The BDS movement at 7: Stronger, more widespread and more effective than ever

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Seven years after the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel was launched, the global BDS campaign has become stronger, more widespread, more effective and certainly more diverse than ever—a true cause for celebration by all those groups and conscientious citizens of the world who contributed to this success. However, Israel’s intensifying violations of international law and basic Palestinian rights, the direct threat Israel poses to the freedom of peoples across the region, and the impunity that Israel still enjoys are cause for reflection and the continuous fine-tuning of our strategies to further spread BDS and further isolate Israel as a world pariah, just as South Africa was under apartheid.

Thanks to the BDS movement, the struggle for the basic rights of the entire Palestinian people has taken a major leap during these last seven years, reaching wide audiences and achieving concrete achievements in major European countries, South Africa, Latin America, India, the Arab world, Australia, New Zealand and even North America. Following on from a similar round up published to mark five years of BDS, the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the broad Palestinian civil society coalition, has put together the following selection of highlights gives a taste of the spectacular growth of BDS over the last two years.

The global reach of the BDS movement is maybe best highlighted by this year’s edition of the BDS Global Day of Action which took place in 23 countries and the fact that the 8th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was organized this year on campuses in 202 cities across the world, causing near panic in the Israeli public diplomacy ministry, which scrambled 100 envoys to counter IAW around the world.

Popular consumer boycotts of Israeli products and campaigns against companies that export and sell Israeli products, particularly those implicated in Israel’s illegal colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory, have not only raised awareness among ordinary citizens in countless cities across the world but led to significant damage to complicit Israeli companies:

  • Agrexco, Israel’s former largest exporter of agricultural produce, entered liquidation towards the end of 2011, following a campaign of blockades, demonstrations, lobbying of supermarkets and governments, popular boycotts and legal action in more than 13 countries across Europe. The campaign against the company was a major factor behind the lack of investors’ interest to salvage it.
  • The largest Co-operative in Europe, the Co-Operative Group in the UK, introduced a policy to end trade with companies that source products from Israel’s illegal settlements, following a determined campaign by Co-Op members. Campaigners are working to pressure other supermarkets to adopt a similarly comprehensive position.  Many supermarkets across Europe already claim not to sell produce from illegal settlements.
  • A sustained campaign against Ahava, the Israeli cosmetics company situated in an illegal Israeli colony, forced the company to close its flagship London store and retailers in the UK, Norway, Japan and Canada to announce boycotts of the company.

Inspired by the integral role that Israeli academic institutions play in developing the knowledge and technology behind Israeli occupation, colonization and apartheid, and planning and justifying Israel’s worst crimes, academic boycott campaigns have spread to campuses across the world:

Rapidly losing support around the world and recently again voted one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world, Israel’s attempts to whitewash its system of colonization, occupation and apartheid using culture is increasingly thwarted by a highly visible cultural boycott:

  • Scores of artists — especially musicians and filmmakers — and writers have refused to perform in Israel or cancelled scheduled performances following pressure from the BDS movement including Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless, the Pixies, Cassandra Wilson, Cat Power, Zakir Hussain.
  • Many artists and other cultural figures now speak publicly of their support for BDS: Roger Waters, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, John Berger, Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Angela Davis, Sarah Schulman, among others.
  • Israeli artists who accept funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract committing them to be part of Israel’s cultural public relations offensive. Protests and campaigns against state-backed performances — such as those by the Batsheva dance company, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Habima theater, and the Jerusalem Quartet — are now common place in Europe and North America, forcing some cultural venues to defend or retract their decision to host representatives of Israel and persuading others not to invite state-backed Israeli artists at all.

In the related field of sports boycott:

Corporations, both Israeli and international, play a key role in facilitating Israeli apartheid. Divestment campaigns are raising the price of corporate complicity with Israeli violations of international law and changing corporate attitudes towards doing business with Israel:

Responding to ever-increasing public anger with Israel’s occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, a number of governments have started to introduce sanctions against Israel:

  • Turkey and Norway have both announced decisions to suspend military relations with Israel and Turkey is pursuing legal action against Israel over its killing of 9 Turkish citizens on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010. Bolivia, Venezuela, Qatar, Mauritania and several other countries also took action in response to the attack.
  • A call from Palestinian civil society for a comprehensive military embargo on Israel last July was supported by Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and civil society groups around the world representing millions of people.

The campaign to Stop the JNF has gone from strength to strength, forcing the leaders of all of the major UK political parties, including Prime Minister David Cameron, to end their patronage of the organization, successfully persuading the authorities in the Swiss town of Geneva to disassociate the city from the JNF and winning support of numerous mainstream organizations.

In the trade union movement, labor-led sanctions and BDS initiatives have become the leading form of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle:

Following a call for concrete solidarity from Palestinian Christians entitled Kairos Palestine, churches around the world have adopted BDS-related actions:

At university campuses across the world, the student movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle continues to rapidly emerge:

  • In North America, students are developing sophisticated and widely supported campus divestment initiatives, with student unions in Regina and Carleton in Canada and National Movímíento Estudíantíl Chícan@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A), the largest association of Latin@ youth in the US, and the student government at University of Massachusetts-Boston voting to support divestment and other BDS initiatives. The first student-led BDS U.S. national conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this year following a successful national student  conference at Columbia University last year.
  • BDS student groups are growing across Europe. In the UK the National Union of Students has endorsed student campaigns that have succeeded in ending relationships between universities and Ahava and Eden Springs. Edinburgh University Student Association voted to end its contract with G4S.

With the eruption of peoples’ upheavals across the Arab world, or what came to be known as the Arab Spring, massive solidarity with Palestinian rights in Arab countries is increasingly being channeled in effective BDS campaigns, especially in Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and Kuwait.

The Israeli establishment is growing increasingly concerned with the growth of the BDS movement. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently cited fear of the impacts of BDS as a reason to “make peace”. Meanwhile, top Israeli business leaders have launched their own “peace initative” out of fear of the impact of BDS. Some Zionist leaders are also starting to call for change in Israeli policies out of fear of BDS. The leading Israeli think tank the Reut Institute has spoken of BDS as a “strategic threat”, prompting the Israeli government to pass a draconian law forbidding any citizen from supporting BDS or any partial boycott. There is a real and growing fear within Israel that it is becoming a pariah state in the way that South Africa once was.

Against the backdrop of continued success and the reactions from Israel, we look forward to working with trade unions, NGOs, faith groups, solidarity organizations, people’s movements and people of conscience all over the world to continue to spread BDS as an effective and morally compelling tool in support of the Palestinian struggle for comprehensive rights. Israel realizes it and so do we: BDS is spreading and having a significant impact on Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid; it is time to push even further into the mainstream to entrench Israel’s pariah status. Only thus can Palestinians regain their rights and exercise self-determination, and without that there can never be a just and sustainable peace in the entire region.

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