I took part in this Zoom panel for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign with Omar Barghouti and Andrew Preston. Facebook embed doesn’t work, so click through to it here.
For the seasoned campaigner, those already aware and active, and those fresh to the issue, this webinar is an opportunity to take a moment to understand where the ‘BDS Call’ comes from, how the international solidarity movement has progressed so far and the changed terrain in which we campaign in solidarity with the Palestinian people.What does BDS mean in practice? What are we trying to achieve? Who are our allies and what do we understand about our opposition? Is the Israel lobby as powerful as some believe? What do the events of the last month mean for the Palestinian struggle and for international solidarity?
It seems like no sooner did the British government issue its new regulations aimed at “banning” boycotts of Israel than the move backfired. “BDS,” the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement,protesters declared in response, “is here to stay.” There was immediate talk of defying any ban, with civil disobedience if necessary. That may not be needed: while the full facts are still being debated, according to lawyers who spoke to anti-poverty charity War on Want, “there is nothing new in the new procurement guidance aside from some overblown rhetoric clearly intended to scare campaigners.”
The “BDS ban” in fact is no real ban at all. It has essentially restated existing legislation, campaigners say. This is likely to be tested in courts, however. Although Israeli campaigns of “lawfare” (tying campaigners up using spurious litigation in courts around the world) have often proven fruitless, even disastrous in the past, it seems Israel’s supporters have not given up the strategy.
Such litigation can be costly for BDS activists, who are almost all volunteers and have little in the way of serious funding to defend against such cases. Local councils do have more serious resources to defend their democratic mandates. But with ever increasingly budget cuts, thanks to Conservative austerity, they may prove unwilling to fight back against such cases: they’d often rather avoid them altogether if the popular pressure is not enough.
Last week the government made an announcement intended to intimidate supporters of Palestinian rights. It was trailed in the media as a “ban” on boycotts of Israel, which The Independent claimed would now become a “criminal” offence for public bodies. The Palestine Solidarity Campaignsaid this amounted to “a gross attack on our democratic freedoms and the independence of public bodies from government interference.”
There is no doubt that the new measure is probably the biggest attack by the Tory government yet on the movement for Palestinian human rights. In the last 11 years, a key tactic of that movement has been boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS.
A fascinating article by a Jerusalem Post Knesset reporter earlier this month gives quite the insight into the increasingly desperate state of the Israeli “war” against BDS. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aims to hold Israel to account for its crimes against the Palestinian people.
At first ignored, and later derided, the BDS movement has by now become one of the top strategic threats to Israel’s ability carry on the business of occupation as usual. Formally founded in 2005, the movement aims to encourage people of conscious around the world to boycott Israel products, dis-invest from Israeli businesses and to put pressure on governments to implement sanctions against Israel.
And over the last 11 years, the movement has achieved some impressive results, despite an enormous and well-funded backlash by Israel’s powerful supporters in the West. Examples are too numerous to detail, but the most recent victory has been the move of the United Methodist Church in the US to divest its $20-billion pension fund of any stake in five Israeli banks – excluded for their involvement in illegal Israeli settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank.
One year ago I wrote about the Mossad’s strategyto combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In part, I based my argument on the analysis of former Mossad director Shabatai Shavit, who had written an important, and under-noticed, opinion piece about it in Haaretz, Israel’s liberal daily newspaper.
In that piece Shavit had argued, in a most sinister fashion, that “in this age of asymmetrical warfare” Israeli spy agencies are not yet “using all our force, and this has a detrimental effect on our deterrent power.” To me, this seemed tantamount to a declaration of war on the BDS movement. I maintain that in the long term, as Israel becomes more and more desperate in its (mostly failed) attempts to combat BDS, the more likely it is to carry out some sort of violent attack on BDS activists.
It’s already very difficult for Israel to combat BDS. It’s something akin to trying to against fight a shifting sand dune. BDS is a diffuse and broad movement, which, although it has popular and influential figures supporting it, has no central leadership or cadres that Israel could remove through its various nefarious means. More fundamentally, it’s pretty hard to force people to buy Israel products, or make them participate in Israeli propaganda initiatives against their will or interest. Furthermore, although some people can be bought-off, intimidated, or otherwise coerced into silence, it’s pretty much impossible to stop everyone talking about an idea or a strategy.
The festival later admitted accepting the £300 was “a mistake” and publicly returned the money.
But newly published emails revealed this monththat Clinton, a strong supporter of Israel, had tried to intervene in the affair. (Her emails were released as part of the ongoing controversy in the US over her use of a personal email account to conduct official business in an apparent attempt to avoid freedom of information law.)
On the new phase in Israel’s campaign to sabotage BDS:
As Israel ramps-up its fight against BDS, the increasingly shrill nature of the warnings coming from Jerusalem raise serious concerns about potentially fatal actions Israel could may begin to take against BDS activists (especially Palestinians). If that sounds alarmist, consider the words of new Likud member of parliament Anat Berko. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and this week formed a lobby in the Knesset specifically to target BDS. In an interview she said that the “BDS movement against Israel is also a weapon. It is a form of terrorism and it should be fought against just like we fight against terrorism.”
Implicit in that ludicrous description of the purely non-violent BDS movement as “terrorism” is a threat to assassinate and kidnap leaders of the BDS movement. After all, that is how Israel treats Palestinian resistance fighters – those it terms “terrorists”. This designation of BDS as “terrorism” is another proof that when Israel terms Palestinian resistance as terrorism, it is not a serious description, but an opposition to any form of basic Palestinian human rights or existence.
What Israel’s apologists still don’t get is that, much like the Palestinian cause itself, BDS is a popular, grass-roots and humanist campaign.
So here is some free advice for them: you can’t make the “BDS threat” go away by throwing money at the problem. Previously the Israeli government seems to have tried ignoring the problem, but that didn’t work, so now they are trying a different tack: freaking out about it.
It’s safe to say that only one of these salaries could fund entire pro-Palestinian organisations for several years and yet it is these under-funded groups that are winning more and more significant milestones in the struggle towards building the BDS counter-siege on Israel. No wonder Zionist organizations are worried. The infamous Reut Institute recommendations for Israel to “sabotage” pro-Palestinian justice groups rated BDS as much as a threat to Israel’s apartheid system as armed resistance. Reut dubbed the former a “delegitimisation network” and the latter the “resistance network”.
The very fact the bogus story spread around so quickly before being debunked (even making it onto popular American blog The Huffington Post) tells us something about the successes to date of the BDS campaign. It is having a far-reaching impact amongst Israelis, showing that BDS activists are punching way above their weight, compared to their modest means.
The second article in my series about the Zionist legal campaign against the UCU for discussing academic boycott — and against the BDS movement in general. Extract:
Antony Julius had taken on Fraser’s case pro bono, he said in a phone call.
Julius defended the readiness of his case, and what he said was an “ironic” comment about his chaotic references: “look at the written submissions and the range of witnesses that were deployed to see how ludicrous it is to say we were not prepared.”
He denied the case was receiving any support from the Israeli government: “I’m sorry to disappoint your fantasy of a conspiracy, but no it isn’t … Why would you assume it’s being supported by the Israeli government? … The question itself can only come from a person who is in thrall to such a fantasy.”
But one of Julius’s own witnesses was boasting to the Israeli press earlier this year about just such a “fantasy.”
Part one is here, but both articles work independent of each other.