New Orleans adopts divestment measure proposed by BDS campaigners

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Today the city council of New Orleans unanimously passed a resolution which calls on the city to review and divest from companies that perpetrate human rights violations anywhere in the world. Proposed by local Palestine solidarity activists who support the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement for Palestinian human rights, the resolution is not on its face an endorsement of the official BDS campaign, but activists are celebrating a move that opens up that possibility.

“Even though [the resolution] is a significantly watered down version,” Tabitha Mustafa, co-writer of the first draft, told Mondoweiss, “we see it as a first step in a process that will potentially include other resolutions and culminate in a far-reaching ordinance.”

The symbolic victory for Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists comes amidst a political climate in which anti-BDS measures written by Israel lobby groups inundate state legislatures across the country, and governors from New York to Maryland and dozens of other states have outlawed doing business with those supporting BDS, echoing Israel’s talking points while doing so. Similar bills wait in Congress, inertia building along with Israel’s international isolation.

While the resolution does not specifically mention or target Israel for its ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians, proponents of the resolution view it as part of their city’s trajectory to adopting an official boycott of Israel, as it did apartheid South Africa.

“It’s not very different from the stance that a number of entities took when apartheid was commonplace in South Africa,” Councilmember-at-large and cosponsor Jason Williams said in adopting the resolution.

As a city, Williams continued, New Orleans must “evaluate what our goals are and whether our goals are in line with people who want to make money from us.”

Resolution 18-5 is predicated on the City of New Orleans’ adherence to international statutes and measures that prohibit the perpetuation of human rights violations — and the call for BDS is predicated on the same internationally recognized human rights standards.

“Consistent with its responsibilities to residents,” the resolution reads in part, “the City of New Orleans has social and ethical obligations to take steps to avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society.”

This resolution holds the city to account for each of its “direct investments and contractions,” creating a review process to decide which companies warrant “removal from the City’s list of corporate securities and contractual partners,” i.e. divestment.

It has been a hard won battle for the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee (NOPSC), the group behind the resolution, just to get it in the hands of lawmakers. They say this is not the end goal but an important step in growing the BDS movement in their city.

The next steps must include  “another resolution or a series of resolutions…. there needs to be an ordinance” Mustafa told Mondoweiss after the resolution passed. “And ultimately there needs to be a committee that oversees the implementation of this measure once it becomes law.”

The BDS campaign first launched by the NOPSC a few years ago was slow to start, said Mustafa, a co-founder of the group, but “through meetings, phone calls, billboards, articles, we’ve been able to shift the discussion around Israel/Palestine locally.”

By forging alliances with other grassroots organizations — many of whom already fight alongside the Palestinian solidarity movement — the NOPSC shifted its focus from BDS in particular to a more general human rights platform.

“What has changed most recently in the past year is we changed the way we were framing things to be more about human rights,” Mustafa said. “We believe that this is a broader issue, that human rights are of importance whether we’re talking about Israel or we’re talking about Honduras.”

“The shift has been that we’ve contextualized it in the broader human rights framework that allows more people than folks who just care about Palestine to tap into it and to benefit from the legislation” she added.

Momentum picked up one year ago at a press conference NOPSC held outside city hall, calling on the municipal government to take a stance on human rights. Some 200 community members joined the action that day, undoubtedly stoked by looming fears of a Trump White House.

“January 2017 is when things really took off. We started to show the impact that our people have. It’s not just one or two outliers who hold views that human rights are important and that Palestinian lives matter,” Mustafa told Mondoweiss. “We’re showing up with hundreds of people in the middle of the day on a Monday.”

In addition to hosting a phone-a-thon in March, writing letters, emails and communications to city council members consistently, the NOPSC has been organizing amongst New Orleans’ large Arab-American community.

Members of the Palestinian community of New Orleans were jubilant at the news.

“As a Palestinian and a student in New Orleans,” said Marco Saah, an undergraduate student at Loyola College, “I don’t want to see the city I live in contracting with companies that profit off of the suffering and occupation of my homeland. Today’s vote by the City Council is a first step towards ending the City of New Orleans’ complicity with human rights violations and holding corporations accountable for supporting Israel’s illegal occupation.”

Some 20,000 Palestinians live in Orleans and surrounding parishes such as Jefferson, making Palestinians the largest Arab population in the city.

