The following excerpts are from a press conference held on the morning of February 17 at Al Bireh Municipality Hall that was organised by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC).
Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement and a representative of the Palestinian Campaign for Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel the BDS National Committee (BNC), stated:
“In the last year or so, the global BDS movement, led by the BNC, reached a tipping point in its struggle for comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law. The Israeli government is panicking because of the recent fast growth of BDS around the world, particularly in countries that have always been considered Israel’s closest allies in the world: the US, Germany, the Netherlands, among others.”
“Whether in the academic, cultural, or economic areas, BDS, which is a non-violent, anti-racist human rights movement, has reached a qualitatively new phases, whereby our worldwide partners are leading grassroots movements in applying effective pressure on major banks, pension funds, corporations and academic associations to boycott Israel as was done to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Israel has officially recognized BDS as a ‘strategic threat’ to its regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”
Haitham Arar, representing the General Union of Palestinian Women, a member of the BDS National Committee (BNC), stated:
“Palestinian women and their representative unions have always been in the leadership of local and international boycott campaigns against Israel to end the occupation and realize all our rights under international law as a people. We also work at the UN level and with women’s organizations around the world to further the BDS movement as the most effective form of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
“In 2014, the UN-declared year of solidarity with the Palestinian people, the BDS movement will intensify, inside and outside, in pursuit of our full rights under international law. BDS calls for a full boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions; this is very similar to, and deeply inspired by, the boycott and divestment movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa.”
“A very important part of the BDS strategy is the military embargo on Israel, because Israel is one of the world’s leading military exporters that profit from wars and war crimes. We can have a substantial impact on this part of the Israeli economy.”
“All Palestinian trade union bodies are proud to be founding members of the BDS movement. We work with international and increasingly with Arab trade union bodies to spread BDS against Israel’s occupation and human rights violations.”
Responding to a question regarding Israel’s increasing emphasis on trade with “the East” as a response to the growing boycott in the West, Mr. Ibrahim said:
“Nations in the global South naturally understand colonialism and racial repression and therefore stand with the Palestinian people. If Israel thinks its increasing trade with China, India, Brazil and others will keep growing unchecked, they are wrong. We have deep partnerships with major trade union bodies in those countries, and we shall mobilize more grassroots support for BDS in 2014 to counter Israel’s attempt to increase trade there.”
Rifat Kassis, Kairos Palestine, a group of key Christian Palestinian figures from all denominations which adopted BDS in 2009, said:
“Churches play a considerable and fast growing role in holding Israel accountable for its occupation and denial of our basic rights through pressure and measures against companies involved in the occupation and violations of international law. When the Kairos Palestine document was issued in 2009, it opened the doors of many churches around the globe for the Palestinian-led, global BDS movement.
“Major churches in Canada, the US, the UK, India and elsewhere have adopted BDS measures against companies profiting from the occupation, and particularly from the illegal settlements. This phenomenon is undoubtedly spreading and growing.”
Nasfat Khuffash, Coordinating Council of Palestinian NGOs, which coordinates the work of the three main NGO networks in the OPT, all of which are part of the BNC, said:
“Israel and its lobby groups are waging an open war on Palestinian and international NGOs that adopt BDS, trying to dry up our sources of funding through intimidation, bullying and direct threats.
“We shall counter their announced lawfare against BDS by mobilizing Palestinian, Arab, global South and Western support for freedom of speech and our right to advocate nonviolent resistance strategies against Israel’s occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”
“Israel is trying to criminalize BDS, and this is a direct assault on freedom of expression. All freedom-loving citizens of the world should stand against this new Israeli attack on free speech.”
Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
UK and US: February 24-March 2
Europe: March 1-8
Palestine: March 8 – 15
South Africa: March 10-16
Brazil: March 24-28
Arab world and Asia: TBA
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior ministers Sunday to discuss ways of fighting boycott and divestment initiatives proliferating in Europe and worldwide. Present at the meeting were Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.
The main proposal under discussion was prepared by Yossi Kuperwasser, Director of the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, and other participants in the meeting included representatives of the Mossad, Shin Bet and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Israeli media has reported that “the discussion was held in secret“, with an imposed “media blackout” meaning that even the offices of participating ministers were “not even officially willing to confirm that the meeting took place”.
There is a difference of opinion between Steinitz and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), with the former pushing for a more proactive and confrontational approach. Steintz’s proposal means “invest[ing] substanial resources” in a public campaign, to the tune of “100 million shekels”. This would pay for “PR materials and aggressive legal and media campaigns against pro-boycott organizations”.
The MFA, meanwhile, is said to prefer “quieter, diplomatic channels”, judging that “a public campaign against [BDS activists] will only play into their hands, bolstering them.” According to The Jerusalem Post, Lieberman promised last week “that within some 45 days the public would see the plan Israel has in place to fight the boycotts.”
Ideas apparently discussed by senior ministers included lawsuits “in European and North American courts against [pro-BDS] organizations” and “legal action against financial institutions that boycott settlements…[and complicit] Israeli companies”. There is also the possibility of “encouraging anti-boycott legislation in friendly capitals around the world, such as Washington, Ottawa and Canberra”, and “activat[ing] the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.” for such a purpose.
Another topic was the question of “a lack of knowledge and inefficient tracking by Israeli intelligence of pro-BDS organizations”. Although Steinitz’s Strategic Affairs Ministry “has provided the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence department a budget of several million shekels for the purpose of bolstering military surveillance of such organizations”, reports Haaretz, “the need for the prime minister to instruct the Shin Bet Security Service and the Mossad on the efforts is likely to come up.”
Academics and commentators—including Crooked Timber bloggers—disagree over the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. There should be far less disagreement over two bills recently proposed in New York’s andMaryland’s state legislatures. These bills prohibit colleges and universities from using state monies to fund faculty membership in—or travel to—academic organizations that boycott the institutions of another country. Designed to punish the ASA for taking the stance it has, these bills threaten the ability of scholars and scholarly associations to say controversial things in public debate. Because they sanction some speech on the basis of the content of that speech, they run afoul of the US First Amendment.
We write as two academics who disagree on the question of the ASA boycott. One of us is a firm supporter of the boycott who believes that, as part of the larger BDS movement, it has put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the front burner, offering much needed strategic leverage to those who want to see the conflict justly settled. The other is highly skeptical that the ASA boycott is meaningful or effective, and views it as a tactically foolish and entirely symbolic gesture of questionable strategic and moral value.
This disagreement is real, but is not the issue that faces us today. The fundamental question we confront is whether legislatures should punish academic organizations for taking politically unpopular stands. The answer is no. The rights of academics to partake of and participate in public debate are well established. Boycotts are a long recognized and legally protected mode of political speech. The purpose of these bills, as some of their drafters admit, is to prevent organizations like the ASA from engaging in this kind of speech and to punish those organizations if they do—merely because the state disapproves of the content of that speech. For these and other reasons, the Center for Constitutional Rightsand the New York Civil Liberties Union have declared their opposition to these bills.
