By Eric Walberg
A new Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was launched this summer by the United Church of Canada, which will try to persuade six companies operating in Canada — Caterpillar, Motorola, Ahava, Veolia, Elbit Systems and Chapters/Indigo — to stop supporting the Israeli occupation. “The Campaign follows similar campaigns launched some time ago by the US Presbyterian Church and the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. We have launched ‘Occupied with Peace’ after almost two years of discernment and information gathering,” says spokesperson Jean Lee.
The UK’s Trades Union Congress voted to reconsider its ties with Israel’s national trade union federation Histadrut, reaffirming its policy to encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall.
In a most unusual boycott move, on 1 September, London cultural activists from “Beethovians for Boycotting Israel” sang their own version of the Ode to Joy repeatedly during a concert by the Israeli Philharmonic at London’s Royal Albert Hall, finally bringing the live BBC broadcast to a halt. “Israel, end your occupation, There’s no peace on stolen land. We’ll sing out for liberation till you hear and understand.”
South African students endorsed a nationwide boycott against Israel, and South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority dismissed complaints relating to a radio advert by the lead guitarist of Faithless in support of the South African Artists Against Apartheid: “Hi, I’m Dave Randall from Faithless. Twenty years ago I would not have played in apartheid South Africa; today I refuse to play in Israel. Be on the right side of history. Don’t entertain apartheid. Join the international boycott of Israel.”
Legendary NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar declined to appear in Israel due to “concerns arising from Nakba day violence.” Abdul-Jabbar was slated to show his new documentary film about racial segregation in basketball, On the Shoulders of Giants, and was due to compete for the “Spirit of Freedom Award” at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Facing an intense Europe-wide boycott campaign, Israel’s largest produce exporter, Agrexco, Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter, which markets produce from Israel’s illegal settlements as “product of Israel”, filed for bankruptcy this summer. Its financial woes, however, pale next to those of French multinational Veolia, an urban systems corporation which provides light rail services that link West Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank.
Since the beginning of the Palestinian-led campaign in 2005, Veolia has lost contracts worth more than $14 billion. A recent merger between Veolia’s transport division and a subsidiary of the main French state investment fund shows the French government’s solution to Veolia’s problems: let the taxpayers finance Veolia’s income losses. Veolia is cutting its activities from more than 40 countries, but not the one country — Israel — that is the main cause of its financial woes.
Involvement in the light rail project violates Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines. Considering that Paris is the seat of the OECD and Israel a new member, this is particularly ironic.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Sodastream took a direct hit in Sweden, its largest market, when the Coop supermarket chain announced it would stop all purchases of its products. The main production facilities for Sodastream are located at Mishor Adumim, Israel’s largest settlement in the occupied West Bank, where it profits from tax benefits enjoyed by companies in industrial parks in illegal settlements. Unilever has already bowed to BDS pressure, in July announcing plans to move its Bagel and Bagel pretzel factory to a location within the green line. Sodastream itself has shown signs it will probably comply, also announcing it will build a new factory within the green line, expected to begin operations in 2013, the same year the lease on the Mishor plant is due to expire.
The campaign against Sodastream has quickly spread around the world, including the US. In March, a petition calling on Bed Bath & Beyond to stop selling Sodastream products (as well as products from Ahava, the settlement-based cosmetics company) was delivered to 15 locations up and down the US West Coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and a group of activists dressed as brides held a mock wedding inside Bed Bath & Beyond in Los Angeles calling on concerned brides everywhere to strike Sodastream (and Ahava) off their bridal registries.
The struggles are uphill, especially in Australia. A peaceful BDS action against a Jericho cosmetics outlet, which sells Dead Sea salts, was attacked in July by the Victoria police, and 19 Melbourne activists face fines of $32,000. The attack followed the call by Victoria Jewish Community President John Searle for the police to “stamp down harder on aggressive protesters”. Currently in the US, France and Greece, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists are facing criminal charges for nonviolently standing up for Palestinian human rights.
Then there’s the herem law passed 11 July by the Knesset that allows “victims” to sue boycott promoters. This bill follows upon the Knesset’s recent Nakba law, which defunded any institution that acknowledged the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Israeli peace group Peace Now immediately set up a Facebook group “So Sue Me, I’m Boycotting the Settlements”. “We’ve never done a boycott of settlements. We are doing this now because of the boycott law,” Peace Now activist Etai Mizrav said. “The moment they decided to shut mouths, we decided it is time to tell the Israeli public that whoever supports settlements supports Israel’s isolation and harms the state.” A coalition of allied groups said they would ask Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn the law. “It is really absurd that victims of the occupation should be paying damages to the occupiers if they organise a boycott of settlement products,” coalition spokesman Idan Ring said.
A divestment victory this summer was the decision by Norway’s 450 billion euro Oil Fund to excluded two Israeli firms — Africa Israel Investments and its engineering subsidiary Danya Cebus — for their settlement activities.
As for sanctions, the big news this summer was the UN Palmer Report which criticised Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla last year for its excessive use of violence, but nonetheless supported its siege of Gaza, despite an earlier UN Human Rights Commission report condemning it as illegal. The lack of any real sanctions against Israel by the world body prompted the Turkish government to send its Israeli ambassador packing. Israel’s killing of at least five Egyptian border guards this summer prompted Egyptian protesters to send their Israeli ambassador packing too, and the Israeli ambassador in Jordan fled amid worries over a similar protest there.
There was a setback for those trying to bring Israeli politicians to account. Last week Britain amended a law that allowed for issuing arrest warrants against Israeli politicians and military figures under terms of universal jurisdiction, which holds that some alleged crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere. Such a warrant was issued against Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni in 2009.
– Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly – http://weekly.ahram.org.eg. His Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games is available at www.claritypress.com/Walberg.html. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: http://ericwalberg.com.