First published in the New Arab on 16/3/2021
Comment: This year, Israeli Apartheid Week activists explore Palestinian solidarity through the lens of anti-racism, despite ongoing efforts to silence them, writes Kamel Hawwash.
Solidarity with the Palestinian people is alive and well in the UK, despite attempts to supress it by Israel and its supporters.
It is now more than 11 years since the publication of areport by the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv, entitled “Building a Political Firewall Against Israel’s Delegitimization
Conceptual Framework”. The report identified the UK as a particularly significant hub of so-called “delegitimization” of Israel. In reality, this was an acknowledgement of the success of the solidarity movement in exposing Israel’s breaches of international law, its continued occupation and daily crimes against the Palestinian people.
The report made several recommendations for reversing the position in favour of Israel through attempts to improve its image and “establishing a ‘price-tag’ for attacking Israel by ‘naming and shaming’ delegitimizers”, among others. The report also identified the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement as a threat, primarily for “promoting an association between Israel and the discourse of boycott and isolation, which positions Israel as a pariah state”.
The BDS movement was launched in 2005 by 170 civil society organisations. It lists among its successes security services company G4S selling its Israeli business, Veolia withdrawing from Israel, and Israeli company SodaStream closing its factory in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.Israel and its supporters have regularly labelled the peaceful BDS movement as anti-semitic
While Israel and its supporters claim that the BDS movement has had little effect, actions by Israel to combat it tell a different story. Israel created a ministry whose main role is to combat the BDS movement. The well funded Ministry for Strategic Affairs has attempted to fight the BDS movement and pressure governments into passing legislation that criminalises those who support or participate in it.
In the US, this has led to schoolteacher Bahia Amawi being denied a contract because she refused to sign an anti-BDS oath, and to 27 states passing legislation that denied contracts to those who promoted or participated in the boycott of Israel.
France has used anti-discrimination laws to prosecute and convict BDS activists. However, in an important decision in June 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the convictions of 11 activists in France for campaign actions calling for a boycott of Israeli products violated their right to freedom of expression. That said, in 2019, the German parliament adopted a resolution that labels the BDS campaign as anti-semitic.
In the UK, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was successful in defeating the UK government’s attempt to “stop local government pension schemes from divesting from companies complicit in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, and additionally from divesting from the UK defence industry.”
Read more: Criticism of Zionism is not anti-semitic, Facebook should make the distinction
Attempts by Israel and its supporters around the world to conflate anti-semitism with anti-Zionism continue through a campaign of smears against individuals and organisations campaigning for justice for the Palestinian people. The favoured tactic is accusing them of anti-semitism, particularly now through the adoption by many public organisations of the much-criticised IHRA working definition of anti-semitism.
The examples attached to the definition refer to Israel in seven of the 10 examples. While proponents of the definition and those with a superficial understanding of the issues deny that applying it would limit criticism of Israel, it has undoubtedly introduced a chilling effect, for fear of being labelled anti-semitic, whether as individuals or organisations.
Israel and its supporters have regularly labelled the peaceful BDS movement as anti-semitic when each of its demands are moral and legal. That is, an end to the occupation, equality for all citizens of Israel and the promotion and protection of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
The focus now turns to the labelling of Israel an Apartheid state or of its policies as Apartheid policies. Israel and its supporters deny this, and again accuse its propnenets of anti-semitism. However, evidence is mounting to support this labelling. In 2017, a report by the UN Agency ESCWA produced by eminent law professors Virginia Tilly and Richard Falk found that Israel practiced Apartheid against the Palestinian people as a people, wherever they live.
Under pressure from Israel and the US, the Secretary-General demanded that it be removed form ESCWA’s website forcing the resignation of the Agency’s head. However, the report remains as a UN report.
In 2017 former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned “Israel’s current situation is “not yet apartheid,” the country is on a “slippery slope” heading in that direction”. Another former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert has repeatedly warned that Israel was “at the risk of becoming an Apartheid state”.
In a ground-breaking report, Israeli Human Rights organisation B’Tselem recently concluded “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.
In the UK, the Trade Union Council (TUC) passed a motion in 2020 which for the first time used the term Apartheid. It described the move to annex large swathes of the West Bank “as being another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid”.Students have been organising to act as a global loudspeaker in the fight against all forms of racism
All of the above leads to a growing acceptance that Israel is an Apartheid state, or that its policies are Apartheid policies. This strengthens calls to expose such behaviour as well as demands to impose appropriate measures that deal with Israel as an Apartheid state, one that should be boycotted and censured until it ends its racist Apartheid policies.
That process of educating moves onto university campuses across the world as students mark Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). The first IAW was organised in Toronto in 2005 and has run ever since. This year’s theme is ‘United Against Racism’.
In the UK, despite the lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing attacks on solidarity movements, students have been organising for IAW to show continuing solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to act as a global loudspeaker in the fight against all forms of racism, including Israeli Apartheid.
This includes a webinar at King’s College London, which will bring one of the founders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti together with NUS President Larissa Kennedy, bringing howls of condemnation from Israel’s supporters.
The solidarity movement is alive and well and has adapted to speaking up for the Palestinians under the unusual conditions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite Israel’s attempts to silence it.
Lewis Beckon, Campaigns Officer at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign says “The range of events happening across the UK, from film screenings and webinars to rallies, demonstrates that despite the challenges posed by Covid, students are still organising against Israeli Apartheid and to end their institutions complicity”.