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Saturday, 20 February 2016

israel in danger of losing the plot over #BDS

Israel in danger of losing the plot

Articles from the Financial Times and The National

A BDS March from Greenwich Village to Union Square In New York. Photo courtesy of The All-Nite Images/cc/flickr

By Henry Mance in London and John Reed in Jerusalem, Financial Times
February 15, 2016

The British government has found itself at the centre of a battle between Israel and Palestinian campaigners, after saying it would punish local councils who boycott Israeli goods.

The Cabinet Office will release guidance on Wednesday saying that locally imposed boycotts, including those targeting Israel, breach WTO rules on procurement.

The move, which could benefit Israeli suppliers and other companies with operations in Israel, comes as the Israeli government seeks to fight back against the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Israel’s political elite has been alarmed by the BDS movement’s recent gains among church groups, students and investors. Companies including security contractor G4S, machinery manufacturer JCB and SodaStream, maker of devices to create homemade carbonated drinks, have all been targeted by campaigners.

Palestinian groups reacted angrily to the Cabinet Office proposals. “This is a bullet at the very heart of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East and the very heart of democracy in Britain,” Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian official, told the Financial Times.
The BDS campaign, which models itself on the fight against apartheid in South Africa, has urged companies and public institutions to boycott Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian lands.

A spokesperson for the campaign’s Palestine National Committee said the UK government was “making a grave mistake similar to Margaret Thatcher’s unwavering support of apartheid South Africa”. The Cabinet Office plan “comes at a time when the BDS movement is having unprecedented success”, he added.

Since 2014 Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, has fought against the boycott movement, which is accused of antisemitism and the broader goals of undermining and delegitimising the Jewish state.

The new BDS guidance coincides with a trip by Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It will affect all contracting authorities, including local councils and NHS bodies, on the basis that local boycotts breach the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, which demands that all suppliers are treated equally.

The Cabinet Office did not provide figures on the number of councils that have adopted boycotts, or the sum of contracts affected. A spokesperson said it had no evidence of proceedings having been launched with the WTO on account of existing boycotts.

In October, the government proposed rules aimed at stopping pension funds from “politically motivated boycott and divestment campaigns against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

The Local Government Association has hinted at its unease at the October proposals and the latest guidance, saying that councils “will always seek to promote democratic values”, and this would sometimes include “taking ethical considerations . . . into account where due process allows”.

The guidance would leave private institutions and national and international governments as the focus for the BDS movement. In November the European Commission mandated that goods from illegal Israeli settlements should be labelled, in what the BDS campaign said was “a welcome sign”.

The Israeli response to BDS has included legal warfare or “lawfare” against the movement in foreign countries. “We have stepped up our efforts directly and indirectly, dealing with friends of Israel in a variety of countries in which we have the BDS movement, fighting it with legal instruments,” Emmanuel Nahshon, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told the Financial Times.

In the US, legislatures in about 30 states, led by South Carolina and Illinois, have adopted or discussed laws or statements meant to counter BDS, according to Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian BDS activist based in Ramallah.

Barack Obama, US president, is expected to sign into a law soon a trade bill that includes anti-BDS measures, although the White House has voiced objections to language in it that equates Israel’s internationally recognised territory with its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

Palestinians say Britain holds special responsibility for finding a peaceful resolution to their decades-old conflict with Israel because it was the colonial ruler of Palestine in the run-up to the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

The new guidance “puts the UK in the position of defending Israel’s expansion and colonialism rather than defending its own rules and laws”, Mr Zomlot said.

The boycott row isn’t just about trade
National Editorial
February 16, 2016

The UK is cracking down on local authorities who take part in the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS), saying that it violates global trade laws. This follows an international lobbying effort by the Israeli government to encourage foreign powers to rein in anti-Israel campaigners. It is the second success for the Israel lobby against BDS campaigners this week, after US president Barack Obama signed a law that included language recognising trade between illegal Israeli settlements and the United States.

The BDS movement has been dubbed by Israel an existential threat to the state, and is even considered by some politicians as a “new intifada”. The economic impact, however, is disputed. One Israeli government report warned that BDS would cost the state $1.4 billion (Dh5.1bn) each year, roughly 0.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. Other analysts believe that the economic effect is smaller. Few Israeli firms will, for example, mourn the decision by Leicester City Council to stop buying products from Israel, they point out.

Instead, the argument has more symbolic motives on both sides. Israel wishes to delegitimise the BDS movement, and therefore protect its control over the narrative of the conflict with the Palestinians. For Israel, the conflict is about what it says is an issue over security and not about rights. For BDS campaigners, the issue is a moral one, with the focus on the deprivation of Palestinians rights and the nature of the occupation.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on narratives. It is nearly impossible for BDS campaigners to significantly derail Israel’s economy, but the conversation that they raise by targetting the likes of Leicester City Council alters the complexion of the mainstream debate about Israel’s behaviour. Therefore, the conflict is fought in small increments that, taken as a whole, may ultimately turn the tide. The 40-year battle to boycott apartheid South Africa is a good example of how long these campaigns can take.

The British government argues that local government support for BDS undermines international trade agreements. This is not an unreasonable interpretation because governments are often bound to protect their economic interests above political concerns. However, the battle is not about trade: it’s about how criticism of Israel can be expressed. Israel wants to persuade foreign governments to make it harder for its critics to have a voice. But the argument will not be settled that easily
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
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