BDS movement defiant after Tories announce anti-boycott measures and threaten international solidarity

New York City demonstration for the right to boycott
Tom Anderson

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners have responded defiantly to Tory plans to pass an anti-BDS law.

The law is a threat to any international solidarity campaign which seeks to boycott companies or products because of the state policies of another country. As such, it presents a threat to international solidarity efforts as a whole.

Boycotting Israeli apartheid

BDS is an international movement calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. It also calls for grassroots groups to initiate boycott campaigns against companies complicit in Israeli war crimes. According to the BDS movement’s website:

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Tory threats

This week, Tory peer Eric Pickles recorded this video. The message was tweeted out by Conservative Friends of Israel:

BDS… is an organisation devoted to boycotting and removing investment from Israel, one of our key allies. And we’re going to ensure that public sector, places like councils and health authorities, can’t work against Israel, can’t prejudice Israel.

The new plans were also mentioned in the Queen’s speech on 19 December.

Following in Thatcher’s footsteps

Alys Samson Estapé, Europe campaigns coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), told The Canary:

Boris Johnson’s government has joined the likes of Trump in repressing citizen-led nonviolent action in support of human rights, targeting in particular solidarity with Palestinians and divestment from Israel´s regime of occupation and apartheid.

In 1988, PM Margaret Thatcher banned local councils from boycotts and divestment against apartheid South Africa. Now, Johnson intends to go further than Thatcher did, by banning all public institutions from boycotts and divestment against apartheid Israel. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

Supporters of freedom of expression and human rights for all should oppose Johnson’s efforts to repress our peaceful movement for freedom, justice and equality, and should support local democracy and ethical investments.

Not just about boycotting Israel

The Conservative plans won’t just affect the Palestinian movement for BDS. It could affect other movements, such as the Boycott Turkey campaign. The briefing paper for the Queen’s speech reads:

We will stop public institutions from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries and those who trade with them.

This will create a coherent approach to foreign relations from all public institutions, by ensuring that they do not go beyond the UK Government’s settled policy towards a foreign country.

This wording clearly includes boycotts of any ‘foreign country’, not only Israel.

Responses from supporters of the boycott Turkey campaign

Berivan Qereçox, a British internationalist volunteer currently based in northeast Syria (aka Rojava) – a region which is currently under attack from Turkish invasion, told The Canary:

This new law is patently and obviously an attempt to cut off the possibilities that people have for interrupting the military-industrial complex and the war machine. It’s insane that public institutions won’t be allowed to [boycott].

The grounds that it’s justified on, I’m sure, will be the classic, liberal skewed idea of what freedom, or democracy or fairness means. The idea ‘that [public institutions] can’t be seen to be political, you have to be objective. Or it’s not fair on the poor little companies’ [that are targeted by boycotts], or whatever it is.

It just shows how much liberalism supports the status quo, and allows these fascist, authoritarian policies to be brought in, because it provides the morality for it.

As for the law itself, it’s going to affect not only the boycott Israel campaign and support Israeli colonialism and imperialism. It’s also going to support Turkish colonialism and imperialism and all of the war and the murder that these states are committing.

Debra Allen, another British supporter of the Boycott Turkey campaign, told The Canary:

This law is designed to prevent public institutions from expressing their own views and govern their own bodies independently from the government line. It’s another authoritarian clampdown on organisations and individuals who are standing in solidarity with communities targetted by oppressive regimes and nation states like Turkey and Israel.

We will continue our support for the BDS campaign which has a powerful international reach beyond the ability of this new Tory government to suppress.

If they are repressing us, then it must be working

Qereçox told The Canary that the Tory anti-BDS measures showed how effective the campaign has been:

On the plus side, I guess that if they’re going to all this trouble to make something illegal then that means it must be working. So that means we need to keep organising these [boycott campaigns] in different ways. Keep pushing, and keep coming up with new ways to attack all the different aspects of the war machine.

We need internationalism now more than ever

If the number of people who voted for the Tories in the recent UK election tells us anything at all, it shows that to achieve meaningful change in Britain we will need inspiration from outside. Boycott campaigns are a key tactic to connect with struggles for freedom around the world. But solidarity is very much a two-way process.

We need to defend internationalism. Not only so we can act in solidarity with others, but also because to unlock freedom and real democracy in our own lives, we need to see ourselves as part of a global, internationalist struggle.

Featured image provided to the Canary by Jewish Voice for Peace (with permission)

Get involved

Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. Twitter: @shoalcollective

  • Check out the BDS movement’s website.
  • Read about the campaign to defend BDS.
  • Learn about the BDS campaign’s successes in 2019.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Pity ordinary British people can’t enjoy such protection from this government rather than the crushing, vindictive, punitive regulation it imposes on the unemployed, disabled and other working classes.

      But ultimately it’s just sucking Israel’s dick. Maybe they can get snotty with some councils or organisations but ultimately how does one define in legal terms a preference for other suppliers is BDS? Apart from arms and software for security markets, Israel really only sells oranges and stolen olives for consumer markets. How could my preference Florida oranges over Jaffa oranges truly be served up in a writ as BDS?

