Boycott roundup: French companies to drop out of Jerusalem rail project

Veolia has stated it will withdraw its involvement with the light rail project in occupied East Jerusalem. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)


In a significant victory for the global Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, French companies Veolia and Alstom have dropped out of the Jerusalem light rail project due to sustained pressure from Palestine solidarity groups. The companies were contracted by the Israeli government to construct and manage the tramway linking Jerusalem to several illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank.

The Associated Press reported on 28 November that Yoni Yitzhak, the spokesperson for Veolia Israel, “denied the company had succumbed to political pressures,” saying that “[a]ll decisions by Veolia Israel are based on financial, not political, considerations (“French firm drops out of Israeli light rail project,” 28 November 2010).

However, a spokesperson for Dan bus lines, an Israeli company that hoped to secure the contract after Veolia dropped out, said that Veolia had told Dan executives that the company had decided to end its involvement in the Jerusalem light rail project specifically because of the mounting BDS campaigns and political pressure, according to the Associated Press report.

Speaking at the recent London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof testified against Veolia for its involvement in profiting from the illegal settlement industry. Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate whose writing focuses on corporate complicity in violations of international law, including Veolia’s role in the project. The jury subsequently included Veolia in a list of seven corporations it identified with “corporate complicity in Israeli violations of international law.”

The Jerusalem light rail project was designed to accommodate 200,000 Israeli settlers traveling between West Jerusalem and colonies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, such as Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaakov and Ramot.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) on 25 November, campaigners are marking this move by Veolia and Alstom as an important activism milestone. The BNC also emphasized that “pressure must be increased to ensure that these companies truly end their involvement in the Jerusalem light rail and in all other Israeli projects that violate international law” (“Veolia and Alstom feel the heat - BNC calls for intensifying pressure!,” 25 November 2010).

The BNC added “Veolia has agreed to sell its shares over a five year period. Not only will it receive [euro] 9 million [US $11.9 million] for its shares, but Veolia will continue to operate a system designed to dispossess Palestinians throughout this period and it is easily conceivable that the deal will break down during the sale process.”

Selling their shares, stated the BNC, does not absolve Veolia nor Alstom of their “legal, moral and political responsibility” toward Palestinians who will continue to suffer injustices because of the rail project, or of their “ongoing complicity in other Israeli projects that contravene international law.”

According to the BNC, campaigners across the globe “successfully secured the exclusion of Veolia from an impressive array of public sector contracts and pension funds.” The BNC cited several instances of Veolia’s loss of billions of dollars worth of public contracts in several countries in Europe, and in Australia and Iran, following effective campaigns by human rights activists.

France

In related news, the BNC also called on the French government to “immediately cease all undemocratic, repressive measures against its own conscientious citizens who promote or engage in nonviolent boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel until it complies with international law” (“Palestinian civil society reaffirms support for persecuted French activists,” 23 November 2010).

The statement follows waves of repressive action by the French government against Palestine solidarity activists working within the growing BDS movement. On 14 October, the BNC reported that a French court dismissed charges of incitement to “discrimination, hatred or violence” brought against Senator Alima Boumediene-Thiery and prominent activist Omar Slaouti, both of whom participated in boycott-related direct actions. “However, a [euro] 1,000 [US $1,300] fine against campaigner Sakina Arnaud for attaching a ‘Boycott Israel’ sticker to a fruit juice carton was upheld the following week,” the BNC stated.

Earlier this week, at least a dozen French BDS activists will appear in court to face similar charges, and other trials will take place over the course of the next year, according to the BNC.

These charges were brought against the French activists by pro-Israel lobby groups. “The self-styled Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisemitisme [National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism] and other pro-Israel groups claim to have filed over eighty complaints,” the BNC added. “According to activists, police regularly demand the names and addresses of those present at BDS demonstrations.”

Ireland

Boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigners in Ireland welcomed a unanimous vote by the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) to support a comprehensive boycott campaign of Israeli goods and services and “a policy of disinvestment from Israeli companies” as a result of Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and human rights against the Palestinian people.

In a 24 November press release from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), campaigners say TEEU’s management welcomed the motion, which was submitted to the union’s Executive Management Committee the weekend before (“Another BDS victory: TEEU votes to Boycott Israel,” 24 November 2010).

