U.S. State Dept: EU product labeling is not a boycott of Israel

The Jerusalem Post reports: The European Union’s guidelines on consumer labels for Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines is not tantamount to a boycott of Israel, Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post.

“We do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott. And as you know, we do not consider settlements to be part of Israel. We do not view labeling the origin of products being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel,” Vasquez said.

The EU has also insisted that the measure is not a boycott of Israel and that their concern is the consumer’s right to know as well as compliance with EU legislation. [Continue reading…]


Israel: Link between EU labelling and Europe’s ‘dark past’ is tactical and confected

By Yoav Galai, University of St Andrews

The EU’s announcement of new guidelines regarding the labelling of settlement products, has been greeted by Israeli officials as well as members of the opposition with a campaign which presents a uniform position against the document that takes the line: it is a boycott, and it is anti-semitic.

The new EU guidelines require that goods from, say, the Golan Heights should be labelled: “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)”. For products from Palestine territories that are not from settlements, an indication of origin could be “product from Palestine” or “product from West Bank (Palestinian product)”.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, with trade worth about US$30 billion – but exports from settlements represent less than about 1% of overall trade.

The decision to label settlement products is in line with existing EU law since 2004 which requires the places of origin of fruits, vegetables and honey to be labelled, but the document has a strong symbolic meaning: it singles out products from settlements. It is this symbolic gesture that has caused alarm in Israel.

[Read more…]


UK academics boycott universities in Israel to fight for Palestinians’ rights

The Guardian reports: More than 300 academics from dozens of British universities have pledged to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest at what they call intolerable human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

The declaration, by 343 professors and lecturers, is printed in a full-page advertisement carried in Tuesday’s Guardian, with the title: “A commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians.”

The pledge says the signatories, from a variety of universities in England and Wales, will not accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions, act as referees for them, or take part in events organised or funded by them. They will, however, still work with individual Israeli academics, it adds.

The advert says the signatories are “deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement”.

In a statement on behalf of the organisers of the boycott, Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, of the London School of Economics, said Israel’s universities were “at the heart of Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinian people”. [Continue reading…]


French court upholds heavy fines while rejecting free speech for activists calling for boycott against Israel

JTA reports: France’s highest court of appeals confirmed earlier rulings that found promoters of a boycott against Israel guilty of inciting hate or discrimination.

The rulings passed on Tuesday by the Paris-based Court of Cassation confirmed the Nov. 27 convictions of 12 individuals by the Colmar Court of Appeals in connection with their 2009 and 2010 actions in supermarkets near the eastern city of Mulhouse.

The individuals arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” They also handed out fliers that said that “buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.”

The court in Colmar imposed fines to the collective tune of $14,500 and court expenses on Laila Assakali, Yahya Assakali, Assya Ben Lakbir, Habiba Assakali, Sylviane Mure, Farida Sarr, Aline Parmentier, Mohammad Akbar, Jean-Michel Baldassi, Maxime Roll, Jacques Ballouey and Henry Eichholtzer. [Continue reading…]


France prepares sanctions against Israeli settlement policy

Uri Savir writes: Inside the European Union there is an ongoing debate regarding the desirability and scope of sanctions and punitive resources in relation to the Israeli government’s settlement policies. According to a senior source in the French Foreign Ministry who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, France is considering sharp economic measures against Israeli goods and businesses east of the Green Line. Settlements, the French official argued, are illegal according to international law and the EU should not apply its agreements with Israel to them. Sharp economic measures would translate into labeling of goods exported from the settlements as such (and not as ”made in Israel”), and excluding Israeli academic, research and development and cultural institutions that are active in the West Bank from any European funds or grants. Brussels, according to this source, has toughened its stance on implementing these policies following Israel’s March 17 elections.

The French, the official added, are considering taking even more severe measures if a peace process on the two-state solution is not launched by the end of 2015. France intends to coordinate these policies with other EU countries.

In the meantime, the French themselves intend to rigidly ensure that all exported Israeli goods emanating from Israeli settlements are indeed labeled accordingly, and that any EU funding to Israeli entities will be dependent on the submission of a declaration stating that the entity in question has no direct or indirect links to the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Concretely, the first to be hurt by these measures would probably be Israeli banks with branches east of the Green Line. [Continue reading…]


Is BDS the only pro-Israel option left?

