Pro-Israel Lobby Alarmed by Growth of Boycott, Divestment Movement

Art Young

The movement to call Israel to account for its crimes against the
Palestinian people is growing. It is “invading the mainstream discourse,
becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel.” It
could eventually threaten the existence of the Jewish state by undermining
the support it receives from its strongest backer, the U. S. government.
That was the message of alarm delivered by the Executive Director of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Howard Kohr, to the AIPAC Policy
Conference on May 3.[1]

AIPAC is one of the principal organizations that lobby publicly on behalf
of Israel in the United States, where it is an important influence on
foreign policy. Among the 6,000 dignitaries who attended its policy
conference were more than half of the members of the Senate and a third of
the members of the House of Representatives. Featured speakers included
Vice President Joe Biden, Senator John Kerry, former Speaker of the House
Newt Gingrich, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli
President Shimon Peres.

AIPAC and its allies are often alleged to act as a kind of shadow
government in Washington, distorting policy in Israel’s interest rather
than that of the United States. This stands reality on its head. The
pro-Israel lobby carries real weight in the halls of power, but only
because the U.S. and Israel share the same fundamental interests. The U.S.
relies on Israel to keep the Arab states of the Middle East divided, weak,
and under constant threat of attack, thus ensuring that they remain
subservient to Washington. For its part, Israel could not continue to exist
in its present form without the strong political and material support it
receives from the USA. It received more than $2.5-billion in military aid
from the U.S. in 2009.[2] Israel and the United States may be partners with
shared objectives, but the relationship is a highly unequal one.

Kohr’s address focused on the growing power of the international movement
against Israel’s criminal behavior, identifying support for boycott,
divestment and sanctions as a particularly worrisome development.

Kohr pointed to a variety of statements and actions against Israel’s
onslaught on Palestinians in Gaza, including demonstrations in Spain and
Germany. He noted that 400 British academics had demanded that Britain’s
Science Museum cancel an event highlighting the work of Israeli scientists
and that an Italian trade union calls for a boycott of Israeli products.

“Incredibly, there now is even an Israel Apartheid Week conducted in cities
across the globe,” he added.

Kohr noted the strength of opposition to Israel in the Middle East, Europe,
and in international forums. But he voiced particular concern over the
movement’s progress in the United States “where Israel stands accused of
apartheid and genocide, where Zionism equals racism, where a former
president of the United States can publicly accuse Israel of apartheid.”

Significantly, the AIPAC leader also insisted on the profound nature of the
issues that divide supporters and critics of Israeli policy.

What we are witnessing is the attempted delegitimization of Israel; the
systematic sowing of doubt that Israel is a nation that has forfeited the
world’s concern; a nation whose actions are, in the strict meaning of the
term, indefensible. This is more than the simple spewing of hatred. This is
a conscious campaign to shift policy, to transform the way Israel is
treated by its friends to a state that deserves not our support, but our
contempt; not our protection, but pressured to change its essential
nature…

I’m not saying that these allegations have become accepted. But they have
become acceptable. More and more they are invading the mainstream
discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against
Israel. These voices are laying the predicate for an abandonment. They’re
making the case for Israel’s unworthiness to be allowed what is for any
nation the first and most fundamental of rights: the right to
self-defense… They are preparing us for a world in which Israel stands
alone, isolated, and at risk…

Now, there’s little we can do to stop the boycotts of Israeli goods
launched in London or Lisbon or Rome. There’s little we can do to stop
Israel Apartheid Week. But there is much we can do to stop this campaign
from taking hold here. Here where it matters the most, in Washington, where
United States policy is forged, we must stop the delegitimization of
Israel. We must not let it penetrate the halls of Congress and the counsels
of our president.

To win support for Israel from the U.S. ruling class, Kohr argued, friends
of Israel must address “the absolute foundation, the base on which all else
rests.” That is, the fact that Israel is

a Western outpost in the Middle East. To those who make that accusation, I
say you are right. Israel is the only democratic country in the region that
looks West, that looks to the values and the vision we share of what our
society, our country should aim at and aspire to. If that foundation of
shared values is shaken, the rationale for the policies we pursue today
will be stripped away. The reasons the United States would continue to
invest nearly $3-billion in Israel’s security; the willingness to stand
with Israel, even alone if need be; the readiness to defend Israel’s very
existence, all are undermined and undone if Israel is seen to be unjust and
unworthy.

