Protesters disrupt Vienna city council over BDS censorship

Activists in Austria disrupted a session of the Vienna city council on 26 September to protest tightening censorship of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As the video above shows, activists in the gallery displayed banners and dropped leaflets bringing the session a halt.

Many call out, “free, free Palestine.”

The protesters admonished the city lawmakers for slandering their campaign and for ignoring their repeated efforts to organize a meeting between city officials and Ronnie Kasrils to explain the BDS movement’s goals.

Kasrils, who is Jewish, is a veteran of South Africa’s anti-apartheid freedom struggle.

In March, Vienna’s Volkskundemuseum canceled a lecture by Kasrils.

His was one of several Palestine solidarity events banned following a June 2018 city council resolution smearing the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.

BDS is modeled on the international solidarity campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Its goals are to pressure Israel to obey international law by ending military occupation of Palestinian land, abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to go back home.

“We tried to speak with mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig and tried to arrange a meeting with him and Ronnie Kasrils,” BDS Austria organizer Marco Van Jura told The Electronic Intifada.

“But the mayor never replied to our numerous emails and calls. Also emails sent to all sitting members of the city council were not answered, not by a single member of the 100 seats [in the council].”

Finding all avenues to dialogue with the city council closed, and increasingly alarmed by the unhinged claims and censorship against the BDS movement, activists took the decision to disrupt the meeting.

During the protest, Van Jura can be heard calling out: “The BDS movement has legitimate demands: equal human rights. Are equal human rights too much to demand of you?”

He also asks whether Judith Butler, Angela Davis and Desmond Tutu – prominent human rights campaigners and intellectuals – are “all anti-Semites” for supporting the campaign.

He challenges city officials over whether they have even read the Palestinian call for BDS.

Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan accuses the city council of repeating similar policies to Karl Lueger, Vienna’s anti-Semitic mayor from more than a century ago, by “accusing Jews of hate speech.”

Barkan pointed out how today the city’s anti-Palestinian policies mean that Jews like himself, late Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Kasrils – who support Palestinian rights – are being banned from speaking.

The protesters were wrestled out of the gallery by security guards.

As the video shows, following the protest, the city councillors held a closed session.

When they return several give speeches calling the protesters a security threat.

Anton Mahdalik, of the neo-Nazi Freedom Party, equates the peaceful protesters with terrorists.

“These people had banners and leaflets in their pockets,” Mahdalik says. “They could have had a pistol as well.”

The presiding officer announces that every visitor to the public gallery was registered and that “the people who disrupted the session will be pursued accordingly.”

It would appear therefore that when it comes to questioning their unconditional support for Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, Vienna city councillors are not open to peaceful dialogue and remain determined to punish democratic protest as well.

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'Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan accuses the city council of repeating similar policies to Karl Lueger, Vienna’s anti-Semitic mayor from more than a century ago, by “accusing Jews of hate speech.” '

This needed saying, and it should be repeated like a dose of medicine, as often as symptoms persist.

Zionists have a practice of designating non-Jews who helped protect those who would otherwise have been killed "righteous Gentiles". Very decent of them to notice, I'm sure. One day the world will speak of dissidents like Ronnie Barkan, Ronnie Kasrils and Judith Butler as having been "righteous Jews" for refusing to abandon the Palestinians in a dark hour.

The affinities between antisemitism and Zionism both historically and in present day life are glaringly apparent. Zionism itself- with its psycho-dramatic scenarios- is a species of antisemitism for Jews, in which another people is chosen for the role formerly imposed on the Jews, while the latter are recast as the master race. Thus it should come as no surprise that Israel draws its most fervent support from quarters most deeply associated with the traditions of colonialism and overt antisemitism- European and American elites.

And thanks, Ali, for including the information that this disruption of Vienna's City Council meeting came only after all requests to meet and discuss the BDS campaign with council members met with a complete lack of response. Unlike Zionist disruptions of public meetings, in which no attempt has been made to recognise the concerns of their opponents, this group of protesters did try to engage in dialogue with the council. They simply reached the conclusion that they had no option but to stand up and shout their grievance. For their courage in doing so and their integrity for remaining steadfast, they're to be commended and thanked.

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I am an American who lived in Vienna for ten years. No one will be surprised to realize that due to the way Jews were treated in Vienna during the Nazi era, that there is a mentality in 'officialdom' (just look at how Angela Merkel acts in neighboring Germany) that to make up for the past, nothing can ever be said against Israel, Zionism, etc. It seems to be their way, strangely enough, of making up for Austria's past...severe...sins against Jewry. They get a lot of pressure to continue acting this way from groups that don't want to see the political policies of Israel toward Palestinians challenged, or even spoken about. The great irony here is that the true lesson of the Holocaust has never really been learned in Austria and Germany: No group, anywhere, should be allowed to persecute another group of human beings, regardless of whatever 'good' reasons they are convinced they have. BDS is simply too much of a threat to this posture to allow it any space.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.