Mark LeVine writes: Just a year ago, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was no more than a minor irritant in the eyes of the majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders. The boycott of settlement products — with a value of $30 million per year in a GDP of $36 billion — while politically worrisome, was limited. The Knesset and the country’s National Science Foundation both released studies declaring the academic boycott’s impact marginal, and the number of artists refusing to play Israel remained manageably small.

What a difference a year makes. Today BDS is described as an existential threat to Israel; its potential cost is estimated at upward of $5 billion per year. Entire ministries are being tasked with combating it. The self-described “richest Jew in the world,” casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has convinced other wealthy pro-Israel Jews to commit upward of $50 million to setting up programs on college campuses to aggressively fight it.

There are four reasons the “noise” — as Fitch Ratings financial analyst Paul Gamble described it for The Jewish Week — of BDS became a roar. First, the occupation of the West Bank has become so concentrated that it can no longer be dissolved into a larger narrative of a modern, Western Israel. Israel’s matrix of control is so dense that it is simply impossible to hide from the occupation or pretend it doesn’t exist. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson’s ‘secret’ desert conference to plot against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement

David Palumbo-Liu reported on Saturday: If you did not know that this weekend some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world will meet in the Las Vegas desert to plot a massive and well-financed campaign against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, it’s not your fault. At the time of this writing, none of the mainstream media had covered it. You would have to be a reader of news sources such as the Jewish Daily Forward or Haaretz, or Mondoweiss, to find out anything about this “secret” conference.

As the Forward reported, “Leading Jewish mega-donors … summoned pro-Israel activists for a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses. The meeting … is hosted by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and was organized by several other top Jewish funders, including Hollywood entertainment mogul Haim Saban, Israeli-born real-estate developer Adam Milstein and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman.”

Most important, “The initiative … did not come from students on the ground, nor did it emerge from work of the many organizations involved in pro-Israel activism on campus. Instead, it is an idea coming from wealthy Jewish philanthropists who have decided to take action.” This is not at all dissimilar to how Adelson and others have tried to combat BDS via national and state politics, as I have reported previously. As such it connects up with many instances of these and other outsiders trying to stifle discussion of Israel-Palestine on college campuses. [Continue reading…]


Campus BDS debates highlight divide between Zionists and anti-Zionists

The New York Times reports: College activists favoring divestment have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group, and have formed alliances with black, Latino, Asian, Native American, feminist and gay rights organizations on campus. The coalitions — which explicitly link the Palestinian cause to issues like police brutality, immigration and gay rights — have caught many longtime Jewish leaders off guard, particularly because they belonged to such progressive coalitions less than a generation ago.

At Northwestern University this year, for example, the student government debated a divestment resolution for more than five hours, as students with clashing views sat on opposite sides of the room. Some of the talk was openly hostile, with charges of racism and colonialism.

“Discomfort is felt by every person of color on this campus,” said an Egyptian-American senior, Hagar Gomaa. “To those who say this divestment bill makes you uncomfortable, I say: Check your privilege.”

A speaker who identified herself only as a Chicana student said she was there to support Palestinians on campus.

“We have seen the racism of people who get mad that so many empowered minorities are recognizing how their struggles are tied to the Palestinian struggle,” she said. “Students have accused us of conflating many cases of oppression. To these students, I have a couple of words for you: What you call conflation, we call solidarity.” [Continue reading…]


‘Ex-Israeli agents’ threatened cyber attack on S Africa

Al Jazeera reports: A group claiming to be former agents of Israel’s Mossad threatened to unleash a devastating cyber attack on South Africa unless its government cracked down on the growing campaign to boycott Israel, according to intelligence documents leaked to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

According to the reports, then-Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan received a note from “unknown sources” on June 28, 2012, threatening a cyber attack “against South Africa’s banking and financial sectors.” The hand-delivered letter gave the government just 30 days to achieve the “discontinuation of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and the removal and prosecution of some unidentified individuals linked to BDS”.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has historically aligned itself with the Palestinian national struggle, and the BDS campaign there involves some high profile anti-apartheid struggle figures such as Nelson Mandela’s close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada. [Continue reading…]


Despair is driving me towards BDS

Political activism invariably engenders social hierarchies in which true believers — those whose commitment to the cause is absolute — vainly assume the position of being at the vanguard of political change.

But the place in which real change occurs is inside those who are ambivalent — those who are not wedded to the cause.