Kohr’s argument that Israel is a garrison state, “a Western outpost in the
Middle East,” the front line of the defense of imperialist interests in the
region, is not often stated in such forthright terms. But it is quite
accurate, and speaks to the source of the conflict in the region.
Palestine Appeals for Solidarity

In his speech, Kohr voiced great alarm at the growth in solidarity with the
Palestinian people in recent months. The unprecedented growth of the
international solidarity movement is a grass-roots response to the crimes
committed by Israel during its murderous 22-day assault on Gaza, and the
tight siege of the territory that it maintains to this day.

Solidarity with Palestine is being expressed in many different ways. One of
these is the international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions
(BDS) against Israel. Support for BDS has grown considerably in recent
months, which is why the AIPAC leader highlighted it as a cause for
particular concern.

The BDS movement responds to an appeal for solidarity that was issued by
Palestinian civil society in July 2005. More than 170 organizations,
including trade unions, political and social organizations, and women’s and
youth groups, issued the appeal. The signatories represent all three
components of the divided Palestinian nation, namely, refugees,
Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and Palestinian citizens of
Israel.

The appeal from Palestine said, in part:

We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international
civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to
impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel
similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to
you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions
against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this call,
for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets
its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to
self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international
law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling
the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of
Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees
to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. resolution
194.[3]
Students Mobilize for Palestine

Students have been in the forefront of the solidarity movement with
Palestine. The attack on Gaza spurred student solidarity to new heights.

In what one newspaper described as “the biggest student revolt for 20
years,” students in the U.K. organized occupations at 34 universities. They
used the facilities to hold meetings and show films promoting awareness of
the oppression of the Palestinians. Many occupations demanded that their
university provide practical aid to Palestinian universities and students.
Another common theme of the movement was a call to end all ties to arms
manufacturers – the university-military connection being particularly
strong in the U.K. The universities promote research that benefits the
merchants of death; they also invest in those companies.

The student movement achieved some notable gains. Glasgow Strathclyde
University agreed to end its purchases from Eden Springs, an Israeli
company that produces bottled water from land in the Golan Heights that
Israel refuses to return to Syria. Several universities agreed to provide
scholarships to Palestinian students. Others organized fundraising for
Palestine; many of these efforts are ongoing. The Oxford and Manchester
universities agreed to donate surplus books, journals and other educational
material to universities in Palestine.

At the University of Manchester, an emergency meeting of the student union
attended by more than 850 people adopted a motion committing the union to
campaign for BDS.

One of the most important results of the wave of occupations was to raise
consciousness of the Palestine issue among thousands of students and
beyond. It also provided activists with valuable experience in organizing
on this issue and forged links between them. Following on the occupations,
many of the campus Palestine committees have increased their activity in
support of BDS. Efforts are also being made to build a more sustained
student Palestine solidarity movement.[4]

In early February, new ground was conquered in the U.S. when Hampshire
College agreed to implement a policy of divestment, the first college or
university in the country to do so. Bowing to a two-year campaign by
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Board of Trustees agreed to
withdraw its investments from six companies targeted by SJP because they
profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. SJP noted that “this
groundbreaking decision follows in Hampshire’s history of being the first
college in the country to divest from apartheid South Africa 32 years ago,
a decision based on similar human rights concerns.”[5]

Archbishop Desmond Tutu hailed the decision: “This is a monumental and
historic step in the struggle for Palestinian equality, self-determination
and peace in the Holy Land by non-violent means. I see what these students
have accomplished as a replica of the support of their college of our
struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Hampshire College’s decision to
divest should be a guiding example to all institutions of higher
learning.”[6]
Israeli Apartheid Week

