Chile has declared supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement illegal, less than two weeks after saying it would support Palestinian rights.
Chile's National Comptroller – an autonomous body which oversees legal functions of the civil service – ruled last week that it is illegal for Chilean municipalities to boycott Israel and endorse BDS.
The Comptroller made the decision after a complaint was issued by the Chilean Community of Israel (CCHIL) and the president of the Chilean Jewish community, Shai Agosin Weisz. The two groups complained about a decision taken in June by Valdivia – a municipality in southern Chile – to ban the city from signing contracts with any company linked to Israel. Valdivia's Mayor Omar Sabat, who is of Palestinian origin, lobbied for the decision, lauding his municipality as the first in Latin America to be "free of Israeli apartheid".
In the wake of the June decision, CCHIL lodged a complaint with the Chilean Comptroller, arguing that Valdivia's BDS initiative violates Chile's national law since local municipalities do not have the authority to take actions against other countries. According to the Digital Ambassador Club – a website run by the World Jewish Congress – the CCHIL elicited help in filing the legal complaint from ACOM (Acción y Comunicación sobre Oriente Medio or Action and Communication on the Middle East), a pro-Israel organisation which has brought a number of legal cases against Spanish municipalities which declared support for BDS.
Last week's decision is therefore the result of a six-month campaign to declare the municipality's boycott of Israel illegal. The Comptroller accepted CCHIL and ACOM's claim, stating that "while the Chilean constitution gives local government a degree of independence, it is the job of the head of state to conduct relations with foreign powers," the Jerusalem Post reported.
The move comes less than two weeks after the Chilean parliament passed a resolution calling on the government to review all agreements with Israel to ensure they include specific references to Israel's borders, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2334 which calls on all states to distinguish between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The resolution also called on the President of Chile – Sebastián Piñera – to ensure any future agreements between Israel and Chile are based on UN resolution 67/19, which upgraded Palestine to a "non-member observer state" at the UN and reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to independence in the State of Palestine on territory occupied since 1967.
The bill was passed on 27 November with 99 votes in favour and seven against, with 31 abstentions. Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, applauded the resolution, saying:
These practical and effective initiatives are the right steps that uphold the true meaning of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the essence of holding the occupiers accountable for all violations of international law and human rights.
Erekat also stressed that the international community should "work collectively toward ending the Israeli occupation and establishing the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital."
Chile historically has strong relations with Palestine and boasts the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, amounting to 500,000 people. Earlier this year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an official visit to Chile, during which Piñera said: "Palestine has the right and the support of Chile to be a free, independent, sovereign and autonomous country, and the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination." Chile also supported UN resolution 67/19 and has officially recognised the State of Palestine since January 2011.