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BDS Around the World - Europe

The next chapter in an informative series about BDS

August 24, 2016

 credit AFP

image credit : AFP


The BDS movement manifests its activities in different ways. They have an innate ability to adapt their narrative and activities to the country that they are in. BDS feel a certain sense of pride in their activities and are not shy to boast about their plans.

Here is a glimpse of how BDS is manifesting around the world:

Europe

BDS is gaining alarming momentum in Europe and despite statements to the contrary, the EU recently released suggested guidelines about how goods from Israel and the territories should be labelled. To date, Hungary and Greece and several other countries have refused to comply.

BDS is spreading at such a rapid rate in Europe that many of the continent’s Jews feel that they have to hide their identity.

One of the most common modus operandi of activists in Europe is to disrupt shoppers in store by storming in and removing Israeli products from shelves as well as protesting as often as possible outside shops that sell Israeli products. Some European stores have refused to stock Israeli goods or in the case of KaDeWe in Germany, re-stocked shelves after a huge outcry from Israel supporters.

In post- Holocaust Europe, hate speech against Jews is punishable by law. Earlier this year, the French high court ruled that some of the speech used by BDS supporters is tantamount to hate speech by its anti-Semitic nature. This is a huge victory against the BDS movement in that country.

It is on university campuses once again that BDS rears its head. In the United Kingdom alone, on 22 April 2005, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) Council voted to boycott two Israeli universities: University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The AUT Council voted to boycott Bar-Ilan because it runs courses at colleges in the occupied West Bank (in Ariel College) and "is thus directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories contrary to United Nations resolutions". It boycotted Haifa because it was alleged that the university had wrongly disciplined a lecturer. The action against the lecturer was supposedly for supporting a student who wrote about attacks on Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel (he withdrew the claims when sued for libel and the University denied having disciplined the lecturer.

After both internal and external backlash and condemnation, members of the AUT, headed by Open University lecturer Jon Pike – gathered enough signatures to call a special meeting on the subject. The meeting was held on 26 May 2005, at Friends Meeting House in London. At the meeting the AUT decided to cancel the boycott of both Israeli universities. Reasons cited for the decision were the damage to academic freedom, the hampering of dialogue and peace effort between Israelis and Palestinian, and that boycotting Israel alone could not be justified.

At the 2006 annual conference of the United Kingdom lecturers' union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), members were asked to support a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and universities that did not distance themselves from "apartheid policies”. Although the motion was passed it ceased to be official policy.

Prior to the NATFHE debate the Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employees and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel described the campaign in a letter to the Times Higher Education Supplement as "the only non-violent forms of action available to people of conscience the world over" adding, "We salute those who recognise that, since justice for Palestinians cannot be expected from the international centres of world power, they must organise to further the cause of justice and genuine peace." In contrast, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg argued:

"It is never a good idea for academics to boycott colleagues in other countries on political grounds. During the Cold War, American and Soviet scientists were careful to keep intellectual communication open; this not only served the cause of science, but promoted personal relationships that led to initiatives in arms control. In a similar spirit, when I ran the Jerusalem Winter School of Theoretical Physics we did what we could to recruit Arab students from Muslim countries whose governments discriminated against Jews. We never dreamt of boycotting them."

In March 2009, large scale student demonstrations were held at several UK Universities to protest Israel's actions in Gaza. At Cardiff University the protests led to the University divesting all investments in BAE Systems, an arms manufacturer that co-operates with Israeli May 2009, advertisements for tourism in Israel were removed from the London underground network in response to pressure from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

In July 2009, Dexia, a Belgian-French financial group, stopped all financial services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In 2009, the UK's University and College Union passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions by a large majority. Delegates stated that Israeli academics were complicit in their government's acts against Palestinians. However, the vote was immediately declared invalid as UCU attorneys repeated previous warnings that such a boycott would likely trigger legal action against the union.

In 2013, "a motion calling for blanket sanctions against Israel” was rejected by the Oxford University Students' Union. The motion was defeated by a large margin: 69–10.

In July 2014, UK department store John Lewis removed all SodaStream products from all its shelves, amid growing pressure from the public and declining sales. John Lewis' Oxford Street, London, store has been the site of biweekly BDS protests for its sale of SodaStream products. Additionally, after two years of weekly BDS protests, SodaStream closed its Brighton store in July 2014.

In November 2015, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Conservative MP, described proponents of a "so-called" boycott of goods and services, as well as other punitive measures such as sanctions or divestment of shares in Israeli companies, as "corduroy jacketed-academics... by and large lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and are unlikely to be influential on Britain". He subsequently cancelled planned public events in the West Bank because of security fears, with suggestions that the charity that had invited him to the West Bank had withdrawn their invitation, and that Palestinian politicians had also refused to meet him.

The organizers of the week long Rototom Sunsplash music festival held in Spain from August 15 to 22nd 2015, cancelled the scheduled appearance of Jewish American rapper Matisyahu after he refused to sign a statement supporting a Palestinian state. Matisyahu stated that it was "appalling and offensive" that he was singled out as the "one publicly Jewish-American artist.

El País Spain's highest-circulation daily paper wrote "The decision by the organizers of the Rototom Sunsplash music festival in Benicássim to ban reggae singer Matisyahu from performing this Saturday is a serious case of religious and political discrimination

After further criticism from the Spanish government as well as Jewish organisations, the organisers apologised to Matisyahu re-inviting him to perform on Saturday August 22. The organizers stated that "it made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià."

 

*This content was gathered and provided by Rolene Marks