While temperatures cooled, the first week of December saw a tremendous kindling of the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement, as Palestinian solidarity activists across the US flooded RE/MAX offices, demanding that the real estate giant cease its activities in illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
RE/MAX is one of the largest real estate corporations in the world. RE/MAX International, based in the US, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado, oversees more than 100,000 agents in over 7,000 offices in almost 100 countries. Realtor Magazine has consistently ranked numerous RE/MAX franchises in its annual list of Top 100 Companies.
Several of RE/MAX’s Israeli franchises sell property in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the French Hill, Armon HaNatziv, and Pisgat Ze’ev. The office of RE/MAX Israel’s Atid franchise is itself located in Maale Adumim, a major illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank. RE/MAX Israel agents openly admit that many of the homes they sell can only be owned by Jewish people.
The United Nations published a report in 2013 indicating that RE/MAX LLC, the US-based parent company, can be “held accountable” for the crimes of RE/MAX Israel, over which it “has constant interaction and influence.” Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention mandates that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” and UN Security Council Resolution 446 explicitly states that Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, in which RE/MAX Israel is operating, “have no legal validity.”
No Open House
In October 2014, peace and social justice organization CODEPINK launched the Boycott RE/MAX: No Open House on Stolen Land (or No Open House, for short) campaign. At the end of November, No Open house launched its official website, BoycottREMAX.org. The website includes answers to frequently asked questions, a campaign timeline and tactics, a newsletter, links to further reading materials, and a wide array of resources, including shareable memes, protest chants, and a draft of a letter to send to RE/MAX.
CODEPINK says its goal in launching the campaign is to pressure RE/MAX “to cut its ties with franchises involved in the sale or rental of settlement properties.” Sophia Armen, National Coordinator of the Boycott RE/MAX: No Open House on Stolen land, explained the “campaign is a call for people of conscience to address the complicity of RE/MAX corporation in heinous violations of international law. It is our duty, as people concerned with justice, to be in solidarity with Palestinians and to address how these large corporations are profiting off continuing displacement, dispossession and death in Israel/Palestine.”
In October 2014, CODEPINK sent a letter to RE/MAX co-founder and Chairman of the Board Dave Liniger. The RE/MAX executive never responded. Overall, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin says, RE/MAX has been largely unresponsive and dismissive. In the summer of 2014, CODEPINK began working on building a coalition with Palestinian solidarity groups around the country, including countless chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace, and a variety of social justice, peace, anti-war, and leftist organizations.
By October, CODEPINK made a national call for a Week of Action, to be held from 29 November to 5 December. Activists from over 15 major cities organized demonstrations outside of local RE/MAX offices. CODEPINK organizer Desirée Fairooz says the strategy of activists targeting local RE/MAX franchises “is the only way to express solidarity with this campaign in their own hometowns,” noting it is not clearly feasible for everyone to travel to the Denver headquarters to protest. Fairooz says she hopes local protests will inspire franchises to tell “LLC ‘Make it stop!’, thereby pressuring LLC to close operations in Occupied Palestine.”
On 21 November, Rich Forer, author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict, delivered a petition with over 4,000 signatures to the RE/MAX headquarters in Denver, Colorado, requesting that Chairman Liniger “stop RE/MAX Israel’s illegal sales of Jewish-only settlement homes on Palestinian land.” In the early December Week of Action, activists throughout the country delivered this petition to local RE/MAX offices.
Boycott RE/MAX Week of Action
On Saturday, 29 November, three Boycott RE/MAX demonstrations were held, thousands of miles apart. Activists from a variety of groups, including CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, and more gathered in Dallas, Texas; Strongsville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland; and Somerville, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, to protest outside of RE/MAX offices. Those in Strongsville and Somerville stood outside for hours in below-freezing weather. Cleveland-based activist Toni Ann Rozsahegyi said she helped organize the action because she feels “it’s important to raise awareness of the fact that companies like RE/MAX break international law and impede the peace process for profit.”
On Monday, 1 December, Palestinian solidarity activists in Los Angeles demonstrated in front of a RE/MAX office, holding signs reading “RE/MAX, stop making money off violating law,” “RE/MAX sells ILLEGAL settlements,” “RE/MAX, stop selling stolen land,” “RE/MAX, every settlement is an obstacle to peace,” and more.
On Tuesday, 2 December, activists from CODEPINK Greater Boston, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, United for Justice with Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, and more held a demonstration outside a RE/MAX office in Boston. Organizer Hayat Imam said she “salute[s] CODEPINK for putting out the call for actions against RE/MAX to demand that they stop the sale of houses on stolen Palestinian land by their franchisee RE/MAX Israel” and feel[s] good about the fact that our action is the opening salvo of the boycott in Boston.” Imam explains the activists made an appointment with RE/MAX and organized a representative “delegation” of individuals “who had just been to Palestine so they could talk about the first hand conditions there” to hand a letter to the RE/MAX Chair.
