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EU must take stronger action to sanction Israel following high court decision banning boycott

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The question of punishing illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory was considered separately in Europe and Israel last week, with only superficial differences in the conclusions reached. Israel’s near half-century occupation is in no immediate danger, either at home or abroad.

Some 16 European foreign ministers sent a letter to the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, calling for the EU to label clearly Israeli settlement products to alert shoppers to their true provenance.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister who is widely regarded as a moderate, angrily phoned Mogherini to warn that major European states were calling for a “de facto boycott of Israel”. He described the letter as “a stain” on the EU, adding that Israel’s economy could face “disaster”.

EU foreign ministers were no less persuaded of the punitive nature of their proposal. Labelling settlement goods would, they wrote, be “an important step in the full implementation of EU longstanding policy” and vital to preserving the two-state solution.

In truth, however, the letter simply continues Europe’s feeble and muddle-headed policy in the face of Israel’s intensifying efforts to entrench the occupation.

After years of internal debates, only a small majority of the 27 EU states has been able to agree on the most ineffectual measure imaginable against products made on land and using resources stolen from the occupied Palestinian population.

Labelling might give conscientious consumers useful information to target settlements goods but, in the unlikely event a significant number of shoppers chose to act, it would barely dent Israel’s economy.

In fact, even if the EU went much further and agreed to enforce a fully fledged boycott of the settlements – something far from its current agenda – it would have little more than a psychological impact.

The reason is that, while on the one hand the EU ponders symbolic gestures against the settlements, on the other it actively subsidises the very state that has been expanding the settlements for almost 50 years.

It does so both through a special trade agreement that makes Europe Israel’s largest export market and by handing over large sums of aid annually to the Palestinian Authority, which maintains order in the occupied territories on Israel’s behalf.

European ministers are behaving like deluded parents who believe they can punish a wayward child by docking his pocket money while at the same time letting him buy up the toy store.

The pressing need for Europe to find its backbone was underscored last week when Israel’s supreme court considered the question of boycotts.

Israeli peace and human rights groups had petitioned Israel’s highest court, long considered a lone outpost of liberalism, over a controversial law passed four years ago. It imposes heavy damages on any Israeli individual or organisation that calls for a boycott of either Israel or the settlements.

The Israeli right’s goal in passing the legislation was undisguised: to silence internal critics of the occupation, especially those who back growing international calls for Israel to face BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions. A similar campaign of isolation turned the tide against apartheid South Africa.

However, by a narrow majority, the court supported the law. Several judges described calls for boycott “political terror”, while another renamed the BDS movement “Bigoted, Dishonest, Shameful”.

Observers were particularly surprised that the court refused to make a distinction between boycotting Israel and the settlements. Effectively, the judges kosher-stamped the occupation, equating a non-violent political protest against the settlements with “terror”.

Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now observed that in doing so the court had codified Israel’s “de facto annexation” of the West Bank.

In practice, the ruling will bar Israelis from showing any solidarity with Palestinians living under oppression. As the liberal Haaretz daily noted, lobbying to stop theatre companies and musicians from performing in the large settlement of Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank, is now effectively outlawed with the court’s approval.

Uri Avnery, leader of the small Israeli peace camp Gush Shalom, which for many years has called unsuccessfully on the EU to boycott settlement products, believed the ruling proved the judges were simply “afraid” of the growing power of the right.

Without a supreme court prepared to back basic civil rights like free speech, the Israeli right’s hold is unchallenged. It is shutting down the kind of political spaces that allowed blacks and whites in South Africa to struggle jointly against apartheid.

Israeli commentator Gideon Levy lamented on Sunday: “We’re about to get our most nationalist government – and there is no one to stop its laws.”

The court’s ruling only highlighted the EU’s shameful cowardice in failing to confront Israel. It is precisely as Israeli political institutions – from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to the judiciary – make common cause behind the settlements that Europe needs to find its voice.

