Amidst Boycott Calls, British And Canadian Jews Initiate Buycott Campaigns

Ronnie Barkan is a leading activist with Boycott from Within, an organization that agitates for boycotts against Israel, as well as being a member of Anarchists against the Wall, which engages in violent demonstrations against Israel’s security barrier near the town of Bil’in.

BDS, which stands for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” is an increasingly popular tool of the Arab world and the left. Comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, anti-Zionist groups call on trade unions, academic institutions, and individual shoppers to refrain from doing business with, and buying products from, Israel. The BDS campaign against the South African apartheid regime is considered one of the major factors in having hastened the end of racial inequality against blacks.

There have been increasing calls for divestment against Israel by Israelis, including such academics as Neve Gordon, chair of the department of government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Gordon recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times that BDS is “the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.”

The Five Towns Jewish Times spoke with Barkan and with a representative of the British Board of Deputies which organized a counter-boycott program called a “Buycott.” An identical Buycott program is also being run in Canada.

Barkan began by explaining that his organization operates according to the July 2005 manifesto issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. The manifesto called for “a comprehensive economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel” due to the fact that the “state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners.”

The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions has no official position on BDS, having never discussed the subject, according to PGFTU general secretary Shaher Saeed. The PGFTU has imposed a boycott on produce from Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria, but had concerns over whether such actions would harm the 30,000 PA Arabs employed there.

Unlike Gordon, Barkan does not explain his actions in terms of saving Israel. “I’m an anti-Zionist myself,” he explained. Barkan said that the right of return for Palestinian refugees is “a basic right” and that a Jew born in the Diaspora has “no relation” to Israel “but is regarded as a Jew according to Israeli racist laws.” He complained that such a Jew “has, for some reason or another, the right to return to a place which most likely is a Palestinian place.” He also said that all Israelis and Israeli institutions are “complicit” in “crimes” against the Arabs.

When asked if governments should cut off diplomatic relations with Israel, Barkan replied, “I surely do.” He explained that supporting a boycott of Israel is not anti-Semitic, but rather the “humane thing to do.” The BDS campaigner referred to the database of Israeli businesses that operate in Judea and Samaria, compiled by the Who Profits initiative of the Coalition of Women for Peace, as being very helpful in running boycott campaigns against Israel. The CWP “call[ed] upon the Norwegian people to join us in our efforts and to stop investing in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory” in a letter addressed to the Norwegian pension fund’s council on ethics in May.

The Who Profits initiative is run by Dr. Dalit Baum, the founder of the now defunct Lesbian anti-Zionist organization Black Laundry.

In response to increasing calls for boycotts, the organized Jewish communities in both Canada and Britain have organized counter-BDS campaigns called “buycotts.” In a buycott, Jews flock to stores that are being boycotted or that are being threatened with a boycott, and buy out all Israeli products.

Ms. Atalia Cadranel, the director of communications for the British Board of Deputies, explained the concept. As part of the larger BDS campaign, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) began targeting the Waitrose and Morrisons supermarket chains as part of their supermarket boycott campaign. During this campaign, the Board of Deputies, representing the Jewish community of the UK, and its partner, the Fair Play Campaign Group, rallied 200 supporters of Israel to enter a chosen supermarket and buy out the Israeli products sold there. A similar tactic was employed in Canada, in which Jewish and Zionist shoppers descended on a liquor store, buying out its entire supply of Israeli wines.

According to Cadranel, this tactic is expected to be employed again in the future, to the dismay of British Jews, who wish it were not necessary. Discussing the calls for BDS being made by Israeli Jews, Cadranel stated “It’s completely divisive, because any kind of boycott hurts both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Palestinian trade unions have come out and overtly said so.” Any sanctions against Israel would cause terrible economic hardship for the Palestinian Authority. Trade between Israel and the PA stood at $3.9 billion in 2008.
(Tags: BDS, Jews, Anti-Israelism)

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