In his speech to the conference, AIPAC leader Hauk twice referred to
Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual series of presentations and film
showings that focus on the Israeli apartheid system and the need for
boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Initiated at the
University of Toronto in 2005, IAW events took place this year on five
continents in more than 40 cities and towns, 11 of them in Israeli-occupied
Palestine, during the first week of March.[7]

Organizers of IAW in Canada, one of the centers of the movement, had to
contend with a sustained barrage of attacks and threats from Zionist
organizations backed up by the federal government. In February Jason
Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and
Multiculturalism, decried the “anti-Zionist version of anti-Semitism” which
maintains that “the Jews alone have no right to a homeland.” A few weeks
later Kenny took aim directly at IAW. Speaking to the House of Commons, he
proclaimed that “Israel Apartheid Week is not about [freedom of opinion]
… We condemn these efforts to single out and attack the Jewish people and
their homeland.” He thus suggested, without the slightest basis in fact,
that IAW organizers were violating Canada’s criminal code, which bans “hate
propaganda.”

University administrators on a number of campuses followed the government’s
lead, attempting to disrupt Israeli Apartheid Week. But IAW organizers were
successful in beating back these attacks. The daily events unfolded as
planned, with audiences of up to 500 in Toronto and Ottawa and 400 in
Montreal.[8]
Boycott Motorola, Caterpillar, Israeli Produce

Campus-based activities in solidarity with Palestine are one facet of a
broader international campaign, which includes targeted boycotts of
companies that profit from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

Motorola is one such company. The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli
Occupation is urging consumers to “Hang Up On Motorola” until it stops
selling communications and surveillance equipment to the Israeli military
and to Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The group
organized a protest outside Motorola’s annual shareholders meeting in
Chicago on May 4. Inside the meeting, representatives of the Presbyterian,
United Methodist and other churches pressed shareholders to adopt a
resolution that would instruct Motorola to follow corporate standards
consistent with international law.

The pressure on Motorola has already forced it to give up some ground.
After Human Rights Watch announced that its teams had found shrapnel
carrying Motorola serial numbers at some of the civilian sites bombed by
Israel in its recent assault on Gaza, the company sold the department that
makes the fuses for the bombs.[9]

Caterpillar is another target. Israel makes extensive use of its bulldozers
to demolish Palestinian homes and to build the apartheid wall. In early
February the Church of England announced that it had withdrawn investments
of more than £2.2-million ($3.5-million) from Caterpillar, following a
policy that it adopted in 2005 of not investing in companies that support
the occupation. Other churches and faith-based organizations have joined
the divestment movement against the company.[10]

In Canada, the Committee Against Israeli Apartheid and other solidarity
activists have organized a boycott of Indigo Books and Music. They demand
that the majority shareholders of the bookstore chain, Heather Reisman and
Gerry Schwartz, publicly end their support of Heseg, the Foundation for
Lone Soldiers. Reisman and Schwartz created the foundation in 2005 to
reward “lone soldiers,” volunteers who travel to Israel to serve in the
Israeli military. Every year, Heseg grants scholarships to a hundred or
more of these zealots to help them remain in Israel after they complete
their military service.[11]

For the last two years, solidarity activists have picketed and distributed
leaflets periodically outside some of the company’s main bookstores. They
have also spoken out at some of its high-profile promotional events and at
its annual shareholder meetings. The Indigo campaign has been a useful way
to reach out and educate the general public about Palestine. It has also
helped to maintain the visibility of the issue during periods when the
mainstream media chooses to ignore it.

In Europe, consumer boycotts of Israeli products, particularly agricultural
produce, are gaining momentum. The U.K.-based daily The Guardian reported
in its April 3 edition that “Israeli companies are feeling the impact of
boycott moves in Europe … amid growing concern within the Israeli
business sector over organized campaigns following the recent attack on
Gaza. Last week, the Israel Manufacturers Association reported that 21% of
90 local exporters who were questioned had felt a drop in demand due to
boycotts, mostly from the U.K. and Scandinavian countries. Last month, a
report from the Israel Export Institute reported that 10% of 400 polled
exporters received order cancellation notices this year, because of
Israel’s assault on Gaza.”