Coalitions of protesters also gathered in both Chicago and Denver. Pat Hunt, an organizer in the former, insisted that “it’s our responsibility to shine a light on the illegal settlements and” on RE/MAX Israel’s illegal profiteering. “We need to keep the pressure on companies that participate in apartheid and let them know we will not tolerate it,” Hunt said.
On Wednesday, 3 December, Palestinian human rights advocates protested in San Francisco and Washington, DC. Activists in the nation’s capital were joined by Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
Falk spoke about the importance of pressuring RE/MAX to end its illegal activities and addressed the the illegality and immorality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
We are here today to bring pressure on RE/MAX to comply with international humanitarian law, to cease engaging in commercial activities with the settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And we have made every effort to engage the officers of RE/MAX in a constructive dialogue, which they have refused to engage in, presumably because they have no response to make. And we are disappointed that they won’t even physically receive our petition.
It is a shame that the interests of the market take precedence over the interests of people and the well-being of people and a common sense of morality. …
To establish a settlement of the occupying power’s people in an occupied society is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. And this has gone not for just a few months, or even a few years, but more than 47 years. …
And RE/MAX, in the mean time, will feel the costs of continuing to deal with these unlawful settlements. They really are making a sustainable peace between these two peoples a real impossibility. So it’s not just a matter of violating a particular provision of law; it’s subjecting the Palestinian people as a whole to the daily ordeal of living under this prolonged occupation that’s gone on longer than any other comparable situation in recent history.
It is a scandal that the international community has allowed this to go on for so long.
DC-based CODEPINK organizer Anna Kaminski addressed the need to make realtor allies in the Boycott RE/MAX movement. “While local franchises indeed have nothing to do with RE/MAX Israel, this visibility of protests helps to mount pressure on headquarters which has the power to halt operations in any franchise at any time,” she said. Protesting local RE/MAX branches “can also help individual franchises learn more about what their company is doing overseas and realtors can use the opportunity to learn more about the conflict and how their company violates international law. Realtors can then use their concern regarding a boycott to help mount pressure on RE/MAX HQ.”
Only miles away, on the same day, in Olney, Maryland, activists gathered outside of a RE/MAX office, holding signs reading “RE/MAX Israel complicit in theft of Palestinian homes,” “Stolen land not for sale,” and “RE/MAX profits – Palestinians suffer.”
On Thursday, 4 December, activists woke up bright and early to protest RE/MAX in Houston, Texas, in what was the second Boycott RE/MAX demonstration in Texas in five days.
On Friday, 5 December, the country saw its largest flood of Boycott RE/MAX protests. Activists gathered outside of a RE/MAX office in Rochester, Minnesota. Just two days after one demonstration, San Francisco Palestinian human rights activists got together for another.
Miles away, in Ventura, California, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Students for Justice in Palestine met with RE/MAX representatives, asking the workers to pressure their company to stop its operation in illegal settlements. The students also connected the struggle of indigenous Palestinians against Israeli colonization to that of immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border, as well as to the struggle of black Americans in Ferguson and across the US, protesting police brutality and structural racism in the Justice System. Anumita Kaur, a UCSB SJP organizer, spoke of what she sees as the importance of the BDS movement, explaining that, as “students at the UC, our tuition money is invested in corporations profiting off of Israeli apartheid and occupation—we are not okay with this.”
In Portland, Maine, protesters assembled in freezing weather. They made cardboard props of RE/MAX apartment complexes, emblazoned with the word “stolen,” and stood next to mounds of snow. Maine-based CODEPINK organizer Lisa Savage explains they scheduled the demonstration to coincide with evening commute traffic and to be end when a Black Lives Matter civil rights march began, which many of the Palestinian solidarity activists then joined.
New York City held the fifth demonstration on this day. Members of Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others flooded New York RE/MAX offices, asking the offices to convey to RE/MAX International that RE/MAX Israel’s illegal sales must cease immediately.
No Open House’s Week of Action marked just the beginning of the Boycott RE/MAX campaign, and it marked it with a bang. Activists around the country showed great enthusiasm and took great initiative, organizing more than 20 demonstrations. Noteworthy was the community-based nature of all these protests, demonstrating that the Palestinian solidarity movement is a true grassroots movement, and that this grassroots movement is growing rapidly. While the chill of winter begins to fill the air, this new phase of the BDS movement is just heating up.