“When you do business with Israel, you invariably do business with the Occupation.”
Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign spokesperson, 2006
On 9th June 2005, after the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Israel’s apartheid wall, a coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations issued a ‘Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against apartheid Israel until it complies with International Law’. Public outcry over the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza has prompted renewed discussion of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as tactics to combat Israeli state aggression.
These pages provide a brief analysis of the approaches taken by some of the campaign groups involved in the BDS movement. The movement goes beyond simply boycotting Israeli goods. Campaign groups take a range of approaches: boycotts have been called against companies that sell produce from illegal Israeli settlements; those that have subsidiaries that pay tax in Israel; those whose management expresses supports for zionism, or where CEOs have provided financial or political support to Israel; and those which provide Israel with the tools it needs to perpetrate the occupation.
While the BDS movement is largely a grassroots phenomenon, MPs have tabled a number of related Early Day Motions (EDM) in parliament. EDM 457 called for an arms embargo and the suspension of the EU’s agreement of preferential trade terms with Israel,2 while EDM 370 expressed concern that British retailers may be breaking the law by selling goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories that are illegal under international law.3
Boycott Israeli Goods (BIG) campaign
Somewhere buried on the BIG website is a very long list of companies to boycott, the broadest criteria for which are companies which sell Israeli products. Produced some years before the 2005 BDS call, it is out of date and not comprehensive. A spokesperson for the campaign confirmed that the list is not emphasised on the website. Instead, the campaign focusses on encouraging people to take action in areas where there may be the chance to affect change, and highlighting developments in the broader BDS movement. Over the last six months, they have particularly asked people to campaign around settlement produce, due to the fact that, “tactically, we think there is a possibility for change on this issue”. This strategy has apparently had some success, with targeted campaigns against particular companies gathering momentum.
Agrexco, the agricultural export company 50% owned by the Israeli state, is one such company. Its only UK distribution centre in Middlesex has been closed a number of times due to protests. Agrexco sources a large amount of products from agro-industrial settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. Such settlements contribute enormously to the hardships endured by Palestinians there by appropriating land and water. Water shortages in the Jordan Valley have been so extreme that Palestinian farmers have been forced to irrigate their land with sewage water. According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Palestinian settlement workers are denied contracts, sick pay, holiday pay or the right to unionise.
The campaign is supported by the UK-based, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.
The BIG campaign is not to be confused with www.boycottisraeligoods.org, a website that appears not to have been updated since 2003.
Global BDS Movement
This website provides “a shared space for information, analysis, exchange of ideas and experiences” for those interested and active in the BDS movement. It is overseen by the steering committee of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, aims to support efforts of networking and coordination, and reports on campaigns and calls to action. The consumer boycotts’ page begins by highlighting the fact that the barcode 729 denotes Israeli origin, although it fails to say that this is not a watertight system, as not all Israeli products carry this code.
An online database that was set up in January 2009 by the Israeli organisation, the Coalition of Women for Peace. It provides information on Israeli and international companies that profit from the occupation, a product of extensive research carried out in Israel and occupied Palestine. It is divided into three sections: the settlement industry; economic exploitation of Palestinian resources, markets and labour; and control of the Palestinian population. The website states: “We do not call for any one specific form of action towards any of the companies on our database, since different methods and strategies are appropriate for different conditions and locations. As an information center, we plan to support and encourage diverse methods to influence corporations to stop their involvement in the occupation.” Information provided by the group has assisted a number of campaigns, including the one which resulted in Unilever stating it would sell its shares in Beigel & Beigel, a factory located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Stop the Wall
Stop the Wall is the grassroots Palestinian anti-apartheid wall campaign, a “coalition of Palestinian non-governmental organizations and popular committees that mobilize and coordinate efforts on local, national and international levels.” In June 2007 it published Towards a Global Movement for Palestine: a framework for today’s anti-apartheid activism, which provides a useful analysis of BDS as a tool for change. It draws on lessons learnt from South Africa, provides an historical analysis of the Arab League boycott of Israel/zionism, which began before the state of Israel was created, and discusses the current situation as well as strategies and challenges for the future. A recommended read.
