THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2010
Five Australian Unions Support BDS of Israel
Tania Kepler for the Alternative Information Center (AIC) – 16 November 2010
Five Australian unions have joined the international campaign advocating the boycott of Israeli goods from the occupied West Bank.
The Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Queensland branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union and the Finance Sector Union passed a resolution in late October supporting the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, reported the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
Peter Tighe, national secretary of the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, told The Australian newspaper, “We are not anti-Jewish, we just think the human misery over there is outrageous.”
Tighe plans to take a resolution to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the nation’s top union body, endorsing the boycott, according to the JTA.
The union’s announcement came just before Palestine solidarity activists gathered in Melbourne for Australia’s first national BDS conference. Around 100 activists from across Australia participated in the conference, held from October 29-31, during which they worked to establish a national agenda for the BDS campaign, coordinated actions, and participated in workshops and sector-based discussion.
Palestinian artist and activist Rafeef Ziadah was one of the main speakers at the conference.
“There was so much enthusiasm and dedication from the various Palestine solidarity groups. People really put differences aside and decided to work together in a non-sectarian way”, she told Green Left Weekly.
The conference adopted a four-stage calendar of actions for the BDS campaign, including a Christmas consumer boycott campaign, campus actions for the international Israeli Apartheid Week coinciding with Palestinian Land Day on March 30, and other actions coinciding with al-Nakba (the anniversary of the Palestinian expulsion from Israel in 1948) on May 15 and another in late September, reported Green Left.
“The vote on beginning a coordinated BDS campaign across many cities in Australia is … a terrific starting point. [It's] really what this conference was about, bringing BDS work together and coordinating it,” said Ziadah.
“Getting activists in Australian cities talking about Israel as an apartheid state is a great achievement. The international BDS movement is only five years old, yet already we have students and trade unionists and people from different walks of life working together,” she added, saying, “The key now is doing the rank-and-file education and taking BDS actions.
Student activism and the pro-Palestinian movement gains momentum
Activism and protest have long been a part of a student's passage through university. From fighting for women's right to vote, to equal rights for African Americans; from standing up to dictatorship in China to the global movement against South African apartheid - all of these historic popular movements succeeded in part due to the large number of students and others involved in higher education making their voices heard.
Such activism is particularly pertinent in today's pro-Palestinian movement and its counterpart pro-Zionist movement spreading like wildfire across campuses all over the world, especially in countries traditionally sympathetic to the Zionist state, such as Britain and the United States. Pro-Palestinian student activism on campuses is closely linked with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which aims to take civil action against Israel similar to that taken against apartheid South Africa three decades ago.
Historically, universities have always been bastions of freedom of speech, civil liberties and human rights, and this usually permeates across all levels of the academic hierarchy. This was noticeable clearly in recent action taken by university students in America, Britain and Israel itself. For example, at the beginning of November, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Arizona State University (ASUSJP) held a silent protest against an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldier speaking on the "Spirit and Ethics of the IDF". This protest followed similar action at the University of Michigan, where two IDF soldiers came to speak as part of a national public relations campaign by "Stand with Us", which according to protest organisers is a campaign "aimed at justifying Israel's recent atrocities in the Middle East".
In an exclusive interview with MEMO, the organisers of both protests were asked about their motivations and how they have since been perceived by their peers: "The purpose of our protest was to express our discontent with allowing representatives of a military that has been consistently condemned for its human rights abuses, to use our educational institutions as a platform to progress its public relations campaign," said Ahmad Hasan, a student organiser from the University of Michigan. "[They] attempt to justify actions that have been clearly deemed as illegal and unjust." Moreover, said Danielle Bäck, the media representative from ASUSJP, "[The protest gave] a voice to Palestinian citizens who have been silenced by IDF policy." In a video of the event, students were seen putting tape over their mouths and wearing t-shirts with pictures of those killed in atrocities perpetrated by the IDF.
One of the IDF soldiers claimed in the video that "[the enemy]...does not follow the rules of the Geneva conventions and does not follow any moral codes". Bäck exclaims, "It is a contradiction for a representative from the IDF to speak about ethics when the IDF has been continually accused of human rights violations and war crimes by the United Nations." What is obvious to these students is obviously not so clear to supposedly more mature IDF members: occupying another people's land, the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, the use of white phosphorous against civilians, the continued siege against 1.5 million people and many more atrocities for which Israel is responsible are all against international and humanitarian law.