    2. Support for Israel is support for a regime established by terrorism, installed by ethnic cleansing and kept in place by imprisoning Palestinians in their own land. Zionists get hot under the collar about Zionism being called a racist endeavour but the facts are the facts. The Right loves Israel because it is a stunning example of the triumph of unfairness and unfairness is what right-wing politics rest on. If it is acceptable to ethnically cleanse nearly a million people, then who can complain about zero hours contracts? If it is admissible to turn Gaza into a Wormwood Scrubs for people who have committed no crime, who can object to universal credit? If it is legitimate to deny citizenship on racial grounds, who can protest at people being left to sleep on the streets? Israel is totemic of the domination of property and its demand for absolute power. If justice is restored, if the Palestinians are given the right of return guaranteed by UN article 194, then unfairness world-wide takes a severe hit. Johnson has shown his true colours. He unequivocally supports a racist regime and who but a racist would do that?
      He can stop public bodies supporting BDS but he can’t stop individuals. No one can stop us refusing to shop in Marks and Spencer. That is how we can use capitalism against itself: as politically conscious consumers we can refuse to consume for unfairness. Every Marks and Spencer in the country should be targeted. Leaflets should be handed out daily to shoppers. People should be made aware of the link between this clean and prosperous business and the filthy hatred of Zionists towards the Palestinians. We must increase the campaign against Israeli goods a thousandfold. We convinced people not to buy South African goods and it worked, in spite of Thatcher’s despicable law. Place rocks in slow running water and it builds to a torrent. Johnson has picked his fight, but we will win it, however long it takes. Palestine will be free.

      1. Regarding “the filthy hatred of Zionists towards the Palestinians”, what about the filthy hatred of Palestinians and other Arabs towards Jews?
        If you were Jewish, how would you feel about having neighbours like Hezbollah and Hamas, and their commitment to the obliteration of Israel, and to the killing of Jews wherever they may be found? How would you feel about the cross-border tunnels used by fanatics to gain access and kill Jews? How would you feel about being on the receiving end of a barrage of Iranian-made rockets?
        And if you were a Palestinian, how would you feel about the atrocities committed on your people by Hezbollah and Hamas fanatics?
        When you say “but the facts are the facts”, you are correct, but you seem very selective in which “facts” you choose to accept, and which you ignore. And, no doubt, you now consider me a racist for daring to challenge your “facts”.

        1. ‘ . . Hezbollah and Hamas . . ‘

          The former brought into being by the israeli attempted expansions into Lebanon. And most successfull they’ve been, going to greater strengths even now.

          The latter having been nurtured, armed and financed by a series of israeli administrations until it ran out of their control. Not so good at the ‘game’ as you and they’d have us belvieve. eh.

          ‘ no doubt, you now consider me a racist ‘

          Yep. Spot on.

    3. On this matter I am in agreement with this government and with that under Mrs Thatcher.

      There are many ways for people to protest against evil elsewhere in the world. One such is individual boycott of goods and services from ‘disapproved’ nations; doing so sends a market signal to importers and retailers who will react in their own interests by curtailing imports. Of course, if the ‘chattering class’ can’t persuade others to join with them the exercise might seem futile; not so, social warriors of this nature win a warm glow of satisfaction and can display their solidarity, one to another, by wearing tacky plastic bracelets and suchlike.

      Private enterprise is free to ‘sponsor’ causes, there being no qualitative difference between sponsoring Premier League football, almost the least deserving cause one can imagine, and sponsoring (actively supporting) sustainable fishing; the outside observer must decide the degree to which sponsorship (an implicit endorsement) is philanthropic or opportunistic.

      The public sector, regardless of complexion of government, ought not engage in boycotts of goods willy nilly. Officials employed in that sector must be obliged to obtain goods and services from abroad solely on the basis of cost, quality, and reliability of supply. It becomes a deplorable state of affairs when particular institutions (e.g. hospitals) at behest of strident social warriors within or external to their ranks take on a ‘social’ agenda. People supporting this in particular instances must bear in mind that causes of which they disapprove could be adopted too. There is an exception: that is when the government decides to impose trade sanctions on a nation; however, sanctions diplomacy, as practised by Mr Trump, is shoddy means for promoting international harmony.

      The Israeli government deserves opprobrium dumped upon it for its cruel policies regarding Palestinian folk. There are many means apart from subverting our public services. Also, anyone seeking to deflect criticism by accusation of antisemitism must receive short shrift.

    4. Looks like England becomes the Proxy State of American Foreign Policy, along with Israel with this move.
      Clamp down on the tiniest voice of dissent.
      It means local councils aren’t free to voice any opinion refelecting a world view of their constituents.
      Only No 10 downing can speak for the populace after being elected on lies, fraud, and outright crimminality for which no justice will ever be found.
      I don’t call this subversion of the unity. Its called democracy with diverse opinions which are being repressed.
      How one does has a feeling of national unity with this however is a mystery.
      Everytime I see someone wave the flag in this politic of the day Ithey lose a brain molecule to reason with.

    5. A couple of days go the ICC announced it was considering charges against Netanyahu for war crimes.Then the Israeli foreign minister said the that the ICC had no jurisdiction in Gaza or the West Bank.All interesting stuff.And ye tthere is not a mention of any of this in the main stream media,the Guardian and Independent included…..remind me,,,who is that controls our media????

    6. Any article on this website criticising Johnson’s policies should have a preface which says:

      This news portal is a staunch supporter of momentum and Jeremy Corbyn which provided the opposition party Leadership and manifesto rejected by the UK on a unprecedented scale at the 2019 general election. Boris Johnson’s large majority owes a great debt to the failure of Corbyn as an opposition leader. The country will now feel the full force of his hard right agenda as the article below illustrates.

      1. I’m glad to see that we have attracted Israeli trolls to the site. We must be doing something right. What worries me is the rise in attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions across the world as more and more people are made aware of the injustices being perpetrated by Zionist in the ‘homeland’ whilst ignoring moderate Israeli voices.

    7. Good stuff. With this, legislation to curb the ability of greedy unions to extort ever greater pay hikes and perks from the taxpayer, while protecting endless arrays of non-jobs, and the new laws making gypsie trespass illegal Boris is off to a solid start.

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