BDS and the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement (Issue No.38, Summer 2008 )

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This is the second issue of our special Nakba-60 trilogy, and aims the spotlight on the growing global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel. The introductory articles in the issue include a guest commentary by Professor As'ad Abu Sharkh discussing the urgency of global civil society action in light of the disastrous situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as an announcement of the newly launched BDS movement website, and an overview and update about the BDS movement within US churches.

One of the highlights of this issue is an article by Karine Mac Allister about the “Applicability of the Crime of Apartheid to Israel.” This article provides a preliminary legal analysis of Israel's commission of the crime of apartheid against all sectors of Palestinian society: Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian refugees. While it is a work in progress, it is an important step in developing a well-founded legal analysis of Israeli violations of international law.

The main feature of this issue of al-Majdal focuses on BDS campaigns in 17 countries across Europe, North America and South Africa. While the information covered in these articles does not cover all BDS campaign activity, it provides powerful examples and histories of what the campaign has involved in different places, as well as valuable lessons learned by activists involved in the campaign over the past years. The growing effectiveness of the campaign is particularly highlighted in the 12-page-long list of BDS campaign updates and achievements at the end of the magazine.

Also featured in al-Majdal #38 are the winners in the written work category of this year's Expressions of Nakba contest organized by the US Campaign to End the Occupation; a review of Deborah Rohan's new book The Olive Grove as well as a reflection by the author herself on the process of writing the book; as well as several important statements issued over the past months.

As the global movement for BDS continues to grow in size, strength and effectiveness, it is increasingly important to take stock of experiences in different parts of the world by sharing research and analysis, taking strength from successes, and learning lessons from the failures of different campaigns. This issue of al-Majdal is a step in this direction.

This year, the 60th since the establishment of Israel through the systematic forced transfer of most of Palestine's indigenous population, has witnessed the largest global mobilization in support of Palestinian rights since the 1948 Nakba. In cities around the world, supporters of human rights and just peace participated in actions and events demanding that the truth of the Nakba be exposed and calling for the implementation of Palestinian refugee rights. Many of these actions and events were part of the emerging global movement to reverse, and not just commemorate, the 60-year Nakba, through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and universal human rights and dismantles its regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation. This issue of al-Majdal brings together the voices of BDS activists from around the world to describe and evaluate their campaigns to date.

The current BDS campaign is deeply rooted in the century-old history of Palestinian civil resistance against Zionist colonization. In the two decades before the establishment of the state of Israel, the Palestinian national movement had implemented a local boycott of Zionist enterprises that escalated during the uprising of 1936-1939. After 1948, member states of the League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of the Islamic Conference launched state-run boycott campaigns to ensure that commercial and financial relations with Israel did not take place, a boycott that began to be reversed under US pressure when Egypt signed the Camp David Accords and other Arab states engaged in the normalization treaties of the 1990s. Anti-normalization, a term that describes opposition to the treatment of Israel as a 'normal state' given its abnormal regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation, became a central slogan of civil society in Arab countries that initiated relations with Israel, as well as in Palestine after the Oslo agreements.

As Israel celebrates the 60th year since its establishment, the Palestinian people commemorate the 60th year of the Nakba (catastrophe) in which Zionist forces drove out the majority of the Palestinian people from Palestine, deprived them of their homes, lands and property and turned them into destitute refugees. The expulsion of the majority of Palestinians from their homes and replacing them by Jews from various parts of the world over the past 60 years has been a premeditated crime concocted deliberately by the Zionist movement whose ideology continues to be based on the war crime of population transfer aimed at simultaneously pumping out the indigenous Palestinian population and pumping in Jews from the world to create and maintain a Jewish state on the land of Palestine.

On 9 July 2008, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) launched a major new online resource for the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. will bring together news, campaign materials and resources from Palestinian and global activists in a single site to support, coordinate, and provide information, updates and analysis about the international BDS movement.

