Boycott – the Sane Response to Israeli Apartheid
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’
were arrested and are facing charges for ‘racially aggravated conduct’.
The SPSC website http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/ 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.”
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 Isra
el in order to draw attention to the
occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not,”
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
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
www.catdestroyshomes.org 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
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
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.