The pro-Palestinian movement has been gaining steady momentum in student bodies and educational institutes in the West, especially after the most recent atrocities. According to Hasan, student activism in America on this issue has been increasing mainly due to "awareness... increasing over time [which has] recently reached a threshold where a lot of Americans either know the basics of what is going on or are interested in learning more". Ironically, the most effective awareness raising has been carried out directly by Israel's actions, such as Operation Cast Lead and the attack on the Freedom Flotilla; these, say Hasan, have "stirred up controversy within the States". In addition, claims Bäck, "more and more Americans disagree with the United States' unconditional and one-sided support for Israel, yet are seeing the United States continue to fund Israel human rights abuses: the Gaza massacre, the attacks on the Freedom Flotilla, and the occupation in Israel and Palestine". The work of student-based organisations such as SJP and community-based organisation Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which has been running successful outreach programmes and protesting against the status quo, all challenge the Israel lobby.
And how did their peers react? "They have been overwhelmingly supportive of the impetus, methodology and execution of the protest," says Danielle Bäck, adding that the pro-Zionist organisers of the IDF event critiqued ASUSJP for being "disruptive", "[but] if you look at the video footage, you'll see that this was the most civil protest we could possibly do - we don't even say a single word against the soldier!" Ahmad Hasan claimed the same sort of feedback from fellow students, university faculty members and local community members: "They were all positive... people were particularly inspired with our ability to send a powerful, proactive message using non-violent, ‘orderly conduct' methods." He suggests that the lack of any reaction from the pro-Zionist movement on campus was most likely because of the "irrefutable" manner of the protest: "There really wasn't a way to delegitimize our action; we did not disrupt the event or the speaker."
In Britain over the past few years, student activism has taken the form of campus 'occupations' at universities in London, Manchester and elsewhere; walk-outs, direct protests and demonstrations have also been held against Israeli actions and policies.
However, the pro-Zionist movement has also been trying to gain momentum, at home and abroad, putting pressure on student bodies and universities to equate any form of protest against Israel with anti-Semitism. At a recent controversial University of Cambridge debate club session, a second year law student, Gabriel Latner, was invited to speak for the motion that ‘Israel is a rogue state'. Having been interviewed by the debate club and then accepted as a speaker, Latner - who had worked for a pro-Israeli think-tank - broke the house rules by arguing against the motion. His intention was, apparently, to mislead the club about his beliefs in order to defeat the motion. Hence, not only did the opposition win the debate (described by the pro-Israel media as "an important PR achievement"), but Latner also verbally abused his co-speaker for the motion and refused to apologise. The president of the Palestinian society commented, "The Union president has said... that they cannot vet the speakers' speeches. While this is true, I am sure that the Union president is more than capable of typing Gabriel Latner into Google." A "PR achievement" indeed, but how this translates into more support for the Zionist cause is still to be seen.
In recent months, many Israeli establishments, such as Be'er Shiva's Ben-Gurion University have come under tremendous scrutiny by right-wingers who claim that they are a "breeding ground for anti-Zionist protagonists and leftists", calling Israeli-Jewish protesters "self-hating" and "bastions of anti-Zionism". Ben-Gurion University has been threatened with the withdrawal of funds if it does not have more right-wing pro-Zionist lecturers and departments, with the Israeli Education Minister hoping to influence the academic freedom that universities currently enjoy.
Zionist supporters have long had a firm hold on political activism in the West, including Britain and the US, but it seems that the times they are a changing; in America, as Danielle Bäck suggests, there is a visible "shift in... [the] perception of the Israel-Palestine conflict, especially among the younger generations". This view is shared by activists worldwide. As more facts about Israel emerge, with images of the destruction inflicted upon Palestinians by Israel easily accessible in the media, it is becoming harder to turn a blind eye to the daily oppression maintained by the Israeli occupation. As with previous solidarity movements, it is the younger generation, "stand[ing] up for human dignity and for equal rights" that is bringing this "rogue state" to account. As Ahmad Hasan puts it emphatically: "Together we can achieve much more... and what better way to start an international movement than with us, the youth?"
Click here [University of Michigan and Arizona State University] to watch video footage of the student protests in the US.
The activists' full interview with MEMO
Samira Quraishy: Student activism for Palestine is gaining momentum in the West - why do you think this is?
Danielle Bäck: I think it's because there is a growing frustration with the current state of affairs. It's been 62 years since Israel was declared a state and the Palestinians are still without a nation of their own. Additionally, more and more Americans disagree with the United States' unconditional and one-sided support for Israel, yet are seeing the United States continue to fund Israeli human rights abuses: the Gaza Massacre, the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, and the occupation in Israel and Palestine. It's also important to note that activism for human rights is also growing within the American Jewish community; the protesters who defied Netanyahu in Georgia and the members of Jewish Voice for Peace who joined us in protest are evidence of this growing dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Ahmad Hasan: I believe that student activism, specifically towards the Israeli-Palestine conflict, has been gaining a lot of momentum in the United States for a number of reasons:
- Awareness has been increasing gradually among Americans, and I think it has reached the stage where a lot of Americans either know the basics of what is going on or are interested in learning more.