Apartheid is an Afrikaans term for "apartness," which means to "separate," to "put apart," to "segregate." It can be summed up as the institutionalization of a regime of systematic racial discrimination or more precisely, "a political system where racism is regulated in law through acts of parliament."1

Discussions on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid are not new; numerous articles were published in the 1980s and 1990s concluding that the situation in Israel and to some extent the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) is one of apartheid.2  These discussions were, however, sidelined by the Madrid-Oslo process in the mid-1990s, which was widely expected to bring about at least partial self-determination of the Palestinian people in the OPT. Discussions on the applicability of the apartheid label to Israel have recently re-emerged, mainly as a result of the entrenchment of Israel's regime of occupation and colonization in the OPT and its continued discriminatory policies towards Palestinian refugees and citizens of Israel.3

Applying International Law in Palestine/Israel

“We denounce as immoral an ordering of life that perpetuates injustice…Believing that international justice requires the participation of all peoples, we endorse the United Nations and its related bodies and the International Court of Justice as the best instruments now in existence to achieve a world of justice and law.” --United Methodist Church Social Principles.

On March 12, the new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd moved a motion calling on the Australian House of Representatives to “celebrate and commend the achievements of the State of Israel in the 60 years since its inception” and to reaffirm Canberra's support for “Israel's right to exist” and a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.1 In moving the opposition-supported motion, Rudd made it perfectly clear that despite the 11 year conservative Howard government being swept from power, there would be no change in Australia's policy in relation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.


 The boycott campaign in Belgium was started in 2000 by a small but dynamic Palestine solidarity group called Centrum voor Ontwikkeling, Documentatie, Informatie Palestina (CODIP: Centre for Development, Documentation and Information on Palestine). CODIP had emerged from Palestine solidarity efforts active in Belgium through the Limburgs Palestina Komitee (LPK) founded in 1989, and which had evolved into CODIP by 1998. In 2002, the boycott campaign was taken up by the coordinating comittees of the Flemish and French speaking NGO's and social organisations: Actie Platform Palestina (APP) and Association Belgo-Palestine (ABP).

Co-authored by Hazem Jamjoum

The Canadian state is one of the inheritors of Europe's genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Americas. In the face of their ongoing struggle for sovereignty and self-determination, the indigenous people of Turtle Island (the name of this land according to many of its indigenous peoples) have faced wave after wave of expulsion from their land, biological and military warfare, systematic erasure of their identity and way of life, and an accumulation of government policies aimed at finishing them off as peoples and taking what is left of their land and its resources. It should come as no surprise that when the architects of apartheid in South Africa looked to study effective examples on which to base the political exclusion and economic exploitation of South Africa's indigenous peoples; they took Canada as their main case study.

Some of the commercial boycott experiences of the Plataforma Aturem la Guerra (Stop the war platform), Boicot Preventiu (Preventative Boycott) and the Xarxa d'Enllaç amb Palestina (Link Network with Palestine) in Catalonia can be valuable for activists in other places. Despite the fact that the peculiarities of each context have to be taken into account, these experiences illustrate the difficulties and dilemmas as well as the potential of these campaigns. Three different cases will be explained: the boycott of an Israeli product, a campaign for a Catalan company to stop selling Israeli products and two campaigns demanding that the public administration refrain from contracting Israeli product and services. 

This article summarizes the current major effort by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and other Palestine solidarity groups in England and Wales to build a really dynamic and concerted BDS campaign across eight action areas for the next year. In the process of describing this, examples will be given of the range of past campaigning actions which are now being drawn together and stepped up, to achieve greater visibility and impact.

On 30 September 2006 in Bilbao, we presented the Basque Initiative of Boycotting Israel at a press conference. The main purpose of this initiaive, since it was launched on that day, has been to build a movement in Euskal Herria (Basque Country) behind the Unified Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law; a call that was supported by over 170 Palestinian social, political and labor organizations.

Using boycotts in popular struggle against oppression has a long history in Ireland. Irish people enthusiastically supported the South African anti-apartheid call for boycott, and boycott is an equally central element of our support for Palestinian resistance. While the Irish government has remained stubbornly deaf to the Palestinian call for boycott, Irish civil society has begun to respond.

Over the past few months, a working group has been meeting and discussing how to build the BDS campaign by citizens of Israel. The group itself is composed of a small group of Israeli citizens who object to the daily apartheid policies towards Palestinians everywhere, many of whom are already active in challenging Israeli oppression in different political, intellectual and cultural arenas. Much of the group's work so far has focused on discussing amongst itself, and with the Palestinian initiators of the campaign, on the ways in which this campaign can be built within Israeli society. This article describes some of the results of these discussions.

