Anti-BDS tide hits Europe and North America
France banned the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as long ago as 2003. The US State Department formally defined anti-Semitism in 2010 – under which BDS activities would be legally considered anti-Semitic.
Yet it took an Act of the US Congress last June to jump-start the promulgation of anti-BDS laws and actions. Many were passed during 2015, but 2016 is adding exponentially to a wave of global legislation.
Anti-BDS laws are being passed or proposed all over the US and Canada, almost every European country is discussing it and the UK, France, Austria, Germany and Spain have already killed or curtailed BDS activity in their countries.
Different countries have different laws and constitutions. Says Pascal Makowicz, head of the legal department of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities: “BDS is illegal in France.” While France has very strong Constitutional protection for freedom of speech,
BDS promoters have been convicted of inciting hate or discrimination. France’s highest court has ruled that incitement trumps speech and declined their appeals.
There is an active branch of BDS in South Africa which is an integral cog in the BDS wheel that seeks to brand Israel as an apartheid state.
However, the incontrovertible fact is that BDS suddenly finds itself under severe threat.
The restrictions and bans are for the most part, either against BDS as an entity or encompass what they espouse. It seems clear that legislation is being used to curtail BDS activities.
The fight-back movement gained momentum late in 2015 and has blossomed in 2016.
In the US, Congress passed an anti-BDS act last year in negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, which included a requirement of the President to raise the US push-back against BDS in all negotiations.
This ensures that any Israel boycott becomes a key objective in trade talks with the EU (and any other country that enjoys the largesse of trade and treaties with America, such as South Africa) which could find themselves being denied favourable trading status and benefits such as USAid.
The big fight-back is bulldozing onward
Illinois was the first – in July last year – to divest pensions from companies that boycott Israel. “This historic legislation is an important first step in the fight against boycotts of Israel,” the Governor said, and he hoped other states moved quickly to follow suit.
Almost half of all US states have, or are now considering, legislation aimed at countering BDS.
South Carolina followed Illinois mandating state divestment from companies that boycott Israel. By year’s end a further 11 states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia – were in the process of drafting similar laws.
Kansas and Pennsylvania are planning to defund universities that participate in an Israel boycott while six more states have adopted (or plan to) resolutions condemning Israel boycotts.
Last month Indiana unanimously approved a ban on state dealings with BDS.
US billboard giant Lamar Advertising has this week removed a huge sign located on a major highway near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The BDS-sponsored billboard read: “Boycott Israel until Palestinians have equal rights”. This led to a public outcry and Lamar had to remove it.
At Harvard Law School, international law firm Milbank withdrew a $1 million sponsorship this month after a “Justice for Palestine” event used $500 in Milbank funds for food.
The US Foreign Affairs Committee‘s top Republican and Democrat have introduced a resolution urging the Obama administration “to increase the use of its voice, vote, and influence in international organisations and other appropriate international forums, to actively oppose” acts by BDS.
Canada’s parliament this week passed a motion rejecting the movement’s goals. Tony Clement, who led the debate, said BDS was “just like boycotts that have targeted Jews throughout history”.
Britain this week announced that it plans to completely outlaw BDS. The measures will make Britain the second major European country with laws against the boycotting of Israel, France being the first in 2003.
French laws have served as the basis for multiple convictions of BDS activists who were sentenced for incitement to discrimination or hate due to their actions on Israel; while the Paris City Council earlier this month passed two declarative motions expressing the city’s rejection of any attempts by anyone to boycott Israel.
Austria’s Parliament last week cancelled an event because it included the participation of Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, a Jewish BDS member who makes the Israel-Nazi analogy.
In Germany, DAB Bank Munich last Thursday closed the account of BDS-Kampagne. The Jerusalem Post subsequently quoted BDS as having made threats against the bank. DAB said it took this “very seriously” and would “if necessary, take corresponding measures”.
Last November saw Spanish leftist councillors simultaneously proposing a pro-BDS local law in two cities. In Cordoba, however, the proposer chose to withdraw her proposal after fellow-councillors explained that it would have jeopardised the city’s long-standing tourist benefits that accrue from its annual International Sephardi Jewish Music Festival. A similar motion did pass on the same day in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Israel Law Centre (Shurat HaDin) called on General Electric in the US to void a labour accord with a US trade union that had endorsed BDS. HaDin told GE’s CEO to rescind the recently concluded labour agreement, or face legal action to ensure that GE is not engaged in a litany of incitement that BDS espouses.