The few Israelis prepared to break out of the domestic consensus and stand up for Palestinian rights to dignity and justice need all the help they can get. Not least they need the solidarity of European governments, who should be joining them in calling for harsh – not paltry – penalties against Israel.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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20 Responses

  1. pabelmont on April 24, 2015, 9:57 am

    Right on! If (as all “statesmen” know but only a few say out loud) the settlements are illegal (that is, violate the Fourth Geneva Convention), the right step is to demand Israel remove the settlers and dismantle the settlements (read UNSC 465/1980). But if such a demand were to be made again (as it has not been), it must escape from being “mere words” (as UNSC-465 was) which Israel can ignore by being backed up with enforcement sanctions. There is no other way that I can see.

    Someone should really ask EU ministers [1] if they really wish to see justice and 2SS, and if so, [2] what they see as a realistic mechanism of EU intervention to help make this a reality. Whatever can they say but “sanctions”?

  2. a blah chick on April 24, 2015, 11:33 am

    Does anyone know what will be the effect on the anti-BDS amendment that just passed in DC?

  3. HarryLaw on April 24, 2015, 11:40 am

    Does Resolution 242 as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council require the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all of the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? According to Artur J Goldberg one of the drafters of the resolution the answer is no. In the resolution, the words ‘the’ and ‘all’ are omitted. Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, without specifying the extent of the withdrawal. The resolution, therefore, neither commands nor prohibits total withdrawal There you have the problem, the French text against the English text, and many other different interpretations. The bottom line is, the major movers and shakers all agree, final borders have to be negotiated by all sides. Which means of course if the Israelis don’t agree, the occupations [The West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights] can continue indefinitely, which suits the Israelis. They have already annexed [de facto] the Golan Heights and hope to add Area C [60% of West Bank] in the near future, the rest to follow. Who is going to stop them?

    • oldgeezer on April 24, 2015, 1:56 pm

      That interpretation of 242 escapes me and I haven’t bought it for sure. If a doctor says he will remove my appendix I don’t expect him to take a mere slice. If I ask you to pull the knife from my back I don’t expect you to merely pull it out part way.

      I realize diplomats have their own language but on the face of it such interpretations make no sense.

    • talknic on April 24, 2015, 3:15 pm

      @ HarryLaw “Does Resolution 242 as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council require the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all of the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? “

      Yes. Subsequent UNSC resolutions make it very clear. UNSC res 476 sums it up rather nicely UNSC res 476 1. Reaffirms the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem;

      “According to Artur J Goldberg one of the drafters of the resolution the answer is no. In the resolution, the words ‘the’ and ‘all’ are omitted.”

      Opinion rendered before or after the resolution was adopted, is meaningless, only the actual words of resolutions are relevant. The omission of ‘the’ and/or ‘all’ does not change the meaning of the resolution. The arguments over ‘the’ & ‘all’ during the drafting of the resolution were a well worn tactic used to delay the adoption of resolutions for as long as possible.

      Wikipedia is by it’s editorial policies third hand opinion, which can be written by anyone.

      “The bottom line is, the major movers and shakers all agree, final borders have to be negotiated by all sides”

      There is no legal basis for demanding negotiations. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt’s borders were defined prior to 1948. Israels’ borders were proclaimed effective 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time) by the Israeli Govt. Israel has not legally acquired any territory since that proclamation and recognition. Palestinian territory was defined by default of its neighbours, including Israel.

      Their demand is akin to blackmail. Israel must negotiate because Israel cannot afford to adhere to the law under which reparations would be astronomical and the relocation of hundreds of thousands of Israelis back into actual Israeli territories would result in civil war in non-Israeli territories. A nightmare scenario, leading to a failed state

      ” Who is going to stop them?”

      There is only one veto vote stopping them. That’s why the Zionistas spend so much time, effort and money on maintaining the US UNSC veto. Draining the money pool thru BDS has a chance

      • Mooser on April 24, 2015, 11:06 pm

        To me, it’s always the same: Israel doesn’t want a solution, they demand absolution.

