Citizen Action for Palestinian Human and Civil Rights: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

The U.S. government is currently engaged in perpetuating the charade of pseudo negotiations, known by some as the “piece” process, where more and more pieces of Palestine are taken by the Israelis. Reports in the corporate media refer to Israel’s illegal settlements as though they were normal housing developments, never acknowledging that they are in violation of the Geneva Conventions and have been condemned by the United Nations.

Gazans continue to struggle for survival under Israel’s genocidal blockade. A recent boat of European Jews, including a Holocaust survivor, tried to break the blockade and ended up in Israeli jails. At least they were not killed by Israel as were 11 human rights activists on the May flotilla.

The corporate media also seeks to whitewash Israel’s recent loyalty oath, which would require non-Jews to pledge allegiance to a Jewish state before becoming citizens. Called a move toward fascism by some Israelis, this oath is really asking for non-Jews to accept second-class status in what is an apartheid state. Given that at least 20% of Israelis are indigenous Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims or Christians, this loyalty oath completely contradicts a fundamental democratic notion that a nation should treat all of its citizens equally.

Palestinians and International Human Rights Supporters Resist

A Palestinian friend recently returned from a visit to the West Bank. During his trip, he attended an event by Zochrot, an Israeli group that calls attention to the ethnic cleansing of 1947–1948 in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and lands by Zionist militias and then the Israeli army. Our friend asked one of the young Jewish-Israelis if he thought that Zochrot’s activities could end the occupation. The young activist responded, “Truthfully, no, but there is something that will—boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

In 2005, beleaguered Palestinian civil society asked the world to do for them what it had done for South Africa—start a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to end its apartheid and occupation. Like with the South Africa campaign, it took awhile to get the world’s attention, but when Israel bombed Gaza in 2008–2009, BDS took off (www.bdsmovement.net).

First, Europeans got on board with boycotts and divestment strategies aimed at companies profiting from the occupation and Israel’s militarism including Veolia and Elbit Systems. BDS has now spread to store boycotts, divestment decisions and cultural boycotts as actors, artists and entertainers such as Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, The Pixies and others have refused to perform in Israel. For more info, see www.pacbi.org.

California Divesting from Israel

Now BDS efforts are all over the world, including Fresno. Local activists, including some members of Peace Fresno, the local Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Chapter, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and other local activists are part of a statewide signature-gathering effort to put a proposition on the California ballot to require the two largest state pension funds to divest from Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. If approved by California voters, the Divestment of State Retirement Funds from Israel Act will require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to divest from corporations that 1) provide military equipment to the government of Israel, 2) support construction of illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territories or 3) contribute to the maintenance of the illegal Separation Wall.

Signature gathering started in September. Proponents have until the end of January to gather 434,000 qualified signatures from registered California voters. To support this effort, help is needed from individuals and organizations in California committed to social justice and responsible investment. Petitions can be downloaded from the campaign Web site (www.israeldivestmentcampaign.org) or obtained locally. For more information about signature gathering in Fresno, contact Dan Yaseen (danyaseen@comcast.net). For statewide info, contact the campaign (idccalifornia@yahoo.com).

TIAA-CREF: Divest from Occupation

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a large national organization working to end the occupation of Palestine, recently launched its campaign to get private pension fund giant TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine’s West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

JVP collected 15,000 postcards signed by individuals around the United States asking TIAA-CREF to divest from the occupation. It brought these to the TIAA-CREF shareholder meeting in July. Shareholders listened to more than a dozen people who spoke about the importance of TIAA-CREF extending its social responsible investment concerns to Palestine/Israel. No one spoke in opposition.

TIAA-CREF invests in several companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine: Northrop Grumman, which makes parts for Apache Helicopters and radar for F-16 combat aircraft and Hellfire II missiles; Caterpillar, which makes armored D9 bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes; Veolia, which operates bus service on Jewish-only roads and is building a light rail system to the illegal settlements; Elbit, which makes the drones outfitted with missiles that were responsible for horrific causalities in the 2006 Lebanon war and Israel’s 2008–2009 attack on Gaza; and Motorola, which makes telecommunications equipment for the Israeli military and surveillance systems around settlements and checkpoints, including those between Palestinian towns inside the West Bank.

Anyone can sign the petition to TIAA-CREF online at www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org. For more information about getting involved in this campaign, contact JVP at info@jewishvoiceforpeace.org or 510-465-1777.

Other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Efforts in California

Code Pink launched its Stolen Beauty Campaign in 2009 (www.stolenbeauty.org), calling for a boycott of Ahava products, which are made in illegal Israeli settlements inside Palestine’s West Bank.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation started its Motorola boycott campaign in 2008 (www.hanguponmotorola.org). Motorola profits from Israel’s violations of international law including Israel’s 2008–2009 attacks on Gaza that killed 1,400 people, a third women and children.

The Bay Area Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid (www.baceia.org) has a list of other local products available in California.

Products to Boycott at Local Stores
Trader Joe’s carries several Israeli products including Dorot Garlic and Herbs, Israeli Couscous and Pastures of Eden Feta. Don’t buy these products, and ask the store manager not to carry them. Go online and ask Trader Joe’s not to carry these products at www.-traderjoes.com/about/product-information-form.asp.

Safeway also carries several products including Osem croutons, snacks and couscous; Sabra hummus, baba ghanoush and other refrigerated foods; Tribe hummus; Yes to Carrots bath and beauty products; and Pampers diapers and baby products. Let Safeway know you won’t buy these products and ask them to stop carrying them; fill out a comment card at Safeway and comment online at www.safeway.com.

Other products to avoid include L’Oreal, which is known for its investments and manufacturing activities in Israel; Estee Lauder, whose chair, Ronald Lauder, is also the chair of the Jewish National Fund, a quasigovernmental organization that was established in 1901 to acquire Palestinian land and is connected to the continued building of illegal settlements; Intel, which employs thousands of Israelis and has exports from Israel totaling more than $1 billion per year; and Beauty Field and Naot shoes.

What People Are Saying about BDS

Investigative journalist Naomi Klein: “The best way to end the bloody occupation is to target Israel with the kind of movement that ended apartheid in South Africa. It’s time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa” (January 10, 2009, www.guardian.co.uk).

Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu endorsed the recent action taken by the Olympia Washington Co-op to boycott Israeli products: “The Olympia Food Co-op has joined a growing worldwide movement on the part of citizens and the private sector to support by non-violent tangible acts the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination.”

Opposition to the BDS

Organized opposition in the United States to the BDS includes the Jewish Federations of North America, which in 2009 declared “that the BDS movement be regarded with the utmost urgency” and stressed the need to “train local leadership on how to counter BDS initiatives in local communities.”

StandWithUs Israel, a campus-based group, says that BDS “is the newest weapon in the ongoing effort to destroy Israel. Using words, images, and actions to spread misinformation and lies, boycott activists try to delegitimize and demonize Israel and brand it as the pariah of the international community.” StandWithUs orchestrated a letter writing campaign to publications opposing the Olympia Co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli products noted above. Co-op Board members and local BDS activists have reported receiving bomb and death threats from boycott opponents.

  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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