The bills affect both of us directly as taxpayers (one of us lives in New York State, the other in Maryland) and as working academics. But they also potentially have much broader consequences. One hundred and thirty-four members of Congress have signed a letter condemning the ASA, and it is very likely that other state legislatures will take up similar bills, unless there is a public outcry.
We thus write not only to express our joint opposition to these bills but also to invite others who share our opposition to express it by signing below (those who want to debate the underlying questions rather than sign should not do so here, but in this separate discussion post). We encourage you to share this statement with colleagues in your departments and professional associations, to urge them to adopt it or their own statements, and to take the necessary actions to oppose this type of legislation wherever it may arise.
More immediately, we encourage readers who live in New York State or Maryland to contact their state representatives, and if necessary, governors. Contact information for New York can be found here and here; for Maryland, here. While initial reports from New York this afternoon are positive—due to a flood of phone calls, a key committee chair in the Assembly has temporarily pulled the legislation for reconsideration—the bill’s backers in the Assembly intend to pursue some version of it. It has already passed the State Senate. Hence the need for continued and consistent pressure in both states.
Update (February 6)
The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that a bill has been introduced into the US House of Representatives that would cut off federal funding to any academic institution that boycotts the State of Israel. Though this bill does not immediately affect the ASA, which relies on no federal funding, it goes significantly beyond the legislation introduced in Maryland and New York. And may well have repercussions for the ASA insofar as it defines an institution’s participation in the boycott to mean, among other things, that “any significant part of the institution” —perhaps an academic department that voted with theASA?—is boycotting the State of Israel.
According to The Forward, leaders in the New York State Assembly are retooling the bill and planning on introducing it at some point in the future.
Second Update (February 7)
The bill’s sponsor, Peter Roskam, makes it emphatically clear that the legislation is not intended to prevent academics from engaging on boycotts in general, but instead to punish them for boycotting some states rather than others. From his statement:
It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea.
PSAGOT, West Bank (AP) — These days, when Yaakov Berg tries to sell his award-winning line of Psagot boutique wines, he encounters obstacles from every direction. As a Jewish vintner in a West Bank settlement, his product is increasingly considered off-limits.
“Not just overseas, also in Tel Aviv,” says Berg, 37. “So we have big problems. Actually, it’s almost impossible to sell in (Tel Aviv) restaurants.”
With Israel mired in a struggle to combat growing calls in Europe to boycott Israeli products and businesses with ties to the controversial settlements, a quieter and more informal campaign is subtly emerging at home among Israelis themselves.
Israelis who may have long supported peace but also considered the settlements no big deal are starting to ask why Israel continues building there in the face of what looks like a rare global consensus against them verging on outrage.
And even among Israelis who consider the West Bank Israel’s by right, there seems to be some discomfort now with continued investment in the West Bank instead of a genuine effort to address an internal housing crisis and other social ills in Israel.
Although no formal movement exists, a de facto distancing from the settlement enterprise is increasingly evident, especially in people refraining from buying settlement products ranging from wines to organic produce and cosmetics made from the Dead Sea.
“As an Israeli, I oppose a regime in the West Bank that I find illegitimate and I don’t want any part of it so I make an effort not to buy those products,” said Yaron Racah, a 38-year-old high-tech worker from the Tel Aviv area. “If I can’t help stop it, at least I can do no more harm by taking an active part in something I don’t believe in.”
More than 550,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, contiguous areas captured in the 1967 war, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. In 2013, Israeli authorities advanced plans for more than 14,000 apartments in settlements in various approval stages, according to the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now.
Palestinians say these areas, plus the Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel along the seacoast, should form their future state. They complain that the growing settler population makes it ever more difficult to partition the Holy Land into Israel and a Palestinian state.
Some Israelis see a big security risk in giving up the West Bank, which commands the highland over central Israel. Many religious Jews see it as their biblical heartland.
The issue has taken center stage in ongoing U.S.-mediated peace talks, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying that continued construction raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace. He and top European officials have warned that Israel could face increased isolation and economic pressure if peace talks fail and settlements grow.
Hanging in the air is the question of what happens if Israel becomes truly inseparable from the West Bank. With 6 million Jews and 2 million Arab citizens inside Israel, a merging together with the West Bank does not look much like a “Jewish state.”
Some on both sides say the point of no return may have already been crossed. And nervousness over this prospect is driving some Israelis to positions that would have seemed implausibly radical just a few years ago.
Zehava Galon, head of the dovish opposition Meretz Party, said that while she opposes international boycott efforts against Israel as a whole, she refrains from consuming settler products because there must be a “price to the occupation.”
“It is unacceptable. Whoever thought they could deceive the entire world succeeded for a few years but that is over,” she said.
Some academics have refrained from cooperating with their settler colleagues, a trickle of actors have refused to perform in theaters in the settlements and, in some cases, reserve soldiers have refused to report for guard duty in settlements. In parliament, dovish lawmakers have recently been pushing for more transparency in funding for the settlements.
Some Israelis even quietly speak of the need for even harsher action by the world, in particular by the European Union, which affords Israel a special status that is key to its people’s sense of normalcy and has them competing in European sports championships and events like the Eurovision Song Contest.
Amira Hass, a columnist for the Haaretz daily who is considered unabashedly pro-Palestinian by many of her fellow Israelis, called on European countries to stop allowing Israelis to visit without applying for visas in advance.
“Disruption of our freedom of movement and the chances of being refused visas would be a well-placed warning sign, telling us that our normality is nothing more than an illusion,” she wrote Wednesday.
Given that some in Israel have accused international boycott advocates of being anti-Semitic, such domestic parallels are a sensitive issue.
Yoram Cohen, of the Tanya winery in the settlement of Ofra, called the Israeli boycotters “trendy” hypocrites who had no problem purchasing wine from countries with much worse human rights records. Berg said he was afraid that a vocal minority was “poisoning” the public discourse and influencing others to shun settlement products.
Businesses that operate in settlements, including SodaStream, an international maker of carbonated beverage machines that recently ran an ad featuring actress Scarlett Johansson during the Super Bowl, say they provide well-paying jobs to Palestinians. But Palestinian officials say the presence of settlements stifles their own economic development.
Along with other West Bank wineries, Berg recently went public with news that dozens of Tel Aviv restaurants were boycotting their wines in hopes of shaming them into reversing course.
The Associated Press contacted more than a dozen Tel Aviv restaurants, including some named by settlers. All refused to discuss the subject.
It wasn’t just the fear of alienating clients that likely deterred them from speaking but also a 2011 law in Israel that could expose them to lawsuits if a boycott became official. The law did not make a boycott call a criminal offense, but rather a civil issue that could trigger financial compensation. There is no actual precedent of this happening yet.
Among consumers, feelings are mixed.
“We need to show that there are people here that disagree with the settlements, (that) not everybody thinks this is OK,” said Tel Aviv resident Chai Hazen. “If a boycott is the way to do it … that’s what we will do.”
But fellow Tel Aviv resident Tali Biton said the internal divisions only harmed the country’s image and its economy.
