Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

On 9 July 2005 172 organisations in Palestinian civil society launched the appeal for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to compel Israel to comply with international law and to respect Palestinian rights:

We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

The declaration, together with details of signatories, can be found HERE.

In November 2007 the first Palestinian BDS conference was held in Ramallah and set up a Boycott National Committee (BNC). The role of the BNC is defined as

  • To strengthen and spread the culture of boycott as a central form of civil resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid;

• To formulate strategies and programs of action in accordance with the 9 July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society BDS Call;

• To serve as the Palestinian reference point for BDS campaigns in the region and worldwide;

• To serve as the national reference point for anti-normalisation campaigns within Palestine;

• To facilitate coordination and provide support & encouragement to the various BDS campaign efforts in all locations.

Campaigns for BDS might be described as having these aims:

1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall

2. Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Security Council resolution 194.

BDS is not a magic bullet. It can’t replace the active resistance of Palestinians. In South Africa in the 1980s, it took sustained action by militant new trade unions, student and civic unrest making the townships ungovernable, South Africa’s military defeat by Angolan and Cuban forces, as well as the international boycott, before the apartheid regime changed course. But when it comes to what we can do as ordinary citizens outside Palestine, BDS is our best shot.

Boycott

Boycotts are directed against companies and institutions that profit from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Anyone can do this although it is more effective when people act together.

  • Don’t buy goods or food made in Israel – look at the label
  • Don’t buy goods produced by companies which have a stake in the Israeli occupation
  • Don’t accept sponsorship from bodies that promote the state of Israel
  • Don’t promote artists who support the Israeli occupation
  • Don’t engage in joint research initiatives with Israeli state-backed institutions

For most of us the most frequent point of decision is the food that we buy. A look at the label should show whether a product originates from Israel or not. European Union regulations require products from Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements to be labelled to that effect. All the major British supermarkets stock Israeli goods. Most of them do not stock goods from the settlements. A detailed appraisal of the position as at the start of 2020 can be found in a pamphlet produced by Corporate Occupation called Apartheid in the Fields, advertised HERE.

There is a separate page on this site about the cultural boycott.

Divestment

Divestment campaigns seek to stop money flowing into the Israeli economy as investment from abroad. The main targets here are

  • pension funds (including those of local authorities and trade unions)
  • church investment funds
  • university investments and research contracts
  • banks
  • companies with subsidiaries or big contracts in Israel

Not many of us can make significant disinvestment decisions. But a well-directed campaign can influence funds or companies to change their priorities and sometimes withdraw from Israel altogether. If having a stake in an apartheid state looks bad, risky or might be bad for business – they get out!

Local authority pension funds are the subject of pressure by council unions to keep their investments ethical. The Government tried in 2016 to stop that pressure by issuing mandatory ‘guidance’ on investment decisions. That guidance has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in April 2020; the court judgment can be found HERE.

In February this year the United Nations Human Rights Council finally released its dossier of companies involved in Israel’s West Bank settlements.There are just two British companies listed, namely JC Bamfords (who make earthmovers and tractors) and Opodo (the travel agency). Note that Airbnb are also in the list. The dossier can be seen HERE

Sanctions

Sanctions are punitive measures applied mainly by states and international bodies. Examples are

diplomatic – refusing to accredit an ambassador; requiring tourists to obtain visas; opposing Israeli membership of international bodies such as UEFA and FIFA.

military – a complete embargo on the arms trade with Israel (in both directions).

economic – cancelling the EU-Israel agreement that massively benefits the Israeli economy

Again, not many of us can implement sanctions, but the call for sanctions is a form of campaign that raises public awareness and forces politicians to think again.

Case studies – some of the successes…

BDS is a developing international movement which is beginning to bite. Companies that withdraw from Israel will always say they are acting for strictly commercial (rather than moral) reasons, but their concern for ‘reputational damage’ comes to much the same thing. Here are some examples:

Orange – In June 2015 the French telecommunications company Orange announced it would sever ties with its Israeli partner company.

Veolia – the French company Veolia, that has large contracts with many local authorities in Britain and elsewhere, came under international pressure for its involvement in israel. By the end of 2013 its investment rating was reduced to ‘junk status’ given its massive debts. In 2015 it finally sold its business operations.

G4S  –  The British-Danish security company G4S supplied security systems at checkpoints along the illegal apartheid wall and in settlements, businesses and the police HQ in the occupied West Bank. It supplied security systems for a string of Israeli prisons and detention centres. But it is a multinational company with extensive contracts  in other countries including Britain. Eventually in 2016 G4S announced they would withdraw from most of their business in Israel. Without sustained pressure they would not have made this decision.

HSBC – This large bank has been a campaign target for its loans to the Israeli arms company Elbit. In December 2018 HSBC announced it would end its financial links with Elbit. HSBC still provides loans to other companies such as Caterpillar who are involved in supporting the Israeli occupation.

Microsoft  –  An Israeli startup company called Anyvision had enlisted Microsoft as a partner in facial recognition technology, which is to be used in the surveillance of the Palesinian population. In March 2020 Microsoft, aware of the controversy surrounding this technology, disinvested from Anyvision.