Boycott roundup: Canada campuses mobilize to divest

Pro-Palestine campaigners in San Francisco covered Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian ads in the subway with ones that support the BDS movement. (TruthForceinSF)


As part of a regular feature, The Electronic Intifada brings you this roundup of activism news related to the growing Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. This month, several Canadian universities launched strategic campus divestment initiatives, a Danish-owned Israeli security company is forced to pull out of contracts in the occupied West Bank due to public pressure, and legendary musicians Pete Seeger and Roger Waters come out in support of the BDS movement.

Canada

A student-led divestment initiative at Carleton University in Ottowa is gaining ground after a massive show of support during a student council meeting last month. Meanwhile, students at York University and the University of Toronto officially launched their divestment campaigns during Israeli Apartheid Week events last week.

Canadian civil society news website Rabble reported on 7 March that activists with Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University had collected more than 2,000 letters from students on campus in support of a comprehensive initiative to divest the university’s pension fund from Israeli ties.

“The support for divestment culminated in an extraordinary show of student solidarity at the [Carleton University Student Association] council meeting on 17 February,” Rabble reported (“Carleton students push student union to support divestment from illegal occupation,” 7 March 2011).

“Over 300 students, alongside faculty and staff, gathered outside of the meeting room ready to speak in support of SAIA’s motion … To these people, the message was clear: by speaking up for social justice and human rights in Palestine and demanding their tuition fees not contribute to ongoing oppression, they were on the right side of history,” Rabble added.

The divestment initiative was launched last year by SAIA-Carleton activists, and has gathered endorsements from more than two dozen student groups on campus.

A video of the students’ rally on 17 February was posted to YouTube (“17 February 2011 - Student Rally for CUSA Divestment Vote”). Carleton University’s SAIA updates can be viewed on their website, http://carleton.saia.ca.

Elsewhere in Canada, on 7 March, the first day of events scheduled for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), SAIA activists at York University and the University of Toronto declared their official launch of a comprehensive divestment campaign.

Campus activists are demanding that their universities divest pension, endowment and investment funds currently allocated to four companies that create military technologies used by the Israeli military. SAIA’s initiative is supported by more than a hundred faculty members and visiting scholars, academics and activists who lectured during IAW events, including The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and social theorist Judith Butler, also signed on in support of the initiative.

For the full text of the initiative, the online petition and more information on the SAIA divestment campaign at York University and the University of Toronto Divestment Campaign can be found at the campaign webste (toronto.saia.ca).

United States

New York City

A Jewish-Zionist group on campus at New York University canceled an event that was set to feature an Israeli Navy Seal involved in the lethal attack on activists aboard the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

However, citing “serious safety and security concerns” in an email sent to registrants for the 10 March event, the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, Birthright Israel Next and cosponsoring groups canceled the talk and did not reschedule. The groups did not specify what safety and security concerns they had. The Israeli Navy Seal was touted by the organizing groups as being one of the first soldiers to board the Mavi Marmara.

Nine persons were killed in Israel’s brazen interception and attack on the ship, an assault that was widely condemned by the international community.

Concurrently, activists with the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine had organized a protest that was to take place during the event. On the Facebook page for the demonstration, SJP stated that “[i]n response to Students for Justice in Palestine’s increasingly successful Israeli Apartheid Week, Zionists at NYU have put together ‘Israeli Peace Week’ … We need to send an unequivocal message that war criminals are not welcome on our campuses” (“Mobilize against Mavi Marmara War Criminal @ NYU Thursday!,” March 2011).

Several days before, SJP announced on its website that it launched a divestment initiative aimed at divesting faculty and staff pension funds from TIAA-CREF, a major financial services company that invests in companies that contract with the Israeli government and its military (“NYU to TIAA-CREF: Divest from the US-backed Israeli Occupation Now!,” 4 March 2011).

Washington, DC

Activists with CodePink’s Stolen Beauty campaign, a global initiative to boycott Israeli Ahava cosmetic products, reported that a gift shop in the National Cathedral has decided to stop selling Ahava products after the shop received complaints concerning the company’s practices in the occupied West Bank.

Ahava products are made in the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank, from materials taken from the Dead Sea.

Nancy Kricorian of CodePink in Washington, DC told The Electronic Intifada that the gift shop at the Cathedral — affiliated with the Episcopal Church — was contacted by boycott activists who reached out with information about the origins of Ahava products. Kricorian said that the shop’s inventory of Ahava “could only have been an oversight because of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s endorsement of the boycott of settlement goods last spring.”

On 16 March, Kricorian followed up by phone. The management of the shop confirmed to her that the Ahava products had been taken out of the inventory.

This is the latest in a series of victories by the Ahava boycott campaign.

San Francisco Bay Area

Guerilla art activists in the San Francisco Bay Area responded to a slew of posters in BART subway stations that they say were Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian by installing a collection of posters that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and call out Israeli apartheid policies.

