BDS Austria was due to host Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, a lawyer and consultant for the human rights group Al-Haq, at Arcotel Kaisserwasser this Wednesday, on the topic “Apartheid and its applicability to Israel/Palestine.”
But on Friday, the hotel management canceled its contract with BDS Austria, forcing the group to move the event.
The hotel had received “incessant calls, some by those identifying themselves as representatives of the Jewish community in Austria,” BDS Austria said in a Facebook post.
“These people had issued threats and allegations of anti-Semitism against hotel staff, as well as announcing, without further detail, protest actions and boycott calls against the hotel,” according to BDS Austria. “The hotel management felt threatened by this, to the extent of asking for police protection.”
The hotel confirmed to Austrian media that it had received “unpleasant” calls, but later claimed it had canceled the lecture because it did not think it could accommodate a large public event.
IKG, a representative body of the Vienna Jewish community, told Vienna magazine that it was “absolute nonsense” that the hotel had received threatening calls. However IKG head Raimund Fastenbauer said that anyone who felt intimidated ought to have called the police. IKG did confirm that the hotel had been told that “for us” the event and BDS “have an anti-Semitic background.”
Karmi-Ayyoub’s presentation will be held at an alternative location.
This will be the second time BDS Austria has been forced to relocate events it planned as part of Israeli Apartheid Week 2017.
Pressure and threats
The lawyer’s presentation and the 2011 Israeli documentary The Law in these Parts were originally scheduled to be held at WUK, an ostensibly independent cultural space in Vienna.
But earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post revealed that WUK had pulled out.
“The WUK distances itself clearly from ‘Israel Apartheid Week Vienna 2017’ and its organizer, BDS Austria, and there is no place for any form or statement of anti-Semitism,” WUK spokesperson Christine Baumann told the newspaper.
“In the concrete case of BDS Austria, the use of the room was approved because the organizer was mistakenly believed to be for equal rights and against repression and far removed from anti-Semitism,” Baumann added.
That cancellation has all the hallmarks of being engineered by pressure from Israel lobby groups. The writer of the Jerusalem Post article, Benjamin Weinthal, cites the Israeli far-right group NGO Monitor as a source of information supposedly linking the director of Al-Haq to “terrorism.”
Weinthal habitually acts as a mouthpiece for NGO Monitor’s attacks on European institutions that are even mildly critical of Israel.
In 2010, a Jerusalem Post article bearing Weinthal’s byline was the vehicle for an NGO Monitor smear campaign against The Electronic Intifada that included entirely fabricated claims.
Personnel from Al-Haq, which is working with the International Criminal Court in The Hague on its preliminary examination of possible war crimes committed by Israel, have been targeted by threats that are currently being investigated by Dutch police.
BDS Austria condemned WUK’s “superficial, indifferent and politically inadequate statement” explaining its cancelation of the Israeli Apartheid Week events.
It added: “It bewilders us that those responsible for the WUK demonstrate the clueless arrogance to defame an international human rights campaign as anti-Semitic in a casual subordinate phrase, and to simultaneously slander its worldwide supporters including people of color and civil rights organizations.”
Last week, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the civil society coalition that leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, reaffirmed the movement’s anti-racism principles in response to defamatory smears of anti-Semitism promoted by Israel and repeated by the likes of WUK’s spokesperson.
The BNC affirmed that “the BDS movement does not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others, anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia or homophobia.”
Campaigners in the UK have held dozens of Israeli Apartheid Week events, despite a government-backed campaign of repression.
Work will go on
BDS Austria also condemned the “elitist arrogance” of Austrian institutions, including the University of Vienna’s student government, that have disregarded calls by Palestinian students in Gaza to support BDS and Israeli Apartheid Week.
Last month, activists with BDS Austria disrupted an appearance at the university by Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister who in 2014 published a call for genocide of the Palestinians, including the slaughter of mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
That protest may have put a bigger bullseye on the group, as Weinthal mentions the action in The Jerusalem Post.
But BDS Austria is not deterred. “By all those harsh reactions and threats against hotel workers by the friends of Israeli apartheid, we feel we are on the right path,” the group’s co-founder Marco Van Jura told The Electronic Intifada.
“We will definitely continue our work as BDS Austria for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people, and not be intimidated,” he said, adding that Salma Karmi-Ayyoub’s presentation would be streamed live on BDS Austria’s Facebook page where “everyone is welcome to join.”
Activists with the group also did flash mobs at WUK and the University of Vienna, challenging censorship and highlighting Israel’s abuses of Palestinians. Watch them in the video at the top of this article.