In September 2014, on the eve of the Jewish new year, Israel’s leading financial daily named Omar Barghouti among the 100 people most likely to influence the country’s economy in the following year.
Calcalist, the business supplement of the mass circulation newspaper Yediot Ahronot, said that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which Barghouti helped found, was “already worrying the government.”
It cited government studies warning that Israel would lose billions of dollars a year in exports and GDP and thousands of jobs if current boycott trends continued.
“The credit and honor go to the entire BDS movement, of which I am a modest part, to each and every BDS activist in Palestine and around the world who has contributed to making BDS one the most effective forms of resisting Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid,” Barghouti told The Electronic Intifada this week.
And 2015 has proven Calcalist right.
As the year closes, Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the broad coalition that backs the BDS movement, is pointing out some of the successes of the last 12 months:
The authors of a United Nations report revealed in June that BDS was a key factor behind the nearly 50 percent plunge in foreign direct investment in Israel in 2014.
The World Bank cited consumer boycotts as a key factor behind a 24 percent drop in Palestinian imports from Israel in the first quarter of 2015.
The international credit ratings agency Moody’s warned in October that “the Israeli economy could suffer should BDS gain greater traction.” Moody’s reports are used by corporations to assess the risk of doing business in a country.
A major European investor confirmed that BDS was already deterring companies from entering the Israeli market.
“During general meetings of the leading companies, even if they did examine investing in Israeli companies, it will be off the agenda immediately because of the impact of BDS,” Edouard Cukierman, founder of Catalyst Funds and chair of Cukierman & Co Investment House, told Israeli media.
Running for the exit
In 2015, activists celebrated a major victory as the French multinational Veolia sold off all its investments in Israel.
This followed a seven-year global campaign which cost Veolia billions of dollars in lost municipal and government contracts. By the end, Veolia reportedly could not find any international buyers for its Israeli businesses.
Perhaps alarmed by Veolia’s fate, the French multinational telecom company Orange announced in June that it intended to end its relationship with its Israeli affiliate.
Despite the Israeli government’s outraged reaction, Orange amended its contract with Israel’s Partner Communications so it could get out of the country as soon as 2017, instead of 2025.
The campaign to end Orange’s complicity with Israeli human rights abuses – it operates extensively in Israel’s West Bank settlements – started in France several years ago and gathered pace in May when activists in Egypt called for a boycott of its subsidiary Mobinil.
The Electronic Intifada’s April report revealing the extent of Orange’s direct complicity in Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza galvanized the campaign.
In November, the European Union finally took the step of requiring labels clearly marking goods that come from Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land in violation of international law.
This was a minimalist step taken only after years of dithering and delay, and has to be seen in the context of massive ongoing EU complicity with Israel’s war crimes and its deepening apartheid.
But at the time, Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator for the BNC, said the move was a “sign that European governments are reacting to public opinion, civil society campaigning and Israeli intransigence and are becoming more willing to take some basic action against Israeli violations of international law.”
Israel’s furious reaction – many politicians compared EU officials to Nazis – belies its real fear: that this is only the first step of more action to come.
A sure sign of the mainstreaming of Palestinian rights came in September with Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the election for leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party.
Despite intense Israel lobby smears, Corbyn trounced the establishment candidates.
A month earlier, Corbyn, a lifelong champion of Palestinian rights, had told The Electronic Intifada he backed the boycott of Israeli universities involved in weapons research.
Faith and labor
In 2014, after a decade-long campaign, the Presbyterian Church USA voted by a narrow margin to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This prompted Israel and its lobby groups to step up their efforts to co-opt or intimidate church activists.
But in June this year a resounding answer came from the United Church of Christ. The one million-strong US denomination’s assembly voted by a huge margin to divest as well.
Where churches are going, labor is following. Several major labor federations in North America joined the dozens of unions, especially in Europe, that already support the movement.
In August, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America – known as UE – voted to back BDS, becoming the second US national union to do so.
“We reached a breaking point when Israel launched the war on Gaza in 2014, killing over 2,000 people, including 500 children,” Carl Rosen, a member of UE’s national executive board, explained.
In November, the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO, representing 200,000 workers, voted to back key elements of the Palestinian call for BDS.
And Quebec’s confederation of trade unions, representing 325,000 workers in the Canadian province, also backed BDS, including the cultural boycott and a boycott of all Israeli goods.
It pledged to work with civil society groups to organize campaigns to turn this support into action in coming months.
This year Israel also suffered from a sustained and deepening decline in tourism, especially from Europe.
There is no direct evidence that the sharp decline, which began during the 2014 attack on Gaza, is due to boycotts.
But the fact that the BDS movement – especially the cultural boycott – has been so strong in Europe undoubtedly makes it harder for Israel to market itself as a carefree destination for sunseekers.
This was the year when “Lauryn Hill and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth said they won’t perform in Israel, and more than 1,000 artists across Ireland, the UK, the US and Belgium have said they support the cultural boycott of Israel,” the BNC notes, highlighting that the campaign is gaining ground everywhere.
“Israeli universities play a key role in planning and whitewashing Israel’s crimes but now academics across the world are taking effective action,” the BNC states.
In 2015, Israel and its lobby groups intensified their counterattack against the growing global movement for Palestinian rights.
But the BNC even sees this backlash as a sign of success, as an increasingly desperate Israel resorts to “exporting its mentality of repression and getting its allies in the west to run McCarthyite attacks on free speech.”
“Israel knows it is losing the argument and is throwing everything it has at sabotaging our movement, dedicating money, government staff and apparently even its security services to undermining BDS,” the BNC says.
There’s no doubt Israel’s efforts to obstruct and sabotage campaigns for justice will continue and, flush with new cash, intensify.
With dozens of student bodies on US campuses having voted to back divestment in recent years, we can expect campaigns to shift toward pressuring administrations to implement those demands. They will face determined opposition, but that will only help keep Palestine front and center.
There’s also every sign that BDS could become a big issue in the 2016 US presidential campaign – already Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Republican hopeful Jeb Bush have launched attacks on the movement.
But that might only serve to educate more people that BDS exists and is an option for them too.
The passing year, which also marked the 10th anniversary of the Palestinian civil society call for BDS, shows clearly that this diverse and decentralized movement founded and led by Palestinians is a growing match for Israel.
Amid so much difficult news from Palestine and the region, that’s a bright ray of hope for 2016.
- Omar Barghouti
- Yediot Ahronot
- World Bank
- foreign direct investment
- Edouard Cukierman
- Mahmoud Nawajaa
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Labour Party
- church activism
- United Church of Christ
- Presbyterian Church USA
- United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
- Connecticut AFL-CIO
- trade union activism
- Lauryn Hill
- American Anthropological Association (AAA)
- National Women's Studies Association
- United Kingdom
- Hillary Clinton
- Jeb Bush
- 2016 US presidential election