Last week, activists with various Palestine solidarity and BDS groups under the umbrella of the Dump Veolia coalition came together in protest of the city of Los Angeles’ efforts to renew contracts worth $160 million with Veolia, a French multinational urban transportation and systems corporation, for the city’s transportation needs.
Because of its involvement in contracting with Israel to build a light rail system that will connect West Jerusalem with settlement colonies in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, Veolia has been a longtime target of BDS campaigns, especially in Europe and Australia. The corporation has lost billions of dollars worth of contracts as a result of sustained pressure on local councils by boycott activists since 2008.
Dump Veolia — which includes groups such as BDS LA, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Israel Divestment Campaign — stated in a press release (emailed to The Electronic Intifada) that more than 40 activists attended the LA Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday, 12 September, during the first public hearing over the renewal of contracts with Veolia.
Profiting from apartheid
Dozens of activists had the opportunity to address the transportation committee “explaining their personal reasons for opposing the city doing business with a corporation actively involved in maintaining and profiting from an apartheid transportation system in Palestine,” the press release stated.
Dump Veolia added that more than 500 postcards, petition signatures and letters “from groups and individuals opposed to the awarding of this contract were submitted to the committee. … Those making statements included representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Los Angeles County Green Party. Speakers included Christian clergy members, Anti-war organizers, Immigration-Rights organizers, Human Rights lawyers, and Labor Organizers. Speaking against Veolia were members of the African-American, Chicano/Mexican, Jewish and Muslim communities in Los Angeles, as well as both Christian and Muslim Palestinians.”
Israel lobby’s attacks against BDS
Using talking points repeated ad nauseum over the years by Israel lobbyists and Israeli officials, the Jewish Federation and members of the Israel lobby group StandWithUs argued in defense of awarding the Veolia contract while claiming that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is a means to “delegitimize” Israel.
Reading from their letter, which was obtained by The Electronic Intifada, the Jewish Federation supporters claimed that linking the Veolia contract “to issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict … would be unwise, needlessly divisive, and may violate state and federal law.”
The Jewish Federation’s letter, which was signed by members of the Federation along with other Israel lobby and Zionist groups StandWithUS, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, 30 Years After, the American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles, and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, also added that “BDS is simply a tactic to tell an anti-Israel story that undermines Israel’s right to exist by falsely equating Israel to racist and genocidal regimes.”
The Los Angeles Times wrote that “Judith Pardonnet, a representative of the firm [Veolia], later said Veolia is a victim of false accusations by critics with ‘a very strong anti-Israel position.’”
City council meeting tomorrow for final vote
Though the contracts with Veolia were unanimously approved by the Transportation Committee after the public comment session ended, the final vote on the contracts are expected to come before the full Los Angeles City Council — which is meeting tomorrow.
On Monday, I interviewed Sherna Berger Gluck, an activist with the Dump Veolia Coalition and a coordinator with the Israel Divestment Campaign in Los Angeles.
“The people who spoke were from very diverse communities,” Gluck said. “We were focusing on the fact that [this is about] the occupation, the confiscation of Palestinian land … [Veolia’s transportation lines] link Israel to the settlements, so it’s facilitating the expansion of the settlements, and is basically perpetuating them.
“[Veolia’s transportation lines] are servicing, and are designed to service, illegally-occupying [Israeli] settlers. In the original discussions about the trains before [they were] even built, that was Israel’s goal — to link the settlements in such a way that amounts to virtual annexation.”
Gluck said that Los Angeles has had a lively history of passing resolutions denouncing human rights and civil rights violations — for example, resolutions were passed against the anti-apartheid regime in South Africa, against the dictatorship in Burma, against Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws, and recently, the non-approval of a service contract with an organization tied to the Boy Scouts because of the Scouts’ open discrimination against queer youth.
No matter what happens on Wednesday, Gluck said that the local BDS campaigns will remain focused on Veolia — adding that even though the contracts are expected to be approved during the city council’s final vote, the campaign has definitely put Veolia’s complicity with Israel’s violations of human rights into the spotlight.
“There’s a tradition in LA,” Gluck remarked, saying that in all of their literature given to city officials, they’ve pointed out the similarities of the campaign against Veolia to other human rights issues on which the city has taken a stand in the past. Gluck added that when the activists walked out of the committee meeting following the approval of the Veolia contract, they all yelled “shame, shame, shame … which took them back a bit.”