Inminds publishes research into companies that have financially or politically supported the Israeli state. Some of the companies and/or the upper echelons of their management have received awards for their contributions to the Israeli economy. However, the focus on the activities of people, many of whom are Jewish, has lead to criticisms that the approach (and the boycott itself) is anti-Jewish. Ethical Consumer does not use it as a reference source.
Friends of Al-Aqsa
Friends of Al-Aqsa is a British charity which aims to protect the human rights of Palestinians and the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Their Boycott Apartheid Israel leaflet contains information on 14 companies, most of which have invested heavily in Israel. It includes a few likely old suspects: Starbucks, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nestle – a similar list to that produced by Inminds. The leaflet notes that there are different ways of boycotting, that the number of companies which trade with Israel is vast, and suggests that as a minimum people boycott the first three on their list.
War on Want
In July 2006, War on Want published the report “Profiting from the Occupation: Corporate Complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian People.” This focuses on the three sectors of construction, retail and transport. Caterpillar, Volvo, Daewoo and JCB are named as companies that have supplied construction and destruction equipment to the Israeli state. This has been used in the construction of the Wall and settlements, the destruction of Palestinian homes, farmland, olive groves, and, as in the case of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, killed by an armoured Caterpiller D9 bulldozer, the deaths of civilians. Settlement produce and its availability in British supermarkets is discussed, with an in-depth analysis of Agrexco in the Jordan Valley. Lastly, the report looks at the companies Connex and Alstrom, which have been awarded the contract to build the light rail system which will link Jerusalem with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and effectively annex East Jerusalem.
Corporate Watch is an independent UK research group which publishes information on the social and environmental impact of large corporations. Their recent publication, ‘Direct Action Against Israel – Part 1’, provides detailed analysis of arms companies supplying Israel; companies that supply settlement produce; Lloyds TSB, which has contributed to the Israeli blockade of Gaza (see Money page); and the media; as well as direct action that has been taken against them.
Grassroots movements and local shops
Many independent Asian and Middle Eastern shops sell Israeli products, particularly Mejoul dates. Grassroots organisations around the country are mobilising around the issue. In Manchester, a newly formed BDS group meets regularly to discuss the progress individuals have made in persuading local shops of their case. The campaign suggests shops may wish to advertise their support for the boycott in their windows and aims to see sections of the city become ‘Israeli-produce free’.
The current stance of British retailers
Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose all openly sell settlement produce as well as produce from within the 1967 borders of Israel. ASDA has been reported not to stock settlement produce but in response to a query from Ethical Consumer stated that it was guided by “the position of the UK Government and by the European Union on trade policy” – in other words, no policy.4 In 2007, Marks and Spencer decided not stock settlement produce because its supply chain management system means that it must be able to visit every production site, and it could not guarantee the safety of its staff within the West Bank, Golan Heights or Gaza.5 The Co-op (soon also to include Somerfield) stated that “the Co-operative Group does not source primary produce from illegal West Bank settlements, and is actively progressing the removal of the very small amount present as ingredients in own-brand composite products... we concluded in 2008, following discussions with our customer-members, that such trade was inappropriate. At the same time, we reaffirmed our commitment to sourcing produce from Israel.”6
Wholefood distributors Suma and Essential do not have policies on either Israeli or settlement produce.
More information from:
References 1 Connex Ireland forced to cancel contract with Occupation http://stopthewall.org/worldwideactivism/1277.shtml, viewed 03/02/08 2 EDM 457, http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=37480&SESSION=899, viewed 03/02/09 3 EDM 370, http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=37385&SESSION=899, viewed 03/02/09 4 email 2/2/9 5 phone call 3/2/9 6 email 16/1/9