  4. NickJOCW on April 24, 2015, 11:42 am

    The EU is not in a position to institute anything like that. It’s not that kind of political organization. It’s not its job. BDS is a people thing, it has to come from the public. Retailers could do it, and would if enough of their customers demanded it.

    • peterfeld on April 24, 2015, 1:20 pm

      Boycotts are at the consumer or institutional level, divestment is often institutional, but sanctions come from governments, there is room for all three.

      In the long run this refusal to allow a distinction for settlement goods will help BDS avoid the “Zionist BDS” trap of Beinart et al.

      • NickJOCW on April 24, 2015, 3:07 pm

        You are right. But the roots of BDS are still in the ground. Corporations divest, not because the CEO has suddenly seen a light on the road to Damascus but because it becomes commercially beneficial to do so or potentially damaging not to, nor are sanctions deployed unless electorates demand them or are buttered up sufficiently to go along with them.

      • peterfeld on April 25, 2015, 10:59 am

        Thanks, you’re right and I totally agree it comes from the ground, they’ll never do it on their own. I just don’t want to let EU off the hook because there’s plenty they can do.

  5. Kay24 on April 24, 2015, 11:44 am

    An excellent article by Peter Berinert, explaining how Muslims have replaced gays and feminists as enemy number one in the US.

    “How Muslims replaced gays and feminists as the U.S. right’s cultural enemy number one
    The U.S. right’s new focus on Muslims at home is McCarthyite in a very specific sense.”

    “Another is by suggesting, as Bobby Jindal and Fox News have, that Muslims have established “no-go” zones for non-Muslims in some neighborhoods in Europe, with the implication that they might do the same in the United States. (Fox later retracted this claim; Jindal did not.) According to another Pew poll, evangelical Christians believe they suffer more discrimination than do American Muslims.

    As America recovers from the Great Recession, some pundits have observed that foreign policy is again becoming central to American politics. But that’s not quite right. Much of what passes for foreign-policy debate is actually the inversion of foreign policy, whereby conservatives try to replace a formidable target abroad with a softer one at home.

    Sadly, McCarthyism is not the only precedent in American history for this type of demonization: hyper-nationalist politicians went after German Americans during World War I and Japanese Americans during World War II. Similarly, today, with conservatives frustrated by America’s failed wars in the Middle East and the increasing unassailability of their traditional domestic foes, they are turning on American Muslims for the simplest of political reasons: because they can.”

  6. oldgeezer on April 24, 2015, 1:53 pm

    Settlement goods should not merely be labelled but banned. Anything less is abetting a criminal act. As Israel supports these criminal acts sanctions are needed against the state. Equating such actions is risible and merely adds to the proof that Israeli justice is an oxymoron and that they are part and parcel of the criminal enterprise.

  7. HarryLaw on April 24, 2015, 2:20 pm

    According to the Brita judgment at the ECJ in 2010 only the Palestine Authority have the competence to issue movement certificates in their territory as defined by protocol 3. they declared at 51 and 52.
    51 It follows from the foregoing that the ‘customs authorities of the exporting [State]’, within the meaning of the two protocols mentioned above, have exclusive competence – within their territorial jurisdiction – to issue movement certificates EUR.1 or to approve exporters based in the territory under their administration.

    52 Accordingly, to interpret Article 83 of the EC-Israel Association Agreement as meaning that the Israeli customs authorities enjoy competence in respect of products originating in the West Bank would be tantamount to imposing on the Palestinian customs authorities an obligation to refrain from exercising the competence conferred upon them by virtue of the abovementioned provisions of the EC-PLO Protocol. Such an interpretation, the effect of which would be to create an obligation for a third party without its consent, would thus be contrary to the principle of general international law, ‘pacta tertiis nec nocent nec prosunt’, as consolidated in Article 34 of the Vienna Convention.;jsessionid=9ea7d0f130de35b90d33fc01479e8e9cb6911824461e.e34KaxiLc3eQc40LaxqMbN4ObxaSe0?text=&docid=72406&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=330592 A similar finding was made earlier by the same court when Anastasiou [Pissouri] Ltd and others were referred to it on whether the Republic of Cyprus had the sole competence to issue movement certificates, EURI’s and since the Association Agreement was with them, they had.