Upon the passage of the motion, one union delegate remarked “The global trade union movement has consistently demonstrated its commitment to Palestinian rights by adopting labor-led sanctions as a form of effective solidarity with Palestinians. The TEEU should be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Palestinian trade union brothers and sisters, those brave Israelis — Jewish and Arab — who promote BDS, and those trade unions from Britain, to Belgium, to Canada to South Africa and beyond that have taken the principled decision to support BDS.”

Also in Ireland, members of the Dublin Food Co-Op voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israeli-made products during a special general meeting on 25 November. The IPSC stated that this was the third attempt in two years to authorize a boycott of Israeli goods, but after a determined campaign by BDS activists, the motion passed by a 50-6 vote (“Dublin Food Co-Op passes Israeli boycott motion,” 26 November 2010).

In the motion proposal, BDS campaigners called for a boycott of all Israeli products until the state of Israel agrees “to allow humanitarian aid and unarmed peace activists entry into Palestine without the threat of violence and death from Israeli armed forces,” and “agrees to honor United Nations resolutions regarding the unlawful occupation of Palestine in the so-called Israeli ‘settlements.’”

United Kingdom

Thousands of customers of British Telecom (BT) have signed onto a campaign led by a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups calling for an end to the company’s ties with Israeli telecommunications corporation Bezeq International. People who joined the Disconnect Now campaign have emailed BT asking for “an end to the company’s complicity in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” according to a press release from Disconnect Now coalition member group Just Peace for Palestine (“Thousands write to BT about complicity in Israeli occupation,” 24 November 2010).

In January 2010, said the press release, BT welcomed Israeli company Bezeq International, a subsidiary of Bezeq Israel, into its Global Alliance. The Bezeq corporation provides telecommunication services to illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“Members of the public who contacted BT via email have received a standard reply that while failing to address the main issue of the settlements and human rights, mentions that Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel has an arrangement with Bezeq,” stated the press release. “But in an official statement, Paltel have explained that ‘the Palestinian telecommunications sector is a captive sector in its own market and is forced into having operational relationships with Bezeq and other Israeli operators.’”

Japan

Japanese retail giant MUJI canceled plans to open a store in Israel following a targeted boycott campaign by grassroots Palestine solidarity organizations inside the country and around the region, including South Korea.

Organizers with the Palestine Forum Japan’s Stop!! MUJI Campaign drafted an online petition calling on the company not to open a retail shop in Israel, drawing hundreds of signatures in support. Activists also held solidarity actions in Osaka, where they set up a mock Israeli checkpoint with an “Israeli soldier” who pretended to harass civilians. A video was posted on YouTube showing the Osaka checkpoint action and a meeting between a MUJI store owner and solidarity activists in Kyobashi (“Mock checkpoint in Osaka).

On 1 December, MUJI declared that the company canceled its plans in Israel due to “economic reasons as a result of concrete research” but activists say that MUJI executives had been responding to their emails and telephone calls with careful reconsideration of their Israel plan for political reasons.

Activists say this is the first boycott victory in Japan.

United States — Chicago

Activists with the DePaul University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released a statement on 29 November admonishing the university’s move to overturn a recent decision to discontinue the sale of Sabra hummus products.

On 11 November, SJP activists wrote to the university administration objecting to the sale of Sabra hummus in campus dining facilities.

The university subsequently suspended sale of Sabra products, but reversed its decision days later, saying that the process needed review by the Fair Business Practices Committee. SJP activists stated that the Sabra products should remain off the shelves until the committee reaches a decision.

In a statement issued after the university reversed its decision, the activists said “SJP’s concerns are based on the activities of Sabra’s parent company, the Strauss Group, an Israel-based corporation which provides vocal and material support to Israeli military practices that stand in direct contravention to international and human rights law,” the group stated (“Public Statement on the Return of Sabra Products to DePaul University,” 29 November 2010).

The group called on DePaul University to “adhere to more ethical business practices by indefinitely suspending Sabra sales and withdrawing financial support from a company openly promoting the endangerment of Palestinian lives.”

“As DePaul students, we are deeply concerned with DePaul University’s support for any company that actively supports Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land,” their statement added. “In light of the Strauss Group’s ongoing support of the Golani and Givati brigades, which both act against international human rights standards, the university’s affiliation with the Strauss Group is inconsistent with DePaul’s Vincentian values. Continued distribution of Sabra hummus products aligns DePaul University with the perpetuation of egregious harms and shocking injustices. Therefore, we call on DePaul to permanently refrain from buying, stocking and using Sabra hummus products.”

New Jersey

In a related issue, students at Princeton University are seeking a referendum to have the student government make a formal request to school dining facilities to provide alternative brands to the Sabra products currently being offered.

