Global 'boycott Israel' campaign grows
Despite widespread condemnation of Israeli policies by the United Nations, other international bodies, human rights organisations and internationally respected lawyers Israel continues to deprive Palestinians of their rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination.
Israel’s ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination and aggressive expansion through colonisation are well documented.
As the global community has repeatedly failed to hold Israel accountable for its actions, on July 9, 2005, a large section of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience the world over to launch a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli state until it adheres to international law and the universal principles of human rights.
The three fundamental goals of the BDS campaign are: an end to Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied since 1967, including dismantling Israel's infamous apartheid wall; Israeli recognition of the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Israeli respect, protection, and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees as specified in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
The boycott campaign has targeted products and companies that support or profit from the violation of Palestinian rights. Consumers are encouraged not to buy Israeli goods and businesses are encouraged not to buy or sell them.
As part of a cultural boycott, a growing number of artists and musicians have refused to exhibit their work or play in Israel.
The call for divestment from Israel refers to targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the investment portfolios of institutions such as universities or pension funds are not used to finance these companies.
This is designed to push companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its violations of basic human rights.
Sanctions are a crucial way governments and international institutions show disapproval for a country’s actions.
Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides Israel respectability and material support for its crimes.
By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners aim to educate society about violations of international law.
A big step in the campaign was the first Palestinian BDS Conference held in Ramallah in 2007. Out of this conference came the BDS National Committee (BNC) as the Palestinian coordinating body for the international BDS campaign.
Australia first held its national BDS conference in 2010. The campaign really gained momentum and prominence here when the corporate media and other enemies of the Palestine solidarity movement made a lot of noise over a motion by the Marrickville Council in Sydney supporting the BDS campaign.
Media hysteria, especially in Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper, has also greeted the campaign in Australia to target the Max Brenner stores for its support of Israel’s oppression and war crimes.
The Strauss Group, parent company of the Max Brenner chocolate store chain, is one of the targets of the global BDS campaign for its support of the Israeli Defence Force.
Until recently, its website said: “Our connection with soldiers goes as far back as the country, and even further. We see a mission and need to continue to provide our soldiers with support, to enhance their quality of life and service conditions, and sweeten their special moments.”
It mentioned it had “adopted” the IDF Goloni reconnaissance platoon and a section of the Giati platoon, “with the goal of improving their service conditions and being there at the front to spoil them with our best products”.
The Golani and Givati platoons have been implicated in atrocities.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Golani Brigade allowed right-wing militias to enter the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps to carry out mass executions. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in what a UN General Assembly motion termed “an act of genocide”.
The Givati platoon were part of the ground-force that entered Gaza during the Israeli invasion known as Operation Cast Lead, in which more than 1400 Palestinians died.
The legitimacy of targeting the Max Brenner chain has been the source of much controversy in the past few months.
The Australian has highlighted the arguments of Reverend Jim Barr, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.
Barr said he supported the BDS campaign, but not the protesting against Max Brenner stores. He told the August 16 Australian “that stuff just discredits the whole movement”.
However, many other Palestine solidarity groups and activists disagree.
Independent journalist and author of My Israel Question Antony Loewenstein told Green Left Weekly why he believed Max Brenner was one of a number of legitimate targets for the BDS campaign: “[I]t is very clear it has been widely documented that Max Brenner publicly and privately fully supports elements in the Israeli Defence Force, some of which have been accused of very serious war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, including during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009.
“It seems very legitimate to say that as consumers in a democratic society, we have a choice on how we spend our money, and ask do we want to spend money in a shop that actively supports elements of a criminal army of a strong ally of Australia?”
On July 1, a protest was held at the Max Brenner store in Melbourne’s CBD. Members from a range of left-wing activist organisations were involved in the demonstration.
Victorian police used excessive force to disrupt the demonstration and 19 activists were arrested. Sixteen of the activists were charged and bailed; the charges included assaulting police, riotous behaviour, besetting premises and trespass.
There were 13 issued with bail conditions, prohibiting them from entering the QV shopping centre or Melbourne Central shopping centres in Melbourne where Max Brenner stores are located.
It is clear that the purpose of these conditions was to prevent the protesters from taking part in further protests at Max Brenner stores.
Conservative blogger and author, Pamela Gellar, labelled one of the organisers, Students for Palestine, as a “terrorist organisation” in response to the peaceful protest.
The protest, as part of the global BDS movement, is modelled on the campaign to boycott South Africa in the 1970s and '80s.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called on the international community to treat Israel in the same manner as it treated apartheid South Africa. He is a prominent supporter of the BDS campaign against Israel.
In 2005, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) Council voted to boycott two Israeli universities; the University of Haifa and Bar-llan University.
Bar-llan University was boycotted because it runs courses at universities in the occupied West Bank and is therefore intimately involved with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.
The AUT said its members had voted for the boycott in response to a plea from a group of Palestinian academics.
Haifa was boycotted because the university had purportedly disciplined a lecturer for supposedly supporting a student who wrote about attacks on Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel.
The boycott was temporary and was to be removed when Haifa “ceases its victimisations of academic staff and students who attempt to research and discuss the history of the founding of the Israeli state”.
Both boycotts were later cancelled. Reasons cited for this backtracking were: the damage to academic freedom, and the hindering of a dialogue and peace effort between Israel and Palestine.
A more far-reaching academic boycott is in place in South Africa.
In response to a big campaign calling for an academic boycott, supported by more than 400 South African academics, the senate of the University of Johannesburg voted in March to cut ties with Ben Gurion University in Tel Aviv. The Israeli university's support for the IDF was cited as justification.
The movement in France developed in response to the Gaza War in 2008-09.
In early 2009, a call for an academic boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions was published by the Collective Interuniversity for cooperation with the Palestinian universities (CICUP) on their website.
In June that year, a group of French organisations gathered to organise a French BDS campaign against specific targets like Carrefour, Ahava, Agrexco-Carmel, Veolia Transport and Alstom, the Association France Palestine Solidarite said.
Calls for boycotting Israel are illegal under French law. Olivia Zemor, of the group EuroPalestine, was made to appear in French court in 2011 for posting a video to the internet of Palestinian and French activists wearing t-shirts that called for BDS against Israel.
BDS first took off in Canada in 2005, when Israeli Apartheid Week was conceived in Toronto. It has occurred every year since, becoming an international event. It takes place in many countries around the world, including in the West Bank.
The Israeli government’s response to the global BDS campaign has included a law being passed in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in July that made it a civil offence for any Israeli citizen to publicly call for a boycott against the State of Israel.
Under the new law, anyone calling for a boycott can be sued and forced to pay compensation regardless of any actual damages.
Moreover, at the discretion of a government minister, anyone supporting the boycott call may also be prohibited from bidding in government tenders.
The BDS movement continues to grow worldwide. Many people who support Palestinian rights, and are horrified by Israel's ongoing crimes, are increasingly seeing the BDS campaign as a viable method for opposing human rights abuses and its flouting of international law.