“Our strategy has been to make sure Palestinians are involved at every step of the process,” Mustafa said. She herself is from Qalandiya and much of her family still live in Palestine, some on the East Jerusalem side of the occupation wall, others on the West Bank side.

“We’re relatively young so it’s easier for us to get younger folks to come out but we try to do a good job of going to the mosques, and talking to elders in the community and making sure we have their support and we have their feedback, that we can learn from all of their knowledge.”

Still, it wasn’t until recently that any of this seemed possible.

After months of stalling from the city, the NOPSC finally wrote the resolution themselves and in December of 2017, delivered it to council members during a press conference outside City Hall.

To their surprise, mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, who in her capacity as a councilperson represents District B, followed up and met with the group.

NOPSC says that Cantrell and council member-at-large Williams were the two council people who most entertained their requests, but as it stood today, the resolution was introduced by Cantrell with five of the seven council members as co-sponsors.

Although there is speculation that the city council simply doesn’t realize how divisive the issues of Palestine and especially BDS can be, the passage of the resolution suggests a larger movement toward the active protection of human rights, including and not exclusive of Palestinians.

Max Geller, another member of the NOPSC, said there was no ambiguity in the dialogue about the resolution however. “It’s always been about Palestine.”

“You can do this in your city too,” Geller said, encouraging other Palestinian communities and those working for human rights.

Repeated calls and requests for comment from Mondoweiss were not returned by mayor-elect Cantrell, nor city council cosponsors Brossett, Gray, Head or Williams.

About Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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10 Responses

  1. JosephA
    January 12, 2018, 1:32 am

    This seems like progress! You have to start somewhere.

  2. Annie Robbins
    January 12, 2018, 3:07 am

    thanks jesse, for the excellent comprehensive coverage. and thank you new orleans!

  3. Talkback
    January 13, 2018, 7:20 am

    “the City of New Orleans has social and ethical obligations to take steps to avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society.”

    Well, if this doesn’t sound anti-Israel and maybe even antisemitic I don’t know what does, right? But let’s wait for conformation from the usual supporters of the only and only anti-Nonjew Apartheid state of the world. Maybe New Orleans will be the next place where fascist Zionists infringe the right to free speech and divest.

  4. DaBakr
    January 13, 2018, 9:12 am

    dabakr entity# 2.0:
    And as usual, thinking small and about themselves above all others,(something Zionist jews are hatred for here on MW by PW and crowds of his cronies like MxB) the bds central will snatch defeat from the arms of victory.
    . If the bds campaign had been more universal from the start it may have been widely more successful in achieving their ultimate goal. The most horrendously racist bigoted and hateful members plead and cry they have “no specific goal to destroy one state but, if one can’t gain what rights we want under circumstances we demand then so be it, if a nation must go out must go at their own complaint’ )

    the way they want to achieve this goal is by staying as close as possible to their specific scheme and embrace universal campaigns only as a “first step towards their goals” rather then a step up and away from their goals by judging all countries, nations and entities on an even playing field where sanctions would not be directed at one specific state while many others receiving US and EU benefits are harming humans rights to extreme violent and murderous levels.
    . Bds will want it’s carefully crafted platform to stay specifically focused on the Palestinian and see any embracing of other people’s “watering down” as neutral if not detrimental. There are many more who would logically conclude the exact opposite even if they knew only snippets or factoids about the individual conflicts. Americans have seen billions of their dollars wasted by aiding single focus causes that ooze into international scare operations with millions going towards salaries, funding, luxury and anything but grass roots. “Grass roots,” being one of bds big “code words” for “we don’t talk about the billion dollar international funding from nations that spit on women’s rights, hang homosexuals and legally torture journalists and political critics.
    But when they get a point score-or stick a thumb tack in, they celebrate like the fourth of July. (And maybe the main Israeli press does a little of the same, just in a different style)

    As for taunting about bds being so unsuccessful then why is Israel “so scared”? -or- it’s opposite, “how dare Israel fight bds like they are, especially since they don’t think it’s doing any harm.?. That’s called propaganda 101. We’re right when we’re right and were right when we’re wrong.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 13, 2018, 9:59 am

      The most horrendously racist bigoted and hateful members plead and cry they have “no specific goal

      hey, not to go to OT, but have you been following teva? seems like a good time to grab the popcorn no?

