Monday, 21 November 2011

Transcription of Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions 101

Below is a transcription of a speech I gave about boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) at a Palestinian function several weeks ago. It was an introductory speech to a largely Palestinian audience. It is introductory because I was told most are not too familiar with BDS. It was written at short notice (most of it written several hours beforehand) and there was a lot I would have loved to properly cover. This is the gist of it for those who were interested in the hard copy.

I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the first Australians, whose land we occupy today. We are currently meeting on Darug land that belongs to the Burramattagal people.

It’s a real honour to be able to speak to members of my community about a cause that is important to me. I strongly believe in the Palestinian struggle for justice. 


To quote the late Professor Edward Said, because it is a just cause, a noble ideal and a moral quest for equality and human rights. Tonight, I want to address several areas. I’ll be speaking about the boycotts, divestments and sanctions movement, BDS, an incredibly important and rapidly growing global movement that aims to deliver justice for Palestine. At the end, I will open up questions to the floor specifically about Palestinian activism, especially youth Palestinian activism in Australia, and I’m hoping to have a conversation with you about the importance of a) doing whatever you can to ensure you are doing something for Palestine, because everyone can be active in their own way and b) the importance of maintaining and knowing about aspects of Palestinian culture – that includes art, music, food, film, dress, because to exist is to resist. It’s essential that when the old die, the young don’t forget. We also need Palestinians, Arabs, at the forefront of Palestine rights campaigns. We can’t have others continually speaking on our behalf – we need to speak out for ourselves.

The plight of Palestine is something that concerns and should concern all Palestinians – Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians living in historic Palestine – behind the green line in what is considered Israel today – Palestinian refugees living in and outside of Palestine and Palestinians living in the Diaspora, sprawled across the world, including many of us here tonight. The plight of Palestine and the struggle for justice in Palestine is something that concerns all people who want to see Israel held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians.

I could stand here and speak about every detail, inside out, of Israel’s injustices against Palestinians. I could stand here and detail the very beginning of it all, the creation, the very inception of the modern Zionist movement in the late nineteenth century.

I could speak about the invasion and dispossession of Palestine, the Nakba, one of the greatest robberies of our time, the explusion and exile of three-quarters of the population, who until this day, are not allowed the right to return to their homes and properties. I could detail the struggles Palestinians have faced for sixty-three years and still continue to face: the brutal military occupation, the checkpoints, the curfews, permit systems, the continual annexation and confiscation of Palestinian land, the continued organised ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the destruction of homes, farms, olives trees, the environment, the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements – colonies, the construction of the ugly apartheid wall that snakes its way in and around the West Bank, the blockade and the siege against Gaza, the slaughter, the imprisonment of Palestinians and the constant racial discrimination and system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians.

Why are Palestinians treated in such a way? Because they exist. Because they are Palestinian, something they have no choice or control over, something they are born into the world with. Zionism is a racist ideology that privileges Jews over non-Jews. It is like all supremacist ideologies that privilege one group of people over others; ideologies that deem others inferior to them because the other doesn't fit a certain ethnic or religious mould.

But, tonight I won’t, nor do I necessarily have to go into that kind of detail, because if you already have the slightest understanding and grasp of some of the most fundamental injustices Palestinians face daily, then that is enough to know that these injustices need to be corrected.

We, of course, need a solution. We don’t need so-called peace talks and negotiations. It can be argued that the entire ‘peace process’ that the West projects and spins never entirely existed in the first place. Talks and dialogue only create the appearance of working towards peace, when little to no progress is really happening. We don’t need nor should we be interested in interfaith and intercultural dialogues. How can we interconnect when occupation and apartheid is ignored? Palestinians cannot, and should not be the ones to make concessions – after all, it is their land that was dispossessed, it is they who are occupied, it is they who are oppressed and have few rights and freedoms, it is they who are discriminated against, it is they who are imprisoned – not vice versa. There is an occupier and an occupied in this equation, and it is Israel who needs to make the concessions. It is Israel who has to give up Zionism and give equal rights, among many other things, to Palestinians. Things Palestinians should not have had taken from them in the first place. But of course, Israel will not make those concessions. Which is precisely why we need to take matters into our own hands. It is exactly why people, activists, organisations, unions, institutions, universities, academics, governments, artists, musicians, athletes, workers, and companies all need to participate in BDS and end all ties with Israel.

BDS did not come out of nowhere. Back in 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel in order to pressure Israel to comply with international law and Palestinian rights. Over 170 civil society groups within Palestine have called on the world to participate in this non-violent struggle against Israeli colonisation, occupation and apartheid.

Again, BDS is not about diplomacy, it is about applying pressure on Israel. It’s about doing whatever we can to end ties with Israel. BDS is a campaign against the normalisation of Israeli apartheid. Israel should not, and cannot be seen as a legitimate state in the eyes of the international community as it stands today. Inequality cannot be tolerated.

So what does BDS want and how does it work?

There are three things BDS calls for. Firstly, Israel must end its occupation and colonisation of all Palestinian lands occupied in 1967. It must dismantle the apartheid wall.

Secondly, it must recognise the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and give Palestinians the full equality they deserve.

