Campaign to isolate Israel gathers momentum

By Kathy Newnam

South African dock workers on February 5 prevented the unloading of a ship carrying Israeli goods to South Africa. Upon the victory, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union stated: “The momentum against apartheid Israel has become an irresistible force. We are proud to stand with the millions around the world who say ‘Enough is enough’. They are doing what we asked them to do when we faced the apartheid regime in our own country.”

“Enough is enough”: this sentiment has given a massive boost in support to the international movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel following the 22-day massacre in Gaza by the Israeli military. Actions to isolate Israel and its supporters have been taken across the world — from the large-scale actions of the South African dockworkers to the Basque political prisoners in France who risked disciplinary measures by writing messages on the Israeli-made products in the prison canteen.

The Davis Cup tennis match between Sweden and Israel will take place without spectators because of planned protests. This follows a number of actions against Israeli sporting teams like the February 5 basketball game in Barcelona that was interrupted by chants of “Boycott Israel! Viva Palestine!” as activists invaded the court with Palestinian flags.

Student protests

Student protests are continuing to sweep Britain. On February 11, the University of Manchester Student Union (the largest student union in Western Europe) passed a motion to boycott Israel at a 1000-strong meeting which had been organised through a three-week-long occupation.

On February 16, the occupation at Edinburgh University ended (the 24th occupation in the UK since the beginning of the Gaza massacre) after having secured many of its demands, including an end to the supply of Israeli bottled water on the campus and a lecture and debate series about Palestine involving university staff and guest speakers.

On February 7, Hampshire College, in the US state of Massachusetts, divested from six corporations, all of which provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the occupied West Bank and Gaza (Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT, Motorola and Terex). The decision, the first of its kind by a US university or college, came after a two-year campaign by the Students for Justice in Palestine at the college.

The academic boycott campaign is also gathering momentum. On February 16 a statement was released by 56 French academics declaring their support for an academic boycott of all “Israeli institutions participating in the occupation”. The Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees passed a motion on February 22 calling for an end to research links between universities in Ontario and Israel that benefit the Israeli military.

Campaign in Australia

In Sydney, the Gaza Defence Committee has launched a campaign against the Israeli-owned company Max Brenner Chocolates. The parent company, the Strauss Group, is the second largest Israeli food and beverage company and boasts on its web site of its support for the Israeli military to “sweeten their special moments”. Weekly pickets will be held on Thursday afternoons outside the Max Brenner stores in Parramatta and Sydney city.

Solidarity activists in Melbourne are also planning to target Max Brenner Chocolates and to launch a campaign against Connex (also known as Veolia), which runs Melbourne’s urban trains. Veolia, a French-based multinational, is building an Israeli settler-only light rail system linking illegal Zionist settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem. Justice for Palestine Brisbane is also planning a campaign to target Veolia, including on Griffith University, where Veolia has a contract for waste disposal.

The Melbourne Palestine Solidarity Campaign is planning a series of protests against the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. The AICC will also be the target of protests in Brisbane, where a protest action is planned against a business luncheon on April 2.

There will be a national Palestine Solidarity Week on campuses around the country from March 30 to April 3. This will be part of global protests for Palestine initiated at the World Social Forum, held in Brazil in late January. The forum called for a Global BDS Action Day to mark Palestinian Land Day (March 30), the annual commemoration of the 1976 Israeli massacre of Palestinians in the Galilee who were struggling against massive land expropriation.

Zionists worried

An indication of the growing support for the campaign is the opposition it has met from supporters of Zionism like the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes. The Age reported on February 5 that Howes told the AWU conference: “We don’t believe a union campaign to boycott Israel helps advance the peace process, especially because unions in Israel and Palestine have made important, if tentative, steps to build co-operative, working alliances”.

Howes’ attempt to couch support for Zionism in terms of workers’ rights and encouraging “alliances” deliberately ignores the fact that the call for a boycott of Israel and the Israeli union movement is supported by the Palestinian union movement. The union movement in Israel and its national body, the Histadrut, are Zionist organisations — both supporting and profiting from the occupation of Palestine.

Howes, like all supporters of Zionism, has to misrepresent reality because the truth is not on their side. As the BDS campaign grows, it can expect more such opposition because the campaign poses such a threat to Israel’s immunity in carrying out its genocidal war of occupation. For over 60 years, Israel has carried out war crimes like those the world has just witnessed in Gaza — all with the political support and weapons supplied by the US and other Western governments, including Australia. Today, the Palestinian call for a BDS campaign offers the millions of supporters of Palestine around the world a weapon of their own — a unified international campaign that can bring an end to Israel’s immunity.