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A boycott of Israel is so important that it is criminal not to take part

I have heard that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) released a statement urging Egyptian poet Hisham El-Gakh to cancel his poetry evening scheduled to be held next week in Nazareth because he will be visiting the Palestinian territory occupied in 1948 under a special permit governed by the Camp David Accords. His visit, said PACBI, “violates the rules of boycotting Israel and is considered a normalisation with the occupying force.” The campaign also said that such visits by Arab artists and intellectuals which violate the standards of anti-normalisation in effect justify the normalisation of relations with Israel even if they are made under the pretext of “communicating with the Palestinians from inside [Israel]”.

This statement was issued shortly after 400 American professors signed a joint declaration of their boycott of Israeli universities and education institutions. The main points in the declaration include their recognition of the fact that the international community does not hold Israel to account and that they have a moral responsibility to do so on the grounds that the US government and Israel are responsible for crimes against Palestinian civil society. The American academics also stated that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is illegal and that Israel is discriminating on racial grounds against Palestinian students in Israeli universities. They expressed their concern about Israel’s record of confiscating Palestinian manuscripts and the complicity of Israeli academic institutions with the occupation authorities to oppress the Palestinians. Such institutions, including Ben-Gurion University, the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University and Haifa University have all expressed their unconditional support for the Israel Defence Forces; there is clear complicity between Israeli academic, military, political and security institutions.

The scholars stressed that they would not cooperate, teach, attend conferences or publish papers in any academic journals in Israel, and that they would continue to do so until academic institutions end their complicity in the violation of the Palestinian rights provided for by international law and when their country respects Palestinian national rights. Such rights include the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their property and their homes, as stipulated in UN resolution 194. The importance of this declaration lies in the fact that it was issued by American academics, because Israel and the Zionist movement in general consider the United States to be its main and most important strategic ally.

In 2006, members of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, and the Association of University Teachers in Britain called for an academic boycott of Israel. A similar step was taken in Spain in 2009 against Bar-Ilan University, because it is built on occupied West Bank territory. It was banned from participating in the final stage of an international architecture competition.

We have also started to see a cultural boycott of Israel. The pioneers are musician Roger Waters, writers Arundhati Roy and Eduardo Galeano, film directors Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard, and American actress Meg Ryan, who pulled out of a film festival being held in Jerusalem in July 2010 due to the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla. There have also been economic boycotts by EU countries of products grown or made in illegal Israeli settlements. South Africa boycotts such products completely, while many Latin American countries have shown inclinations to do so, as well as Turkey, France and other countries around the world.

The Dutch corporation Boskalis and Italy’s Condotte d’Acqua announced their withdrawal from bids to build ports close to Haifa and Ashdod, on the grounds of the negative political consequences of such links with Israel. A third, this time Belgian, company took the same step. Deutsche Bank, the largest German bank and the third largest in the world, considers the activities of Israeli banks in settlements to be unethical; it has pledged to its customers that it will not invest in companies that do not meet ethical standards. Deutsche Bank’s list of those it regards as unethical companies includes Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank; 13 other companies on the list are in the arms trade globally and in Israel.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is growing around the world. It is an effective and entirely peaceful way of challenging the occupation and is supported by many in the Middle East-North Africa region, with popular Arab boycott committees working hard to keep it going. Israel may have normalised relations with the Egyptian government but it has failed to do so with the people.

During World War Two, villagers in an area occupied by the Nazis refused to sell their produce to the soldiers. One lady used to buy all the eggs, for example, and then destroy them rather than allow them to be sold to the Nazis. She was taken out and shot. We should be prepared to sacrifice on such a level rather than normalise relations with the enemy state of Israel.

The government in Tel Aviv is worried about the implications of the BDS movement. It is estimated that last year trade between Israeli settlements and the EU was down by 23.5 per cent. Couple this with the academic and cultural boycotts and we can see that this phenomenon is growing, and we must capitalise on it.

The Apartheid government in South Africa was boycotted by the majority of countries in the world, but not by Israel, which allied itself with the white government in Pretoria. South Africans suffered under a racist government and recognise racism when they see it; they are fully aware of the racist nature of Zionism. This has contributed to their activity. The late President Nelson Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” The African National Congress government’s policies tend to reflect this, which all contributes to the unlimited South African support for Palestinians and the strengthening of our friendship.

BDS is a simple and effective means of protest. It is the voluntary ending of any relations with an enemy in all areas of life, including economics and politics; refraining from purchasing and using their goods, or doing business with them; stopping any dealings with them whatsoever or providing any services to them in order to make them change their policies.

Boycotts of occupying powers by the people under occupation are rooted in history, with some prominent examples. The Irish boycott of English goods in the 19th century; the Chinese boycott of American goods in 1906 in protest against US restrictions on Chinese immigration; India’s boycott of British goods between 1906 and 1911, known as the Swadeshi movement; the Egyptian boycott against the British in 1921, on the instructions of Saad Zaghloul; Nazi Germany’s boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933, and the reciprocal Jewish boycott of German goods in the US; and the world boycott of the Apartheid government in South Africa. The boycott of Israel is following in some noble footsteps.

The best evidence of the impact of the boycott of Israel can be found in the statements made by Israeli officials. The then Finance Minister Yair Lapid told the 15th Herzliya Conference in January last year: “Boycott, especially European boycott, impacts us greatly. If a boycott reduced exports to Europe by one-fifth and eliminated the continent’s foreign direct investment in Israel, the country’s economic output would fall by NIS 11 billion, a year, or about 1.1 per cent of GDP and 9,800 people would lose their jobs.” At another conference for Israeli ambassadors and heads of missions a couple of weeks earlier, Shimon Peres told the participants, “The danger of an economic boycott is far more palpable than a security threat.” Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, responded in January 2014 to a report that criticised previous statements made by her regarding the impact of a boycott on Israel (which tried to downplay its impact): “The citizens of Israel need to be told the truth; without a diplomatic resolution, there is a clear danger looming to the Israeli economy.”

It should be clear from the above that the BDS movement is an effective and powerful tool to end the Israeli occupation. It is also clear, in my mind, that it is a criminal act for anyone to violate the boycott of Israel.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 11 February, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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