Yaniv Rosner, who runs a liquor store in neighboring Kfar Saba, said clients rejecting settler wine was a rare thing. Either way. He added, wine and politics should stay apart: “Give me a good wine from Lebanon and I will sell it too.”
The pro-Israel camp – and some supporters of the Palestinian cause – are viewing the Scarlett Johansson / SodaStream saga as a defeat for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. I fundamentally disagree.
Yes, the actress refused to bow to pressure to stop being the poster girl for the Israeli company, which has a factory on occupied Palestinian territory. And yes, she stepped down as an ambassador for Oxfam at the end of January because of the charity’s contribution to that pressure.
However, SodaStream shares sank to their lowest level since 2012 following the spat. Much more importantly, the actions and reactions of the company, and to a far greater extent Johansson, unwittingly gave BDS a massive – and free – publicity boost, with weeks of global media coverage that is ongoing.
“The Lost in Translation star has accidentally turned a searchlight on an important issue – whether it is right or lawful to do business with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – as well as inadvertently sprinkling stardust on the campaign to boycott Israel until it withdraws from the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem,” the Financial Times wrote in an editorial.
Furthermore, the involvement of a Hollywood star and international sex symbol got the attention of many people who may have been hitherto unfamiliar with BDS, and even the Palestinian cause in general. As such, those of us who have never been particularly impressed by her acting finally have something to thank her for.Fringe to mainstream
Even if one views the SodaStream affair as a setback, BDS has made great and undeniable strides since its establishment almost a decade ago, modelled along the campaign that was pivotal to ending apartheid in South Africa. Initially mocked and dismissed as fringe fanaticism, it is becoming mainstream, garnering greater support worldwide.
BDS is gaining traction in countries and regions that are key trading partners and allies of Tel Aviv – particularly the United States and Europe
It is causing alarm in Israel, not least because BDS is gaining traction in countries and regions that are key trading partners and allies of Tel Aviv – particularly the United States and Europe – and because the movement is being backed by an increasing number of Jews, such that Israel passed a law in 2011 banning support for boycotts.
BDS “is moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in December. “Those who don’t want to see it will end up feeling it.” Israeli parliament member Ayelet Shaked last month described the campaign as “the greatest threat faced by the country.”
They are both right. BDS is proving to be the most effective means of achieving Palestinian rights and national aspirations in the face of Israel’s intransigence. The movement is succeeding where negotiations, arms, and even other forms of peaceful resistance have failed.Recent achievements
Its achievements are far too long to list, but highlighting just some of those from this year alone shows the impact it is having, particularly impressive given the short period of time:
- Danske Bank, the largest in Denmark, has blacklisted Israel’s Bank Hapoalim because of its involvement in the funding of settlement construction. Danske Bank had already decided to pull its investments from Africa Israel Investments Ltd and Danya Cebus for the same reason.
- The latter two companies have been excluded from Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, which holds 1% of global equity markets. The Finance Ministry had received a recommendation from the Council of Ethics to exclude the companies “due to contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem.”
- Sweden’s Nordea Bank, the largest in Scandinavia, said it will boycott Israeli banks that operate in the occupied territories.
- The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will reportedly investigate British security company G4S for its supply of surveillance equipment at Israeli checkpoints in the occupied territories.
- Dutch pension fund PGGM has withdrawn investments worth tens of millions of euros from five Israeli banks. “Given the day-to-day reality and domestic legal framework they operate in, the banks have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” said PGGM.
- Germany, one of Israel’s staunchest allies, is conditioning research support and cooperation on the exclusion of settlements. This “represents a significant escalation in European measures against the settlements,” Agence France Presse reported.
- The boycott of settlement products resulted in the income of Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley falling by more than 14% last year, the Associated Press reported. “The damage is enormous,” said David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which represents about 7,000 settlers. “In effect, today, we are almost not selling to the European market anymore.”Unheeded warnings
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid warned last month that even a partial European boycott would cost the country some $5.7 billion in exports annually, and almost 10,000 jobs. “The Israeli economy will retreat, every Israeli citizen will be hit directly in his pocket, the cost of living will rise, budgets for education, health, welfare and security will be cut, and many international markets will be closed to us,” he said.
Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said if current peace talks fail (and they almost certainly will), Israel will likely face an international boycott “on steroids.” Predictably, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ignoring internal and external warnings. In so doing, he is supplying and injecting the steroids.
Israel’s traditionally fearsome PR machine is proving increasingly impotent as the country grows more isolated. Justifying the unjustifiable is looking more and more ridiculous and abhorrent to more and more people, companies, institutions and governments.
Given Israel’s vast military superiority, and the diplomatic immunity the United States provides at the U.N. Security Council, BDS is hitting where it hurts: the economy, whose “vulnerability is now greater than the threat of war,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said last month.
“Today, the economy is managed by multinationals… Today, you don’t need a boycott from above, a boycott by countries; it’s enough for a certain company to turn up its nose,” Peres added. They are doing just that, often beyond the reach of governments that would rather avoid the issue.
South Africa “didn’t realize until well after the fact the severity of the sanctions against it,” said Lapid. Time will tell whether Israel will do the same. Two things are certain: the price of its occupation, colonization and repression is rising fast; and the scenario predicted by the finance minister can be avoided by granting the Palestinians their inalienable rights.
Instead, announcements of settlement construction continue unabated, and demolition of Palestinian homes is at a five-year high, not to mention a raft of other daily violations. The ball is in Israel’s court, but it can no longer play according to its own rules. Whether its leadership realizes this yet is another matter.
Heike Schotten is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she teaches political theory, feminist theory, and queer theory (her work is available here). She has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement since 2006.
Trains typically run on tracks consisting of two rails, but when they are powered by electricity, they run on a third rail that supplies the train with electric power. Third rail systems are often used for mass transportation because they are so efficient. The third rail is nevertheless hazardous. If you touch it, you might die from electrocution.
Israel is often called the third rail of US politics. This means both that support for Israel powers US politics and also that anyone who dares to question it will pay the price.
It also means that Israel’s sacrosanct status is a particularly efficient means of keeping status quo US politics running, even as it effectively wards off interference with its invisible machinations.
Israel’s third rail status in US politics is the reason why the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the United States has lagged behind that of many European countries. It is not simply the clout of the Israel lobby or the shared US-Israeli imperial foreign policy agenda that protect Israel from scrutiny.
It is also the reflexive cries of “anti-Semitism!”; the ostracism and demonization of critics of Israel in families, workplaces, and communities; the threats, intimidation, demotion, and firing of public critics of Israel. Each of these functions effectively as the equivalent of a subway sign declaring: “Third Rail: Do Not Touch.”
The latest and most significant BDS victories in the US, however, make enormous strides toward dismantling Israel’s third rail status in US politics, in particular because of where they have occurred: campus Hillel houses (a national Jewish student organization) and the so-called ivory tower of academia.
