The global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has come of age in the past 12 months. Since Palestinian civil society groups made the call for the boycott in 2005, it has become a significant tool that has allowed people around the world to protest against Israel’s relentless and persistent violations of human rights and international law.
Governments, financial institutions, religious groups, unions, academic bodies, political parties and tens of thousands of ordinary people around the world are now recognising that BDS is a highly effective way to stand up to this rogue government and say no.
On November 29, 2012, a majority of nations voted in the UN General Assembly to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state within the 1967 borders. But this historic vote has not made any significant difference to the grim situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and in refugee camps around the world.
It has certainly not stopped the expansionist vision of the Israeli Likud government or its crimes against humanity.
Until now, Israel has been able to ignore international law with impunity, but this powerful state has found its nemesis in the BDS movement and has not been able to ignore this form of resistance.
In the words of one of the founding members of the BDS movement, Omar Bargouthi: “Israel has officially recognised BDS as a ‘strategic threat’ to its regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
“In the last year or so, the Israel Law Centre, which describes itself as a civil rights organisation that combats “terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world”, has also launched an attack on the BDS.
“Unable to defeat the IDF militarily or weaken the population through persistent terrorism, the extremist groups, Islamic terrorists and their rogue regime allies have embarked upon a global effort to demonize and isolate Israel, casting it as a pariah state.
“The widespread BDS movement, and its utilization of Lawfare, is the main component of the 'Durban Strategy' adopted by Israel's opponents at the U.N.'s Human Rights Conference in 2001. Tactics like the Gaza Flotilla, the effort overseas to indict IDF officers and elected officials for war crimes, blood libels in the media, the boycotting of Israeli academics, and the persistent debate over whether a Jewish State has a right to exist, are having a perilous impact on Israel's security and diplomatic capabilities. As the Anti-Defamation League has stated: 'The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic'."
This firm has taken legal action in jurisdictions around the world, most recently here in Australia against University of Sydney academic Jake Lynch, who honoured the BDS campaign by refusing to sponsor an academic from the Hebrew University who wanted to do research in Australia.
There are many other pro Zionist organisations working in the courts against anyone or any organisation that promotes BDS. Recently in France, 12 activists from the group called Boycott 68 were acquitted of charges brought against them by the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNCVA), the France Israel Chamber of Commerce and the International League against Racism and AntiSemitism.
BNCVA is identified as an unofficial group that purports to fight against anti-Semitism, but its website indicates that it’s closely affiliated with the Paris-based European branch of the extreme anti-Palestinian Simon Wiesenthal Center.
These cases are popping up everywhere and they all have the same objective and underlying rationale, which is to silence legitimate political criticism of the state of Israel and any political action that supports BDS, and to conflate this criticism with anti-Semitism.
The fact that BDS is succeeding in so many areas and so rapidly in the last 12 to 18 months, means that these attacks will become more frequent and more aggressive.
With the Tony Abbott government’s retrograde position on settlements and the status of Palestine — as seen in its shocking reversal of Australia’s position at the UN on key Palestine resolutions — we can expect attempts to strengthen anti-boycott legislation in coming months.
The BDS movement has enjoyed a few major successes in the past 12 months.
The Canberra Times reported on February 8: “The European Union issued guidelines that explicitly state no EU grants, prizes or ﬁnancial instruments, such as loans, can be issued to any Israeli entities operating beyond the Green Line, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”
This has resonated loud' and clear throughout Israel as entities and individuals realise what it means to be unable to receive any lucrative EU funding and grants if they are located or have subsidiary businesses in any of the internationally declared illegal settlements.
The British government also issued an explicit warning to businesses in December last year, noting that trading with Israeli settlements in the West Bank was unadvisable and that it does encourage or offer support to any such activity.
The advisory states: “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel's territory."
It advises citizens and businesses to be aware of the "potential reputational implications" of involvement in Israeli settlements, urging those "contemplating any economic or financial involvement in settlements [to] seek appropriate legal advice".
In January this year, the Netherlands' largest pension fund management company PGGM announced it would withdraw its investments from Israel’s five largest banks. In a statement, to “serious violations of individual rights” in East Jerusalem.
In February, the ABC reported: “The international boycott against Israel over its West Bank settlements has gained potency in recent days, with Denmark's largest bank the latest to cancel its Israeli investments. It follows the controversy over a West Bank factory which produces products for the SodaStream company.
“On the weekend the global charity, Oxfam, forced SodaStream's global ambassador, the actress Scarlett Johansson, to end her association with the charity because of her ties to the West Bank factory.”
These are just a few of the many significant events and actions that come under the umbrella of BDS.
Be ready to stand up and be heard here in Australia in support of Jake Lynch for the Palestinians who are relying on our support for their survival.
[This is an edited speech given to Politics in the Pub in Sydney on February 27.]