The Israeli National Bureau of Statistics has published a list of Israel's trade partners during the first 3 months of 2007. In that list, Italy is mentioned as the fourth main exporter to Israel, following the USA, China and Germany. The principal sectors of Italian export are machinery, chemical products and metals.

Since 2001 BDS has significantly shaped the agenda of Palestine solidarity activity in Norway. Some cases along the way have shed significant attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, as well as on ways to end this systematic oppression, ways well worth learning from and building on.

This article outlines some of the lessons learned so far in BDS campaigning in Scotland. We face some real challenges, as well as significant opportunities as we work to take the BDS campaign forward. We should be clear that the BDS campaign can only rely on those who are willing to answer the appeal from Palestinian civil society for us to use this non-violent, democratic weapon to punish Israel for its crimes. BDS is unlikely to win support from currents and individuals who aim to 'balance' between Israeli crimes and Palestinian rights, who refuse to align themselves clearly with the struggle of the Palestinian people, and only sympathize with their suffering.


At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, over 10,000 people declared the launch of a “second anti-apartheid movement.” The participants at the conference acknowledged that “The suffering in the West Bank and Gaza is the continuation of the colonization of all of Palestine.” Four years later, in 2005, over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations called for a worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign similar to the one launched against the South African Apartheid state. It was a call on the world to join those in South Africa and the millions in Palestine in the “second anti-apartheid movement.”

The Commercial Relationship between Spain and Israel

 Spain and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1986. From then on, the volume of bilateral economic and commercial activity between the two countries has continued to increase. Spain has become the tenth largest commercial partner of Israel, and Israel is Spain's principal market in the Middle East. According to the Israeli ambassador to Spain, the bilateral commercial interchange increased to $1.241 million in 2005. Israel has exported $564 million worth of goods to Spain, and Israeli imports from Spain reached $677 million.

In Sweden, the general public is largely aware of the need to boycott Israeli agricultural products such as avocado and citrus fruits due to a long standing understanding of the illegitimacy and criminality of Israeli policies and practices. However, there is a more alarming trend in the official Swedish-Israeli governmental relationship. Some organizations in the country have worked actively to highlight and counteract this.

The three main arenas of Swiss-Israeli cooperation are economic, military and scientific. Since the end of the 1990s, Switzerland has expanded its cooperation with Israel in spite of the fact that there has been a marked increase in human rights abuses since the outbreak of the second Intifada, and that the oppression of the Palestinian people has been more exposed to public scrutiny.

Switzerland, as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) since 1993, has concluded a free trade agreement with Israel. The agreement is actually limited to products from Israel within the 1949 armistice lines. Products from the territories Israel occupied in 1967 are not included, but these settlement products find their way into the European and Swiss market falsely labelled “Made in Israel.” Countries belonging to the EFTA and member states of the EU, who also subscribed to this agreement, have failed to take effective measures against this misleading labelling. Ignoring Israeli violation of the agreement, the Swiss government concluded a new tax agreement with Israel in 2003 in order to encourage bilateral investments.


 Switzerland has an export surplus to Israel, especially in the trade of diamonds, pharmaceutical products and chemicals, machines and clocks. Diamonds account for half of these goods as Switzerland exports twice as many diamonds to Israel as it imports from Israel. Swiss diamond merchants acquire most of their uncut diamonds principally from the African continent, and export them to Israel for finishing. Only some of the finished gems return to Swiss jewellers (for example to the clock and jewelry fair in Basel, now known as Basel World).

Of all of the countries in which campaigns for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions have been initiated, none is as intimately tied to Israel - economically, politically, and socially - as the United States. Indeed, the United States military-industrial complex forms the umbilical cord that sustains the apartheid state of Israel, and which, if severed, would likely cause the entire Zionist enterprise to wither and perish. Not even the combined economic might of the massive nongovernmental American Zionist establishment is enough to supply the vast military infrastructure that allows Israel to survive as the last colonial state in a post-colonial world.