In academia, of course, the victory is by now well-known: the American Studies Association (ASA) resolved — by a significant majority of those voting — to boycott of Israeli universities. Meanwhile, in a less-remarked upon but no less remarkabledevelopment, Swarthmore College declared its Hillel House an “Open Hillel,” meaning that it will not exclude from membership Jewish students who are critical of Israel or endorse BDS (as Hillel International mandates).
The ASA was not the first academic association to endorse academic boycott — that honor goes to the Asian American Studies Association. Nevertheless, the spate of academic resolutions regarding Israel (a more moderate one was considered at this year’s American Public Health Association meeting) is truly remarkable.
Moreover, the sheer volume of discourse produced about the ASA vote — now impossible to summarize, much less representatively index — means that this event has exceeded the goals of its organizers and is reverberating far beyond the hallowed halls of academia. To wit: stories and editorials condemning the ASA vote have appeared in the national papers of record, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
The usual suspects have penned the usual screeds deploring the “anti-Semitism” of BDS (including the indefatigable Alan Dershowitz and reliably frumpy neocon Charles Krauthammer), while dyed-in-the-wool Zionists are busy proposing legislation to punish universities and organizations engaged in boycott. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has been learning about professional academic associations, what they do, and why they might be interested in taking a position on a political issue.
An internet meme of Netanyahu’s speech at the UN depicting the progress of Iran’s nuclear program with the American Studies Association’s logo
And the defenses of the ASA vote have been amazing — moving, erudite, and profound in their taking seriously the meaning of both “public” and “intellectual” (see, e.g., Robin Kelly as well as this sampling of speeches from the ASA vote itself).
Meanwhile, on campuses, as universities from Brandeis to Penn State (Harrisburg) have severed their ties with the ASA, faculty and students have been pushing back: faculty atTrinity as well as a collection of Indiana faculty (among others) have courageously called out their presidents’ condemnation of the boycott; at Northwestern University, thestudents filed a petition in protest of their president’s public condemnation.
Then, of course, there was the cascade of further academic boycott decisions in the wake of the ASA vote: the governing council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association declared its support of the boycott, as did the University of Hawai’i's Ethnic Studies Department — the first academic department at any US college or university to do so. Next up: the Modern Languages Association. Stay tuned.
Why has the ASA vote been such a high profile victory? Although Norman Finkelstein recently dismissed the ASA victory as a mindless distraction by out-of-touch activists, the ASA vote has been rightly cast as a tipping point by PACBI and a turning pointby David Lloyd, one of the founders of USACBI.
Steven Salaita speculates that the higher profile of the ASA and some of the vote’s lead organizers led to increased media scrutiny, and also gave the opposition more time and motivation to galvanize. My own guess is that the ASA’s identity as the American Studies Association (rather than the Asian American Studies Association or the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) also had something to do with it.
To those unfamiliar with American Studies beyond its name, one might expect a field consisting of paeans to the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and U.S. exceptionalism of various sorts. Yet American Studies is actually a highly critical field influenced by feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, and anti-racisms among other approaches and is deeply critical of American exceptionalism. Its support of academic boycott, then, can be marshaled by Zionists and other conservatives as part of a larger U.S. “culture war”and a betrayal of “American values.”
Of course, the fact that public criticism of Israel by an “American” Studies Association could be understood as a betrayal of “American values” makes clear that unwavering support for Israel is intrinsic to American values, that questioning American values is perceived by critics as tantamount to their destruction, and, therefore, that there is significant overlap between American values and Zionist values.
As J. Kēhaulani Kauanui makes clear, to take on Israel’s status as a Zionist settler colonial project requires challenging the very foundation of the United States itself.
As such, critique of Israel cannot be tolerated for fear that the underpinnings of the US settler project might be subject to critical scrutiny.
A similar shattering of taboos occurred when Swarthmore College students declared its Hillel House an “Open Hillel,” meaning it will hence forward welcome members of all political positions regarding Israel. This is only the latest development in the Open Hillel Movement of students across the US seeking to challenge the orthodoxy of Hillel International and the Jewish establishment more generally (see the excellent campaign timeline here).
That Hillel is a Jewish establishment player and Zionist proxy — not simply a campus group promoting Jewish student life — was made even more explicit when it recently partnered with AIPAC, clarifying the groups’ joint intention to “empower, train, and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.”
Each of these victories represents a profound step forward for BDS in the US. They are significant in themselves, but they are especially important because of the unlikely places in which they occurred: Hillel, an institution of the Jewish establishment in the US, and academia, a place that, as Stanley Fish’s multiple blog posts make clear, Americans would prefer to remain “neutral” or free from political positions of any sort.
These victories demonstrate that the default views of mainstream American and Jewish life are, in fact, neither neutral nor objective, but distinctly partisan and pro-Israel. In touching the third rail of American politics — precisely in those places presumed to be beyond or outside politics themselves — the BDS movement is not only achieving major victories but also doing valuable work in unmasking the ideological workings of American liberalism and Jewish establishment politics.
Support of Israel is increasingly becoming a partisan position in the U.S. The conflation of Jewishness and Zionism is increasingly a partisan position within Judaism. These are signs of a sea change, and the necessary foundation of a real overhaul of U.S. political discourse on Israel.
Far from being a “cult,” as Finkelstein would have it, BDS is increasingly mainstreamand reaching the “broad public” he insists it must. The media is increasingly promoting the voices and positions of BDS activists (see, e.g., recent editorials in the Financial Times and, by Omar Barghouti, in the New York Times).
The stepping up of embarrassing hasbara efforts in public spaces such as subway stations suggests Israel knows all too well it might lose the battle of public relations in this country. It shows that the third rail might be less and less hazardous to the touch and increasingly an electrifying force for change in U.S. politics.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.
Gaza children paint a mural against a siege that the EU helps to finance.
Has the European Union finally confessed that it is footing the bill for the occupation of Palestine?
In a roundabout way, one of its envoys may have done just that. Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, recently warned about the consequences of the Union deciding to cut its assistance to the Palestinian Authority should the current “peace” talks prove fruitless.
“I think it is realized in Israel that this money is key to the stability of the West Bank and in Gaza,” the Dane said. “If we don’t provide the money, I think there is a great likelihood that Israel would have to provide far more.”
Faaborg-Andersen’s choice of words are instructive. He appears to believe that the EU is doing Israel a favor by providing “stability” in the territories occupied in 1967.
As far as I can see, he did not elaborate on his comments. Had he done so, he could have explained that international law obliges an occupying power to meet the basic needs of a people under occupation. By stumping up around €460 million ($622 million) to Palestine each year, the EU is relieving Israel of its legal responsibilities.Spin
The spin constantly being put on this aid is that it improves the living conditions of the Palestinians. The statements and “fact sheets” cranked out by Brussels bureaucrats don’t explain that some of it directly finances the infrastructure of occupation.
In 2012, for example, the Union boasted about how it was giving €13 million ($17.5 million) to upgrade equipment such as X-ray machines and computer technology used at Karem Abu Salem, the crossing for goods between Gaza and present-day Israel.
