Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Boycott - the Sane Response to Israeli Apartheid"

Boycott - the Sane Response to Israeli Apartheid

bUK, August 24, 2009, (Pal Telegraph) -

The movement to boycott Israel is becoming respectable. In Europe and America as well as in the Middle East and many parts of the developing world, people of conscience - including many Jews - are rejecting anti-Arab prejudice and Zionist mythology and seeing Israel for what it is - an ethnocentric state which deserves to be ostracised just as South Africa was ostracised during the apartheid era.

Groups like mine - Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods - support the call made by nearly 200 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 for a broad campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, including an institutional academic and cultural boycott, until Israel respects Palestinian human rights and abides by international law.

Four years on, reports of boycott activities are appearing in mainstream media and the internet is buzzing with film, photos and text reports of inventive, non-violent and increasingly effective campaigns. These take many different forms.

Just this week, a worldwide campaign of letter writing resulted in the human rights organisation Amnesty International withdrawing from a scheme to manage the proceeds from a concert in Israel next month by American singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Cohen has been touring the globe for many weeks now, everywhere encountering musicians, artists and other campaigners pleading with him not to ignore the Palestinian boycott call. They argue that to go ahead with a concert in Israel is to reward Israelis for the murderous assault on Gaza last winter which killed 1,500 Palestinians and devastated a community of 1.5 million.

Cohen tried to persuade Amnesty to give his planned concert credibility by distributing funds to organisations he said work for reconciliation, tolerance and peace. But his argument was rejected by Palestinian groups which said the plan would only enhance Israeli legitimacy without restoring justice to Palestinians. Amnesty bowed out, but the campaign to halt Leonard Cohen's concert in Israel continues as part of the cultural boycott movement to persuade all international performers to stay away.

Artists and performers representing the Israeli state are also coming up against boycott actions when they travel abroad. Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) activists, protesting at the Israeli siege of Gaza which was in force long before the all-out military assault began in December 2008, disrupted a concert in Edinburgh last year by the Jerusalem Quartet, an Israeli musical ensemble designated ‘Cultural Ambassadors' of the State of Israel and ‘Distinguished IDF (Israeli Army) Musicians'

Five activists were arrested and are facing charges for ‘racially aggravated conduct'. The SPSC website said these were " trumped up charges based on the British Government's response to rising support among the public for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and the wave of anger at British complicity in Israeli crimes." They indicate official endorsement of "the tired Zionist strategy" of trying to intimidate Israel's opponents by accusing them of anti-Jewish racism, the campaign group said.

The Zionist habit of accusing Israel's critics of anti-semitism is losing its potency as more and more Jews, including some Israelis, recognise the powerful arguments for boycotting Israel. Scottish PSC has received vocal support from the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), a Jewish organisation committed to justice and full recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people. IJAN gave the Scottish activists its "unwavering support" and said "we reject the false premise that a challenge to the injustice of Israeli apartheid is a ‘racially motivated' act targeting Jewish people."

The network said it fully endorsed such actions undertaken in support of the call from Palestinian civil society for full boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Further Jewish endorsement of the boycott movement came this week from Neve Gordon who teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Gordon said he had reluctantly concluded that calling on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel was "the only way that Israel can be saved from itself."

He stated, "Israel today is . . . an apartheid state" in which the 3.5 million Palestinians and half a million Jews living in areas Israel captured in 1967 are "subjected to totally different legal systems."

Gordon said Jerusalem has become "an apartheid city where Palestinians aren't citizens and lack basic services". The Israeli peace camp is almost nonexistent and politics has moved far to the right. "It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure."

If words and condemnation from the Obama administration and the European Union produce no moves towards Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) become the only option, Gordon said.

He referred to a gathering in Bilbao, Spain, last year when a coalition of organisations from all over the world resolved to campaign for "sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner.

"Artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not," Gordon added.

As part of the wide-ranging BDS movement, women in France, America and within Israel itself, have daubed themselves with mud and declared that they will not use Dead Sea beauty products from the Ahava company which bases its operations in the illegal West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

YouTube videos show them chanting:

"Ahava, you can't hide, we will show your dirty side,
We're here to show your dirty hands, products made in stolen lands."

UK activists hold regular pickets outside a depot near London owned by Carmel Agrexco, the partly state-owned Israeli firm responsible for the bulk of fresh produce - flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables - exported to Europe. Much of it comes from illegal settlements on confiscated Palestinian land and depends on exploiting Palestinian water, labour and other resources, contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the responsibilities of an occupying power.

Boycott campaigners bombard supermarkets with complaints about this and regularly distribute thousands of leaflets explaining to shoppers why they should avoid goods from Israel and the occupied territories.

Two leading supermarkets have entered into high-level discussions with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on the subject, Cooperative stores and Marks & Spencer have stated that they will not stock settlement goods and Sainsbury's and the Cooperative have started to give shelf space to Palestinian olive oil.

The stores and the solidarity movement are awaiting new guidelines from the British government's Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which are supposed to clarify how goods are labelled, so that consumers can choose not to buy produce from stolen Palestinian land. Ultimately boycott campaigners want to see trade in all such goods banned.

To press home the point, inspired by supermarket actions in France, UK campaigners have recently begun to stage sit-down demonstrations in stores stocking Israeli and settlement goods. Film of their actions is accessible via the internet.

Campaigns to expose the complicity of some companies in the illegal occupation is another important element in the BDS movement. Following one such campaign, French company Veolia is reported to have pulled out of a consortium set to build a controversial rail project linking East Jerusalem and settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli-owned water cooler firm Eden Springs, which in Israel markets water from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, is facing repeated challenges to its contracts with public bodies in the UK.

US firm Caterpillar, which sells Israel the bulldozers it uses to demolish Palestinian homes, is the subject of a long-running international campaign pressuring it to stop selling heavy equipment to Israel. Four activists were arrested in March 2006 when, in front of CAT's main US office, they re-enacted the death three years earlier of peace activist Rachel Corrie, killed by a CAT bulldozer as she tried to stop it destroying a Palestinian house. Campaigning website says activists have targeted CAT merchandise in stores, investments in church and union funds, and declared "CAT-Free Zones" boycotting all CAT products. CAT distributors have seen protests from Belfast to Bil'in, Detroit to Denmark, San Francisco to Stockholm.

Support for boycott actions is growing within the trade union movement in Britain and Ireland.

The Electronic Intifada reported on 14 August that although the British union federation the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has not yet passed a BDS motion, the public sector union PCS, the University and College Union UCU and the Fire Brigades Union have all passed strong motions explicitly calling for a general policy of boycott of Israeli goods, divestment from Israeli companies and government sanctions against the state. Others have called for elements of BDS such as a boycott of settlement goods, or for the government to suspend arms sales to Israel.
In April, the independent Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) for the first time voted to endorse a report recommending "boycott and disinvest from Israeli companies".

The boycott movement faces constant attempts by Zionists to roll back its successes, usually deploying charges of discrimination. Campaigners were somewhat alarmed in July when the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights upheld a French ruling that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli goods. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post on July 20, the Court also said that making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods did not constitute a violation of one's freedom of expression.

However, boycott campaigners believe the court's ruling probably has very limited application across Europe since it is based on a specific case under French law. Whatever their ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, human rights and peace campaigners are taking up the Boycott Israel call in growing numbers.

By Naomi Idrissi

- Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi is a London-based Jewish campaigner for Palestinian rights. She is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign's Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions committee. In 2006 she helped form Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) to support the work of PSC's BIG campaign. She is also an active member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the largest Jewish organisation in the UK concerned with Palestinian rights.