- Recent atrocities (Operation Cast Lead and the attack on the Freedom Flotilla) have stirred up controversy within the States.
- Student-based organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and community-based organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have been able to reach out effectively to Americans and raise awareness about the conflict.
SQ: What was the purpose of your protest?
AH: We wanted to express our discontent with allowing representatives of a military that has been condemned consistently for its human rights abuses to use our educational institutions as a platform to push its public relations campaign and attempt to justify actions that have been clearly deemed as illegal and unjust.
DB: It was to give a voice to Palestinian civilians who have been silenced by IDF policy. We also felt obligated to protest against the IDF soldier who was visiting ASU to speak about "The Ethics of the IDF". It is a contradiction for a representative from the IDF to speak about ethics when the IDF has been accused continually of human rights violations and war crimes by the United Nations. In fact, the United Nations investigation by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge and first-chief prosecutor for war crimes in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, found that "the assault was designed to humiliate and terrorize a civilian population". Amnesty International labelled the IDF's Operation Cast Lead as "22 days of death and destruction". The IDF's use of disproportionate force is also stunning; according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,417 Palestinians were killed by the IDF; 926 of these casualties were civilians.
SQ: What has been the response from your peers?
DB: They have been overwhelmingly supportive of the impetus, methodology and execution of the protest. I think this is telling us of a shift in the American perception of the Israel-Palestine conflict, especially among the younger generations.
AH: We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our fellow students, faculty and local community members. Most people were particularly inspired with our ability to send a powerful, proactive message using non-violent, "orderly conduct" methods. Consequently, we have seen a rise in international solidarity and hope to see the momentum translate into a movement on college campuses worldwide.
SQ: Have there been any challenges from the pro-Zionist movement?
DB: The pro-Zionist movement on campus is small and close-knit. They tend to be more reactive to our protests and events and favour issuing statements to the media over direct action. Of course, they have critiqued us for being "disruptive" of their event, but if you look at the video footage, you'll see that this was the most civil protest we could possibly do — we don't even say a single word against the soldier!
AH: For the most part, there hasn't been any opposition from the pro-Zionist movement. I think this is because there really wasn't a way to delegitimize our action; we did not disrupt the event or the speaker. This was important because many times, demonstrations for social justice are targeted by their methodology and not their message, which results in a delegitimized protest for an otherwise just cause.
SQ: Why choose silent protest over other forms; how effective do you think it is?
DB: Silent protest was extremely effective for this event. Although a more disruptive approach may be necessary in some scenarios (for example, the Jewish Voice for Peace protest against Netanyahu), the symbolism behind our silence was powerful. We were standing up for the civilians silenced by IDF policy, we had duct-tape over our mouths to represent them being silenced, and we remained silent during the entire event. Thus, we acted in solidarity to project a unified message of resistance to other people at the event and people worldwide who have watched our video.
AH: This form of protest was not only irrefutable but was also modelled on similar successful protests used in movements such as that of the civil rights, centred around the principle of non-violence.
SQ: What is your message to those trying to counter the pro-Palestinian movement?
DB: We are trying to send this message: you cannot silence human rights abuses. As students, we will continue to stand up for human dignity and for equal rights in Israel and Palestine. We are also growing as a force on campuses nationwide. The first silent protest was at University of Michigan, and then we followed with our protest at Arizona State University. We are also working directly with other universities to help them plan similar protests on campuses nationwide.
AH: Our message is clear: whenever representatives of the Israel Defence Forces use our educational institutions to try and whitewash their war crimes, they will be challenged by truth, justice and non-violence.
SQ: Some claim that your movement (not yours particularly – but the whole anti-Zionist/Anti-Israel movement) is fuelling anti-Semitism; what's your response to that accusation?
DB: There is a major difference between being against the policies of the Israeli government that lead to human rights abuses, and being an anti-Semite. We protested against the actions of the Israeli government that led to human rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank, but none of us is an anti-Semite. Yet, too often, we see accusations of "anti-Semitism" hurled at human rights activists who are standing up for equal human rights and standards of international law.
AH: I'd like to state that our movement is not one of anti-anything. We are not a reactionary movement; rather, we are a "pro" movement for human rights, social justice and equality for the Palestinian people.