There was a major omission in the announcement of this “generous” gift. Karem Abu Salem — known in Hebrew as Kerem Shalom — is controlled by Israel, which has placed severe restrictions on the flow of goods into the Strip. By lending Israel a hand, the EU was accommodating the illegal siege of Gaza. It wasn’t the first time that the Union had facilitated such illegality.Don’t trick us
If you understand French, I’d urge you to read Palestine, la trahison européenne(Palestine, the European betrayal). Written by Véronique De Keyser, a member of theEuropean Parliament, and the late human rights champion Stéphane Hessel, this book documents how aid ostensibly earmarked for the Palestinians actually benefits Israel. After Hamas won a democratic election in 2006, the EU refused to channel aid through an administration headed by that party. In March 2006, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, then the Union’s external affairs commissioner, decided that €40 million ($54 million) would be paid directly to Israel so that Israeli firms could deliver fuel to Gaza.
I have never argued that the EU should cease giving money to Palestine. Doing so would deprive too many people of education, healthcare and energy. Instead, what I have demanded is honesty and accountability.
The taxpayers of Europe should not be tricked into thinking that our money is always being spent in a benign fashion. We should be told straight out that it is aiding an occupation. If Israel refuses to accept its legal responsibilities, then it behoves the EU to send its aid bills to Israel and insist on reimbursement. And when Israel destroys EU-financed projects — as it has done on numerous occasions — the Union must take Israel to court. To their shame, the Union’s representatives have always been too cowardly to sue Israel.Sinister
Fresh data contained in an official EU report on the arms trade reveals something even more sinister. It indicates that the value of export licenses for weapons issued by the Union’s governments jumped by 290 percent between 2011 and 2012: from €157 million ($212 million) to €630 million ($851.5 million).
These statistics probably don’t give a full picture of the cooperation involved. Britain (a long-standing EU member) released figures last year indicating that the sale of military items to Israel can be measured in billions, rather than millions. Still, they indicate that the Union is blithely ignoring its own law on the weapons trade. It forbids arms exports if they are likely to be used for repression or to exacerbate regional tensions.
There is, of course, a pattern forming here. Israel is treated as if it is above the law.
New York - The National Lawyers Guild and other organizations calling for human rights and for the rule of law in Palestine and Israel today urged academic institutions to reaffirm their commitment to free and open campus debate. The plea for free expression, including the right to call for human rights boycotts, was prompted by a series of repressive responses to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to adopt a boycott against state-funded Israeli educational institutions. These institutions provide research and training used to maintain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
Official discrimination against particular viewpoints violates longstanding First Amendment free speech rights. Administrative usurpation of a faculty’s right to decide whether to maintain a departmental association with a scholarly association violates the core values of academic freedom that school officials claim to be defending. This includes the right to engage in prior debate before making a decision. Faculty are entitled to take public positions, individually and as associations, on matters of public concern. The severing of official ties with a scholarly association because it took a controversial position on a matter of public concern chills campus speech and debate. Beyond these constitutional violations, such actions undermine a school’s responsibility to teach – and model – democratic decision-making and dissent.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed that “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” (West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette)
NLG President Azadeh Shahshahani said, “In a hasty and intolerant official rush to dissociate themselves from the ASA resolution, some colleges and universities are trampling this core free speech right and academic freedom itself, which they purport to defend.”
As this country’s longtime defender of academic freedom, the American Association of University Professors, has stated: “It is the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree.”
Signatory organizations are the National Lawyers Guild, American Muslims for Palestine, the Center for Constitutional Rights,Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, The United States Palestinian Community Network, the Council on American-Islamic Relations – California, and Al Awda-New York.
Azadeh Shahshahani (NLG): (404) 574-0851; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jen Nessel (CCR): (212) 614-6449; email@example.com
Suzanne Adely (Al Awda-NY): (773) 510-7446
Rachel Roberts (CAIR-California):(408) 986-9874; firstname.lastname@example.org
ONCE derided as the scheming of crackpots, the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, widely known as BDS, is turning mainstream. That, at any rate, is the fear of a growing number of Israelis. Some European pension funds have withdrawn investments; some large corporations have cancelled contracts; and the American secretary of state, John Kerry, rarely misses a chance to warn Israel that efforts to “delegitimise” and boycott it will increase if its government spurns his efforts to conclude a two-state settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel, says Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he told a conference of security boffins recently in Tel Aviv. “The world listens to us less and less.”
BDS has begun to grab the attention of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. PGGM, a big Dutch pension fund, has liquidated its holdings in five Israeli banks (though the Netherlands’ largest has affirmed its investments). Norway’s finance ministry has announced that it is excluding Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, a big building firm, from a government pension fund.
The campaign is drawing support from beyond northern Europe. Romania has forbidden its citizens from working for companies in the West Bank. More churches are backing BDS. An American academic association is boycotting Israeli lecturers. The debate turned viral after Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood actor, quit her role as ambassador for Oxfam, a charity based in Britain, in order to keep her advertising contract with SodaStream, an Israeli drinks firm with a plant on the West Bank.
Mr Lapid, who favours a two-state solution, reels out figures to show how sanctions could hit every Israeli pocket. “If negotiations with the Palestinians stall or blow up and we enter the reality of a European boycott, even a very partial one,” he warned, 10,000 Israelis would “immediately” lose their jobs. Trade with the European Union, a third of Israel’s total, would slump—he calculates—by $5.7 billion.
Anxious to hold on to their markets, Israel’s businessmen are increasingly backing the peace camp. The names on a recent advertising campaign in its favour included such luminaries as the head of Google in Israel. Hitherto they had usually preferred to stay out of politics.
Israel’s government is divided over how to react to the BDS campaign. The finance ministry has temporarily shelved a report it said it would publish on the possible consequences of BDS. But Israel’s press and ministerial addresses are increasingly full of worried references to it.
Some Israelis argue that this publicity merely feeds the BDS campaign, others that isolation has benefits. Israel’s position as a hotbed of hi-tech start-ups is due in part to decades of circumventing Arab boycotts. A French arms ban in the 1960s sparked the development of its weapons industry, helping to catapult Israel into fourth place in the world’s league of arms exporters. And if the West turns its back on Israel, there is, they say, the east. Relations with India have warmed of late, and those with China are getting closer. The economy minister, Naftali Bennett, a sceptic of the peace process, recently toured the Far East, saying he was bringing a “light to the gentiles” by way of Israeli business. But Mr Bennett is in a minority on BDS: his colleagues are a lot less sanguine.
At the height of its military – particularly nuclear - and economic power, Israel is feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable; but this time the threat is ironically coming from a nonviolent movement anchored in international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared the Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “strategic threat” to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonisation and apartheid by decidingto assign the overall responsibility for fighting against the BDS to the ministry of strategic affairs.
This dramatic shift reflects the failure of Israel’s well-oiled “Brand Israel” campaign, run by the foreign ministry since BDS was launched in 2005, which sees culture as a propaganda tool and whose logic is to use Israeli artists and writers to show the world “Israel’s prettier face”.
