On 9th July 2005 Palestinians made an appeal to international civil society to support a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
The BDS campaign is a response to this Palestinian 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”.
The call included an invitation to “conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace”.
a. Demands of the BDS Call
The Call is endorsed by Palestinian political parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organisations that represent the three integral parts of the people of Palestine: Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The three demands of the BDS Call, which gathered an initial endorsement of over 170 organisations, are that non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
- Ending its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
- Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
The Call takes a rights-based approach, based on international law and universal principles of human rights, rather than a solutions-based approach.
b. Background to the BDS Call
The unified BDS Call was launched on 9th July 2005, a date that marked one year since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its advisory opinion on the separation wall Israel is constructing in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The ICJ found the separation wall to be part of the illegal Israeli settlement and annexation enterprise. It called for Israel to cease construction, tear down the sections already built and make reparations for damages caused.
The ICJ ruling affirmed that international law obliges the international community not to recognise, aid or assist in maintaining the illegal situation created by Israel with the separation wall and the associated regime of laws, orders and administrative measures. The ICJ also called on the international community to adopt further measures in order to bring this illegal situation to an end and ensure Israel’s compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Britain, the United States, the European Union and other members of the ‘international community’ have taken no steps to end Israel’s illegal occupation and violations of Palestinian rights and of international law.
The BDS Call was launched on the first anniversary of the ICJ ruling to emphasise how “all forms of international intervention and peace-making have… failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine”.
c. United against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation
In 2008, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) adopted the strategic position paper “United against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation – Dignity and Justice for the Palestinian People” which was endorsed by the global solidarity movement. The paper was debated with international legal scholars at the Israel Review Conference organised by the BNC on the margins of the UN Durban Review Conference in Geneva in April 2009.
The paper provides an analysis of Israel’s regime over the Palestinian people as a regime which combines colonialism, apartheid and occupation. The analysis is based on legal definitions and frameworks, reports and findings of UN human rights mechanisms and rulings such as that declared by the ICJ.
The BNC paper “United against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation – Dignity and Justice for the Palestinian People” argues that racism and racial discrimination are root causes of Israel’s systematic and persistent efforts to oppress, dispossess and displace the Palestinian people.
The paper defines Israel’s regime as “the expression of a racist ideology and political movement termed Zionism by its founders [which, in legal terms] is a system that uniquely combines apartheid, settler-colonialism and belligerent occupation”.
The BNC paper makes clear there is no room for racism, including anti-Semitism, in the struggle for Palestinian rights. However, Palestinians, advocates of Palestinian rights and BDS campaigners often have to deal with false allegations of anti-Semitism that are frequently raised by the Israeli government, Zionist organisations and their supporters. As outlined by the paper, these allegations “are usually based on the argument that criticism of the State of Israel for its racist policies against the Palestinian people constitutes a ‘racist attack against the Jewish collective’, i.e. a form of anti-Semitism”.
This argument, the BNC argues, is derived from the ideology, laws and charters of the State of Israel and Zionist organizations which automatically convey the status of “Jewish nationals of Eretz Israel” to all Jewish persons in the world, irrespective of the wish of the person. The State of Israel, Zionist organizations, and their organs and agents are thereby complicit in the proliferation of anti-Semitism, because they suggest that all Jewish persons in the world are implicated in the illegal and criminal policies and practices of undertaken by Israel against the Palestinian people.
This campaign opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and therefore reject the state of Israel’s assertion that they act on behalf of all Jewish people in Scotland and around the world.
Trade unionist, elected representatives and others who have raised concerns or debates in support of Palestinian rights have faced accusations of racism. Councils that have agreed to fly the Palestinian flag or endorsed the BDS Call have also been accused of fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. This is an area of concern that needs to be highlighted and addressed, especially when legislation aimed at eradicating anti-Semitism is used to close down legitimate criticism, debate and campaigning about the role of Zionism and the State of Israel.
