Boycott roundup: Palestinians protest Canada’s ties with JNF

Activists protest in front of the Jewish National Fund’s office in Jerusalem, 1 February 2011. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)


As part of a regular feature, The Electronic Intifada reports on the latest developments of the Palestinian-led global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli violations of human rights and policies of apartheid. 

This week, a campaign was expanded in Europe against grocery items made in Israeli settlements; the Israel Philharmonic’s tour in the US is dogged by protests; and Palestinian queer activists are imploring international queer artists and academics to take a stand in solidarity. 

Palestinians protest Canada’s relationship with JNF

Palestinians held a vigil outside the Canadian representative offices in Ramallah on Monday, 21 February, protesting Canada’s ongoing relationship with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The protesters urged the Canadian government to break ties with the Israeli land institution, which has been a driving force behind the continued expulsion of Palestinians from their lands since 1948.

Ma’an News Agency reported that the demonstration included members of families exiled from villages in the Latrun area near Jerusalem, which were ethnically cleansed in 1967 by the Israeli army at the onset of its military occupation of the West Bank. The JNF, which has charitable status in Canada, built Canada Park on the villages’ lands (“Latrun villagers protest Canada-Jewish National Fund relations,” 21 February 2011).
 
The protests were organized by the Palestinian Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Latrun Villages. Israeli and international solidarity activists held a similar vigil outside the Canadian embassy building in Tel Aviv, Ma’an added. 

The Alternative Information Center (AIC) reported that Tel Aviv-based academic and anti-occupation activist Dr. Uri Davis stated: “The ethnic cleansing was perpetrated by the Israeli army, not the JNF, but the JNF is complicit in this crime against humanity by veiling and covering up the crime, planting the Canada Park over the lands and over the ruins, and presenting itself as an environmentally-friendly organization concerned with public will and recreational welfare of all citizens of Israel” (“Palestinian Refugees, Supporters Protest Canada Park,” 21 February 2011).

In a memorandum to the Canadian ambassador to Israel, which was received by the representative office in Ramallah, Palestinian families originally from Latrun demanded Canadian officials meet with them and that the country divest from the JNF’s preferred tax status. Davis told Ma’an news that a court case in Canada against the JNF will soon follow.

France

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) issued a press release on 18 February stating that a judge of the commercial court in Montpellier, France “ordered a state official to investigate the use of the port … by [illegal Israeli settlement-grown produce importer Carmel] Agrexco” (“French court reveals fraud committed by Carmel Agrexco as campaign gathers momentum across Europe,” 18 February 2011).

“This official delivered their report [on 17 February] and it states that Agrexco imports settlement produce and certifies them as Israeli produce in such a way that constitutes illegal fraud,” the BNC added.

The BNC stated that the French report could allow the French Coalition Against Agrexco, a boycott group that has been working on this issue in a legal context, to bring further legal action “against Arexco and the French state.”

The boycott momentum against Carmel Agrexco has spread across Europe, the BNC added. COOP, a Swedish supermarket chain, announced that it would review “its guidelines for subcontractors in relation to international law” following reports on Agrexco publicized in the national media, the BNC stated in its press release. 

The press release adds that activists in Belgium prevented commercial trucks belonging to Agrexco’s Belgian subsidiary from leaving Liege airport, and that similar boycott campaigns are beginning or continuing in Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Ireland and elsewhere across Europe.

“In light of the successful growth of the campaign against Agrexco, the French Coalition Against Agrexco has announced that it intends to host a forum of European campaigns against Agrexco in Montpellier [on] June 3-4,” stated the BNC. 

Meanwhile, also in France, activists working with a campaign to boycott Ahava cosmetic products say that a manager of a Sephora cosmetics store in the northeastern city of Mulhouse pulled Ahava items from the store’s shelves shelves in a move that was not approved by the head corporate offices, but was permitted by the regional management of Sephora.

A short video made by the activists and released on 10 February includes statements made by the Sephora store manager and activists who waged the campaign to deshelve Ahava products (“No more AHAVA in SEPHORA Mulhouse,” 10 February 2011, French with English subtitles).

“I cannot keep [the Ahava products] in my shop,” the manager said, after local activists waged a diligent informational campaign.

Ahava products are made with materials from the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank, produced inside the illegal Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem and are labeled “Products of Israel.”

United States

Chicago

Activists with the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago (PSG) released a “public service announcement” video exposing the city’s ongoing sister city relationship with the Israeli city of Petach Tikva. PSG’s Drop Petach Tikva campaign has been steadily pressuring the Chicago Sister Cities International program to end its relationship with the Israeli city, which the group says violates the principles of the international sister city program.

PSG’s satirical video draws a connection between the Chicago Police Department’s support for former police chief John Burge, who was recently convicted for lying about the torture of more than a hundred Chicagoans, “and the recent imprisonment of Palestinian activist Ameer Makhoul,” PSG stated (“Chicago & Petach Tikva: Never Better Sisters!,” 22 February 2011). 

