3 Shawaal 1438 AH • 28 June 2017

Israeli lobby powerful in Australia: BDS

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This is the fifth part in a series of articles that looks at various BDS movements from around the world and the campaigns that these movements focus on.

Inspired by the effective movement against apartheid South Africa, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is directed against the illegal military occupation and settlements of the West Bank, the collective punishment of Gaza and Israeli discrimination of its own Palestinian citizens. BDS opposes corporations, institutions and organisations which support Israel’s violation of human rights and international law including businesses such as Caterpillar, SodaStream, G4S and Veolia (who has subsequently severed ties with Israel following a global campaign of boycotts against the corporation).

Australia hosts a number of organisations that are part of the BDS Australia movement. These include, Free Gaza Australia, Jews against the Occupation, Students for Justice in Palestine and Sydney Staff for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions to name but only a very few.

Paul Duffill, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), says the organisations that form part of BDS Australia started in response to the 2005 call for a BDS movement around the world and has been growing ever since.

“One of the first big places of support that we had, emerged from the trade unions and after Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 we had a really big growth and support from trade unions (in Australia),” says Duffill, who has documented the support for BDS and their campaigns on the Australians For BDS website.

“We now have had over 18 different branches of trade unions who have called for a full boycott against Israel.”

A further eight trade unions have called for a settlement boycott and several other trade unions have called for a military boycott of Israel.

Legal woes

BDS Australia has also grown in size in the past two years as a result of a law case against an Australian professor who is involved in BDS and has called for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the occupation.

“There was a legal case launched by an Israeli directed law firm which started when this law firm took one of my colleague’s Professor Jake Lynch to court in Australia attempting to silence him and silence our centre for speaking in support of the BDS campaign,” Duffill explained.

The legal wrangle ensued when Professor Don Avnon of Hebrew University contacted Prof. Lynch seeking permission to use his name on an application under the Sir Zelman Cowan fellowship program. Prof Lynch refused, citing his and CPACS’ support for a boycott of institutional links with universities in Israel.

According to an article published on Change.org, Prof. Stuart Rees, Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation and Prof. Jake Lynch, the director of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), had been threatened with legal action by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli Law Centre, through agents acting on their behalf in Australia.

The claim was that Rees and Lynch are backing racist and discriminatory policies through their support for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

However according to BDS, their policies state they are a human rights based movement and opposed to racism in all forms, including anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, Duffill says that there are leaked US cables that contain information implying that this law firm is directed by elements within the Israeli government and thus, this law firm was seen to be promoting Israel interests in the occupation in a way that Israel couldn’t.

By July in 2014, the court case had collapsed and the law firm had to withdraw from it when the judge ordered the law firm to present evidence that BDS was racially discriminatory.

Duffill adds that the case was a great example where claims in support of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine rapidly disintegrated when they were put to the test of evidence. He attributes the creation of more BDS groups in Australia to the publicity that the law case created.

Peace and conflict

Since 2009, the CPACS at the University of Sydney has become part of the academic boycott.

“The academic boycott is about withdrawing support for Israeli institutions that are actively involved in the abuse of Palestinian human rights and actively involved in illegal behaviour in Israel and Palestine,” Duffill went further.

“It is a boycott of organisations and not individuals.”

In October of last year a walk for BDS was undertaken which was led by Israeli academic Marcelo Svirsky. It was a 10 day walk from Sydney opera house to the Australian parliament in Canberra.

“Svirsky collected over 700 signatures from people in Australia supporting BDS and he delivered this petition to the Australian parliament; a member of the Australian parliament Melissa Parke who is part of the labour party delivered a speech in support of the BDS campaign,” Duffill went further.

According to Duffill, over one billion (Australian) dollars has been spent over the last ten years by the Australian government in funding Israeli weapons and arms companies.

“The BDS campaign here is about introducing balance to Australia’s foreign policy. Of course Australia implements a wide range of sanctions against countries in the Middle East including Syria, and Iraq, however Israel is absent from Australia’s international sanctions.”

Elbit Systems, the company involved in supplying equipment to the separation wall that separates the West Bank from Israel; has according to documents in the public domain, received a large majority of this money.

“It’s ridiculous that tax payers money should be used to fund organisations like Elbit Systems and one campaign that has recently been launched is about ending military ties with Israel,” Duffill stated.

This campaign has been launched by the New South Wales Greens party and promotes withdrawing support for illegal behaviour by Israel on Palestinians.

According to Israeli journalist, Shuki Sadeh, the arms industry figures show that after the initial period of criticism of Israel and after the various operations end, sales pick up. There has been continuous growth in Israeli defence exports in recent years. In 2002, such exports were worth $2 billion, grew to $3.4 billion in 2006, and were $7.5 billion in 2012.

However, there are now many countries and companies around the world beginning to sever military ties with Israel. In early 2015, the Danish military cancelled a planned contract with Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. In November 2014, Brazilian state Rio Grande do Sul similarly cancelled a deal with Elbit Systems. In 2009 Norway’s Finance Ministry excluded Elbit from the country’s global pension fund. Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen stated: “we do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law”.

Duffill says that many Australian government political parties do not want to acknowledge that Australian tax payer’s money is being used to fund companies such as Elbit Systems.

Conditions

Former foreign minister of Australia Robert John “Bob” Carr has noted publically the large disproportionate influence of the Israeli lobby in Australia.

“Carr said that the lobby exerts influence through two mechanisms: the first mechanism is through financial donations to political campaigns and the second mechanism is through funding for trips which are public relations trips to Israel,” Duffill explained.

However, Duffill has acknowledged that there are two main conditions needed in order to achieve a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For there to be effective negotiation and dialogue, there needs to be balanced power, balanced status and there needs to be a stalemate, he explains.

“The second condition is that there needs to be a way out vision for the future where the conflicting parties can live together and still have their needs met,” Duffill continued.

“The BDS campaign satisfies both of those conditions, but clearly right now there is no equal stalemate.”

There is an increasing growth in settlements in house demolitions and alarming levels of violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with clashes taking place between Israelis and Palestinians on a daily basis.

“BDS promotes non-violence and promotes people to engage with each other without using military force. They provide the visions for the people in Israel and Palestine that they can move to; the vision for the future based on equal human rights,” Duffill concluded. VOC (Umarah Hartley)

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