In 2010, Sheriff James Scott ruled that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism after Palestine solidarity campaigners protested a recital of Israeli state-sponsored Jerusalem String Quartet in Edinburgh. Sheriff Scott said that human rights legislation would be worthless if people on a public march “designed to protest against a state and its army” were afraid to name the state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour.
In August 2014, 327 Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide published a letter in the New York Times expressing their alarm at “the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society” and raising their collective voices and… collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. [Calling for]…an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza… [and] …for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!
In 2009 Palestinian Christians published the Kairos Palestine Document reaffirming the Palestinian civil society call for BDS and demands that “all people, political leaders and decision-makers put pressure on Israel and take legal measures in order to oblige its government to end its oppression and disregard for international law”. In May 2012 the Iona Call was made following a meeting to discuss and endorse Kairos Palestine. A network of organisations Kairos Britain was established in 2014.
The BDS Call was inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid although, unlike the South African academic boycott campaign, is not calling for a ‘blanket’ boycott of academics and institutions. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel explicitly targets Israeli academic and cultural institutions “because of their complicity, to varying degrees, in planning, implementing, justifying or whitewashing aspects of Israel’s occupation, racial discrimination and denial of refugee rights”.
On 14th August 2014, Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew lessons from the world-wide struggle against apartheid in his homeland:
What ultimately forced these leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa, economically, academically, culturally and psychologically. At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits.
The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo.
Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of ‘normalcy’ in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.
Ultimately, events in Gaza over the past month or so are going to test who believes in the worth of human beings.
d. The privatisation of Israel’s colonisation and occupation project
The Time to Divest campaign will focus on the role of companies in Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian rights. For this purpose, it is useful to understand how Israel’s colonisation and occupation project has been privatised. Israeli economic researcher Shir Hever in his book ‘The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation’ outlines the economic costs of the occupation to Israel and describes this process of privatisation.
During the early period of the occupation, 1967 until 1986, Israel collected taxes from Palestinians that exceeded the costs of the occupation. In addition, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were a captive market for Israeli goods, Israeli employers boosted their profits by employing Palestinians at low wages, while illegal settlements and Israeli companies expropriated and diminished Palestinian land, water and natural resources. The occupation was a profitable enterprise for Israel.
This all changed when settlement expansion began to drain Israel’s public funds and Palestinian resistance erupted in the first intifada (uprising) in 1987 and again in 2000 (second intifada). Israeli politicians presented Israel as a country at the forefront of the ‘war on terror’ following 11 September 2001 and began to restructure the military. The restructuring process involved privatisation of military roles such as the maintenance of the checkpoints, creating “numerous business opportunities for private security companies”.
In his 2007 article ‘Privatising Zionism’ Israeli academic Neve Gordon describes how far this privatisation process has progressed, not only in maintaining the occupation but also to enforce and maintain segregation in Israel.
Zionism’s privatisation does not symbolise a strategic change but rather a tactical one. The state has been shedding some of its responsibility, while private entities have been taking on the tasks that until recently had been carried out by the government. The major difference is that the private firms are even less liable than the state. Hence, the use of teenagers to evict Bedouins from their homes is not only a reflection of this insidious process of privatisation, but also the unrelenting corrosion of moral accountability.
Scores of Israeli and multinational corporations are complicit in Israel’s continued violations of Palestinian rights, and Scottish local authority pension funds hold investments in many of them.
e. A note on complicity
The UN Global Compact defines complicity as:
An act or omission (failure to act) by a company, or individual representing a company, that “helps” (facilitates, legitimizes, assists, encourages, etc.) another, in some way, to carry out a human rights abuse, and
The knowledge by the company that its act or omission could provide such help
It is important that our campaign is based on up-to-date and accurate information about the nature and level of a company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights. A reliable source is ‘Who Profits from the occupation’, an Israeli research center dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies in Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian and Syrian land.
The ‘Time to Divest’ website also uses publicly available information such as company reports and publications from human rights organisations.
 The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation, Shir Hever, pp51-53