The article also cited the Israeli financial daily, The Marker, which said
that “the horrific images on TV and the statements of politicians in Europe
and Turkey are changing the behavior of consumers, businessmen and
potential investors. Many European consumers boycott Israeli products in
practice.”[12]
Veolia: A Major Victory for
the Corporate Boycott Campaign

European solidarity activists have waged a particularly effective campaign
against the French multinationals Veolia and Alstom. These companies are
part of a consortium that is building a light railway connecting occupied
Jerusalem to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reinforcing Israel’s
hold on Palestinian land.

In the U.K., the Palestine Solidarity Campaign conducted an active petition
campaign against Veolia’s attempt to win a 25-year waste collection and
recycling contract worth £1-billion ($1.6-billion) with the Sandwell
Metropolitan Borough Council. On March 16 the council announced that Veolia
had failed to qualify for the shortlist of three companies that would be
invited to bid on the contract.

Also in March, the Swedish national pension fund AP7 announced that it was
removing Alstom from its investment portfolio. Activists in Sweden had
organized a public education campaign for divestment. The pension fund
specifically cited the Jerusalem rail project as the reason it had
blacklisted the company.[13]

The following month the Urban Community of Bordeaux cancelled its contract,
worth 750 million euros ($1-billion), with Veolia. Although the French
municipality cited commercial factors, the cancellation came in the wake of
a major controversy over Veolia’s involvement in the Jerusalem project. The
Galway City Council in Ireland and the Stockholm Community Council in
Sweden both recently decided not to renew their contracts with Veolia.[14]

Finally, the pressure became too much for Veolia. On June 9 the Israeli
daily Haaretz reported that the company was abandoning the Jerusalem
project. The paper described the company’s decision as a “body blow” to the
project, noting that “the French firm had been losing major projects in
Europe because of its involvement in the Jerusalem job. Observers claim
that’s the real reason Veolia opted out.”[15]

This marks the first major victory of the corporate boycott campaign.
Veolia was forced to divest from the Jerusalem project as a result of a
targeted and sustained campaign in various countries, coordinated
internationally with the help of the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
The victory demonstrates how such campaigns can produce tangible victories.
It is likely to spur supporters of Palestine to increase their efforts to
force corporations to sever their ties with Israel.
Labour Solidarity

Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza earlier this year has also led to new
initiatives by organized labour in solidarity with Palestine.

Not surprisingly, support for Palestine and the boycott movement is
particularly strong in South Africa. Many South Africans see Israel’s
oppression of Palestinians through the prism of their own experience under
apartheid.

In early February dock workers in South Africa, members of the Congress of
South African Trade Unions (COSATU), announced that they would refuse to
offload a ship from Israel that was scheduled to dock in Durban on February
8. COSATU and the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa explained
the significance of the dock workers’ action in this way:

The pledge by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU)
members in Durban reflects the commitment by South African workers to
refuse to support oppression and exploitation across the globe.

Last year, Durban dock workers had refused to offload a shipment of arms
that had arrived from China and was destined for Zimbabwe to prop up the
Mugabe regime and to intensify the repression against the Zimbabwean
people. Now, says SATAWU’s General Secretary Randall Howard, the union’s
members are committing themselves to not handling Israeli goods.

SATAWU’s action on Sunday will be part of a proud history of worker
resistance against apartheid. In 1963, just four years after the
Anti-Apartheid Movement was formed, Danish dock workers refused to offload
a ship with South African goods. When the ship docked in Sweden, Swedish
workers followed suit. Dock workers in Liverpool and, later, in the San
Francisco Bay Area also refused to offload South African goods. South
Africans, and the South African working class in particular, will remain
forever grateful to those workers who determinedly opposed apartheid and
decided that they would support the anti-apartheid struggle with their
actions.

Last week, Western Australian members of the Maritime Union of Australia
resolved to support the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions
against Israel, and have called for a boycott of all Israeli vessels and
all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

This is the legacy and the tradition that South African dock workers have
inherited, and it is a legacy they are determined to honor, by ensuring
that South African ports of entry will not be used as transit points for
goods bound for or emanating from certain dictatorial and oppressive states
such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Israel.