Thirdly, it must allow Palestinian refugees awda, return, the right to return to their homes and properties as declared by the United Nations Resolution 194.

The BDS movement is inspired by and emulates the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that assisted in bringing down the apartheid regime in South Africa. When white South Africans racially discriminated, segregated and severely oppressed black South Africans, a global boycott movement flourished. The world, fortunately, woke up to the crimes of apartheid. As history has shown, BDS is the nemesis of apartheid. Further, Desmond Tutu, a South African bishop and human rights advocate, who campaigned for freedom during the apartheid era, says that the apartheid conditions Palestinians live under are harsher than what was experienced during the apartheid era in South Africa.

Boycotts target products and companies (both Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights. It extends beyond consumer boycotts and includes the boycott of Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. The BDS site states that anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that you don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. One example would be products by the Strauss group, one of the largest food and beverage companies in Israel. The Strauss group owns several chains and food items, including Max Brenner chocolate bar and Sabra hummus – which have been the target of several BDS campaigns, particularly in the US and Australia. The Strauss Group openly and “proudly” declares its support for the Israeli military – particularly two brigades, the Golani and Givati brigades. This is a military involved in heinous crimes against Palestinians. The brigades were more recently involved in the Gaza massacre in 08/09 and used white phosphorous bombs and were also involved in the 2006 Lebanon invasion. Another target of BDS is Ahava and dead sea minerals stores. Israeli companies capitalise on stolen Palestinian minerals from the occupied West Bank.

Academic boycotts and the boycotting of universities is tremendously important. The BDS website writes that “Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations.” Palestinians living in historic Palestine/behind the green line or what is called Israel now, are also heavily discriminated against in Israel’s education system. Also, Technion University, in Haifa, for example, has extensive links with an arms manufacturer, which supplies weapons to the Israeli military. Israeli universities are involved in weapons research and development, and their strengthening of Israel’s occupation makes them complicit in Israel’s crimes.

Recently, South African university, the University of Johannesburg, ended its relationship with Ben Gurion university in Israel. There are several campaigns and the beginnings of several campaigns in the US, Canada and Australia that are targeting Technion for its collusion in criminal military activity. The largest student union in Europe, the University of London Union, also recently boycotted Israel – BDS victories keep rolling in.

In terms of cultural boycotts, prominent artists who have decided not to or have refused to perform in Israel after being pressure by activists include the late Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, the Pixies and more. Filmmakers, producers and actors have boycotted film festivals held in Israel, for example, and mainstream performers of the likes of Lupe Fiasco are making references to injustices in Palestine.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights. This year, for example, French corporation Veolia was cut down in size and announced massive losses because of pressure from Palestinian rights activists. Alstom, another transportation multinational, lost billions of dollars because of its involvement in the illegal Jerusalem light rail project that links to settlements in the West Bank.

The Israeli produce company Agrexco is also set for bankruptcy. This was announced two months ago, after being heavily targeted by BDS activists. Agrexco grows its produce in illegal settlements.

Other examples of recent boycott and general victories include Lush beauty products, a huge seller in the UK, declaring its support for freedom in Palestine, and also two months ago, the Swedish supermarket chain, Co-op, stopped selling Israeli home carbonation machines from SodaStream because the company operates in illegal settlements.

I’m pressed for time, but I strongly encourage you to visit to check out the latest campaigns and the latest BDS victories.

Sanctions from governments are perhaps the strongest acts and a critical part of demonstrating disapproval of Israel’s actions. Diplomatic and economic sanctions are vital. Venezuela, for example, expelled the Israeli ambassador in response to Israel’s massacre and siege on Gaza. Turkey recently cut diplomatic and military ties with Israel because of the flotilla massacre – a massacre it took no responsibility for it. Israel enjoys impunity and is never held accountable for its actions and it is necessary for states to act accordingly.

So, what’s so special about BDS? Why BDS?

Let me make clear that BDS works and Israel is already feeling the pressure. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak himself said “(BDS) will start coming at us like a glacier, from all corners.” Israel also outlawed boycotts and boycott campaigns in Israel this year. It clearly fears BDS and its effectiveness.

There are people who dismiss BDS, including some members of our community. They feel that it’s pointless but that’s precisely because they don’t understand it, they don’t understand its effectiveness so far and the rapid momentum and support it’s gaining. There will always be opposition and criticism, but we need to rise above it and push BDS in Australia. The Greens’ move to boycott Israel in Marrickville this year, though knocked backed unfortunately, really helped put BDS on the map here in Australia. We need to move forward, and the Palestinian community must play a prominent role in it.

And while I can’t go into as much detail as I’d like, there are people who strongly oppose BDS, and Zionists and Israel supporters who do oppose it, label it anti-Jew/anti-Semitic just as they do with any action or criticism of Israel - a poor attempt to delegitimise a righteous cause. And it isn’t of course, but we can overcome the smear campaigns and scaremongering by continuing to apply pressure. The typical knee-jerk response from Zionists won’t ever, and can’t, undermine and destroy something as strong as the collective will for justice and self-determination for Palestine.

I’ll have to leave it here, but I welcome questions now, and if you wish to discuss it further with me afterwards, I am more than willing to.


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