International  •  Politics & Economics

Stop the attack on the BDS campaign

27 August 2021

By Marcel Rajecky

THE GOVERNMENT has reaffirmed its plans to enforce a ban of the influential Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement within public institutions. BDS has caused the Israeli government and its supporters extreme embarrassment and some financial losses by highlighting its crimes and severing important connections with the west.

The ban forms a key component of the Conservative’s rollback of democratic rights, complementing its planned commission into the independence of the courts, its attacks on families seeking justice for the abuses of the armed forces, and its infamous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, opposition to which mobilised thousands as part of the Kill the Bill movement.

The government’s announcement comes at a moment of particular international outrage against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Israel’s recent and ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and its bombing campaign against Gaza not only mobilised Palestinian civil society in protests and general strikes, but inspired solidarity protests across the world, including one of up to 200,000 people in London.

The proposed ban was challenged by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), who convinced the Supreme Court that such a ban would be unlawful, raising concerns around freedom of expression, independence of local government and, in this case, the right of pension holders to determine where their earnings are invested.

The government believes it can finally enforce the ban by shifting the focus from freedom of expression to the question of anti-Semitism, which it claims the ban will counter. In erroneously equating anti-Semitism and support for the Palestinian cause, the government relies on its International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which provides the legal and ideological framework to legitimise fragrant attacks on Palestine activists.

In doing so, it is unlikely that it will encounter much opposition from the Labour Party. Under Keir Starmer’s “new management”, the party has dropped its support for BDS and no longer calls for sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel. Starmer has not committed to supporting a BDS ban yet, but some of the party’s right wing have called for one themselves.

Israel considers BDS a serious threat insofar as the campaign has been the focal point for significant solidarity campaigns internationally. The movement is made up of over 170 civil society organisations from NGOs and professional associations to trade unions, political groups and representative organisations of Palestinian refugees. In response to their growth, Israel established the Ministry of Strategic Affairs with a budget of $11 million explicitly to take on BDS campaigns around the world.

BDS is more than simply a consumer boycott, as it is often understood. Whilst trade unions to their credit,have often backed this call, the crucial demand of workers’ boycotts has much more rarely been enforced. BDS leaders call specifically for unions around the world to ‘refuse to handle Israeli goods’ and to ‘refuse to build Israeli weapons’.

Practically, this call has been followed most significantly by workers in the Italian port city of Livorno, where dockers refused to load a ship with arms ordered by the Israeli government. Similarly in Durban, South African port workers refused to offload an arms cargo from an Israeli vessel, delaying the ship.

Of the campaign’s various demands and tactics, the workers’ boycott will prove the most decisive. Capitalists depend on the working class for the production and transport of their goods. Therefore targeted actions by workers as workers have the power to undermine their search for profits and the operations of their governments.

Those who support the Palestinian cause must resist the ban, and fight the attacks on Palestinian solidarity on the streets and in the workplaces. They must push for trade unions both to adopt a BDS policy and, where it has been adopted, to fight for its enforcement by a workers’ boycott.

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