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Vital need for a boycott of Israeli goods
At a time when the international community is demanding that Hamas recognises Israel and renounces violence, Israel is expanding its settlements and intensifying its targeted assassinations.
By Anne Gut, Christine Othenin-Girard and Bruno Vitale *.
(English translation by Pat Sanchez)
Boycotts, a form of concrete, non-violent participation in political life, have been frequently used as a way of protesting1 against various acts of injustice. The living conditions of Palestinian people, even more intolerable after what will soon be sixty years of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, justify a boycott campaign as a means of exerting pressure on the Israeli government. But this suggestion, which crops up periodically,2 comes up against memories of the boycott of German Jews by the Nazis. We have taken up this issue today to go beyond that controversy and open up a real debate on the subject, by declaring that condemnation of Israel’s policies does not prevent us from opposing anti-Semitism (even if we have to face muddled criticism).3
In the seventies, the boycott of South African fruits was widely taken up. Its aim was not to weaken the economy of South Africa, which was based on gold and diamonds,4 but to foster a climate of world disapproval in order to isolate the South African government. The resulting shifts in the world’s view of South Africa had their influence on the sanctions that followed, until the end of apartheid in 1992.5
In 1969 the agricultural workers’ union (UFWOC) called for a national boycott of lettuces produced in California, as a way of putting pressure on landowners who were opposing worker unionization. The boycott was taken up by the whole country (especially by students at various universities, who refused to have those lettuces in their cafeterias), until union rights were legally6 guaranteed to agricultural workers in 1975.
In 1998, the town of Kansas City approved the threat of sanctions against Swiss banks “responsible for significant delays in acknowledging Jewish funds deposited by victims of the Nazis”. The town’s mayor sent a copy to D. Goldstein, of the Office of Public Relations of the Jewish Community, who stated: ‘By taking action and by disinvesting from Swiss banks, Kansas City is sending a powerful message to the Swiss and to the world: Never again!’7
Boycott justified by Israel’s policies.
The same principles underlie all these examples: certain human rights are violated; the authorities who ought to intervene do nothing; a section of the community decides to put pressure on the side at fault by attacking either its image or its pocket.
There are in fact, numerous acts relevant to Israeli policies that would justify sanctions. Of especial note is Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, relating to the protection of civilians in wartime, which forbids an occupying power to “deport or transfer a part of its own civilian population into any territory it occupies”.
The Israeli government speaks of ‘disputed’ rather than ‘occupied’ territory, claiming that this means the convention is not applicable to the occupied territories. Despite the opposition of the international community8 it has installed hundreds of settlements there and the need to protect these from Palestinian terrorism is seen as justifying “security measures which make life hell in Palestine”.9 One of these measures, the separation [or apartheid] wall, penetrates deep into the occupied territories and is a de facto annexation of a considerable part of the West Bank.
Impunity makes for cynicism
The wall has been condemned by the International Court of Justice at the Hague (ICJ), which specifies that “All states [and therefore Switzerland too!] are obliged not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to provide aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by its construction; all states party to the fourth Geneva Convention (. . . ) are duty bound (. . .) to ensure Israel respects international humanitarian law (§163)”.
In 1981 Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osiraq. In spite of condemnation by the UN Security Council and the requirement that the destruction be compensated for,10 the Israeli government of the time completely ignored those decisions.
By December 2005 it was the Iranian nuclear installations that Shaould Mofaz, the Minister for Defence, was threatening to destroy.
On September 13th 2003 the deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert explicitly threatened Arafat, who “has no longer any role to play”, and contemplated his expulsion (from Ramallah) or his assassination: “In my view, it would be no different in terms of morality from the elimination of other people who are guilty of terrorism. ”11
Commenting on one of the many ‘targeted assassinations’ authorized by the Israeli Government, that of Salah Shehada (one of the founders of the military wing of Hamas), during which at least eleven people appear to have been killed, Prime Minister Sharon declared to the Israeli Cabinet: “This action is one of our greatest successes (. . . ) Naturally Israel has no interest in striking civilians and it is always regrettable when civilians are hit.”12
Palestinian organisations and the Israeli peace movement take a stand
In July 2005, 171 Palestinian organizations 13 added their support to an appeal that had been launched in 2002 calling for “widespread moves to boycott and disinvest from Israel”, in order to “pressure governments to impose embargoes and sanctions on Israel.”
In Israel in 2003, Matzpun called for a boycott14 in the name of Israeli citizens and of Jews of other nationalities whose families had been victims of racism and genocide. “This boycott should stay in place as long as Israel maintains total or partial control of the land they occupied in 1967”.