Activists with the Princeton Committee on Palestine gathered the two hundred signatures required to introduce a referendum into the student senate. The Daily Princetonian quoted the committee’s president, Yoel Bitran, as stating that “The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most university stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians” (“Students campaign for alternative hummus,” 19 November 2010).

The issue will be voted on this week.

Meanwhile, the Strauss Group recently deleted all mentions of their support for the Israeli military from its website. Under the heading “In the Field With Soldiers,” the Strauss Group formerly mentioned that its “connection with soldiers goes as far back as the country, and even further,” and detailed its relationships with Israeli military platoons. The section is now only found in cached versions of the website content.

Tel Aviv-South Africa

Anti-apartheid Israeli activists in Tel Aviv organized a “flash mob” action outside the Tel Aviv Opera House on 15 November, calling on the performers of the visiting Cape Town Opera to boycott Israel.

The action followed a months-long campaign by Palestinian, Israeli and South African activists urging the Cape Town Opera to respect the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Organizing within the context of the Cape Town Opera activity, South African artists and cultural workers released a declaration in support of a broad-based boycott against the Israeli government and Israeli cultural institutions (“South African Artists Against Apartheid, a declaration,” 1 November 2010).

“As South African artists and cultural workers who have lived under, survived and in many cases resisted apartheid, we acknowledge the value of international solidarity in our own struggle,” read the declaration. “It is in this context that we respond to the call by Palestinians, and their Israeli allies, for such solidarity.”

“As artists of conscience we say no to apartheid — anywhere,” the artists added. “We respond to the call for international solidarity and undertake not to avail any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel. Nor will we accept funding from institutions linked to the government of Israel. This is our position until such time as Israel, in the least, complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. Until then, we too unite with international colleagues under the banner of ‘Artists Against Apartheid.’”

In October, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu had called on the Cape Town Opera to cancel their scheduled performances of the American classic Porgy and Bess, stating that Israel was “luring” artists and cultural workers to the Tel Aviv Opera House to advance its “fallacious claim to being a ‘civilized democracy’ ” (“Tutu urges South African opera not to tour Israel,” Associated Press, 26 October 2010).

A longtime supporter of the boycott movement against Israeli apartheid, Tutu added it would be “unconscionable” for the Cape Town Opera to perform Porgy and Bess, which he said has a “universal message of nondiscrimination.”

Palestine-based news blog The Daily Nuisance produced a video of the flash mob, in which more than two dozen activists participated outside the Opera House (Tel Aviv flash mob).

Gaza Strip

Palestinian soccer players, coaches and athletic clubs in the occupied Gaza Strip released an open letter on 20 November to Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations, calling on the organization to “reverse apartheid Israel’s participation” in European soccer matches (“An Open letter from Besieged Gaza to Michel Platini and UEFA: Reverse Apartheid Israel’s Participation in European Competitive Football,” 20 November 2010).

In August, the Israeli government denied players from Gaza to travel to Mauritania for a match. A month later, Platini threatened Israel with expulsion from the soccer union if it continued to restrict Palestinian athletes from freedom of movement. “Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behavior,” he added (“Platini: I’ll kick Israel out of Europe,” Palestine Monitor, 2 October 2010).

The athletes’ letter praised Platini’s remarks, and accounted in detail the various ways in which Israel’s ongoing siege and blockade against the Gaza Strip affects daily life for Palestinians — athletes or not.

“Like all residents of Gaza, footballers are continually deprived entry or exit from what many mainstream human rights organizations call the world’s largest open-air prison,” stated the letter. “You must know that we are still grieving the loss of over 430 of our children, who were among the 1,443 people killed during Israel’s three-week bombing of Gaza in winter 2009. Two of our national football team heroes, Ayman Alkurd and Wajeh Moshate, were among those 1,443. 5,300 more people were injured. Many had their legs amputated. They will never have the chance to play football.”

The authors of the letter, representing more than thirty athletic and civic organizations in Gaza, highlighted the historic anti-racism campaigns by European soccer unions, including UEFA’s recent policy to support referees in stopping games for racist behavior. The letter pointed out that racism “is at the heart of why our national team cannot play abroad. It is the core reason why our sporting equipment does not arrive. It is the reason why our stadiums do not get built and why our football season ends prematurely through resource shortages or violent attacks.

The letter concluded with a plea to Platini and UEFA to rescind Israel’s participation in European competitions until the state’s racist policies end against Palestinians and it abides by international law.