BDS roundup: Members of United Church of Canada affirm resolution to boycott Israeli settlement products

In this week’s roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, members of the United Church of Canada affirm a resolution to boycott Israeli settlement products; Red Hot Chili Peppers still slated to perform in Israel despite sustained international outcry; Boycott campaigners support Ottowa musicians; and Israel won’t be represented at International Culture Summit in Scotland.

United Church of Canada members affirm resolution to boycott Israeli settlement products

Following recent, high-profile announcements by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in the United States to boycott products made in illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the West Bank, members of the United Church of Canada this week affirmed a similar boycott resolution at their annual General Conference, to be voted on on 17 August.

The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that, like the votes that took place in the US churches, the vote at the United Church of Canada was “preceded by nearly six hours of contentious debate, in which the church’s general council members nitpicked the proposal’s wording and heard drawn-out testimonies from representatives on both sides of the issue.” The Star added that the United Church of Canada is the country’s largest denomination of Protestant Christians.

The article added:

The motion was one of several recommended by a report released by a church working group last May. Along with calling on church hierarchy to accept a comprehensive boycott, the report named the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as a major challenge to a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Bruce Gregersen, a United Church general council officer and spokesperson who assisted the working group, called the vote Wednesday a “significant step” toward the church’s affirmation of the entire proposal.

“I think the mind of the council appears to be clear,” he said. “If there was any sense that all the (anti-report) lobbying was going to have an effect, the council made up its own mind, irrespective of the lobby.”

Voting results were not immediately available but Gregersen said voters were “substantially in favour” of the boycott motion.

The general council will vote again Friday on whether to confirm the proposals as official church policy.

In a press release, Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) commended the Church and applauded their affirmation of the boycott resolution.

The press release adds:

“By adopting this historic resolution, the United Church of Canada joins a growing movement of churches, trade unions, and other organizations in Canada and around the world that are boycotting Israel’s illegal,” says IJV spokesperson Sid Shniad. “It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. Given the state’s ongoing illegal activities it is a moral imperative. We are very encouraged that the United Church has recognized the difference and we look forward to working with the church to move this important human rights work forward.”

IJV spokesperson Rabbi David Mivasair echoed Shniad’s remarks, explaining that “IJV is grateful to the United Church for undertaking this careful and principled review, and we endorse its thoughtful recommendations for ethical action to support justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

In an open letter to the United Church of Canada’s 41st General Conference at Carleton University, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Jewish Voice for Peace had joined with IJV in calling on delegates to endorse the proposals for the boycott of products made in illegal Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestinian territory.

Red Hot Chili Peppers still slated to perform in Israel despite sustained international outcry

Over the last several months, ever since US rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers announced their scheduled performance on 10 September in Israel, international boycott campaigners and activism groups have written letters, signed petitions and launched social media campaigns asking that the band reconsider their decision to play in an apartheid state that violates Palestinian human rights.

As we reported, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has been at the core of US social media campaigns directed towards the Red Hot Chili Peppers, on Twitter (directing activists to tweet their boycott support to the @chilipeppers account) and on the Chili Peppers’ facebook page. Israeli activists with Boycott From Within! have drafted a letter to the band, telling them not to cross the international picket line.

Recently, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) drafted their own letter to the band, saying that “now is not the time to perform in Israel.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are from Los Angeles, have for years been involved in human rights campaigns and political activism — including a benefit concert last year in London for the Hoping Foundation, which supports projects for Palestinian refugee children. The band helped raise approximately $630,000 for the foundation.

The Chili Peppers also declared their support for the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members are in pre-trial custody for “hooliganism” and playing songs at a March performance (in a cathedral) that openly criticized the church’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(It is important to point out that pop superstar Madonna, who famously ignored calls to spike her Tel Aviv gig earlier this year, has also come out in support of Pussy Riot.)

But despite their open rejection of one government’s mistreatment of its citizens, the Chili Peppers have not yet responded to the international boycott campaigns that are demanding the band cancel their scheduled performance in Israel (whose government violates international law and the rights of Palestinians).

PACBI’s letter to the Red Hot Chili Peppers states, in part:

It is with great disappointment that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has learned of your scheduled performance in Israel set for September 10, 2012. We write to add our voice to the many appeals that you must surely have read by now. We had hoped that the international solidarity, with letters from India, Lebanon, Italy, Israel and the US, not to mention individuals who have appealed to you both publicly and privately, would have convinced you that your future performance in Israel is not well conceived. We hope that a personal appeal from us, a campaign that enjoys overwhelming consensus amongst Palestinian civil society, will convince you otherwise.

We understand that one of your former band members, Hillel Slovak (May he Rest in Peace) was Israeli. We cannot begin to assume his political positions, whether or not he would still want you to play in Israel, and how his views may have changed over the years. It would be disrespectful of us to pretend to know how the deceased might act today. All we can ask is for you to understand for yourselves Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, and to postpone your performance until a time when Israel does not practice colonialism, occupation and apartheid.

Playing in Israel to honor your friend and former band member would be a decent act, but not when it comes at the expense of our people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality. There is a time and place for everything.

Today, Palestinian civil society groups are calling on artists to shun Tel Aviv in the same way that South African activists called on artists to boycott Sun City. All we are asking is for you to refrain from crossing a picket line called by Palestinian society, endorsed by international organizations, and increasingly supported by progressive-Israelis. Palestinian civil society is asking this of you as the most essential contribution to their struggle to achieve peace and justice.

