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BDS, the Campaign for Boycott that Scares Tel Aviv

Translated Tuesday 28 July 2015, by Henry Crapo

Putting economic pressure on Israel to force it to end its settlement policy and occupation of Palestinian territories: that was the objective of the initiative launched in 2005. Ten years later, the result of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ( BDS) is quite positive.

About 42 billion shekels, or over 10 billion euros: that is what the campaign BDS, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, could soon cost Israel each year...

In 2005, in the face of violations of international law by Israel, Palestinian civil society called for a program "to impose broad boycotts, to implement divestment initiatives against Israel" and to "put pressure on our respective states so that they impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel" until it respects international law. With three demands: 1)an end to occupation, an end to colonization, and the dismantling of the wall; 2)equal rights for the Arab citizens of Israel; and 3)the return of Palestinian refugees.

Since then, the campaign has developed everywhere. In early June, the largest student union in the UK passed a resolution in favor of BDS, sparking the ire of Binyamin Netanyahu. It must be said that the campaign worries the Israeli government, to the point that it was recently elevated to a "strategic threat", along with Hamas and Iran.

The trials against BDS activists have almost all been won by the activists

The boycott works. This is what pleased Ali Abunimah, U.S. journalist of Palestinian origin, founder of the reference website The Electronic Intifada, on tour in France earlier this month. In conference in Paris on July 7, he stressed the important role of France in several business divestitures, starting with Orange: "It is thanks to BDS pressure in France and Egypt that CEO Stéphane Richard said he would leave Israel tomorrow if he could," since the agreement signed between Orange and its partner Israel still gives them two years to end their partnership. Adds Richard: "The only way to ensure that Orange permanently leaves Israel is to maintain pressure."

But the French group targeted in the long term by BDS is the company Veolia, present in Israel and the illegal settlements through its activities in transport, water management, waste handling and energy. There again, the boycott begins to get expensive: "An officer of Veolia acknowledged that BDS had lost billions in contracts to the company," says Ali Abunimah. Under pressure from local campaigns, many cities across the world have in fact given up partnerships with the group.

Tawfiq Tahani, president of the Association France-Palestine Solidarity, says that "in France, the campaign operates under difficult conditions, due to restrictions of freedom of expression." A circular from 2010, issued by Michèle Alliot-Marie, ordered proceedings to begin against persons involved or calling for a boycott of Israeli products . Several activists have been indicted, usually accused of incitement to hatred and violence due to religious orientation or ethnicity. Regarding the accusation of anti-Semitism, an old refrain that activists have repeatedly denounced, Ali Abunimah has again repeated that, "the solidarity movement with Palestine is an anti-racist movement, which obviously rejects all racism against Jews." And the courts seem to agree: the trials against BDS activists have almost all been won by BDS. But Jeanne Rousseau, one of the activists, found innocent, is nevertheless not satisfied: "This 2010 circular (...) is a serious matter for democracy: it reflects a desire to muzzle all voices opposed to Israeli policies, to isolate the protest movement and silence criticism of the French government’s policy. "

The French government is indeed much criticized for its policy of cooperation with Israel and "cowardice in failing to take concrete action in favor of peace", according to Tawfiq Tahani.

Ali Abunimah and BDS activists are calling for strengthening the campaign: "We do not want to celebrate the twenty years of BDS. In the next ten years we want a free Palestine."

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