If BDS ends up having the power to be an agent of change, it will be because its reluctant supporters more than those shouting through the bullhorns.

Maya Wahrman writes: Lately it has been hard for me to be an Israeli. At home in Israel, peace seems more distant than ever before. Here at Princeton, I have been drawn into the debate about boycotts against my country and who is to blame for the summer’s Gaza conflict.

This summer I watched the place I call home go up in flames, rockets, and bombs. It was agonizing. For the first time I had friends and peers who were drafted as soldiers to Gaza. And for the first time in my adult memory the Palestinian casualty rate rose so high it could no longer be ignored.

When I returned to Israel in early August, my friends were broken. Those who had believed in peace no longer did. Residents of the south had spent the whole summer paralyzed, living in fear. Famous Israelis who had condemned or even mourned the loss of innocent Palestinian life were ostracized. There was real, complicated pain. I was afraid of returning to Princeton, where students often have shouting matches sparked by buzzwords rather than a thoughtful dialogue where both narratives are fairly considered and the pain on both sides is truly acknowledged.

I did come back to Princeton. At the start of the semester, the campus seemed almost numb, but recently there has been a sharp rise in tensions. When a number of important professors placed an advertisement for a very moderate version of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in The Daily Princetonian, within hours many friends and acquaintances had already asked for my opinion of the BDS movement.

I didn’t know what to tell them. A year ago I would have condemned it on the spot, but now I was, and am, not so sure. The moderate version of BDS being discussed here is limited to divesting from companies that directly assist the occupation, not a blanket boycott of Israeli products and markets. Nor does it endorse the closing of academic channels that could stop important debate and punish one of the most liberal sectors of Israeli society.

In the first week of November,the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) created a memorial for the casualties of the Gaza war outside our campus center. They individually planted over two thousand flags, Palestinian and Israeli, to commemorate each life lost. Last time the PCP held a vigil for Gaza victims in the same spot, Israeli lives and suffering had been ignored. So this time I was impressed. Passing students were asked to write to a family who had lost a child. Such sensitivity and compassion during these hard times moved me deeply. Yet the night after its installation, the memorial was trampled on and vandalized.

Someone I knew from childhood died fighting in Gaza this summer. Seeing a flag destroyed that represented his life hurt me, an Israeli, a human being. And I do not even know who the vandal was.

So if you ask me what my opinion is on BDS, I’ll say: Seeing BDS come to campus saddens me deeply. But it’s no longer because I strongly disagree with it. What drives me to despair is the fact that my country has reached such a level of injustice that it might be necessary to take so drastic a measure to actually change something. That our political and military leadership seems to avoid at all costs the just solution: The end of the occupation, and the peace, security, and self-determination of all peoples between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Even more so, my despair comes from knowing how many people died, suffered, and feared this summer. The loss of homes and of hope.

I want change. I am tired of people dying. But BDS is not to be decided upon lightly, and there are legitimate arguments for and against.

One convincing argument against the movement is its placing of all of the blame and responsibility on Israel to reach a solution. This past year saw long diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and they failed unequivocally. Urging diplomatic negotiations because they’re “fairer” for both sides makes no sense. Both governments bear blame, but Israel is the actor more accepted by the international community, recognized as an independent nation with a modern army and extensive support and aid from the United States. Realistically, Israel is the one with much more power to make a change.

Some people fear BDS because they think it will be harmful to Israel. I answer that most of Israel’s current policies regarding Palestinians harm Israel because they harm humanity. If we fear anti-Semitism, let us be just, and our strong allies will support us. I suspect that others fear BDS because they are afraid it might actually work. Which makes it all the more promising.

This is what I ask of you. If you see a Palestinian flag, do not stomp on it because it is Palestinian. If you meet an Israeli or a Jew, do not judge them on Israel’s actions. Some of my greatest moments of despair are when I hesitate to share that I am Israeli for fear of being judged on the spot by my nationality and by my government. And if you hear about BDS, do not immediately disqualify it because it is harsh on Israel. Nor should you immediately support it without considering the wide-reaching and serious consequences.

I have by no means run the full gamut of important considerations. I do not know if BDS is the answer. But if commercial sanctions effectively pressure the Israeli government and show them that the injustice must end, potentially leading to commitment to a peaceful resolution, then who am I to stand in the way? [Continue reading…]


What will advance the Palestinian cause?

After today’s bloodshed in Jerusalem, has the Palestinian cause advanced?

