What were the top BDS victories of 2017?
The movement for Palestinian rights continues to grow across the world. (Alisdare Hickson/Flickr)
It took just four days for a world famous singer to cancel her Tel Aviv show in response to her fans’ urging her to respect the international picket line.
Lorde’s decision on Christmas Eve to pull the Tel Aviv show from her world tour – remarking that booking the gig in the first place “wasn’t the right call” – completed a successful year for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
2017 saw artists, performers, athletes, politicians, cultural workers, faith-based organizations, students, academics, unions and activists grow the movement for Palestinian rights.
Israel has been taking notice, of course.
Early on in the year, key Israel lobby groups admitted in a secret report – obtained and published in full by The Electronic Intifada – that they had failed to counter the Palestine solidarity movement, despite vastly increasing their spending.
The report outlined Israel’s failure to stem the “impressive growth” and “significant successes” of the BDS movement and set out strategies, endorsed by the Israeli government, aimed at reversing the deterioration in Israel’s position.
Similarly, in March, Israel’s top anti-BDS strategist conceded that the boycott Israel movement is winning – despite the Israeli government’s allocation of tens of millions of dollars and the formation of an entire governmental ministry whose sole focus is to combat BDS.
Speaking at an anti-BDS conference in New York, Israeli ambassador Danny Danon stated that “the BDS movement is still active and still strong. Every day, academic and religious groups, student unions and investment firms are all falling prey to boycott calls.”
“Our South Africa moment is nearing”
As Israel’s strategists and representatives panicked over their failures to stem the BDS tide, polls in the UK, Canada and the US all showed that mainstream, public support for boycott and sanctions on Israel is growing apace.
In California, the state’s Democratic Party chapter approved a resolution – without debate – that condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and the denial of entry to activists who criticize the state.
It also, notably, signaled support for organizers who engage with the BDS movement and who face expanding repression on campuses and by local, state and federal legislatures.
In the UK in December, the Labour Party’s shadow development minister Kate Osamor, a strong ally of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted her explicit approval of BDS.
Over the summer, the High Court in London ruled that the Conservative government acted unlawfully in trying to prevent local councils in the UK from divesting from firms involved in Israel’s military occupation, dealing a blow to Israel’s representatives seeking to criminalize the BDS movement.
Meanwhile, in the face of Israel’s overt attempts to silence him and crush the popularity of BDS, Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement, urged people around the world to increase boycott campaigns as the best way to show support for him and for the Palestinian people.
Barghouti won the Gandhi Peace Award in April for his work as a human rights defender. He had been subjected by Israel to a travel ban and open threats by that state’s top ministers last year.
In March, Barghouti praised a landmark report published by the United Nations which concluded that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, drawing praise from Palestinians and ire from Israel and its allies.
Barghouti said the UN report was a sign for Palestinians that “our South Africa moment is nearing,” adding that the report was “a stark indicator that Israel’s apartheid is destined to end, as South Africa’s did.”
He remarked that the report “may well be the very first beam of light that ushers the dawn of sanctions against Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”
Here are some of the other victories of the BDS movement in 2017, as reported by The Electronic Intifada.
Athletes, writers, chefs and artists ditched Israel
In February, professional US football players pulled out of a propaganda tour to Israel, with Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett announcing he would “not be used” by Israel’s government to whitewash its violations of Palestinian rights.
“I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’” Bennett added, “and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
In August, nine international artists pulled out of the Pop-Kultur festival in Germany because it accepted funding from the Israeli embassy. Palestinian campaigners said the “eloquent statements from the artists stand in stark contrast to the festival’s crude attempts to falsely portray the Palestinian boycott call as directed at individual Israeli artists, shrewdly omitting the fact that the protests were clearly aimed at the Israeli government involvement.”
German media also joined in the smears, giving a platform to false accusations the boycott was an “anti-Semitic” move by “participants from various Arab nations.” But the pro-Israel spin was ably confronted by German Jewish and Israeli activists, who fully backed the boycott.
Over the summer, a group of filmmakers, artists and presenters canceled their scheduled appearances at TLVFest, Israel’s premier LGBTQ film festival in Tel Aviv, following appeals by queer Palestinian activists and boycott supporters to withdraw.
The high-profile cancellations in support of the BDS campaign prompted The Jerusalem Post to admit that while the festival “has been around for more than a decade, it has never faced a campaign this successful against it.”
Later in the fall, some of the world’s top chefs pulled out of Round Tables, an Israeli government-sponsored propaganda initiative that uses international cuisine to gloss over Israel’s image.
“The Round Tables festival is taking place while the Israeli military and Israeli settlers illegally living on stolen Palestinian land attack Palestinians during their annual olive harvest,” said Zaid Shoaibi, from PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
And the literary group PEN America quietly revealed that it was no longer accepting funds from the Israeli government for its annual World Voices festival, following appeals from more than 250 high-profile writers, poets and publishers.
The group had come under heavy criticism for using funds from the Israeli government, which jails Palestinian journalists and writers in Israel and the occupied West Bank for their work.
BDS endorsed by cities, churches, political groups and unions
Norway’s largest and most influential trade union organization called for a full boycott of Israel in May, just days after the Norwegian municipality of Lillehammer passed a resolution to boycott Israeli settlement goods.