COSATU and the Palestine Solidarity Committee reaffirmed their commitment
to campaigning for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They
called on the South African government to sever diplomatic and trade
relations with Israel and announced a week of activities under the theme:
“Free Palestine! Isolate Apartheid Israel!”[16]

COSATU was the first major national labour federation to call for boycott,
divestment and sanctions against Israel. Several other national labour
federations have followed suit, including those of New Zealand and Ireland.
On April 24 the convention of the Trade Union Congress of Scotland voted
overwhelmingly in favour of BDS after an extensive debate.[17] A few weeks
later the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, which represents more
than a third of the country’s work force, urged its government to lead an
international boycott of Israel if it continued to violate Palestinian
rights.[18]

Individual unions and labour organisations in many countries have also
taken a stand.[19] In June 2007 the national conference of UNISON, the
largest union of public workers in the U.K., with more than 1.3 million
members, called for “concerted and sustained pressure upon Israel including
an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott.”[20] More recently,
in the wake of the assault on Gaza, the leadership of the largest teachers’
union in France, the Fédération syndicale unitaire, endorsed the BDS
campaign and called on the European Union to impose sanctions on Israel.[21]

On the other side of the Atlantic, in April 2008 the Canadian Union of
Postal Workers became the first country-wide union in North America to
adopt a BDS policy. Denis Lemelin, the national president of CUPW, has
spoken at a number of meetings and demonstrations in defence of Palestinian
rights over the last year. On January 7 he wrote to Prime Minister Stephen
Harper on behalf of the union to ask the Canadian government to apply a
policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to force it to
comply with international law, including the right of Palestinian refugees
to return to their homes.[22]

In recent years CUPW has waged a series of battles against the government’s
moves to downsize and privatize postal services. The union also has a
history of supporting international freedom struggles. It was the first
union in Canada to call for a boycott of apartheid South Africa. In a joint
statement, several solidarity organizations noted that the union “played a
lead role in labour solidarity with South African workers, engaging in
concrete actions such as the refusal to handle mail from South Africa.”[23]

The Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which
represents more than 220,000 workers in the public sector, has played a key
role in blazing the trail for labour solidarity in Canada. The decision of
CUPE Ontario’s May 2006 convention to endorse boycott, divestment and
sanctions sparked massive controversy, thereby drawing international
attention to the Palestinian appeal for BDS. Supporters of Israel in
various quarters including government officials, editorialists, and even
leaders of other unions, directed a torrent of abuse against the union,
alleging that the decision was anti-Semitic, undemocratic, and outside the
union’s jurisdiction. Sid Ryan, the president of CUPE Ontario, received
numerous death threats; his family was also threatened. Ryan and the chair
of the union’s international solidarity committee were inundated with
hostile telephone and email messages.

Ryan and the union have stood firm against the pressure. Union activists
organised an extensive grass-roots education campaign, using an attractive
16-page pamphlet “Towards peace and justice in the Middle East” produced by
the CUPE Ontario international solidarity committee. Ryan continued to
speak out for Palestine on every possible occasion. As a result, the
Zionists were unable to find a base of support in the union; they chose not
to contest the BDS policy at the 2008 convention. But the public campaign
of vilification of Sid Ryan and CUPE Ontario continues, boosted by a
personal attack on Ryan by the Canadian government.
Quebec Teachers, Students Support Boycott

A year after the CUPE Ontario convention, a major union in Quebec joined
the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

The Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ)
(National Teachers Federation of Quebec) is the largest union of teachers
in higher education in Quebec. Its 23,500 members work at community
colleges, universities, and private schools. At its May 31 – June 1, 2007
meeting, the federal council of the union reiterated its long-standing
solidarity with the Palestinian people and its right to self-determination.
The council also endorsed the BDS campaign.[24]

