PSC recently responded to the Methodists’ consultation on Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), explaining that the motivation behind the BDS movement is that all of humanity should be able to enjoy the same fundamental rights. Here you can read our response:
What do you understand to be the motivation/inspiration behind the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel?
At its heart, the motivation for the BDS movement is the idea that all of humanity should be able to enjoy the same fundamental rights – of freedom, equality, and self-determination. Palestinians have been denied these rights for decades and despite frequent calls for a just solution, major world powers have failed to take the concrete steps required to bring this about.
Therefore, peaceful action by global civil society should make a contribution towards the Palestinian people winning these basic freedoms. Continuing to trade, invest and otherwise deal with Israeli companies, organisations and government institutions as though all were normal sends out a message that the abuse of the Palestinian people can continue indefinitely and with full impunity.
Ceasing ‘business as usual’ is not the only contribution we can make, nor is BDS on its own suggested as a solution to all aspects of the conflict, but given the severity and longstanding nature of the abuses of human rights, BDS efforts are the very least we owe to the Palestinian people as they struggle to obtain the freedoms that we ourselves enjoy.
The call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions comes from a very wide cross section of Palestinian society, from community groups and trade unions, to political parties and religious organisations. It has great legitimacy as a call from the Palestinian people as a whole. Therefore, it should be incumbent on people of conscience the world over to question why they would not listen to a call for help from those in need. We can all as individuals and organisations choose to turn a blind eye, or we can heed the genuine call of an oppressed people and seek to make a contribution to them winning their justly deserved freedom.
All recent Israeli governments have been content to maintain the status-quo indefinitely, gradually expanding settlements whilst keeping a firm military grip on the West Bank and a comprehensive siege on Gaza. We can either accept this ongoing tragedy, or respond in the peaceful, proportionate and just way that Palestinians have requested, and support BDS.
One of the main inspirations behind the call for BDS is the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, when boycott, divestment and sanctions were used to create a movement for non-violent pressure in order to bring justice to bear. In the case of BDS with respect to Israel, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign called for a boycott of Israeli goods over 10 years ago. The international anchor for the BDS call internationally was the statement from the Palestinian BDS National Committee of 9th July2005 which urged civil society internationally to take a stand.
2. In your view, what would be the essential elements of any peace agreement in Israel/Palestine?
At its core must be the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. Israel’s occupation and control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip must end. The right, enshrined in UN Resolution 194, for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes should be accepted. Palestinians who are citizens of Israel should be granted full equality.
3. Do you support a boycott of products produced within Israeli settlements?
Yes. Settlement produce represents stolen goods from stolen land.
The position of the UK, EU, US and UN is that Israel’s presence and activity in the Occupied Palestine is illegal under international law. Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into territory it has occupied.Trading with settlements is therefore not just unethical, but aids a breach of international law.
Currently, the EU imports 15 times more from illegal settlements than from occupied Palestinians. This rewards those who are personally enjoying the gains of a military occupation that has now endured for almost 50 years.
Despite an overwhelming global consensus that settlements and their expansion are illegal and the prime obstacle to the Palestinians winning freedom, few practical steps are taken to prevent this war crime. It is therefore necessary not only for individuals to boycott such goods, but for states to ban the trading of these illegal items outright.
4. Do you support the call for a wider consumer boycott of all Israeli products?
Yes. Whilst settlements are a leading manifestation of the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, they are not in any way a separate entity from that state. Settlements are created, developed, financed and defended by the government of the State of Israel and therefore our response must be targeted more broadly than the settlements alone.
Decisions on whether the occupation is ended, refugees are allowed to return and whether Palestinians are able to achieve their freedom will be taken by Israel as a whole, therefore our decision to withdraw our trade should extend to all those who will make that decision. Israeli society as a whole should be made increasingly aware not merely of the disapproval of the global community, but of the economic impact on themselves of the continuing abuse of Palestinian rights.
Palestinian civil society, through the Boycott National Committee, have called for a comprehensive boycott, not one limited to the settlements. Those who wish to propose limited action should make their case in the context of arguing against the request of the Palestinian people.
This peaceful pressure is a proportionate (many would say mild) response to decades of military occupation, subjugation and abuse of rights. As governments have failed to hold Israel accountable, it is up to people of conscience in civil society worldwide to heed Palestinian calls for protection and justice.
Supporting a boycott sends a signal that the world will not sit by whilst Israel flouts UN resolutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international laws – Israel cannot be allowed to act with impunity. It alsoexerts moral pressure on the British Government by giving expression to the desire to move towards a more ethical foreign policy.
5. If you answer ‘Yes’ to Question 4, what changes would you need to see to be content to end your boycott?
An end to the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, an implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 and an end to gross discrimination by the Israeli state against its Palestinian citizenry.
6. What are the arguments against a consumer boycott of all Israeli products? What are the risks?
Supporters of maintaining Israeli control over the lives of millions of Palestinians often claim Israel is being unfairly singled out. This is not the case. Whilst this consultation and debate relate to the situation in Palestine/Israel, where other oppressed peoples throughout the world produce a call for similar action, it should be treated equally and given serious consideration.
The ethno-religious character of the State of Israel should be entirely irrelevant to this debate. A boycott is justified entirely by Israel’s actions – our response should be the same regardless of the identity of those involved. The campaign to boycott apartheid South Africa was not an attempt to ‘single out the world’s only Afrikaners state’ because of a disliking of Afrikaner people, but due to the actions of the South African government. Likewise, justice demands that here we make a difference for justice, regardless of the claims of some supporters of the status quo that any action detrimental to Israel’s economy is in some way anti-Semitic.