Lillehammer became the third city in Norway to call for a settlement boycott, following Trondheim and Tromsø.
The city council of Barcelona voted to uphold the right to boycott Israel in April, while condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, calling for an end to the Gaza blockade and ensuring that the city’s public procurement policies exclude companies that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses.
In July, the 95,000-member strong Mennonite Church USA joined a growing number of Christian denominations that have taken action to support Palestinian human rights over the last few years.
In a resolution approved by 98 percent of delegates at its Florida convention, the church voted to condemn Israel’s military occupation and to support divestment from companies that profit from violations of Palestinian rights.
On 7 July, the World Communion of Reformed Churches called on the more than 80 million people in its member churches worldwide to examine their investments related to the situation in Palestine.
A month later, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) overwhelmingly voted to endorse the BDS call.
“Just as we answered the call to boycott South Africa during apartheid, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the DSA deputy national director stated.
The largest democratic socialist organization in the United States with more than 25,000 members, DSA has seen its membership quadruple with the resurgence of left-wing politics in the US and Europe, particularly since the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.
In the UK, Jewish members of the Labour Party founded a new group – Jewish Voice for Labour – that presents a challenge to an existing Israel lobby group positioning itself as the representative of Jewish members of the party.
Jewish Voice for Labour’s founding document upholds “the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
Also in the UK, the country’s largest union for school teachers launched a boycott of HP over the technology giant’s role in the Israeli occupation.
G4S was further ostracized
The world’s largest private security company, G4S, continued to face heavy financial losses around the world as its profiteering from human rights abuses came under further scrutiny.
G4S has helped operate Israeli prisons where Palestinians are tortured and has managed juvenile prisons, detention and deportation facilities in the US and UK.
The firm has also been implicated in labor and human rights abuses from Africa to the offshore facilities where Australia detains refugees and asylum seekers.
An Ecuadorian research institute announced in February that it had dropped its contract with G4S after meeting with activists.
Following a campaign led by Jordan BDS, UN Women in Jordan dropped its G4S contract in October, becoming the fifth UN agency in Jordan to do so.
And the transportation board of Sacramento, California, moved to dump its security contract with G4S following work by campaigners to highlight the company’s role in rights abuses in Palestine and the US.
Last year, G4S announced that it was dropping a slate of controversial businesses, including its Israel subsidiary and juvenile detention services in the US.
The Financial Times described the move as an attempt by G4S to distance itself from “reputationally damaging work.”
But campaigners around the world vowed to maintain pressure on the company as long as it remains complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights.
South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology announced in December that it will respect the call for the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the violation and denial of Palestinian rights.
“As a progressive university in a democratic South Africa, we want to affirm that TUT will not sign any agreements or enter into scientific partnerships with any Israeli organization or institution until such time that Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory,” the university stated, citing a decision taken by its governing council in November.
And college students across the US continued to mobilize for Palestinian rights despite increasing repression by administrations and outside Israel lobby groups.
Divestment resolutions were passed at Tufts University in Boston, the University of Michigan, California State University - Long Beach and at De Anza Community College in California.
A resolution passed by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison voted unanimously to back a broad-based resolution calling on the university to drop its ties to companies that profit from mass incarceration, theft of indigenous land, police violence, the US-Mexico border wall, economic injustices against people of color and Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine.
In New York, students at Fordham University brought violations of their rights to organize and assemble to court, challenging the decision by an administrator to ban Students for Justice in Palestine.
And in the UK, the annual, global Israeli Apartheid Week – a series of events meant to raise awareness of Israel’s policies of apartheid – took place on more than 30 university campuses across the country despite a government backed campaign of repression.
Anti-BDS legislation was challenged
Two federal lawsuits were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union which challenge the basic constitutionality of state and federal anti-BDS laws.
Israel lobby groups have accelerated their promotion of legislation aimed at chilling free speech and blacklisting advocates for Palestinian rights. By December, 23 states passed anti-BDS laws.
There is also a bill pending in Congress – the Israel Anti-Boycott Act – that could impose large fines and long prison sentences on companies and their personnel if they are deemed to be complying with a boycott on Israel or its settlements called for by an international organization.
A lawsuit was filed against the state of Kansas in October on behalf of a public high school math teacher, Esther Koontz, who participates in the consumer boycott of Israeli goods.
Koontz is a member of the Mennonite Church USA, which passed a resolution in July in support of divestment from companies that profit from violations of Palestinian rights.
Another lawsuit was filed against the state of Arizona in December on behalf of an attorney who contracts with the government to provide legal advice to incarcerated persons, according to the ACLU. He participates in the boycott of Israel.
But in Oregon, three separate bills impugning the BDS movement failed to get a hearing, following sustained pressure by human rights activists and faith leaders across the state.
The bills were backed by Jewish communal groups that organize nationwide efforts to combat the movement for Palestinian rights.
Activists said that the failure of the bills should encourage campaigners fighting back against similar anti-BDS measures in state legislatures and the US Congress.
Editor’s note: Additions to this post have been made since its initial publication.
Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).
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