      • catalan
        January 13, 2018, 7:17 pm

        “hey, not to go to OT, but have you been following teva? seems like a good time to grab the popcorn no?” annie
        A few years back annie dabbled in finance and said to great aplomb here that Sodastream is collapsing, will be worthless, etc. Well, they went up about 400% since then (one of the most spectacular performances of any stock). Now she mentions Teva’s troubles gleefully, making the same scary predictions. That probably means that Teva will become one of the largest pharma companies in the world and soon. She also predicted the quick and easy release from prison of Tamimi, still not happening. Generally, it seems to be a pretty solid bet that whatever Annie says, expect the polar opposite. Good news for Teva, bad news for Tamimi.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 13, 2018, 11:45 pm

        catalan, could you link to this so-called prediction of a “quick” and “easy” release for ahed? although i somewhat recall the conversation i also recall you made that (false) claim/lie once before and if my memory serves me correctly, i proved you wrong. so cough up the proof.

        i also predicted soda stream would continue tanking, which it did. i first wrote about the stock while it was taking a nosedive less than a year later it had lost 2/3 of it’s value. then it kept tanking. in 3 years it went from 72.81 down to the 12’s and then hovered over 14 for awhile until it started creeping up.. after moving out of the illegally occupied palestinian territory. and look at all those lucky investors who held stock at 72.82 back in 2013. now, in 2018 those same stocks are worth a whopping 73.02. which means viola! they gone up .20 in 3 1/2 years– it’s taken them quite awhile to catch up if you ask me.

        it seems to be a pretty solid bet that whatever Annie says, expect the polar opposite. Good news for Teva

        oh heck yes, listen to catalan when teva’s credit rating is cut into “junk territory” by Moody’s Investors Service — go buy the stock. nows probably a good time during the layoffs. meanwhile, this is a dividend lots of israelis depend on for their pensions… and they are ending it.

        Generic drug manufacturer Teva’s stock has risen by 80% in the last couple of months! What’s been happening? Well, Teva continues to be in the news, after last month’s announcement that the pharmaceutical manufacturer would lay off 14,000 employees, approximately one quarter of its workforce. Teva also announced its intention to close manufacturing and research facilities around the world, and to omit its dividend.

        For Teva, headquartered near Tel Aviv and known in Israel as “the people’s stock,” omitting a dividend is a huge issue, as investors have come to rely on those dividends to finance personal consumption.

        Getting cut to junk status can increase a company’s borrowing costs. Moody’s is the second bond grader to downgrade the company to speculative grade, which can be a bruising rating change for a borrower because many investment-grade investors cannot hold bonds from a company that has two or more high-yield ratings.

    • eljay
      January 13, 2018, 10:24 am

      || @aa @ January 13, 2018, 9:12 am ||

      Zionists are funny. They’re perfectly happy to single out the world’s only Iranian / North Korean / Saudi Arabian / Iraqi / Afghani state for harsh economic sanctions, military attacks, destabilization and/or regime change but don’t anyone dare single out the world’s only Israeli state for anything remotely similar because that’s just anti-Semitism and “Jew hatred”.

      Aggressor-victimhood sure is a tough gig… :-(

  5. LHunter
    January 13, 2018, 10:41 am

    Definitely a significant step forward and I can only imagine how much hard work went into this by NOPSC – amazing work and result – thank you!!!

    It will be interesting to see how the Zionists counter this?

  6. dx
    January 13, 2018, 7:17 pm

    This is definitely the way forward: recognize and talk about the Israeli/Palestinian issue as a basic Human Rights issue. Because that IS exactly what it is. And this resolution is a great because it focuses on the consideration of Human Rights everywhere which is how it should be.

    Whether, for example, it’s a state that’s trying to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and how they may use the bathroom (which is a big deal here to some folks in Texas) or the international discrimination of the Israeli government against the Palestinians, governments, businesses, and individuals should take care to consider with whom they engage with.

    The narrow debate that takes place within the American Jewish community needs to expand to include all Americans. All of us are complicit in supporting the Israeli governments oppression of the Palestinians through our foreign aid and political cover at the UN. It’s just plain wrong.

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