Boycott roundup: activists mark holidays with boycott carols and victories

20 December 2010

Over the past two weeks, Palestine solidarity activists across the US launched holiday-themed actions encouraging shoppers not to buy Israeli-made products. Others demonstrated against an Israeli lobby group in California and the Jewish National Fund in New York.

Meanwhile, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists in Scotland claimed a major victory when the Edinburgh city council rejected a bid by French urban contracting company Veolia to take over public services in the city. The activists asserted that Veolia is complicit with Israel’s violations of international law. And in Australia, a sister city to Bethlehem voted to support the growing BDS movement.

St. Louis, US

More than forty Palestine solidarity activists organized a “flashmob” action outside a Best Buy and an AT&T store on 4 December, protesting the sales of Motorola products in a choreographed song and dance routine. Participants in the action included Hedy Epstein, an 86-year-old Nazi Holocaust survivor and Palestine solidarity activist, who called on shoppers to “change what you buy, pick a different phone, see it in the store, just leave it alone … Motorola supports war crimes, justice now in Palestine” to the tune of “Telephone” by pop singer Lady Gaga.

According to Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the Motorola company supplies communication, surveillance, fuses and munitions equipment to the Israeli military (“Help end Israel’s human rights abuses; Boycott Israel now.,” revised 14 November 2010)

The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (stl-psc.org), which organized the flashmob, produced a video of the action (“BDS Flash Mob: Lady Gaga Motorola Boycott for Palestine!).

Boston, US

On 11 December in Boston, activists with Code Pink: Women for Peace sang carols about boycotting Israeli cosmetics company Ahava outside the Lord & Taylor department store. Ahava products are made in the illegal settlement colony of Mitzpe Shalem in the West Bank.

The group has posted holiday caroling song-sheets and organizing tools on its Ahava campaign website (“Holiday Caroling”), in an effort to encourage other activists to hold similar demonstrations.

San Francisco Bay Area, US

Seven Bay Area activists were arrested following a flashmob action at the Marriott Hotel, while the powerful Washington DC lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual gala in Oakland (“Video: AIPAC flash mob,” 13 December 2010). The activists were charged with trespassing and were held in jail for more than six hours.

However, outside the hotel venue, a marching band entertained the more than a hundred demonstrators who held signs condemning Israeli policies, according to local publication The Berkeley Daily Planet (“AIPAC comes to Oakland: seven protesters arrested,” 14 December 2010). Protesters also distributed leaflets and information on Israel’s occupation and international law to passersby.

In a statement following her release from jail, activist Noura Khouri wrote that she and fellow participants “wanted to send a message to say that we will confront and challenge AIPAC as they continue with their business as usual, and say that we believe that their criminal policies are leading to the economic and moral collapse of the US, and our universal human values (“Why I was willing to risk arrest at the AIPAC annual dinner,” 15 December 2010).

The next day, on 14 December, AIPAC held another dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Activists from several Bay Area solidarity groups protested outside the hotel.

At the same time, in the busy San Francisco downtown shopping district, activists dressed in spa attire — bathrobes and towels — and sang boycott-themed holiday carols against Ahava products, similar to the Boston action.

New York, US

Queer Palestinian solidarity activists and their supporters held a demonstration at the Israeli consulate in Manhattan on 9 December in protest of a membership and support drive for a new campaign by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to attract gay people to Israel (“Jewish National Fund: Just Not Fabulous,” 9 December, 2010).

The JNF, as The Electronic Intifada has reported, is an Israeli parastate institution that actively fundraises for the government’s projects to ethnically cleanse Palestinian villages while planting forests on their ruins. The JNF describes itself as an environmental organization.

In the press release, activist Hannah Mermelstein said: “We protested tonight to tell the JNF that they cannot hide from queers any more than they can hide the remains of Palestinian villages by planting forests on top of them.”

The press release added that protesters unfurled a rainbow banner reading “Jewish National Fund: Just Not Fabulous” while others held signs that read “Using Queers to Oppress Palestinians: Just Not Fabulous,” and “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: Fabulous,” amongst other slogans. Protesters also said that they support the Palestinian queers who have asked them to join the growing BDS movement against Israel until it ends its violations of international law and human rights.

Protest organizers with Queers for Palestine stated that the JNF’s “unique contribution is to combine pinkwashing with greenwashing through an initiative that will fund a longstanding facilitator of Israel’s greenwashing of its war on Palestinians, the Arava Institute.”

Arava, an Israeli environmental group, has been under scrutiny by Palestine solidarity groups for its partnership with the JNF.

Scotland

On 10 December, the Edinburgh city council rejected a bid by French urban and transportation planning corporation Veolia to administer a range of public services in the city, according to a press release by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) (“Palestine campaigners claim boycott success as council rejects controversial bidder,” 13 December 2010).

The SPSC played a key role in convincing the city council that Veolia should not be considered for the contract, which includes garbage collection and street cleaning, because of that company’s involvement in Israeli transportation projects.

According to the SPSC, lawyers warned the Edinburgh Council leaders that employing the French multinational could expose the local authority to “legal action for failing to take on board their obligation to recognize and comply with their duties and responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and international law.”

Activists categorized this move by the city council as a “victory for human rights.”

This bid rejection is the latest in a series of actions taken against Veolia. In late November, the company stated that it was pulling out of the Jerusalem light rail project due to sustained pressure from Palestine solidarity groups. Veolia has lost billions of dollars worth of public contracts in several countries in Europe, Australia and Iran, following campaigning by activists. However, the company still maintains several Israeli contracts other than the light rail project.

On 13 December, also in Scotland, the Stirling city council voted to approve a comprehensive boycott campaign against Israel’s “open aggression and disregard for international law.” The SPSC stated that local procurement officials will be instructed to “ensure future agreements and contracts boycott all Israeli goods” (“Stirling council to boycott ‘apartheid’ Israel,” 15 December 2010).

Labor Councillor Colin Finlay, who is also a member of the local SPSC branch, stated in the motion that “Apartheid was not acceptable in South Africa and it is not acceptable in Palestine.”

He said that “[m]ore and more Scottish councils are distancing themselves from Israel and its racist apartheid policies. Palestinians deserve our support, so I am delighted that Stirling is playing its part in the international boycott campaign. This is a significant step in the right direction.”

The motion also condemned Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza, as well as the illegal occupation. “Council notes the historic resilience of the people in these areas in the face of [the Israeli military’s] open aggression and disregard for international law,” it stated.

Australia

The Marrickville municipality — a “sister city” with Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank — became the first in Australia to pass a motion in support of the BDS movement. On 14 December, Marrickville council voted to “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, institutional academic, government or institutional cultural exchanges.” The council also resolved to write to the local, state and federal ministers to inform them of the council’s position and to seek their support “at the state and federal level for the global BDS movement,” according to the website for Australia’s Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP) (“Marrickville Council supports BDS,” 14 December 2010).

This motion comes on the heels of recent BDS victories in Australia, including an endorsement by the New South Wales’ Green party of the Palestinian-led boycott call.

On their website, activists with CJPP say that Marrickville has a long history of commitment to indigenous rights. “The 75,000 residents of Marrickville come from all around the world,” CJPP states. “Over 100 different cultures are represented here with seventy or more different languages spoken. Marrickville is built on the land belonging to the Cadigal Wangal clans of the Eora nation and Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are well-represented here … Now Marrickville has also declared its commitment to the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people.”