24 June 2011 — Eric Walberg
As the second Freedom Flotilla packs its humanitarian aid and prepares to brave the wrath of the Israeli navy, boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) activities continue on the homefront, notes Eric Walberg
Earlier this month, 100 activists from 9 countries gathered in Montpellier, France for the first European Forum Against Agrexco to strengthen the boycott campaign against Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter, which exports under the brand Carmel primarily to European markets. Up to 70 per cent of the fruit and vegetables grown in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are marketed by Agrexco, making it a prime strategic target for BDS.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee’s Rafeef Ziadah explains that the campaign includes all three components of BDS: in the first place, the boycott of Agrexco products, but also divestment via suspension of commercial agreements, and sanctions through court actions directed at Agrexco’s violations of international law, especially false labelling of produce. According to Stephanie Westbrook, “Its complicity in a broad range of human rights violations, profiting from crops grown on stolen land, irrigated with stolen water and worked with child labour also provides the campaign with ample opportunities to reach out beyond the Palestine solidarity networks to find allies in other social justice movements.”
Companies such as Agrexco not only turn a profit, but also provide a direct economic incentive to maintain the occupation and continue Israeli apartheid policies. Activists in Montpellier focussed on lobbying retail chains and food co-ops, protest actions such as “flash mobs” at supermarkets and trade fairs, and airport and transport terminal blockades. In France, there are ongoing demonstrations at the new Agrexco terminal at the port of Sète. “BDS action!” campaigns are under way in Sweden and Norway. The French campaign involves Confédération Paysanne and Via Campesina. The first step of the newly formed European-wide network will be a Global Day of Action Against Agrexco set for 26 November.
French transportation and urban systems company Veolia continues to lose more garbage pickup contracts, this time in London, due to public pressure by BDS activists on local government councils. Veolia is a French-owned transportation and urban planning corporation that has contracts with the Israeli government to provide services to West Bank settlements. Recently Veolia lost contracts in Edinburgh, Richmond, Portsmouth, Winchester and now a £1 billion bid in South London.
Taking a cue from Bishop Desmond Tutu, British cosmetics firm LUSH, known for its organic hand-made cosmetics, with stores and factories in over 40 countries, endorsed OneWorld’s “Freedom for Palestine”, an unofficial rock anthem recalling “Free Nelson Mandela” (1984), a song which helped inform youth about the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. The move by LUSH marks a significant shift toward mainstreaming the Palestinian struggle, and comes as the Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava closes its London store after the successful “Stolen Beauty” campaign against it.
On 29 May British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned as an Honorary Patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). For many years leaders of all three main political parties became Honorary Patrons of the JNF by convention. According to Stop the JNF Campaign spokesman Dick Pitt, “Cameron was the only leader of the three major parties remaining as a JNF Patron. This decline in political support for the JNF at the highest levels of the political tree may be a sign of the increasing awareness in official quarters that a robust defense of the activities of the JNF may not be sustainable.”
“Even Israeli courts have criticised the JNF as an organisation that discriminates against non-Jews. It is not acceptable that such an organisation is allowed to operate in the UK, much less to enjoy charity status,” says Michael Kalmanovitz, UK co-ordinator of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Already its fundraising events face regular protests. In 2007, the American JNF application for consultative status on a key UN committee was rejected because delegates were unable to distinguish between the activities of the US branch and those of the JNF in Israel which the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has criticised.
French-Belgian bank Dexia is divesting from its 65 per cent stake in Dexia-Israel even though it faces a loss. For two years, BDS activists in Belgium and the Netherlands, France , Turkey and Luxembourg campaigned against Dexia after it was revealed that the bank provided long-term loans to more than 50 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The divestment organisers congratulated the 69 groups that organised demonstrations, petitions, posters, and parliamentary questions for what they called a “partial victory” against the colonisation of the West Bank.
Israel continues to face sanctions by the international community; in particular, Turkey, which has yet to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Tel Aviv after more than a year. Kerim Uras was to become the new Turkish ambassador, but his appointment was suspended after the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara last May which resulted in the death of nine Turkish citizens. The process was never renewed, as Israel refused even to apologise. “The crime against humanity committed last year [by Israel ] still has not been accounted for,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said recently. This could push Israel to leave its ambassadorial post in Turkey empty when Ambassador Gaby Levy departs end this autumn.
The sanctions aspect of BDS is complex. Not only does it involve trying to control Israel ’s rogue behaviour using international laws, but also the struggle to prevent anti-discrimination laws from being used by Zionists to silence criticism of Israel on the pretext that such criticism is a manifestation of anti-Jewish prejudice. Toronto City Council members defied their loudly pro-Israeli mayor, Rob Ford, by voting to accept the City Manager’s Report that the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” does not violate Toronto ’s Anti-Discrimination Policy, Ontario’s Human Rights Code, or Canada’s Criminal Code regarding hate speech. This vote will allow anti-Zionists demonstrators to continue to join Toronto city-funded parades and for students at Toronto universities to continue to hold Israeli Apartheid Week, despite attempts by the Canadian Jewish Congress and other Zionist groups to prevent open discussion of Israel’s ongoing violations of international law.
Yet another aspect of the sanction of Israel is the attempt to counter Israel’s own “sanction” of Gazans. As Al-Ahram Weekly goes to press, the world awaits new from the latest Freedom Flotilla – the world’s attempt to break the siege of Gaza. Gazans gather at the new memorial bearing the names of who died in last year’s flotilla, and flanked by flags representing citizens who have sailed to Gaza in past attempts to break the siege. Five boats successfully docked in Gaza in the past five years, with another four violently turned back by the Israeli navy. In May, Israeli soldiers fired on the latest, a Malaysian aid ship carrying piping for a sanitation project in Gaza, forcing it to dock in Egyptian waters. Despite intense pressure from even the UN not to challenge Israel’s violation of international law, Free Gaza’s attorney Audrey Bomse says, “The flotilla violates no international laws or laws of the sea, and so an outright ban on our sailing to Gaza is essentially a statement against the rights of the Palestinian people to control their own ports and lives.”
Only Turkey provides grudging support, with Davutoglu asking flotilla organisers to “wait and see” if Egypt’s Rafah crossing will provide an end to the siege, but warning, “Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas.” Under Turkish government pressure, the Turkish NGO Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) has cancelled the participation of the Mavi Marmara. The 21 other vessels from different countries are expected to sail to Gaza after meeting in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean on 27 June. This year, boats from Canada and the US will take part. Canadian Boat to Gaza ’s David Heap says the Freedom Flotilla participants are not intimidated. “Where our governments have failed the Palestinians of Gaza, civil society must act instead.”
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/ You can reach him at http://ericwalberg.com/ Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games can be ordered at http://www.claritypress.com/Walberg.htm