By Asa Winstanley
The global boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine has achieved many victories since it was launched by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society in 2005. BDS victories seem to have flowed thick and fast in recent times, particularly since Israel’s vicious 2008-2009 assault on the civilian population of Gaza. A small sample: in September 2009 Norway’s pension fund divested from Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms systems company. In May of this year, hip-hop pioneer Gil Scott-Heron cancelled a prospective Tel Aviv gig after pressure to boycott from fans in London who also happened to be pro-Palestine BDS activists.
In what may yet turn out to be the biggest long-term BDS victory in Britain, the TUC voted in September to pass a motion calling for a boycott of goods from Israeli colonies in the West Bank. Although the initial motion put forward by the Fire Brigades Union called for a general boycott of Israeli goods, a General Council statement also passed at the September congress altered this to restrict the TUC campaign to settlement goods.
Despite this dilution, the motion was a clear sign of historical sea change in the British trade union movement – large parts of which tended to support Israel before 1967 because of their illusions about Zionist “socialism” (a “socialism” that happened to exclude Arabs). By now it is clear that the union grassroots overwhelmingly supports the BDS movement.