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BDS campaign against Israel claims growing support

A recent row between Orange and Israel is a new sign that the boycott, divestments and sanctions campaign against Tel Aviv is gaining momentum worldwide, say activists

Mariam Mecky , Monday 22 Jun 2015
Pro-Gaza demonstrators in Cape Town, August 9, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)
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After the giant French telecom Orange CEO Stéphane Richard announced its plans to cut ties with Israeli Communications Company Partner earlier this month, following criticism over the company’s involvement in the occupied Palestinian territories, the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel made headlines in all the country's newspapers.

Although Richard visited Israel last Thursday and condemned “all forms of boycott", asserting that such decision is economically not politically motivated after a rebuke from Israeli officials, the BDS movement still took credit for Orange’s comments.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at Orange CEO, accusing the giant telecom company of supporting the BDS movement, claiming “it calls for the elimination of Israel,” reported AFP.

BDS Egypt, which was launched in April 2015, in May announced an ongoing campaign to boycott Orange over reports of its involvement in Israel.

"Even if the [Orange] decision was prompted by economic motives, it is mainly driven by political reasons,” Taher Mukhtar, BDS Egypt activist and co-founder told Ahram Online.

Launched in 2005, the BDS movement calls for boycotting Israel, in order to pressure it to comply with international law, to end the Israeli aggression against Palestine.

The movement has grown more than ever this year with the Israeli far right in power, say activists, pressuring large corporations to end their complicity with Israel’s crimes and leading academic groups along with artists to endorse the movement.

Signs of growing support

The BDS campaign has convinced many to boycott products and companies that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, and to boycott academic and cultural institutions that directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians.

French corporate giant Veolia has sold off nearly all of its business activity in Israel, after a six-year worldwide BDS campaign against the company’s involvement in illegal Israeli settlements in April 2015.

In the meantime, more than 20 South African businesses have cancelled contracts with G4S, the British security company that helps Israel run checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the prisons that hold Palestinian political prisoners. The cancelled contracts were worth more than 500,000 US dollars.

The BDS campaign caused 100 million shekels in financial losses to the Israeli economy in the first few months of 2014, the Israeli Maariv newspaper reported in March 2014.

Many student bodies around the world have recently joined the BDS movement.

In early June, the UK’s National Union of Students, a confederation of 600 student unions that represents seven million members, voted reaffirming its support of the BDS movement, after their vote last August.  

The University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) students and staff endorsed the academic boycott of Israel with 73% vote in favour of the boycott.

Over 1,200 Spanish university professors and researchers have joined the academic boycott of Israel.

Meanwhile, US student governments at Stanford, Northwestern and other prestigious universities have passed divestment resolutions in solidarity with Palestinians in the past two years. More than eight US academic associations, like the American Studies Association, have adopted the academic boycott of Israel.

“University campuses in the West, particularly in the US, are hothouses for the future leadership of their countries,” Shabtai Shavit, formerly chief of the Israeli Mossad for many years, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haartez. “We are losing the fight for support for Israel in the academic world. An increasing number of Jewish students are turning away from Israel. The global BDS movement against Israel has grown, and quite a few Jews are members.”

The BDS movement is not only endorsed by academics, but also artists and unionists.

Over 40 filmmakers and actors including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Miriam Margolyes, announced a call last week for cinemas to drop screenings of Israeli films as part of the Seret 2015 London Israeli film festival, protesting the Israeli policy in the West Bank, the British newspaper Guardian reported.

“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people,” the statement said. “Such collaboration and co-operation is unacceptable.”

Last February, around 1,000 British artists signed a pledge to boycott Israel culturally.  Major filmmakers, writers, music bands and artists of the caliber of Hollywood star Danny Gloverhave endorsed BDS or refused to participate in Israeli cultural events at the least, Haartez reported.

Support for BDS has come from major international trade unions and labor federations with millions of members, in South Africa, Britain, Ireland, India, Brazil, Norway, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, and Turkey, among others, the BDS official website states.

Speaking to Ahram Online, Joe Catron, BDS activist, said: “The BDS movement offers the needed organisational framework for solidarity with Palestinians and resistance to Israeli apartheid, thus it plays a tremendous role in isolating Israel at the popular level.”

Israeli far right and BDS

Activists argue that the increasing shift in Israeli politics towards the far right, as shown in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party’s recent victory in the March elections, have boosted support to the BDS campaign worldwide.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, argues that this move in Israeli politics towards the far right will further boost campaigning worldwide for the boycott of Israel academically, culturally, economically and eventually militarily.

Building on Barghouti's argument, Catron said: "Members of Netanyahu's cabinet -- most of them known for their racist incitement and support of collective punishment, ethnic cleansing and genocide -- illustrate the nature of Israeli apartheid more clearly than any before it."

Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister in the Israeli cabinet sworn in this May, is famous for her statement on social media that “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy”, justifying its destruction, as translated by the news website Mondoweiss. This call is perceived by many as a call for Palestinian genocide. 

In fact, the Israeli cabinet has just approved a law on Sunday that permits the Israeli authorities to force-feed Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, which is a practice opposed by the Israel's medical association.

"Netanyahu's new cabinet, considered the most extremist in Israeli history by many, will propel BDS campaigns worldwide to new heights," Catron said.   

On the eve of his re-election victory in March, the Israeli PM Netanyahu pledged that there would never be a Palestinian state if he was re-elected.

Although Netanyahu backtracked on his remarks on rejecting the two-state solution after the elections, his statements drew rebuke from the Obama administration as well as from Arabs and Palestinians.

Adri Nieuwhof, a human rights advocate and contributor to the online news publication Electronic Intifada, told Ahram Online that Israeli deadly assault on Gaza last summer revealed Netanyahu’s utter disrespect for Palestinian lives.

“It is disturbing that a wide public in Israel expressed their support for his views and practices by voting for him,” she added.

Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza last summer alone killed over 2,200 people and left more than 12,000 others injured. Most of the strip's infrastructure and buildings were destroyed, including schools and hospitals.

The Gaza Strip has been subject to three wars in the past six years that have claimed 3,760 lives – 2,145 of which were in the latest offensive.

Over 18,000 total people have been injured in the recurrent conflicts, while more than 100,000 people are still displaced.

In the light of such atrocities, "the need for a BDS movement has become even clearer," Nieuwhof said.

"At the height of its military -- particularly nuclear – and economic power, Israel is feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable because of the nonviolent BDS movement," concluded Barghouti.


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