Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Boycotting Israel

Two other contributions to this debate can be read - alongside my own offering - HERE.

Later this month we will mark the anniversary of Israel's horrific assault on Gaza and its 1.5 million people. On 27 December 2008 the Israeli Defence Force began a brutal 3-week offensive which resulted in the deaths of over 1400 people - including hundreds of children - and the devastation of basic infrastructure in many communities. Over 100,000 people marched in the largest British demonstration against Israeli violence, with student occupations in solidarity with Gaza sweeping through 35 universities and colleges.

On an on-going basis the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is, in this country and elsewhere, a major component of how people can put pressure on Israel. Considering the close political and economic links between the UK and Israel, it is also essential to challenge our own government and businesses that are complicit in supporting Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

Campaigns for boycotting Israeli goods and companies - championed by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups - are hugely resented by Israel and its supporters elsewhere. Boycotts can hit Israel where it hurts: its economy. But they also de-legitimise the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and serve to isolate Israel from the international community. They give hope to Palestinians while raising awareness of Israel's actions in countries like Britain. These are all important reasons for supporting boycotts, which in recent years have been called for by scores of Palestinian organisations.

There are targeted economic boycotts, like the 'Derail Veoila' campaign aimed at the Israeli Veoila company. Veolia has recently confirmed that it intends to continue with its part in the Jerusalem light rail transit system. This is a tramway linking illegal settlements to Israeli West Jerusalem, so it serves a crucial function in Israeli expansion of settlements. The campaign aims to pressure Veoila to distance itself from the tramway, partly through targeting its operations in this country. This is just one example - though an especially important one - of how targeted action here can connect with the Israeli economy (and its direct political relationship to the occupation).

Palestinian organisations have themselves repeatedly called for international support in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions. For example, a senior official in President Abbas's office recently held a press conference in which he asked Arab states to stop giving contracts to Veolia. Academic and cultural boycotts are also useful. Boycotts of co-operation with Israeli universities - the subject of much controversy - damage the standing of Israel internationally.

International boycotts played a crucial role in defeating the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. They affected the country's standing in the world and helped black South Africans feel they had wider support in their struggle. Similarly, boycott campagins today are a powerful weapon of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israeli occupation is tragically reminiscent of apartheid.

We need a stronger movement to isolate Israel, weaken its position in the wider economic and political world, and deliver solidarity to its long-suffering victims. It is a question of standing up for the human rights of Palestinians, subjected to the hardships and indignities of life under occupation. We don't have to be merely bystanders, but can provide practical and useful solidarity.

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