Israel stands increasingly isolated following its attack on the peace flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara were murdered and many more wounded.
The attack on the flotilla, like the siege of Gaza, is aimed at demoralising Palestinians and their supporters. But the global pressure was enough to force Israel to announce a token relaxation of the blockade of the 1.5 million people crammed into the tiny coastal strip.
Mass outrage in Turkey has also put significant pressure on its government, which has had close political and military ties with Israel.
Opposition to apartheid Israel deepened after its 2006 attack on Lebanon. It deepened again after the horror of its December 2008-January 2009 attack on Gaza.
This has given a boost to the global campaign to isolate Israel in the same way that Apartheid South Africa was isolated.
That successful and peaceful international campaign put pressure not only on the Apartheid regime but also on governments reluctant to criticise it. It proved an important vehicle to allow global, people-powered movements to take the lead when governments were unwilling to act.
The global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel was called by Palestinian unions and other civil society groups in 2005.
Since the May 31 attack, the movement has gained new supporters. Even Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur for Palestine, said the BDS campaign was now a “moral and political imperative”.
In the year and a half since Israel’s last full-scale attack on Gaza, the global, Palestinian-led BDS campaign has racked up some impressive victories. Norway’s pension funds and several European banks have divested from certain Israeli companies, university campuses have cut ties and international artists have refused to perform in Israel.
Performers Gil Scott-Herron, Santana and Elvis Costello have recently pulled out of gigs in Israel. Since the attack, US band the Pixies cancelled a concert.
Since May 31, more trade unions and union federations have signed on to support the BDS movement’s aims, including COSATU in South Africa, Unite (Britain’s largest union with 2 million members), UNISON (Britain’s largest trade union for academics and academic-related staff in higher education), the Scottish and Irish Trade Union Councils.
Swedish Port Workers will blockade all Israeli ships and cargo to and from Israel from June 15-24.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union has called on its members to refuse to allow Israeli ships to dock, or to handle Israeli goods. On June 4, the South African Municipal Workers Union voted to ensure every municipality across the country was completely free of any ties with Israel.
On June 7, the Palestinian trade union movement called for international dockworkers to block the loading and offloading of Israeli ships until it complies with international law and lifts the siege.
Nicaragua has suspended diplomatic ties. Sweden, Spain, Turkey, Ecuador and South Africa have recalled their envoys. (Venezuela and Bolivia had already removed theirs.) A number of European governments have condemned the siege on Gaza, including Britain’s conservative coalition government.
Even the Australian PM Kevin Rudd, who famously said support for Israel was “in his DNA”, criticised the attack and said the siege should be lifted — while offering his understanding of Israel’s “security concerns”.
The US has, of course, come to Israel’s defence, but there are indications of some rethinking on whether the siege is a good tactic.
The problem for Israel and its Western allies is that the siege on Gaza is not achieving its aim — to isolate Hamas and to cause so much suffering that the Gazans turn on their government. Instead, the sheer injustice of the siege is giving rise to anger against Israel. This anger puts pressure on Western governments.
A big danger to the pro-West Arab regimes is the anger of their own people. This is why there is a growing shift by Israel’s Western allies against the blockade. It’s not because these governments have suddenly developed a conscience — the siege is threatening to destabilise a part of the world crucial for the West.
Israel depends on Western, especially US, support.
Plans to send more flotillas mean the challenge to the blockade will be escalated. If the pressure is maintained, it’s possible Israel will decide the siege is no longer worth the trouble.
This would be a huge victory for the Palestinian people and one that has the potential to give confidence to the whole Middle East and international supporters of Palestinian rights.
But it will only happen with ongoing struggle — and the BDS campaign gives the struggle an international framework.
Following the decision by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Services Union to sign on to the BDS campaign, a range of regional trades and labour councils have also signed on, including the South Coast Labour Council and Geelong Trades and Labour Council.
Following the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, WA Maritime Union of Australia delegates voted to support the BDS campaign. In May, the MUA NSW branch also signed on.
We need to make this latest atrocity the tipping point in the isolation of apartheid Israel.
[Pip Hinman is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Grayndler.]