The argument that artists often use, and one that you might perhaps still believe in, is that music builds bridges and can bring smiles to people’s faces, thus hopefully spreading a message of peace. However, in light of a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which by now you must be aware of, your message on stage will come as a blow to our people’s movement (see below for a brief history of our campaign). Our struggle demands messages of solidarity and acts of protest, not hollow messages of peace; it is this that we hope you will understand. We believed you would because we know you are an ethical and politically mindful band who has stood up for social and political injustices. Moreover, your message on stage will be drowned by Israel’s well-oiled publicity that will use you to rebrand itself as a normal state that promotes music and culture.

… Red Hot Chili Peppers, one day, you may come to perform in this land, and we will all welcome you with open arms. One day you may come and bring smiles to all our faces, but that day has not come yet. Stand with Alice Walker, with Gil Scott Heron, with Elvis Costello, with Roger Waters, and with many others, and tell Israel that now is not the time.

Boycott campaigners support Ottowa musicians

In other music-related news, boycott campaigners in Canada wrote to Richard Gray, vice-president of the CTV television network, in support of an Ottowa band who played a song called “Apartheid” on a CTV morning program in June — a song which, the activists say, was “inspired by an attempt to censor a student program on Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University and silence voices in solidarity with Palestine.”

Above: Three Little Birds perform on CTV. Their song “Apartheid” begins at 3:13. 

After their television performance, the members of Three Little Birds were attacked by HonestReporting Canada, an anti-Palestinian media watchdog group.

HonestReporting Canada encouraged its supporters to “condemn” CTV for the band’s performance and their use of the term “apartheid” in a song.

letter to counteract HonestReporting Canada’s campaign of intimidation against the band and to support CTV’s decision to broadcast the song was written by members of Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign-Vancouver (BIAC). It states, in part:

Dear Mr. Gray,

As advocates for Palestinian human rights, we thank you for broadcasting the Three Little Birds and respecting their song choice on CTV. The Three Little Birds are excellent musicians with a firm commitment to social justice — including Indigenous rights and self determination, the tarsands and the environment, and standing against gender violence. It is a tribute to their inclusive and universal views of social justice expressed through music that their vision of resisting oppression also includes the rights of Palestinians.

Numerous Palestinian and international voices have testified to the apartheid nature of the Israeli state. The crime of apartheid, in international law, is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Among many other examples of Israeli apartheid, Palestinian refugees are denied their right to return; the West Bank and Gaza Strip are subject to military occupation, land confiscation, home demolitions, and closure; and Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied equal access to jobs, education and state resources.

And as more people around the world have recognized that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid (Israeli Apartheid Week included events in hundreds of locations around the world last year, five years after its 2006 inception in Toronto), and joined the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until its apartheid policies end, the phrase “Israeli apartheid” has been subject to threats, attempted and actual censorship across Canada. Organizers of events and activities in support of Palestinian human rights have been singled out by politicians and lobby groups in an attempt to silence dissenting voices.

We would like to congratulate CTV for recognizing that music is not merely entertainment – it often illustrates important issues and speaks out against injustice. Three Little Birds’ song “Apartheid” was in fact inspired by an attempt to censor a student program on Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University and silence voices in solidarity with Palestine. Thank you for refusing to concede to the demands of those who seek to silence critical voices and continuing to provide a venue for the expression of opinions on subjects of major importance.

We also encourage you to provide space for such voices in CTV’s news programming and invite guests with a strong critique of Israeli apartheid and Canadian foreign policy, and committed advocates for Palestinian human rights to be heard and join the political debate on the airwaves as well.

Thank you again for showcasing the Three Little Birds, talented musicians of insight and conscience.

Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign – Vancouver

BIAC added that supporters can send similar letters to CTV’s regional vice-president, Richard Gray, at Richard.Gray AT bellmedia DOT ca, “to let him know how much we appreciate their decision to feature an Ottawa band unafraid to tackle important social justice issues and ask that they refuse to concede to HonestReportingCanada’s attempted censorship. Please BCC saia.carleton AT gmail DOT com in your letters.”

Israel won’t be represented at International Culture Summit in Scotland

A conference on international culture and arts is being held this week at the Parliament building in Edinburgh, Scotland, as approximately 40 cultural ministers from around the world converge to discuss and strengthen “the use and value of the arts, culture and creative industries, and their role in dialogue among nations.”

Israel was invited, but declined to attend the conference. Scotland’s government confirmed Israel’s decision.

In a press release from the boycott campaign group Don’t Dance With Israeli Apartheid, human rights activists had planned to protest “any official Israel presence” at the summit, and are still going ahead with an “audio-visual, singing and spoken-word event entitled ‘Israel’s Culture of Apartheid’ outside the Parliament for the duration of the Cultural Summit.”

The press release adds:

Kate Logan of the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid coalition said, “Israel attending the Culture Summit would be highly inappropriate. However, it is unprecedented for Israel to miss an opportunity to cover its crimes through a disingenuous focus on culture. Either it was scared away by the planned protests, still angry at Salmond’s call for trade sanctions, or it was not invited in the first place. Our group will still play an informative role at the Cultural Summit, but we are delighted we do not have to protest any official Israeli representation.”

… Campaigners say an official “Brand Israel” marketing campaign is an attempt to use culture to distract attention from ongoing allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes. … The coalition was formed to protest Israel’s state-funded Batsheva dance group which is set to play the Edinburgh International Festival later this month. Israeli Government Minister Limor Livnat is expected to attend one of the Batsheva performances.




Kudos to the United Church of Canada for standing firm against the usual -- and then some -- campaign of slurs and hysterical attacks. One such attack, barely concealed as a news story, was run in advance by the same Toronto Star you quote. And the Star is the best mainstream print media in Canada on these issues ...

While we're on the Canadian theme, the Three Little Birds group is actually from Ottawa, not Ottowa as you have it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).