SQ: What would you advise other students who wish to carry out any form of protest or activism?
DB: It is important to be unified in the symbolism and methodology of the protest make sure that all of the protesters agree on what specifically you're protesting against, how you intend to protest against it, and the message you hope to send through your protest. Moreover, be inspired by the knowledge that your protest will be part of a growing student-led campaign for justice and human rights. If you have any questions about protest organization, feel free to contact us through MEMO.
AH: Let us use this form of protest as a means to unite and stand in solidarity with one another. Together we can achieve much more than any one of us can individually, and what better way to start an international movement than with us, the youth?
Campuses work to further the BDS movement
Sunday, 11.28.2010, 01:14am
The apartheid situation in South Africa ended in the 1990s in large part because of boycotts on college campuses, and many scholars have argued that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is the most effective way for ending the current blockade and occupation of Palestine by Israeli military forces.
The BDS movement against companies with Israeli ties has been active at American campuses in recent weeks in response to desperate pleas from human rights organizations, the United Nations, and world political leaders to end the occupation.
Sabra hummus removed after divestment push
On November 19, Chicago's DePaul University announced that their dining services organization would discontinue the sale of hummus made by Sabra, an Israeli brand that students have said is known for its vocal and material support of the Israeli army, which has been accused of numerous war crimes in Gaza by the U.N. The products were removed from store shelves for the rest of the semester with a ban likely in the near future according to the Huffington Post.
DePaul's Students for Justice in Palestine organization provided research that the Strauss Group, which co-owns Sabra hummus, had direct monetary ties with Israeli forces that continue to enforce the illegal occupations of Palestinian land.
The boycott is being used as a blueprint for how to effect change at the college level from the ground up.
Sabra hummus is also the target of a boycott launched by The Princeton Committee on Palestine at Princeton University in New Jersey as the group has created a referendum asking the school's dining services to sell an alternative brand of hummus.
EMU in Virginia, University of Southern California pushing for divestment
At Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Virginia, a group of students is pushing for divestment from companies supporting Israel's military as well.
The liberal arts Christian college's Students for Morally Responsible Investment (SMRI) group has met recently with the administration and other Mennonite institutions in an attempt to continue the BDS movement and to promote the peaceful ideals of the Mennonite church.
Divestment resolutions have been passed at various schools across the country including one by the University of Michigan-Dearborn's student government.
The University of Southern California's Students for Justice in Palestine organization is also planning to make its own push for divestment from companies supporting the Israeli military.
Columbia University checkpoints raise awareness
Echoing a demonstration held this year at UM-Dearborn by the Arab Student Union, New York-based Columbia University students dressed as Israeli soldiers stopped other students on their way to class at mock checkpoints resembling those set up in the West Bank in Palestine. The event was held on Thursday, Nov. 18.
Some students were ordered to the ground and blindfolded in demonstrations of life for Palestinians at military checkpoints in the West Bank.
Other students on campus came together for a counter-demonstration, saying that the checkpoints didn't accurately represent the situation in the occupied West Bank.
The Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine said its demonstration was meant to protest human rights violations at checkpoints that many human rights activists have witnessed from their time working in the West Bank.
he Electronic Intifada, 27 October 2010
Montreal activists launch campus boycott campaign
As a boycott, divestment and sanctions conference was convened in Montreal last week, activists launched a boycott campaign at two city universities. A group of students, professors and staff from Concordia and McGill universities are calling on the schools cut ties with the Israeli Institute of Technology, more commonly referred to as Technion University.
A report compiled by the group says that the links between Concordia, McGill and Technion universities "serve to normalize the Israeli state's policies of institutionalized oppression and should be of serious concern to students, faculty and all members of McGill and Concordia's campus community."
The 13-page report, entitled "Structures of Oppression: Why McGill and Concordia's campus community must sever their links with the Technion University" [PDF], examines Technion's links to military technologies and manufacturers and the militarization and repression of political dissent on the Israeli university's campus. The report also details the nature of Concordia and McGill universities' relationships with the Israeli institution.
Based primarily on news articles, websites of Israeli weapons and military technology manufacturers, Technion press releases and reports written by human rights organizations, the report highlights "Technion University's involvement in the development of deadly military technologies and the intense militarization of an academic institution which directly and indirectly denies Palestinian citizens of Israel the same access to education as other students."
"Technion is complicit in the violations of international law and human rights abuses committed by the Israeli military against Palestinians by providing new military technologies to defense manufacturers," the report stated.
Founded in 1924 in Haifa, Technion University is a science and technology research-focused university that today enrolls approximately 12,600 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.