Makhoul, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who was sentenced to nine years in prison on 30 January 2011 for speaking out against Israeli apartheid policies and in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions, has insisted that his confession used against him in court was the result of torture that “he endured in [detention in] Petach Tikva,” PSG added.

“It’s clear why Chicago and Petach Tikva are sister cities: both feature great views, beautiful weather and unbelievable human rights records,” says a narrator in the video (Chicago and Petach Tikva: Never Better Sisters!).

The Drop Petach Tikva campaign, which is an effort of PSG and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network in Chicago, has asked that the Chicago Sister Cities International meet with campaign activists to discuss the matter, but the board of directors has so far refused their request. 

Philadelphia

Activists with group Philly BDS are maintaining pressure on local supermarkets to deshelve Sabra and Tribe brands of hummus, following similar actions last fall in their ongoing boycott campaign. 

The Sabra brand of hummus is partially owned by the Strauss Group, an Israeli corporation that is a public supporter of the Israeli military. Tribe hummus is owned by Osem Group, a supporter of the Jewish National Fund (“Help end Israel’s human rights abuses. Boycott Israel now.,” Adalah-NY)

In a direct action on 14 February — Valentine’s Day — activists delivered more than a hundred handmade valentine cards to Patrick Burns, the CEO of Fresh Grocer stores, at the chain’s corporate headquarters in Drexel Hill (“Valentine’s Day Actions,” 15 February 2011). 

After delivering the valentine cards, Philly BDS campaigners joined a protest in support of a boycott of Israeli goods underway at a Fresh Grocer store. 

“Buoyed by their afternoon ‘love caravan,’ they distributed valentine candy with cards describing the Sabra and Tribe boycott campaign to shoppers and passersby,” Philly BDS reported in their press release.

Evan Hoffman of Philly BDS stated “We’re in this campaign for the long haul … We will do what it takes to make sure that our message of love for the people of Palestine stays visible and that Fresh Grocer knows we’re serious about getting Sabra and Tribe out of their stores.”

Israel Philharmonic dogged by protests in US

Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel reported that approximately seventy New Yorkers protested the performance of the Israel Philharmonic on 22 February. The philharmonic is traveling across the US this week and being met with protests along the way. 

Adalah-NY stated: “Hundreds of well-dressed concert-goers paused on the edge of the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall, and looked across the street at the protesters’ signs and listened to their chants and songs. Many were handed a mock [Israel Philharmonic Orchestra] program that featured a cover photo of a past [Israel Philharmonic Orchestra] performance in front of Israeli tanks for the Israeli army, and, on the inside, the [Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s] call for an international boycott of the IPO” (“New Yorkers protest Israel Philharmonic for whitewashing apartheid, protests planned in other US cities,” 23 February 2011).

The group added that protesters held signs reading “Israel Fiddles while Palestine Burns” and “Justice Presto not Lento,” among others. 

Noelle Ghoussaini of Adalah-NY stated “Tonight we sent a clear message to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli government’s ‘Brand Israel’ campaign that their music cannot drown out Palestinians’ calls for justice.”

The group pointed out that one of the corporate sponsors of the Israel Philharmonic’s tour is Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who also hosted a gala fundraiser for the orchestra. “Leviev’s companies have been shunned by UNICEF, CARE, Oxfam, the British and Norwegian governments, and Hollywood stars for building illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and for involvement in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Southern Africa,” Adalah-NY reported.

The Israel Philharmonic will be met by similar protests in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles this week. There were demonstrations held against the orchestra this past week as it played in West Palm Beach and Newark. 

The full schedule of protests is on the Adalah-NY website.

Palestinian queers’ open letter

Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS) released an open letter to queer academics, artists and activists this week, urging members of the global LGBTQ community to take a stand for Palestinian human rights and support the boycott movement (“An open letter to Queer academics, artists, and activists,” 23 February 2011). Â 

Directed at those who are invited to participate in Israeli cultural initiatives, the letter intends to shed light on the political and humanitarian undercurrents that undermine global solidarity within the LGBTQ community.

“Most Israeli LGBTQ groups, Israeli academic institutions, Israel support groups worldwide, whether officially part of the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign or not, are often supporters complicit in the Israeli war crimes, and the effort to pinkwash these crimes and should be boycotted,” states the open letter.

“We are determined to inform every person wishing to travel to Israel on the political and social realities of life in Israel/Palestine,” the letter adds. “ ‘Occupation,’ ‘Palestinians,’ ‘Gaza,’ ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘boycott’ and ‘refugees’ are not terms you would come across in flyers, itineraries and travel brochures promoting Israel; yet, these words define the daily lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. As Palestinians and as queers, these words have shaped our history and continue to determine our future.”

The letter states “Our aim is for every person to have a historically-informed understanding of Israel/Palestine, and for every queer, academic, artist and activist to support the Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS.”