Local independent news site Indybay reported that in January, “BART riders complained about anti-Palestinian ads posted in the subway system by a Los Angeles-based pro-Israeli lobby [group] called StandWithUs. The posters depicted the eyes of a menacing-looking Arab ‘terrorist’ wearing a kuffiyeh [traditional Palestinian scarf] and the message ‘Stop Palestinian Terrorists.’ BART officials responded to complaints by pulling the ads” (““Stop Israeli Apartheid” in BART Stations Throughout Bay Area,” 23 February 2011).

Indybay added that a new version of StandWithUs’ ads appeared the next month — text-only posters reading “Stop Palestinian Leaders From Teaching Hate & Violence.” Palestinian solidarity activists in the Bay Area — calling themselves “culture jammers” — replaced the new ads in various BART stations sometime on 21 February.

Indybay reported that the new guerilla ads read, among other statements, “Stop Israeli Apartheid — Human Rights for All Is The Answer.” The original and altered posters can be viewed on Indybay.

Scotland

Students, members of the local Palestinian community and solidarity activists with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) held a rally at Edinburgh University on 21 February to protest a planned event to host Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

Meanwhile, ten student activists entered the venue and led a peaceful demonstration while Prosor delivered his speech. Edinburgh University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stated in a press release that the protesters “stood up one by one, shouting the name of a Palestinian child that they were there to represent” (“Students protest Israeli ambassador’s visit to Edinburgh University,” 22 February 2011).

All of the names, SJP added, were of children killed in Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09. The students then taped their mouths shut to symbolize the silencing of those children’s voices, and turned their backs on the speaker.

SJP noted that this is the second time in three weeks that students at the university have disrupted the speech of an Israeli official.

Earlier in February, an advisor to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was canceled after demonstrators disrupted the event.

SJP stated in its press release that “Edinburgh students are playing an increasing role in the campaign to boycott Israel until they end their apartheid, colonial policies towards the occupied Palestinian people. Ron Prosor was here to spew Israeli propaganda and defend war crimes and the actions of the protesters sent him a clear message that he is not welcome at our university. We continue to be deeply disturbed by the Politics Society’s decision to host such a representative. However, Prosor’s presence in Edinburgh yesterday only strengthens our resolve to continue the fight for the boycott of apartheid Israel on campus.”

Meanwhile, a motion to boycott Israeli apartheid was “overwhelmingly passed” at the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) on 14 March. In a press release, SJP reported that the motion, entitled “Boycott Israeli Goods in EUSA shops and supply chains,” was passed by a landslide vote of 270-20 (“Press Release 16/03/11: Edinburgh University students vote overwhelmingly for boycott of Israeli goods,” 16 March 2011).

“Despite the meeting requiring over 300 students to attend for it to be quorate and for decisions taken to be binding, the huge level of student support for the motion means that EUSA will be under severe student pressure to adopt it as official policy,” the press release added. “Similar motions have been passed at SOAS, Manchester and Sussex Universities in recent years. This latest result seems a clear indication that students in the UK are continuing to play a prominent role in the campaign for a just peace in Palestine.”

Veolia loses UK bid

French urban contracting company Veolia, which is heavily involved in the Jerusalem light rail project — an Israeli plan to connect the city with illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank — has lost yet another contract in Portsmouth, according to activists in the UK.

The Bin Veolia campaign, an initiative of the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), stated that “7 March was a bad day for Veolia: not only did it fail to secure the replacement for its current contract but a long running campaign by Portsmouth & South Downs PSC has exposed its complicity in Israel’s violations of international law” (“Portsmouth Dumps Veolia,” 11 March 2011).

Portsmouth’s City Council officially said that a rival contract bidder won on price and quality of service. However, PSC activists say that although they don’t know the impact their campaign had on the final decision, “this is another instance of Veolia failing to win a replacement council contract after a strong local campaign to have it excluded. It follows Veolia losing in Richmond last month, Edinburgh in December 2010 and Sandwell in 2009.”

Danish-British security firm withdrawing from W. Bank

Public pressure and a strategic boycott campaign in Denmark have led to an Israeli security company — owned by G4S, a Danish security corporation — ceasing most of its operations in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 15 March that the Israeli company, Hashmira, provided “baggage scanning equipment and body scanners for the Qalandiya, Bethlehem, Shaar Efraim and Eyal checkpoints” (“Danish company halts equipment supply to West Bank in wake of public protest,” 15 March 2011).

Haaretz added that Hashmira also provided security systems at Ofer military prison complex, near Ramallah, and inside Israeli police headquarters in the illegal E1 settlement bloc inside the West Bank.

Occupation industry watchdog organization Who Profits? (a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace) coordinated with Dan Watch, an independent Danish accountability group, to write a comprehensive report documenting Israeli contracts with G4S. The report, which exposed the use of G4S’s equipment and technologies in Israeli prisons and checkpoints, was submitted to the Danish government last November. Following the release of the report, the Danish foreign minister was among leading officials who criticized his country’s role in Israeli occupation policies.

Additionally, “the city of Copenhagen decided to [reconsider] its continued investment in the company,” Haaretz reported.

Belgium bank censured over settlement financing

Belgian bank Dexia was recently excluded from global sustainable investment organization Triodos because of its continued involvement in the financing of illegal Israeli settlements.