In November 2007 the FNEEQ published a special edition of its magazine,
Carnets, with the title, “Do more for Palestine.” The attractive, 32-page
magazine contains articles that explain what life is like under Israeli
occupation, Israel’s “separation” wall, why Canada is not a friend of
Palestine, and the situation of women under the occupation. Five pages
present the need to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel; the views of
two Israeli citizens who support BDS, Ilan Pappé and Michel Warschawski,
are featured. The lead editorial, written by the president of the FNEEQ,
Ronald Cameron, explains that the union is educating its members so that
they will understand why taking concrete action to support the Palestinian
people is an urgent issue of labour solidarity.[25]

Compared to the abuse showered on CUPE Ontario, criticism of the FNEEQ’s
decision to join the boycott-Israel movement has been relatively mild.
Quebec is the area of the country where popular sentiment is most
favourable to the Palestinian cause. Various unions in Quebec have been
active on this issue over the years, and the union leadership in higher
education supports the Palestinian cause. (CUPW, discussed earlier, is one
of a small number of major Canada-wide unions that have a sizable
membership in Quebec.)

The FNEEQ’s record of support for Palestine is particularly strong. In
October 2004 it sponsored a delegation of 20 Quebec teachers who attended
an international conference on Education, Globalization and Social Change
in Ramallah, Palestine. Willie Madisha, then President of COSATU, also
participated in the conference. The FNEEQ has participated in several other
Quebec-based solidarity delegations to Palestine since then. In late May a
17-person delegation from Quebec that included members of the FNEEQ, CUPE
and the CUPW spent a week investigating the situation in the occupied
Palestinian territories. Israeli authorities turned them back when they
attempted to enter Gaza.

The FNEEQ is also helping to educate students about Palestine. It organized
workshops on the issue on community college and university campuses across
Quebec during the 2007 – 2008 school year, in collaboration with the Quebec
Public Interest Research Group and the Association pour une Solidarité
Syndicale Étudiante. The ASSÉ represents approximately 42,000 Quebec
students. In May 2008 it became the first major student union in Canada to
join the international BDS campaign.[26]

The FNEEQ and the ASSÉ joined forces again this May when they jointly
published Israël Ne Peut Pas Rester Impuni! (Israel Cannot Remain
Unpunished!) a 14-page dossier that explains how Israeli military rule
undermines the right to education in Palestine. Much of the content
consists of translations of material produced in Palestine, notably by the
Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University. The two unions have made
copies of the dossier available to the public on their web sites.[27]

At its May 30-31 congress, the FNEEQ unanimously reaffirmed its support for
BDS. It also decided to participate in the World Education Forum, part of
the World Social Forum movement, that will be held in Palestine in October
2010.[28]
Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia:
No Ties with Israel

One of the aims of the international boycott-Israel movement is to induce
governments to break all economic and diplomatic relations with Israel,
treating the Zionist state as an international pariah. This is starting to
become a reality in Latin America.

Cuba broke relations with Israel in September 1973, on the eve of the Yom
Kippur war.[29] Time and again in international forums the revolutionary
government has spoken out in support of the struggle of the Palestinian and
Arab peoples and against Israeli aggression. It has translated those words
into action whenever it could.

However, for decades Cuba has stood alone in the region in its support for
Palestine. In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, domination by
Washington was the rule, and with it, support for U.S. foreign policy.
Israel became notorious for the support it gave – through arm shipments,
special “advisors” and the like – to bloody dictatorships from Guatemala to
Chile.

But now a process of radical transformation is unfolding across the region.
Radical, popular movements have emerged in many countries as large numbers
of working people begin to act to improve their circumstances. These
movements are putting their stamp on society and government. One important
result of this process has been the creation of the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas (ALBA), an alliance of seven countries that promotes fair
trade and mutual aid based on principles of solidarity rather than profit.
ALBA also champions respect for national sovereignty and unity of the
region against U.S. domination.[30]

The rising tide of struggles in Latin America has been accompanied by a
rise in support for the Palestinian people, including by the governments of
the region. ALBA has led the way on this.

In September 2008 the ALBA countries were instrumental in securing the
election of Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann as president of the General
Assembly of the United Nations. D’Escoto is a well-known supporter of
Palestine. As foreign minister of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua
during the 1980s, he played a prominent role in exposing Israel’s role in
the “dirty war” that Washington organized against his country.