Possible boycott actions
Faced with the Israeli government’s repeated violations of international law we must exert every possible pressure, whether diplomatic or economic. Several means of boycott are possible: individual; pressure on financial circles for them to cease any contact with their Israeli partners; pressure on governments to apply sanctions.
In Switzerland, boycott actions have taken place so far in Basle, Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchatel and Zurich. In Geneva, our first boycotts were targeted specifically at produce coming from the settlements, exported fraudulently by Israel under a preferential customs arrangement (thanks to the EFTA free trade agreement with Israel). The reaction of our Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs' (Micheline Calmy-Rey) was: “A constructive dialogue with the Israeli government would be more useful (than resorting to sanctions)”17. But in spite of attempts to impose stricter controls over the origins of foodstuffs coming from Israel, and the agreement reached between the joint EFTA-Israeli committee (aimed at labelling ‘the exact area of production’) which was supposed to be effective from April 1st 2005,18 these products are still on sale in our supermarkets in February 2006.19
Let us make clear that the agricultural sector plays only a minor role in Israeli exports ($600 million in 2002)20 which are mainly composed of manufactured goods and services.21 But the economy of most of the settlements is highly dependent on the production and export of agricultural products and by-products.22 “The Israeli government estimates the value of their annual exports to Europe23 at around 200 million dollars, in fruit, vegetables, cut flowers, textiles, cosmetics and wines. But when that value is adjusted to include the export of by-products, the figure of around two billion dollars is reached, which means almost 20% of the total Israeli exports to Europe. A boycott of agricultural produce and by-products is not therefore of only symbolic value.
Two things justify the call for a broadening of the boycott. On the one hand the selective boycott of produce from the settlements is not feasible if they are exported under the label “made in Israel”; on the other, a generalized boycott fits in with the campaign against the Israeli violation of Palestinian rights.
To the objection,“Why don’t you condemn Palestinian violence at the same time?” , we reply that such violence can only reinforce hatred and we explicitly condemn all indiscriminate violence against civilians. We are aware nevertheless that often Palestinian violence follows – rather than precedes – targeted assassinations and other forms of violence perpetrated with impunity by the Israeli armed forces.
We call on all those who are interested in expressing agreement or dissent with our position to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Members of the ‘Boycott group' of Urgence-Palestine-Geneva.
1 Israeli or Jewish organisations have no hesitation in using boycotts themselves: the Israeli government boycotted the BBC to protest against the documentary Israel’s Secret War (www.jta.org/index.asp, 2.7.2003).
2 For example, in a letter to the Editor from Mireille Clavien, Le Courrier, 30.11.2005.
3 Such as the claim by Robert Ecuey, the French-speaking president of the Swiss-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, the day after a press conference to launch the boycott, that by “long-winded messages about peace” we were aiming at “the disappearance of the State of Israel” (Tribune de Genève, 18.6.2003).
4 In 1979 gold exports made up 61% of total exports; oranges and other fruit only a small percentage.
5 For a parallel between the boycott of South African and Israeli goods see Jess Hanmaker and others at: electronicintifada.net.
8 On 8.4.2002 the Economic and Social Council of the UN recalled “the Security Council resolutions . . . concerning the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” (E/CN.4/2003/L.12, 8.4.2003).
9 See G.R. Watson: The Oslo Accords: International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement. Oxford: Oxford U.P. 2000.
10 UN Security Council Resolution 487, 19.6.1981.
11 “Israel won’t rule out killing Arafat”. International Herald Tribune, 14.9.2003.
12 Daily Alert, 23.7.2002; www.jcpa.org.
14 www.matzpun.com. On 4.6.2005, the appeal had already received 924 signatures.
15 See www.css-romande.ch for documents connected to solidarity actions with Palestine.
16 Agreement between the EFTA states and Israel, 1.7.1993.
17 Letter from Mme Calmy-Rey to the League of Human Rights, 8.5.2003.
18 Letter from M. Fivat of the DFAE (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) to the ‘Boycott group’ of Geneva, 7.3.2005.
19 On 9.8.2004 it was claimed that: « The SECO (Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs) has been unable, to the present day, to distinguish between the produce of Israel and that originating in Jewish colonies inside the occupied territories»
20 Moshe Felber: Israel at 50 – Economic achievements 2002, www.usisrael.org/jsource/economy.
21 For a total of 39 billion dollars in 2000. The Israeli economy in 2000, duns100.dundb.co.il/economy.htm.
22 Even if we note that in certain settlements more and more industrial activities are to be found.
23 Peter Langerquist : On settlement trade, Europe doesn’t stand tall, 8-4-2003, www.merip.org/mero/mero040803.html.