  8. ivri on April 25, 2015, 6:09 am

    The EU is not in a position now to start a new front – it has too many open issues. The Greece saga is heating up and by all indications approaching explosion, with unpredictable impacts not just on the Eurozone but also the EU itself – there is no telling how far this can go. Ukraine is at boiling point too and Putin looks more menacing than ever.
    The rise of Euro-sceptic parties in many European countries will surely weaken the control of the Brussels headquarters on foreign policy issues. These new parties are also anti-immigrant and with that less inclined to support a yet another case of alleged discrimination, or likewise, of Muslims – they know “the story” only too well from their own turf.
    The now negotiated Trans-Atlantic trade pact of the EU with the US, a major economic move, includes a clause, demanded by the latter, which prohibits economic boycott of Israel. Peculiarly the Israeli hi-tech is now so advanced and omnipresent that the EU actually needs some Israeli-produced items – so reluctant to get into a boycott war with Israel.
    And finally, Germany, the EU economic bosses, invested too much in establishing normal relations with Israel to see it going down the drain – accused of participating in another boycott type versus Jews (especially so given how the Greeks are resuscitating now the Nazi era in their economic struggle with Germany).

    • Rodneywatts on April 29, 2015, 5:06 pm

      Hi ivri!
      Should have commented days ago, but I’m very busy at moment campaigning against the privatisation of most of our UK National Health Service, which was almost completed by an Act of Parliament in 2012. Fortunately we have an election next thursday, after which it is very possible that the Act will be repealed and a Bill is already waiting in Parliament for the reinstatement of our NHS as free at point of need.

      Concomitant with this campaign is one against TTIP ( which you have wrongly referred to as ‘The now negotiated Trans-Atlantic trade pact of the EU with the US’) . It is far from negotiated- so zionists, neocons, corporate thieves and all will be needing to think again. Israel will certainly not be protected from BDS and if you think we absolutely need Israeli hi-tech for ever, you are deluded! Yes, the EU at the moment is ducking the issue of full BDS, but an increasing number of constituent countries are engaging with BDS.

      I would be a fool to confidently predict the outcome of our election, except it looks like a hung parliament, and your zionist friends are going to be fewer. Israel and its zionist lobby in the US may be able to make Congress dance to its tune, but not here pal!

      Ivri, I hate the thought of anyone being terrorised, oppressed, robbed or discriminated against, and that includes you, but as a veteran of the apartheid struggle in SA, and with an eye on biblical prohecy I can certainly say that at the moment Israel is on a road to ruin. Sadly you may be encouraged by Christian Zionist teaching, but people like John Hagee are false prophets. Time will tell!

  9. eusebio on April 25, 2015, 9:09 am

    Yes EU will have to take on more solidarity with Israel must take the peace and stability accords and advances human right in Palestine

  10. piotr on April 25, 2015, 9:45 am

    What EU can do? What kind of organization is it? Some raised those questions.

    Mental experiment: 15 of EU foreign ministers proposed that goods from Lugansk and Donetsk should be labeled as such, as the sum total of all steps detrimental to Russia and those republics. It could be a very sensible course of action, but the actuality was different, wasn’t it?