On November 24 d’Escoto told a meeting at the U.N. that 60 years after
partition, “the failure to create a Palestinian state as promised is the
single greatest failure in the history of the United Nations.” He went on
to say that “although different, what is being done against the Palestinian
people seems to me to be a version of the hideous policy of apartheid.”[31]
Addressing the General Assembly later the same day, he repeated the
apartheid characterization, adding that “I believe it is very important
that we in the United Nations use this term. We must not be afraid to call
something what it is.”

D’Escoto also urged the member states to consider implementing sanctions
against Israel. “More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took
the lead from civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to
provide a non-violent means of pressuring South Africa to end its
violations. Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider
following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling
for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to
pressure Israel to end its violations.”[32]

ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba, and the Venezuelan government has
been especially forthright in speaking and acting for justice in the Middle
East. This is an expression of the profound anti-imperialist character of
the struggle that has been unfolding in Venezuela since President Hugo
Chavez was elected in 1999.

In July 2006 Chavez forcefully denounced the war that Israel had unleashed
on Lebanon, and Venezuela matched its words with deeds. It withdrew its
ambassador from Israel, sent 20,000 tons of emergency aid to Lebanon, and
began a drive to raise funds for Lebanese reconstruction.[33]

Soon after Israel began its attack on Gaza, Venezuelans took to the streets
in protest. Speaking to a rally in Caracas on January 9, 2009, Foreign
Minister Nicolas Maduro announced that his country would send 80 tons of
medicine, water, and food aid to Gaza, as well as 30 doctors and a
humanitarian work brigade.

On January 14, both Venezuela and Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations
with Israel. When Israel retaliated by expelling Venezuelan diplomats,
Chavez responded that “it is an honour for this socialist government and
this revolutionary people to have our representatives expelled by a
genocidal government such as Israel.”[34] Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales,
announced that his country would formally indict Israel’s leaders for war
crimes in the International Criminal Court. “They’ve made the world move
backwards with crimes against humanity that we haven’t seen since Rwanda
and Yugoslavia,” he said.[35] Bolivia is also a member of ALBA.

On April 27 Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority established formal
diplomatic relations and opened a Palestinian embassy in Caracas.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said that the embassy would
coordinate solidarity with Palestine across Latin America.[36] A
Palestinian embassy has functioned in Havana, Cuba for decades.
A Growing Movement, Larger Struggles Ahead

The BDS movement now includes its first national Jewish organization. At
its first annual general meeting on June 14, Independent Jewish Voices
(Canada) overwhelmingly endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions against
Israel. “Independent Jewish Voices has voted to join the international
boycott campaign because we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people
and support their right to self-determination,” said Diana Ralph, co-chair
of the organization. “We are calling on the Canadian government and all
Members of Parliament to push for immediate sanctions on Israel.” IJV has
chapters in seven Canadian cities.[37]

Israel’s prestige and moral standing in the world has suffered a serious
setback as a result of its barbaric attack on the besieged population of
Gaza. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand Israel’s crimes,
the apartheid nature of the Israeli state, and the need to express
solidarity with the Palestinian people through concrete action. The
protests against Israel’s actions in many countries were unprecedented in
their size and duration. New forces are joining the international movement
in solidarity with Palestine. As part of this process, the international
campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel is emerging
as one of the most important ways to demonstrate this solidarity.

This survey of recent developments provides only a partial picture of the
scale and diversity that the BDS movement is acquiring as it grows. (The
movement is actively promoting an academic and cultural boycott of Israel,
for example. For more information on this boycott, see the website of the
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott, and the article
“Palestine and the Cultural Boycott” by Rafeef Ziadah.)

But even this partial account is sufficient to demonstrate that the
international campaign to boycott Israel is making headway on a number of
fronts. Although still relatively new, the movement has achieved some
notable successes. It shows the promise of developing into a powerful and
sustained international force that can help attain justice for the
Palestinian people.

