Activists are welcoming a decision by lawmakers in Spain to recognize that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights is protected by laws guaranteeing free speech.
On 27 June, the International Cooperation Committee of the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s lower house, unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the government to “recognize and defend the right of human rights activists from Palestine, Israel and other countries, to engage in legal and peaceful activities, protected by the right to freedom of speech and assembly, such as the right to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.”
Podemos, the left-wing party whose lawmakers proposed the motion, said that the approval means the government “must uphold those rights and act against the harassment of activists, in Spain and many other countries, engaged in peaceful, legal and legitimate campaigns against the violation of human rights in Palestine.”
Podemos noted disturbing incidents of apparent repression of people involved in advocacy and education for Palestinian rights, such as the cancellation of a January event at Madrid’s Casa Árabe institute on Palestinian nonviolent resistance against Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Israel lobby groups in Spain have brought criminal complaints against individual activists who have called for boycott.
They have also lodged a flurry of lawsuits aimed at thwarting the growing number of Spanish municipalities – the largest among them the city of Barcelona – that have declared themselves free from Israeli apartheid.
“This is a victory for all those acting on their conscience by participating in the BDS movement for Palestinian human rights,” Ana Sanchez, international campaigns officer with the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said of the action by lawmakers.
Sanchez added that it comes as BDS campaigns “continue to grow around the world” and “state institutions in Europe, the United States and beyond are increasingly affirming the right of their citizens to participate in the BDS movement to advance Palestinian human rights.”
The BNC noted that the parliamentary motion “is the second time within a short period that Spanish state institutions have affirmed the right to boycott.”
In late April, Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis wrote to Podemos senator Pablo Bustinduy that “the government fully respects the activities and campaigns promoted by civil society within the framework of free expression guaranteed in our political system.”
Last October, the European Union stated that BDS advocacy constitutes freedom of expression and freedom of association protected in all 28 of its member states in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Previously, EU members Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden rejected pressure from Israel and its surrogates and have affirmed their citizens’ right to advocate BDS as a tool to advance the rights of the Palestinian people.
Defending free speech
During the debate in Switzerland’s upper house, foreign minister Didier Burkhalter argued that the anti-BDS measure would be undemocratic because it would stifle civil society’s ability to criticize governments.
The measure had been backed by the right-wing People’s Party, which was working in concert with NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that specializes in smearing Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights defenders.
In the last few years, Israel and its surrogates have intensified efforts to demonize and outlaw Palestine solidarity activism, especially by attempting to blur the line between criticism of Israel and its Zionist state ideology on the one hand, and anti-Semitism – bigotry against Jews – on the other.
On other fronts, EU officials working in concert with the Israeli government, are advancing efforts to censor criticism of Israel under the banner of fighting anti-Semitism.
Palestine rights activists are fighting back with broad campaigns defending free speech.
But even in the UK, courts are helping to roll back censorship: in June, the High Court in London threw out government regulations aimed at preventing municipal governments from taking actions in support of Palestinian rights.
BDS win in Chile
An official from the Israel Antiquities Authority had been due to speak at Alberto Hurtado University and the University of Chile, but student campaigners objected to his organization’s role in Israel’s ongoing destruction and theft of Palestinian cultural heritage.
BDS Chile described the cancellations as evidence of the determination of Chilean students “to work towards interrupting our universities’ ties with institutions complicit in Israeli apartheid.”