  11. Mayhem on April 28, 2015, 9:07 am

    The US Senate Finance Committee has unanimously voted in favor of an amendment to discourage European participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
    “The amendment, which was tacked onto a larger piece of trade legislation that establishes Congressional trade objectives, is intended to apply specifically to an emerging free trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe.
    “While the language of the amendment does not directly specify punitive action toward countries that boycott Israel, the implication is that U.S.-E.U. free trade relations are conditional upon European countries abstaining from the BDS movement.
    “The senate committee’s amendment specifically targets an E.U. decision to cut economic support for Israeli settlements. In 2013, the European body submitted policy guidelines that required any Israeli entity seeking economic cooperation or funding from the E.U. to file a declaration asserting it is not linked to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.
    “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been working with members of Congress since at least last year to draft legislation that would discourage Europe from continuing these policies. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the author of the amendment, first offered the anti-BDS language as a separate bill, which he announced at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in March.
    “When you have a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, you’re discriminating against Israel,” Cardin told a packed auditorium at the pro-Israel gathering. “And the United States should take a stance to make sure other countries that want trade agreements with the United States do not participate in BDS against Israel.”
    On Wednesday, several lawmakers described E.U. policy as the latest form of discrimination against Israel. “From the time it was founded, Israel has been the target of a lot of attacks,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a co-sponsor of Cardin’s original bill. “From military or terrorist groups, but now there’s also this other attack. And in a way it’s more pernicious because it is economic warfare.”
    Before casting his vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was “appalling” that E.U. members boycott Israel but not other countries in the region with poor human rights records. “They just pick out Israel. Even though Israel is a democracy and has far greater provisions for human rights and protections of all people than any of the surrounding countries do,” he said.
    “Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) described the European policy as anti-Semitic. “As the son of parents who fled Nazi Germany in the ’30s, I have been troubled by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world,” he said. “We shouldn’t let American trade policy be used in any kind of fashion that would in some ways show a tolerance for that kind of anti-Semitism.”

    • piotr on May 1, 2015, 10:34 am

      This is part of the true cost of “canine devotion to Israel”. US is constantly negotiating this or that, giving up some points to gain other, and rather that gaining points in the interest of the citizens, negotiators “protect Israel”. And by all means, make a trade war with EU!

  12. just on April 29, 2015, 6:15 am

    Thanks for the great article, Jonathan. Looks like South Africa is plenty miffed:

    “Boycott to intensify after Israeli ban on South African minister’s trip to Palestine

    Last week Israel denied entry to South African higher education
    minister Blade Nzimande. The minister had intended to travel to Ramallah to discuss academic cooperation with institutions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. …

    Full program of action

    Calling for the decision by the ANC to institute a travel ban to Israel as articulated by the National Executive Committee to be strengthened and further implemented at all levels of government.

    Meeting with the Department of Home Affairs to demand that the automatic visas for Israelis – which is a hang-over from Apartheid – will be suspended and requirements will be introduced for Israelis wanting to travel to South Africa including requiring them to declare their involvement in the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli occupation, illegal settlements or other Israeli war crimes.

    An announcement on Thursday by the SRCs of five SA universities to deal with the academic boycott of Israel and will include the participation of the South African Union of Students which represents all Student Representative Councils of universities.

    BDS South Africa together with all our progressive organisations will host an international conference on the academic boycott of apartheid state of Israel; the Department of Higher Education and Training has been invited to participate and support the event. Special guests to include Minister Nzimande; former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University (who has also been denied entry to Palestine); Omar Barghouti (of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel); National Coalition; and Progressive Israeli academics.

    Meeting with Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to call for an immediate end to Israeli agricultural interests in South Africa.

    Engaging with the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions to prosecute South Africans serving in Israeli defense forces in violation of South African law.

    If the Department of International Relations and Co-operation does not expel the Israeli Ambassador 10 days from now, our progressive organisations will take upon ourselves to be at the Israeli Embassy on the 15th of May to expel the Israeli Ambassador in a protest march which will also commemorate the Palestinian Nakba.

    COSATU together with alliance partners will use the upcoming May Day rallies to mobilize support for the Palestinian freedom and intensify the boycott of Israeli products as well as services including the #BoycottWoolworths campaign.

    The decision by Israel to deny the Minister and other government officials entry into Palestine constitutes a suppression of academic freedom. The South African government must act! Failure to do so means Israel can pick and choose which South African government ministers and officials are allowed to visit Palestine. This will be tantamount to Israel undermining South Africa’s national sovereignty – which we cannot allow. In terms of international law Israel does not have any right to decide who the friends of the Palestinian people should be.”

    Kerpow! There’s much more at the link.

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