The university boasts on its website that "Technion graduates comprise the majority of Israeli-educated scientists and engineers, constituting over 70 percent of the country's founders and managers of high-tech industries."
Technion University also prides itself on its deep and far-reaching links to Israeli military technology manufacturers and to the Israeli military itself.
According to a report released by the Alternative Information Center in October 2009, titled "Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories," Technion University "has all but enlisted itself in the military."
"The extent of cooperation between the Technion and Israeli military was demonstrated when the Technion opened a center for the development of electro-optics in complete partnership with Elbit, one of the biggest Israeli private weapons' research companies which is also heavily involved in development for the Israeli military," according to the AIC.
AIC reports that Technion University's technological programs are directly linked to the many human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli army:
"The [Technion] students and professors who are working in these co-op programs are directly participating in the research, manufacturing and upgrading of weaponry of which the vast majority is used in the [Israeli] occupation, as well as acts of aggression like the 2008 attacks in Gaza which resulted in over 1,400 mostly civilian deaths."
"But what most people don't realize is how this militarization effects Palestinian students who are citizens of Israel; many programs are off limits to these students for not having (nor wanting) the military experience and security clearance required," the report adds.
Institutional racism in Israeli academia
In the "Structures of Oppression" report by the Montreal campus activists, researchers outline Technion's connection to Elbit Systems Ltd., which is "'one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence' in the West Bank, deemed to violate international law by the International Court of Justice." In July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that Israel's construction of a wall on occupied West Bank land was contrary to international law.
The Montreal activists' report specifies that Elbit "also provides the Israeli army with unmanned aerial and ground vehicles that are routinely used in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip."
Technion University' connections to Rafael Advanced System Ltd., one of Israel's largest military technologies companies, are also exposed in the report.
"Rafael technologies were ... reportedly used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians during the Israeli offensive into Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. Spike-MR (medium range) missiles -- built by Rafael -- were used in attacks launched by unmanned combat aerial vehicles that killed at least 29 civilians," the report states.
Today, while Palestinians make up 20 percent of the citizens of Israel, they are only 9.5 percent of undergraduate students. Less than 5 percent reach the MA degree level, only 3.2 percent earn a PhD, and only 1 percent of university staff is Palestinian.
According to "Structures of Oppression," "these statistics are indicative of discrimination and the persistence of institutional racism against Palestinian Israelis in the academic realm."
In addition, the report states that Arab students at Technion University "are prevented from practicing their basic rights of expression and from forming an Arab students union, for the freedom of speech right is limited to those who support the Israeli state project."
During a police-approved demonstration earlier this year against the 31 May Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, ten Palestinian Technion students were arrested while a right-wing counter-protest -- which was not approved in advance by the university -- went ahead without problems or arrests.
The report also outlines Technion University policies and programs that unfairly favor Israeli Jewish students over their Palestinian counterparts, including the Brakim academic reserve program.
The Brakim program gives 15 students the chance to complete bachelor's and master's degrees in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in four years.
"According to a brochure released by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the 'Brakim program [was] initiated to meet the request of the IDF [Israeli army] to create an elite group of mechanical engineers to become the future [research and development] leaders in [the] IDF,'" the report states.
The report adds, "an academic institution that not only places a major amount of its efforts in military technology, but also in promoting student/soldier cooperative programs, is therefore deeply implicated in the occupation and crimes committed by the military."
Cutting off ties
Concordia University currently maintains a program called the Goldie and Joe Raymer Fellowship that enables "alternating yearlong visits for students between Concordia and the Technion" and covers students' airfare, tuition and housing costs.
For its part, McGill University lists Technion as a partner institution in its student exchange program, and allocates two spots each year for students to study at the Israeli institution.
According to the authors of the report, these programs serve as a way to legitimize Technion's complicity in human rights violations, just like the role North American universities had in maintaining the status quo did during the time of South African apartheid.
"There's no question, North American universities that maintained institutional links to South African universities during the apartheid era were indirectly legitimizing institutions that openly oppressed a major section of the indigenous population. Israel is no different," the report states.
The authors explain that this is why it is so crucial for McGill and Concordia to severe their ties to Technion University.
"So long as Concordia and McGill keep [these] institutional links, they are helping normalize a university which openly and flagrantly violates the human rights of the Palestinian people, whether in the Occupied Territories or [as] citizens of Israel, as well as people who openly speak out about against these policies. McGill and Concordia have to come clean and cancel these programs until the state of Israel complies with international law and basic human rights, as stipulated by the three demands of the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement."
Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D'Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jilldamours.wordpress.com.