Shortly before 23 year old American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli Caterpillar bulldozer in 2003 while trying to save Palestinian homes in Rafah, I had become involved with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
There is an acute powerlessness felt when one of your ‘comrades’ falls, particularly as my personal circumstances at the time meant that going to Palestine myself to act as a human shield seemed ridiculously irresponsible. What could I do but write, protest and boycott Israeli products?
The act of boycotting or BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign) is one of the most effective moves towards creating a more people focused society (The Financial Times reported an estimated loss for Israeli economy of $4.1 billion per year as a result of the BDS). It is a peaceful ‘weapon’, as it were, in addition to supporting or attending organised protests and marches, food bank donations and distribution and giving up your spare time or a bedroom to someone in need and so on, that the average citizen has in their arsenal.
Leicester City Council, among others, has recently adopted a BDS policy against Israel and legal action is being pursued by Jewish Human Rights Watch in response to this. Language used in press coverage on this issue is deliberately emotive, associating BDS with anti-semitism. David Cameron has embraced his ‘connection’ with the Jewish people, having had a Jewish great-great-grandfather, and has promised to oppose policies that isolate Israel, himself implying a link between BDS and anti-semitism.
One of course should not confuse having a long lost Jewish relative (or a close one for that matter) with a fondness for a government that, ironically, violently maintains an apartheid. However, in keeping with Cameron’s pledge, the Conservative government has this week announced plans to introduce rules to deny councils the right to make policies based on political boycotts and removal of investments. These are, after all, locally elected officials, who might arguably be more representative of their constituents than central government, ‘playing’ with foreign policy.
The complex and labyrinthine agenda to withdraw welfare for those with the greatest need and alignment with right wing economic liberalism being coordinated by the current government, in the absence of proportional representation, must be met with a movement of resistance that is equally multifaceted. We should be deeply worried about the withdrawal of the legal right to take action by locally elected councils, it being one of few metaphorical petrol bombs remaining to promote change.
Union support of BDS across Great Britain will of course make those inclined to label “militant left-wing” thinking as the main drive behind the movement, as if this is not what the electorate want. However, in a survey taken by The Jewish Chronicle in 2009, 1 in 3 Britons supported BDS and one might assume that in light of Corbynmania, a more neutral survey taken today might produce even more supportive results. You can bet that the Conservatives are aware of this and aim to reduce the power of these movements.
Hastings Borough Council commented that it has not considered revising its procurement policy with regards to Israeli products but if local pressure (led by front line groups such as Hastings Palestine Solidarity Campaign or Hastings Solidarity) were to persuade Hastings Borough Council to adopt a BDS policy, or to boycott tax dodging or fracking associated corporations and their subsidiaries, for example, ie for the council to set ethical policy locally, it may soon become untenable, if not illegal, for it to do so.