The Jerusalem-based Alternative Information Center (AIC) reported that Dexia Israel Bank (DIB), a subsidiary of Dexia in Belgium, “has financed Israeli settlements in the past. In response to shareholder and stakeholder pressure, DIB stopped new loans to Israeli settlements in June 2008 … [However,] despite the freeze on new loans and withdrawal by DIB, the bank still has loans outstanding to the Municipality of Jerusalem” (“Dexia Excluded from Triodos Sustainable Investments due to Involvement in Israeli Settlements,” 11 March 2011).

“By financing the municipality, DIB loans are potentially being used to finance human rights abuses against Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” the AIC added.

The report states that Triodos excluded Dexia from its partnership after officials had “extensive dialogue” with the bank on this issue, but no changes or pledges to stop financing Israeli settlements were made.

Music legends endorse BDS

Folk music legend Pete Seeger publicly endorsed the growing boycott movement against Israeli apartheid, several months after he participated in an online virtual rally sponsored by an Israeli environmental institution, Arava Institute.

Activists across the world called on Seeger to cancel his participation with the event, but he had stated that he thought he could use the opportunity to make a statement for justice and peace in Palestine.

In a press release from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and Adalah-NY: The Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the 92-year-old singer and civil rights activist explained that he participated at the Arava event “because for many years I’ve felt that people should talk with people they disagree with. But it ended up looking like I supported the Jewish National Fund. I misunderstood the leaders of the Arava Institute because I didn’t realize to what degree the Jewish National Fund was supporting Arava. Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can” (“Folk music legend Pete Seeger endorses boycott of Israel,” 28 February 2011).

Additionally, Roger Waters of the British rock group Pink Floyd wrote an op-ed in the UK Guardian in support of the boycott movement, urging the music industry to support human rights for Palestinians, and help “tear down this inhumane barrier,” referring to Israel’s wall in the West Bank (“Tear down this Israeli wall,” 11 March 2011).

“Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal,” Waters writes. “For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government’s policies, by joining the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”

Palestinian queers call for BDS

A Palestinian queer activist collective recently issued a public call to encourage international queer artists to join the global cultural boycott campaign against Israeli institutions as a matter of solidarity with Palestinians fighting for human and civil rights.

Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS) produced a series of public service announcements to go along with their call for boycott, including one in Spanish.

The PSAs highlight the human rights violations imposed against Palestinians by the Israeli government and military. “The only way to stop it is to quit paying for it; because separate has never been equal,” says a narrator in of one of the PSAs.

All of the PSAs can be viewed on the group’s Vimeo page.

Cultural figures urged to boycott Israel

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a strong statement to South African artist William Kentridge, urging him to cancel his exhibition in Jerusalem that started 5 March (“Open Letter to William Kentridge: Don’t Exhibit for Apartheid,” 4 February 2011).

Despite the call for boycott, Kentridge came anyway. Haaretz reported that the artist condemned Israeli policy but didn’t think that the cultural boycott “is the right solution” (“Visiting South African artist rejects Israel boycott, opting to protest in Jerusalem instead,” 7 March 2011).

PACBI also drafted a letter urging Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil to cancel his upcoming performance in Tel Aviv next month (“Gilberto Gil, Don’t Undermine the Palestinian Struggle for Freedom: Cancel Show in Israel!,” 3 February 2011).

Meanwhile, activists in the US wrote to filmmakers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, urging them not to accept the $1 million Dan David prize, awarded on 15 May in Tel Aviv.

Anti-Zionist blog Jews Sans Frontieres posted the open letter on 12 March, in which the activists appeal to the Coen brothers that “your much-celebrated presence will adorn a colonial settler state still vigorously engaged in the business of dispossessing and driving out the indigenous inhabitants, who are the Palestinians” (“BD: A call to the Coens,” 12 March 2011).

Anti-boycott bill moves through Knesset

If some lawmakers in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) have their way, it could be a criminal offense for Israeli organizations to participate in boycott, divestment and sanctions actions.

Haaretz reported on 9 March that the Knesset passed the first reading of a bill that designates boycott actions as “discriminatory” measures “based on where [customers] live.” The legislation would make it an illegal act for a company to refuse to sell to Israeli settlers living in a West Bank colony, or for an organization to refuse to participate with settlers or those doing business in the settlement industry (“Knesset passes initial reading of bill to keep public services in West Bank settlements,” 9 March 2011).

Last year, a group of actors and activists signed a petition announcing their refusal to perform in an arts center in the middle of Ariel settlement. “If this law were to pass, the boycott against Ariel’s cultural center could potentially face legal action for being ‘discriminatory,’” Haaretz added.

More than fifty Israeli civil society organizations expressed their outrage at the bill, and signed on to an urgent appeal to the Knesset preceding the vote.

The letter stated in part, “[t]his proposed law is clearly intended to limit the expression of specific opinions and political groups, simply because their protest challenges the current political consensus in Israel … Instead of conducting a democratic discussion of the issues on Israel’s public agenda, the proposed law serves to silence political adversaries and to block public discussion” (“50 Israeli Civil Society Organizations to the Knesset: Halt legislation of Anti-BDS Bill,” 8 March 2011).

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