The realisation by many people of conscience around the world that Israel’s impunity can be brought to an end only through popular internal resistance coupled with effective, morally-consistent and sustained international pressure and accountability, has given great impetus to BDS campaigns. Israel’s brutal and illegal blockade of Gaza; its untamed construction of illegal settlements and a separation wall in the occupied West Bank; its “strategy of Judaisation” in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev), as a ranking UN official reports; its adoption of new racist laws; and its denial of the rights of refugees, have all alienated many of its hitherto supporters.… A South Africa moment is being reached by the BDS movement.
BDS’ successes in the last couple of years may be the factor that has rattled the Israeli regime. The African National Congress’ endorsement of the movement in December 2012; support for BDS and the cancellation of events by world-renowned artists and music bands; the decision by the world’s leading scientist, Stephen Hawking, to respect the boycott and cancel his participation in a Hebrew University conference; and the recent spate of boycott resolutions by US academic associations, have all contributed to the analysis that a South Africa moment is being reached by the BDS movement.
But Israel’s standing in world public opinion has been eroding for quite some time now, due to two main factors: The moral power of the global BDS movement, including its crucial anti-colonial Israeli component, and Israel’s political shift to the far right. A 2013 BBC poll shows Israel competing with North Korea as the third or fourth worst-perceived country in the world in the opinion of large majorities in Europe and elsewhere.
What is BDS?
The BDS call was launched on July 9, 2005 by an alliance of more than 170 Palestinian parties, trade unions, refugee networks, NGOs and grassroots associations calling on international civil society organisations and people of conscience to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era”.
Specifically, BDS calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including dismantling the wall and colonies; an end to Israel’s system of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens; and the UN-sanctioned and inherent right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin.
These three basic rights correspond to the three main components of the Palestinian people: those in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (38 percent of the Palestinian people, according to 2011 statistics), those in the 1948 territory who live under Israeli apartheid (12 percent), and those in exile (50 percent). More than two-thirds of Palestinians are refugees or internally displaced persons.
Soft power at work
Figures with the public profile and influence of Desmond Tutu, Roger Waters, Naomi Klein, Alice Walker, Judith Butler, John Berger, Ken Loach, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Marcel Khalife and Aijaz Ahmed have reached the conclusion that, as in the struggle against South African apartheid, BDS is crucially needed to compel Israel to comply with its obligations under international law.
By appealing to people of conscience around the world to help end Israel’s three-tiered system of oppression, the BDS movement is not asking for anything heroic, but for fulfilling a profound moral obligation to desist from complicity in oppression. Given the billions of dollars lavished on Israel annually by Western states, particularly the US and Germany, and the lucrative military trade with Israel, taxpayers in those countries are in effect subsidising Israel’s violations of international law at a time when domestic social programmes are undergoing severe cuts, unemployment is rising, and the environment is being devastated. Ending complicity in Israeli crimes is not just good for the Palestinians, it is certainly good for the “99 percent” around the world struggling for social and economic justice and against perpetual war.
Building on its global ascendancy, the BDS movement – led by the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, the BDS National Committee (BNC) – is spreading across the world, scoring significant victories.
Just a few days ago, the American Studies Association adopted the academic boycott of Israel with a stunning 2:1 support ratio in its general membership. In April, the Association for Asian-American Studiesbecame the first academic body in the US to adopt the academic boycott of Israel. Around the same time, the Federation of French-Speaking Belgian Students (FEF), representing 100,000 members, adopted the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and so did the Teachers Union of Ireland. In March 2011, the University of Johannesburg severed links with Ben Gurion University over human rights violations.
Student councils at several North American universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, adopted divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.Israel’s violent repression, ethnic cleansing and siege against the Palestinians is escalating, but the fact that the global BDS movement is winning the battle for hearts and minds across the world gives us hope that we shall overcome.
The list goes on and on
Support for BDS came from major international trade union federationswith millions of members in South Africa, Britain, Ireland, India, Brazil, Norway, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, and Turkey, among others.
Veolia, a corporation complicit in Israel’s occupation, has lost or had to withdraw bids for contracts worth billions of dollars, mainly in Sweden, the UK, Ireland and now the US.
G4S, the largest security company in the world, is experiencing major symbolic defeats due to BDS activism in Norway, South Africa, theEuropean Parliament, several British universities, and elsewhere as a result of its involvement in Israeli prisons, where Palestinian prisoners, including children, are tortured, and in several projects that violate international law. Admitting the damage BDS campaigns have done to its reputation, G4S is already promising to phase out its involvement in Israel’s violations of international law.
The British Co-op supermarket chain, the fifth largest in the UK, has adopted a policy of boycotting companies operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The United Methodist Church last year called for a boycott of products from Israel’s colonies, and so did the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Canada. The Mennonite Church USA went even further by deciding not to invest in any company involved in the Israeli occupation.
The Dutch government has publicly “discouraged” [Du] Dutch companies from doing business with Israeli entities in the OPT, leading the largest Dutch construction company, Royal Haskoning DHV, to withdrawfrom a sewage treatment project with Israeli municipality in occupied East Jerusalem. In the same context, the publicly-owned Dutch water company Vitens, has also terminated a contract with the Israeli national water company, Mekorot.
In the same vein, the British government has issued a guidance on business involvement with illegal Israeli settlements. These steps follow the publication of EU guidelines against funding Israeli projects and entities in Palestinian territories.
Deutsche Bahn, a German government-controlled rail company, pulled out of an Israeli project encroaching on occupied Palestinian land, and German foreign ministry officials informed Palestinian civil society representatives that they have advised all German academic institutions to avoid dealing with Ariel, an Israeli colony-college in the West Bank.
Israel’s violent repression, ethnic cleansing and siege against the Palestinians is escalating, but the fact that the global BDS movement is winning the battle for hearts and minds across the world gives us hope that we shall overcome. We may well be reaching a tipping point.
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian human rights activist and a founding member of the BDS movement. He is the author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights,” (Haymarket: 2011).
Recent comments made in South Africa by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation), regarding the boycott of Israeli settlements and products, seem to have been taken out of context and misconstrued by some members of the media and members of the Israeli lobby. Some journalists and Israeli lobbyists have reported that President Abbas, at a South African press conference, said that he is opposed to the international boycott. This is untrue. The Embassy of the State of Palestine to South Africa and BDS South Africa would like to confirm the following positions:
1. We, together with international bodies including the United Nations, consider the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 illegal and all activities with those settlements in violation of international law;
2. Israel’s settler colonies violate several UN resolutions and are continue to be the main obstacle to the peace processes;
3. With the view that the Israeli settlements are illegitimate and an obstruction to a just peace, the Palestinian Authority has accordingly initiated an official boycott of all Israeli settlement products in the occupied Palestinian territory;
4. In 2010 the Palestinian Authority issued a law, signed by President Mahmoud Abbas, banning Israel’s illegal settlement products, companies, relations and other activities with such illegal entities built in the occupied Palestinian territories occupied in 1967;
5. The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine is not opposed to the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Palestinian officials and leaders respect and uphold the right of Palestinian civil society to initiate and lead local and global BDS campaigns against Israel as a means to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, paramount among which the right to self determination. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership has always deeply appreciated the efforts of international solidarity groups and activists in South Africa and elsewhere, including those involved in the global BDS movement, to uphold international law and universal principles of human rights in supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and self determination. We are keenly cognisant that international solidarity , particularly boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was one of the four pillars of the struggle against apartheid here in South Africa.