I agree with Ali Abunimah — condemnations of violence have become a hollow political ritual.

On the other hand, what is accomplished by the cold rationalism of someone like the Palestinian politician, Mustafa Barghouti, who is a proponent of non-violent resistance? He said today’s violence was “a normal reaction to the Israeli oppression.”

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman, went further and wrote: “The new operation is heroic and a natural reaction to Zionist criminality against our people and our holy places. We have the full right to revenge for the blood of our martyrs in all possible means.”

There’s a problem with arguing that whatever any Palestinian does is a reaction to Israeli oppression, because this gives all the power to the Israelis. It treats Palestinians as pure victims, capable of doing little more than rattle the chains that hold them down.

Yet oppressive as occupation indeed is, it does not strip individuals of freewill and for that reason it’s possible to look at what Odai Abed Abu Jamal and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal did today and conclude that they made a bad choice.

No doubt there are many who react to violence against Israelis such as that which occurred today and think that it pales in comparison with Israel’s periodic assaults on Gaza, along with the day-to-day violence committed by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank that gets ignored by the media.

OK. But the success of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, depends on its ability to widen its support, which is to say, its ability to win support from people who are not committed political activists.

Today’s attack will not have helped BDS.

On the contrary, the dubious accomplishment of the Jamal cousins, even though they belong to the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is that in the eyes of many Western observers the hatchet-wielding Palestinians must look like members of ISIS. And since they happen not to have been Islamists, the popular perception that violence runs in the blood of men across the Middle East will have been further reinforced.

Major political advances always require the fostering of solidarity around a political consensus. It’s not enough to know what you are fighting against. You have to know what you are fighting for.

As easy as it is to attribute today’s killings to Israeli oppression, I suspect that they can be seen as the product of a movement that currently lacks any clear sense of direction.


With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

The New York Times reports: A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”

Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts. [Continue reading…]


People are blocking cargo ships to protest Israel

Vice News: The Israeli Zim Piraeus cargo ship arrived at the port in Oakland, California for its usual weekly offloading last Saturday—but it was unable to unload any of its cargo. The ship’s crew had to wait four days at sea before faking a departure and then sneaking back into a new terminal to evade hundreds of activists who had created a picket line the longshoremen’s union wouldn’t cross. Even when the ship finally left, many believe it still had most of its cargo.

The ship’s acrobatics were induced by a coalition of Palestine solidarity activists and organized labor, with activists originally intending to delay it for just a day as a way to send a message that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians should make it an international pariah.

The Zim Integrated Shipping Services is Israel’s largest shipping company, but its appeal as a target for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement goes beyond its mere financial value. With Israel’s ability to drop thousands of tons of explosives on the captivated and densely packed population of Gaza and then sail into international ports without consequence, Zim vessels embody Israel’s enduring impunity. [Continue reading…]


#BDS: Protesters block Israeli-owned boat from unloading at Port of Oakland

KTVU reports: Dockworkers at the Port of Oakland honored a picket line this evening marking the second day in a row that an Israeli-owned commercial vessel was unable to unload cargo at the port, event organizers said.

For the second time this weekend, Bay Area protesters gathered at the Port of Oakland to stop a Zim Integrated Shipping Services vessel from docking and unloading in an act of protest against recent Israeli military action in Gaza.

The ship, identified as Piraeus by the online ship tracking service Marine Traffic, was moored at the Port of Oakland area as of 5:30 p.m. this evening, according to the website.


Anti-Israel boycotts are spreading across Britain and they’re here to stay

BuzzFeed reports: “We’re not planning on stopping our actions, because the siege of Gaza still goes on,” Clare Essex, a spokeswoman for London Palestine Action (LPA), said. “People can’t have medicine. The one power plant in the city has been destroyed. More than ever, we need to keep pushing that into people’s consciousness.”

In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets of London, Manchester, and Edinburgh against the government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza. Alongside larger actions, there have been protests inside supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, and shopkeepers have claimed to have faced intimidation on the high streets of Manchester.

But despite a short-term end to hostilities in Gaza, the campaign shows no signs of winding down. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) chair, Hugh Lanning, said the organisation plans to build on the momentum it has gained. There will be another national day of action next Saturday, when activists will target high street stores that sell the products of SodaStream, a manufacturer of DIY carbonated-drink machines that has its headquarters in an Israeli settlement. [Continue reading…]