Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and all the ministries. I pay all the taxes.”

Asked about the embarrassment caused to the Palestinians, especially in wake of campaigns calling for boycotting Israeli products, Khamis replied: “I’m a representative for Israeli and foreign goods. I’m not different than others.”

The mayor noted that even the PA had institutions and representatives working with Israeli companies. “If this is something that brings shame on us, let’s all stop,” he argued. “But of there is no shame, we just want to work. We are a state under siege; we don’t have border crossings and import is very difficult. When there’s a decision to stop, we will stop like all the others.”

Palestinian labourers work at a cement factory in the southern Gaza Strip. September 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Many Palestinians took to Facebook to express outrage over the mayor’s remarks. “Why blame a mayor for working as a salesman for an Israeli company when our leader [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] and his employees are working as guards for Israel?” commented Mohammed Ameerah on Facebook. “At least the mayor is not arresting his own people.”

Hazem Ahmed commented: “The problem is that BDS is dying to find anyone to boycott Israel, and here is a mayor saying he works for an Israeli company. If BDS belonged to me, I would promote a boycott of the Palestinian Authority, and not the occupation, because they [the PA] are worse.”

A third Facebook user, Hamza Khader, remarked: “Boycott [of Israel] is a personal decision and does not need a government decision. As mayor, you are required to initiate the boycott and lead the campaign.”

Other Palestinians, however, defended the Beit Jala mayor, arguing that Palestinians had no choice but to work with Israel and purchase Israeli products. They pointed out that those who were attacking the mayor were displaying hypocrisy.

“Those who are pretending to be honorable and patriotic people should also boycott Israeli electricity, cement, fuel, and the shekel,” said one Palestinian in remarks echoed by others response to the fierce criticism of the mayor.

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