7. If you do not support the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, could you ever see yourself supporting such a call in the future? Under what circumstances?
Those who oppose the use of boycott in any situation as a matter of fundamental principle must be willing to defend continuing to trade as normal regardless of the severity of human rights abuses being committed. According to this position, no abuse of fellow human being could be sufficient to justify one declining to buy a bag of Israeli potatoes, for instance. It is an indefensible absolute position which gives full impunity to the powerful in any situation now or in the future.
Others raise the claim that ‘now is not the time’ as ‘peace talks are under-way’. Sadly, in the twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s occupation has deepened, with the number of settlers more than doubling from 262,500 in 1993 to over 520,000 today. Justice demands that we do not wait for another generation before taking any action. Supporting a boycott is not to undermine negotiations, but contributes by increasing pressure on the side that is content with the status quo to move towards accepting that their domination of another people must end.
8. What message does the call for a consumer boycott of Israel communicate to the general public? (please specify whether you are answering with reference to the public in the UK, in Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or elsewhere)
To the British public, it says that we are not powerless to bring about change in the world and that our every-day actions, such as when shopping, can be part of discouraging huge injustices. It is a message that all of us can provide solidarity with the oppressed in our every-day lives and gives space for developing a greater interest in thesituation. With this, further actions, from charitable giving of aid to political lobbying may develop, which can further boost the pressure for justice.
Supporting BDS sends a clear message that civil society has a responsibility to act to defend human rights, particularly when governments such as our own have allowed Israel to violate international law with impunity.
To the Israeli public it sends the necessary message that despite attempts to minimise the impact of the ongoing occupation of Palestine – to make the occupation ‘manageable’ and in many cases invisible – there is a cost due to the policies of their government.
To Palestinians, it shows that despite their physical isolation, they are not forgotten by the world. Itshows that political enterprises initiated within Palestinian civil society can have a global impact – an empowering message for a people who possess such little influence over the state that occupies their land and overwhelmingly controls their lives.
9. Do you support an academic boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.
Yes. PSC supports the academic boycott as defined by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. PACBI,which is the part of the BDS movement, has called for a suspension of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions. This is a boycott of organisations which are deeply complicit with the maintenance of the occupation and is not a call for a breaking of contact with individual Israeli academics.
10. Do you support a cultural boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.
Yes. PSC supports the cultural boycott as defined by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. PACBI, which is the part of the BDS movement, has called for a suspension of cooperation with Israeli cultural institutions and initiatives which serve to promote ‘Brand Israel’. This is a boycott of cultural outputs which seek to whitewash or divert attention from Israel’s status as an occupying power and gross abuser of human rights. It is not a call for a breaking of contact with individual Israeli performers where they are not fulfilling the role of a ‘cultural ambassador’ for Israel.
11. Under what circumstances, if any, should the Methodist Church divest from companies operating in Israel?
The Trades Union Congress has adopted clear policy on BDS which could be used as a blueprint for other organisations. It calls for action to be taken against companies which profit from the Israeli occupation, settlements and wall.
Companies which supply the Israeli security forces(military, police, prisons etc.) are complicit in their routine human rights abuses should be subject to divestment.
12. Should the UK government or European Union impose trade or other restrictions on economic relationships with Israel or alternatively limited restrictions on economic engagement with settlements? If so what form should such sanctions take?
Both the EU and the British government must recognise that failing to take decisive action, and simply issuing verbal condemnations of Israeli settlement-building, destruction of Palestinian homes, detention of Palestinian child prisoners etc, is simply allowing Israel to continue to violate basic human rights agreements, and to entrench its illegal occupation. For decades, the approach towards Israel has been to offer carrots, but no sticks. This approach has manifestly failed. Sanctions must be effective and comprehensive in order to have maximum impact.
As a starting point, the human rights clause of the EU – Israel Association Agreement should be activated, ending the preferential trade terms offered to Israel. All arms and security equipment imports and exports to and from Israel should be suspended as should military cooperation and joint operations. All trade with settlements and products which utilize settlement-produced componentsshould cease. Vigorous certification of supply chains should be used to enforce this complete ban on settlement trade.
13. What actions other than BDS might members of the Methodist Church take to encourage a political process that could deliver a just and sustainable resolution in Israel and Palestine?
The Church should work with organisations such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to develop a dialogue with groups committed to the defence of human rights in Palestine. It should encourage congregations to develop their understanding of the issue and to engage in public campaigning locally to build support for the pressure needed to deliver justice. The Church should support initiatives such as the annual Lobby of Parliament on Palestine and facilitate congregations to take political actions in their communities.
14. Is there any further theological or other comment that you would like to make in relation to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or are there papers or other resources that you would highlight?
As with the boycott of apartheid South Africa, the process of building understanding for the need for such an initiative is a long one. The boycott of South Africa was initiated decades before it became widely popularised. The BDS movement to deliver justice for the Palestinians is growing much more rapidly but could be hugely assisted by the Methodist Church expanding on its existing positive stand. The Church would be further strengthening its place amongst a growing list of respected civil society organisations, from the Trades Union Congress to The Cooperative who agree that ethical action is a necessity.
Hearing the voice of the oppressed and responding to the call for assistance from those in need of our help is a rightly cherished tradition. By adopting a fuller position in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the Methodist Church would be serving the cause of justice.