A provincial council in Scotland has announced a ban on Israeli books as part of a politically-motivated boycott on all goods and produce from Israel. The move is just the latest effort by pro-Palestinian activists in Europe to implement a fast-growing strategy that uses anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to isolate, demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel.
Although the BDS campaign targeting Israel is nothing new (it is rooted in the program of political warfare to achieve the "complete international isolation of Israel" that was launched at the UN World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001), it is picking up pace across Europe.
Many of the pro-Palestinian groups pursuing boycotts against Israel are being funded by European governments. An analysis conducted by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor shows that official and quasi-official agencies at the national, provincial and municipal levels in Europe are funnelling tens of millions of euros every year to organizations involved in BDS activities against Israel. A partial list of donors includes: Britain, Catalonia, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union.
In the most recent BDS case, the West Dunbartonshire Council near Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, ordered that its libraries ban any new volumes by Israeli authors, printed or published in the Jewish state. It follows an earlier decision by the local authority to boycott Israeli goods and produce as part of a display of pro-Palestinian solidarity.
In the wake of a media uproar over the boycott, the Council tried to turn itself into the victim of a misunderstanding. In a hastily released statement, the Council justified its actions by saying: "The Council's boycott does not in any way seek to censor or silence authors and commentators from Israel. The Council's boycott only relates to goods 'made or grown' in Israel."
The full text of the boycott reads: "This Council deplores the loss of life in Palestine which now numbers well over 1,000. This Council also recognises the disproportionate force used by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] in Palestine and agrees to boycott all Israeli goods as a consequence. Officers should immediately cease the purchase of any goods we currently source, which were made or grown in Israel. Officers should also ensure we procure no new goods or produce from Israel until this boycott is formally lifted by West Dunbartonshire Council."
A similar boycott move by Dundee City Council, also in Scotland, was abandoned in May because legal experts advised that such a move is illegal under European law. In the absence of a formal boycott, however, municipal authorities have "advised" citizens not to buy any Israeli products.
Dundee councillors are now set to vote on whether to condemn Israel. The new motion, which will be debated on June 13, compares the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa, saying: "The council recognises that apartheid was not acceptable in South Africa and it is not acceptable in Palestine. Dundee City Council, proud of its historic links with the people of Palestine and the past support it has given to the oppressed inhabitants of the region, condemns the government of Israel for its continuing illegal occupation of east Jerusalem and the West Bank and the illegal blockade of Gaza."
On a far larger scale, pro-Palestinian groups have been trying to pressure The Co-operative Group, a huge British consumer cooperative with over 5.5 million members, to adopt a motion calling for complete severance of trade with Israel.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been campaigning nationally for its activists to join the Co-op to change the balance of votes in favour of boycotts. Leeds and Newcastle regional groups have already passed boycott motions, while Bristol, in the South West region, also tabled a boycott call.
The group's South and West membership region submitted a motion declaring: "This annual general meeting resolves that our Society stops the sale of all Israeli goods." But after a debate the motion was rejected by 83 percent of delegates at the Co-op's May 25 meeting in its Manchester headquarters.
On May 29, Britain's largest academic union, the University and College Union, passed a resolution at its annual conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, to adopt an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In voting to move forward with the sanctions, the UCU, which represents more than 120,000 academics across the United Kingdom, ignored the legal advice it received after the first boycott vote in 2007. Lawyers told the union then that a boycott "would be unlawful and cannot be implemented."
Also on May 29, British Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists to resign as patron of the Jewish National Fund. The JNF was originally set up in 1901 to buy land in Ottoman Palestine to establish Jewish settlements before the creation of the State of Israel. Now it is a global charity specializing in planting forests. Pro-Palestinian critics of JNF say it expropriated land belonging to Palestinians and has obliterated pre-1948 Arab villages by planting forests and parks.
The Stop the JNF Campaign wrote an open letter to the prime minister in May, claiming the JNF had committed war crimes against the Palestinian people and urging his resignation as patron. The UK-based Stop the JNF Campaign said the organization's lobbying had led Cameron to withdraw: "There has been a change in public opinion and awareness about Israel's behaviour and there was specific pressure on [Cameron] to step down from the JNF. We believe he has stepped down as a result of this political pressure. Given the establishment support that the JNF has received, it's not a decision he will have taken lightly."
Although Britain has been the main European hub for BDS activities against Israel, the movement also has strong support in Germany.
In a major victory for pro-Palestinian groups in Germany, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, announced on May 1 that it would pull out of a project to build a high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because the line will cut through six kilometres of disputed territory in the West Bank. Deutsche Bahn had been in charge of electricity and communications control on the project, but pro-Palestinian groups claimed the project violated international law.
German Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer told Deutsche Bahn Director Rüdiger Grube the project was politically "problematic" and potentially in violation of international law. Ramsauer offered the following reason for terminating the project: "Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al-Malki, members of the German Parliament and media have criticised a project in which DB International is acting as adviser to Israel's state-run railway."
In April, the Duisburg branch of the German Left Party (Die Linke) posted a flyer on its website with a swastika morphing into a Star of David, and called for a boycott of Israeli products. The flyer, which calls Israel a "rogue state" and a "warmonger" states: "Oppose the moral blackmail of the so-called Holocaust! Truth makes free!" This is a pun on "Arbeit macht Frei!," located above the entrance gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In March, a group called the "Bremer Peace Forum" in the northern Germany city of Bremen staged protests in front of supermarkets urging Germans to boycott Israeli products. The Forum protesters distributed leaflets showing pictures of bloody oranges and held posters with the slogan: "Save the Palestinian people."
The German Left Party, in a Call to Action says: "Israel has occupied the West Bank for decades, contrary to numerous UN resolutions. More and more illegal Jewish settlements are being built and Israel exports the fruits that are harvested from there. This is against international law and the exports from the occupied territories are illegal. A boycott of Israeli products will move public opinion in order to increase international pressure on Israel, just as happened in South Africa."
On May 25, the German Bundestag [Parliament] held a debate over accusations of anti-Semitism within the Germany Left Party following the release on May 19 of an in-depth study by two German sociologists titled "Anti-Semites as a Coalition Partner." The report says that "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" has become the dominant consensus position within the Left Party and that this trend is gaining force.