AIPAC’s call to arms is a grudging recognition of these initial successes
of the movement and, above all, of its potential. It is evident that
supporters of the Jewish-only Israeli state – be they official lobbyists,
powerful government figures, or others – intend to redouble their efforts
to smear the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and to suppress public debate of
Israel’s crimes. Supporters of the rights of Palestinians are responding by
uniting with others to defend the right to free speech on these issues and
by reaching out to win new support for the boycott-Israel campaign. *

-30-

Art Young is a member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto.

Notes

1. www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByAIPACLeadership/HowardKohr.pdf.

2. Israel received $2.55-billion in “security” aid from the U.S. during
fiscal year 2009, the first year of a new ten-year program. U.S. aid will
increase annually, then level off at $3.1-billion for the last six years of
the program. (All amounts in this article are in U.S. dollars unless
otherwise noted.)

3. “Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
against Israel,” www.stopthewall.org/downloads/pdf/BDSEnglish.pdf.

4. “Students demand justice for Palestine,”
www.palestinecampaign.org/files/NUS_Conference_PSC_Newsletter.pdf and
information from Katan Alder, a participant in the movement.

5. Under heavy fire from supporters of Israel, the administration
subsequently denied that it had acted because of the Palestine issue. But
the minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees at which the decision
was taken explicitly acknowledge “the good work of SJP that brought this
issue to the attention of the [investment] committee.” Furthermore, the
college has not rescinded its decision to divest. See
www.hsjp.org/archive/2009/02/page/4 and “Divestment: What Really Happened.”

6. www.hsjp.org/endorsements.

7. “About Israeli Apartheid Week.”

8. For more information about attempts to repress Israeli Apartheid Week,
pro-Palestine advocacy, and free speech more generally, see: John Riddell,
“Israeli Apartheid Week Beats Back Attacks on Free Speech”; Justin Podur,
“For Free Expression on Palestine”; and Rafeef Ziadah, “Freedom of
Expression and Palestine Advocacy.”

9. Nadia Hijab, “The Israel Boycott is Biting.”

10. “Church of England divests over £2.2-million from Caterpillar.”

11. “HESEG Foundation.”

12. “Israeli exports hit by European boycotts after attacks on Gaza.”

13. “Adri Nieuwhof, Divestment campaign gains momentum in Europe.”

14. “Veolia loses contracts in France and Ireland, faces court proceedings.”

15. Haaretz, June 9, 2009.

16. “Free Palestine! Isolate Apartheid Israel!”

17. “Scottish Trade Union Congress Joins BDS Campaign!!!”

18. Haaretz, May 17, 2009.

19. For more information about labour support of the boycott campaign, see
www.bdsmovement.net. For a list of unions supporting BDS, current to July
2007, see www.stopthewall.org.

20. “UNISON supports boycott of Israel.”

21. www.fsu.fr/spip.php?article1426.

22. JAFA 2009, #2.

23. “Support the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ campaign against Israeli
apartheid.”

24.
www.fneeq.qc.ca/fr/comites/action_internationale/palestine/resolutioncf.html.

2
5. “Faire plus pour la Palestine.”

26. “Étudiants et étudiantes contre l’apartheid israélien.”

27. “Une publication conjointe de l’ASSÉ et de la FNEEQ sur l’éducation en
Palestine.”

28. Information provided by Ronald Cameron.

29. www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2001/ing/f060501i.html.

30. Member countries of ALBA are Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador,
Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

31. www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/ids241108.shtml.

32. www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/agendaitem16241108.shtml.

33. John Riddell, “Support for Palestine Builds in Latin America”

34. “Chávez Welcomes Expulsion of Venezuelan Diplomats from Israel.”

35. “Venezuelans Protest Israel’s Attack and Send Aid to Gaza,” and
“Venezuela and Bolivia Cut Diplomatic Ties with Israel.”

36. “Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Establish Diplomatic Relations.”

37. Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) media release, June 16, 2009

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Filed under Canadian Politics, Community Rights, Human Rights, International Politics, Media Coverage, Political Accountability, United States Politics

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