6. Last year in December 2012, a representative member of the PLO in his speech at the African National Congress (ANC) said: “The [international arm of the] South African struggle began with the boycott campaign of South African grapes and wine, likewise, the illegal Israeli settlements can be defeated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)”. On the 14th of December Fatah (the organisation leading the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority) wrote an official letter to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, and members of the ANC communicating that “Fatah stands fully behind the BDS movement.”
7. Whilst the BDS movement is concentrated within civil-society, at a government level, the State of Palestine is calling on all countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by immediately, as a first step, ending all trade and relations with companies from or involved in the illegal Israeli settlements.
8. We welcome the recent decision by the European Union to ban financial relations with Israeli entities operating in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied 1967 Palestinian territories; the UK government’s recent instruction that no business must operate in East Jerusalem and in any actives related to the illegal Israeli settlements; the academic boycott resolution adopted by the American Studies Association; and the decision last week of the Dutch Water Authority, Vitens, to ends its relations with the Israeli state-operated water company, Mekorot, complicit in the illegal Israeli settlements.
The Palestinian people will overcome, if Nelson Mandela and the South African people defeated apartheid, the Palestinians too will defeat the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
On 4 December 2013, 13 Professors of International Law sent a letter to Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans concerning the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum.
Therein, the Professors urged the Dutch government to formally and explicitly restrict the territorial scope of this forum to Israel within its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, to ensure that settlement companies cannot and won’t participate in activities under this forum.
If the Netherlands would not do so, this may amount to supporting illegal settlements, in contravention of the declared policy of the Dutch government to discourage economic relations of Dutch firms with settlements firms. In a letter to parliament dated 22 July 2013, Foreign Minister Timmermans summarized this policy:
“The Dutch government discourages economic relations between Dutch firms and businesses in settlements in the occupied territories. Dutch government institutions do not provide services to any businesses established in Israeli settlements. The Netherlands Embassy in Tel Aviv advises Dutch firms on the international law implications of doing business in occupied territories. Dutch firms are where necessary called to account.”
The letter of the 13 Professors of International Law follows below.
Mr. F.C.G.M. Timmermans
Minister for Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands
Re: territorial scope of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum
Dear Minister Timmermans,
This letter from 13 professors of international law in or from The Netherlands has been prompted by the recent debate concerning the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which the issue of the relationship between the forthcoming Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum and Israeli settlements was raised.
In that debate you stated that the Dutch government would continue to adhere to its policy of discouraging Dutch firms from establishing economic relations with the Israeli settlements. As professors of international law we welcome that policy, which we regard as crucially important.
The responsibility of the Dutch government does not, however, end with the discouragement policy. We point this out in response to your assertion that the government can focus only on the Dutch participants in the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum.
It was the Dutch government that initiated the intensification of the bilateral relations with Israel, which resulted in the creation of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum. The government formalises, supports, and is a co-organiser of this forum and it therefore bears responsibility for the forum as a whole.
It is beyond dispute that the Israeli settlement policy constitutes a continuing breach of international law applicable also to The Netherlands, as established by the UN Security Council. The settlements violate the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination – a right which, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004, is erga omnes and hence involves binding obligations for all countries. As temporary president of the EU, The Netherlands played a crucial role in the coming about and acceptance, by 150 votes to 6, of the resolution of 20 July 2004 adopted by the UN General Assembly with respect to the ruling issued by the International Court Justice on 9 July 2004.
The Dutch government is obligated to promote the realisation of the Palestinian erga omnes right to self-determination and to refrain from facilitating the Israeli settlement policy. In that context the government is required, in accordance with international law, to define and spell out in advance the territorial scope of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum, preferably in conjunction with the Israeli government, but if necessary unilaterally.
The fact that the Cooperation Forum will not have any formal legal status and will not come into being by way of a treaty does not form an obstacle in this regard. Even if the forum comes into being through a Memorandum of Understanding or a Joint Statement, it is open to The Netherlands to specify its interpretation of the territorial scope of the forum and to formalise that appropriately in accordance with contemporary state practice.
If that does not happen, The Netherlands will not have acted adequately under clear and norm-based rules that also apply to the Cooperation Forum. This would enhance the risk that entities from the Israeli settlements could become involved in the forum and would reduce the ability to counter such a development effectively. Since the Dutch government is directly responsible for the forum, this could amount to facilitating and supporting the settlements that are illegal under international law, which could engage the international responsibility of The Netherlands. After all, the stated goal of the forum is to promote cooperation.
The government must not allow this to happen, not least because The Netherlands is at the forefront of international law and must preserve its reputation with The Hague as the international Capital of Law and Peace. We therefore urge you to ensure, prior to the launch of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum, that The Netherlands will formally make it clear in an appropriate manner that the territorial scope of this forum will not extend to the occupied Palestinian territories (including East Jerusalem) and the Israeli settlements located therein and accordingly will notify the Israeli authorities both officially and in public.
Prof. mr dr. K. Arts - Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Prof. mr dr. P.H.F. Bekker - University of Dundee (UK)
Prof. mr. Th. C. van Boven - Maastricht University
Prof. dr. M.M.T.A. Brus - Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Prof. mr I. Dekker - Universiteit Utrecht
Prof. dr. J. Dugard - Universiteit Leiden
Prof. mr. C. Flinterman - Universiteit Utrecht
Prof. dr. M.T. Kamminga - Maastricht University
Prof. mr B.E.P. Myjer - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (emeritus)
Prof. dr. P. de Waart -Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (emeritus)
Prof. dr. W.G. Werner - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Prof. dr. R.A. Wessel - Universiteit Twente
Prof. dr. L. Zegveld - Universiteit van Amsterdam
As the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement passes the eight year point since the 2005 Call, the 54th issue of al-Majdal evaluates its progress and remarks on areas for development, and spotlights current initiatives attempting to build an effective practice of the BDS tactic. The principal challenge for those seeking to wield the tool is connecting BDS to domestic practices of resistance and maintaining a cohesive moral position.
Western activists and diplomats are gunning for Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories, and if peace talks fail, the rain of boycotts and sanctions could turn into a flood
A senior European diplomat met with an Israeli counterpart a few weeks ago and one of the topics they discussed was the continued European Union sanctions against the settlements. They raised in their conversation the possible scenario that Israeli produce from the West Bank would be marked as such in European supermarkets. The conversation points to one of the gravest threats Israel will face in the coming year, namely its growing international isolation.
