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Scottish activists lead the way on BDS

Liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretzreported on Thursday that this year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe did not host a single Israeli act for the first time in years.

“Because of the high costs and political tensions,” the reporter stated, “there have never been more than one or two Israeli productions at Edinburgh over the past two decades.”

A performance put on last year by Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre (which is funded by the state of Israel) ultimately had to be cancelled: “BDS caused huge outlays on security … and the play collapsed.”

Protests led by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) in 2014 meant that there were fears of disruptions of the production at the Scottish venue, and police insisted that a large number of security guards would have to be employed. Neither the organizers or the venue had the resources, so consequentially it was called off.

That production would have been going ahead at a time when Israel was relentlessly bombing and destroying Gaza in its most latest war against the Palestinian people. That aggression ultimately killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, some 70 percent of whom were civilians (including 550 children). The vast majority of those killed by Palestinian resistance factions, on the other hand, were Israeli soldiers.

The SPSC stated succinctly its reasons for this act of cultural boycott in a press release: “There can be no normality for Israel until it ends the crimes against the Palestinian people. This show must not go on.”

While the accusation of this latest Haaretz article seems to be that (although never outright stated) Scotland is woefully anti-Semitic, it is only if one reads through to the final paragraph that the reader understands that boycott actions against Israeli acts at Edinburgh festivals in fact have been very precisely targeted: “all the artists who spoke to Haaretz said the BDS protests were aimed solely at works or troupes supported by the Israeli government, not at Israeli creators and actors specifically. Thus, they noted, though there are no Israeli productions at Edinburgh this year, several actors and creators are involved with British productions. And they have been warmly welcomed.”

Thus these Scottish boycott actions have been carried out in line with the guidelines drawn up by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

It is cutting-edge and effective BDS victories like this that have meant that Scottish activists are leading the way on BDS tactics, setting an example for the rest of us.

As an unnamed Israeli diplomat told Haaretz in 2012,  “Every appearance by an official Israeli representative in Scotland is like a visit to enemy territory.” This has become a quote that Scottish activists now trot out regularly with pride.

Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli “diplomat” and propagandist for the state was famously ejected from a Scottish campus in 2011. Protests greet Israeli officials wherever they appear north of the border. In 2012, a visit to Edinburgh University by the Israeli ambassador had to be kept secret, so afraid were they of disruptions and protest.

Although the head of the politics department personally banned known Palestine solidarity activists from attending the invite-only lecture, activists managed to use connections to other student societies to obtain tickets and disrupt the event.

The Church of Scotland in 2007 made statements against Christian Zionism – a position far in advance of the Church of England, which activists have in the past had to target for encouragement to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The Scottish Trade Union Congress too, has been steps ahead of its British counterpart. The STUC passed a motion endorsing BDS in April 2009, with the TUC following with a motion endorsing a boycott of settlement goods in August of the same year.

The SPSC has also led the way on more advanced issues, such as the Stop the JNF campaign. The Jewish National Fund, backed by tax-exempt charities around the world (including in the UK) holds land in historic Palestine for the exclusive use of Jews only, systematically discriminating against the indigenous Palestinian people.

The energy of Scottish activists has been instrumental in the campaign to combat the JNF’s racism, and has even led important victories, such as the prime minister standing down as a JNF patron. SPSC also recently published an important analysis about the importance of the BDS campaign and how to combat and defeat attempts by the anti-Semitic far right to infiltrate it.

Waves made by Scottish activists have reached all the way across the Atlantic, it was recently revealed. As I detailed in this column last week, it has come to light that Hilary Clinton had in 2009 tried to intervene against in a similar cultural boycott in Edinburgh (she failed).

We could all learn from the Scottish Palestine solidarity movement.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

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