“The marking of produce from the [Palestinian] territories is on hold at this stage,” the European diplomat said to his Israeli interlocutor. “However, should the negotiations with the Palestinians run aground you should expect a deluge of sanctions.” The Israeli official was taken aback by the sharp words. “Aren’t the circumstances of a breakdown in negotiations relevant,” he asked. The European replied laconically, “the way things look now, you will be the losers in the blame game.”
There are five months left in the time frame set for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Against a backdrop of limping talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to present the two sides with a“framework agreement” in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in the impasse and to force leaders to reach decisions.
Kerry has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a drive to delegitimize Israel and of a “boycott campaign on steroids” that will unfold if talks fail. These dire warnings by the Secretary of State and the European diplomat are already starting to play out. There is not yet a deluge of boycotts and sanctions by Western states, but flow is certainly increasing. The main target of this campaign are the settlements and any entity associated with them.
An increasing number of supermarket chains are not waiting for directives from above and are already labeling produce that originate in settlement farms. There is an increasing campaign to boycott any Israeli products from the West Bank, such as dates from the Jordan Valley, or equipment and bottles made by SodaStream, which has a factory in the settlement of Mishor Adumim. There is a concerted effort ahead of Christmas to bring about a consumer boycott of SodaStream in Britain, Italy, Canada, the United States and Australia. A few weeks ago, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, an Israeli cosmetics company, ceased operations in South Africa following a similar campaign.
It is not only Israeli companies that have been targeted. International firms that operate beyond the Green Line have also come under fire by boycott campaigns. The French giant Veolia Transport is facing heavy pressure due to its presence in East Jerusalem and other West Bank locations. Veolia’s subsidiary in Israel just announced it would stop operating buses on Route 443, a highway that connects the West Bank to Jerusalem. Another example is the British security services company G4S, which has lost contracts in South Africa due to its contracts in West Bank settlements. There are also campaigns at Kings College and Sheffield University in Britain calling for withdrawal of investments in Israel.
Last week, there were more examples of such efforts. The British government published recommendations against investing in, transferring money to or purchasing real estate in the settlements. The report warned of “potential reputational implications” of such business dealings. The largest water company in the Netherlands announced that after “consultations” with the Hague’s Foreign Ministry it was cutting ties with Israel’s water supplier Mekorot, due utility’s activities in the Palestinian territories. Even Romania, not known to be tough on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, demanded Romanian workers sent to Israel would not be employed in the settlements.
The Foreign Ministry is helpless in face of these developments. With Prime Minister Netanyahu announcing construction of 5,000 more units in the settlements and Housing Minister Uri Ariel launching a tsunami with new tenders for 24,000 units in the Palestinian territories, it is hard to convince anyone that Israel is invested to reaching a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
All that Israeli diplomats can do is lodge objections with foreign governments. They have told the Foreign Office in London that warnings to businessmen hurt the peace process. They protested to the Dutch ambassador in Tel Aviv about “the atmosphere created by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, which only encourages a boycott of Israel.” They delivered an ultimatum to the Romanian government over its demand about workers coming to Israel – and Romania seems for now to have reconsidered its position.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials admit that these are band-aid measures at best, or at worst, attempts to revive the dead. The waves of construction that follow each phase of Palestinian prisoner release may placate the Judea and Samaria Council and the Habayit Hayehudi party, but they infuriate the international community and drive it to consider further sanctions against the settlements. The Foreign Ministry says the new guidelines of the European Union prohibiting the funding of activities or organizations in settlements are a new strategic landmark in the European Union’s attitude toward the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The guidelines prohibit the granting of any funds, scholarships or prizes to any agencies in these settlements, as well as prohibiting loaning money to any Israeli agency which has any ties to the settlements.
While these EU sanctions garnered widespread media coverage, other sanctions went almost unnoticed. It did not escape the attention of the Foreign Ministry, however, when in June, the European Union issued new directives on quality control certification for agricultural produce. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the European Union would no longer accept a stamp of approval by Israel’s Plant Inspection and Protection Services for produce from the West Bank. The policy began applying to any organic produce since July. Not an outright a prohibition on importing produce from the settlements, these moves will nevertheless make it very difficult for Israeli farmers in the West Bank to market their produce in Europe, causing growers financial trouble.
Relations between the Foreign Ministry and the European Union’s foreign affairs council are faring very poorly. Suspicion and animosity mar contacts between Israeli official and Brussels. The feeling in Jerusalem is that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s staff in Brussels, East Jerusalem and even Tel Aviv are constantly pushing for more pressure and sanctions on Israel over the settlement issue, infecting many individual European diplomats with their enthusiasm. A senior Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem says there is a “Brusselization” process which is taking over foreign ministries in European capitals.
The wave of boycotts is spilling over from Europe to North America. Last week, the American Studies Association passed an unprecedented resolution calling to boycott Israeli universities. Later this month, lecturers in the association will vote on whether to ratify the resolution.
A few weeks earlier, the annual convention of the American Public Health Association was held. This association represents thirty thousand doctors, nurses and nursing aides. A resolution declaring that Israel is harming the health of Palestinians failed to pass only due to months of lobbying efforts by Jewish organizations. Boycott initiatives are also popping up in liberal churches in North America. The United Church of Canada, the largest Christian denomination in the country, has started a campaign to boycott products made in the settlements and by companies that operate beyond the Green Line.
New research published by the Molad Center for Renewal of Democracy addresses Israel’s standing in the world. It determined that Israel is particularly vulnerable to sanctions and boycotts by Western countries due to the animosity of neighboring countries, and because 40% of Israel’s Gross National Product is based on exports, primarily to Europe. The research also pointed to a less known phenomenon of concealed boycotts. The findings show that Israeli businessmen, artists and academics are confronting increasing refusal of international agencies and potential partners to collaborate with them, due to the political baggage that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings with it. It’s hard to assess how much damage this does to the Israel’s economy.
The study says that despite the difficulties facing Israel since its founding, it succeeded in forging alliances with the United States and Europe. These relationships have deteriorated in recent years and are in now jeopardy. The researchers examined cultural and scientific ties as well as economic and political relations, and found that most of the tension with Western countries stems from the occupation. The study determined that this trend would only get worse with time unless there was a change to Israeli policy. “The continued occupation and the insistence of the government to continue with the settlement enterprise are directly responsible for the erosion of Israel’s international standing. As long as the settlements continue, the risk of Israel becoming more isolated will grow.” The researchers don’t believe that Western governments and publics wish to boycott Israel or to put its right to exist in doubt. As evidence, they point out that the boycotts have only targetted the occupied territories and settlements.
“The international consensus clearly differentiates between the legitimacy of Israel and that of the settlements. Just as the commonality in values and strategy strengthens Israel’s ties with the West, the divide over the occupation weakens them.” The researchers claim that it’s not too late to reverse this trend and to block the threat of isolation facing Israel, but that the window of opportunity is not without limits. “Israel is enjoying a period of grace in which its traditional allies support it and the countries around it are locked in internal struggles. Nearly any plan that goes beyond futile negotiations and that calls for an end to the occupation will help Israel. Such a step will draw a clear line between opposition to the existence of Israel and to its occupation of the West Bank.”