This is the final article in a series focusing on BDS movements around the world.
In 1948, Israel was founded as a Jewish state on land ethnically cleansed of its indigenous Palestinian population. As a result, most Palestinians became refugees and to this day are not allowed by Israel to return to their lands, despite their internationally recognized right to return as guaranteed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194. In 1967, Israel annexed the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, beginning its military occupation of these areas. Since then, Israeli settlements have been built on expropriated Palestinian land in those areas.
On July 9, 2005, one year after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared Israel’s apartheid wall illegal, Palestinian civil society organisations called upon international civil society and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era, until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.
Andrew Kadi, co-chair of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is part of this worldwide movement that seeks to aid in the Palestinian cause for self-determination. This is a US coalition of over 300 organisations that do work focused on supporting Palestinian rights ranging from grass roots work like boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) campaigns to supporting and amplifying many of their constituents in congress and in Washington DC.
Kadi is also a member of Adalah New York which forms part of the New York campaign to boycott Israel.
“Adalah New York was founded in late 2006, early 2007 and was formed out of a coalition of individuals and groups that have formed to protest the bombardment of Lebanon and Gaza by Israel,” Kadi explained.
“A significant number of the founding members are Palestinian and had been tied back to the founding of the BDS national committee in Palestine.”
Kadi added that many of the NY activists and members had experiences with the South African anti-Apartheid movement. These activists decided that BDS would be an effective tool to employ in challenging US support for Israeli policies and challenging companies that were profiting from the occupation as well as challenging the presence of Israeli companies and institutions in the US.
“Adalah New York negotiated internally what type of campaign they would be interested in and then in connecting with groups on the ground in Palestine as well as Israeli groups, concluded that one of the Israeli settlement builders was targeting a number of villages that a lot of people had connection to. This would be an excellent target in particular because he was opening a store in New York city,” he explained.
THE DIAMOND INDUSTRY
The settlement builder Kadi refers to is Uzbek-born Israeli businessman Lev Leviev, said to have a net worth of almost two billion dollars. Leviev’s diamond mining in Angola and his investments in settlement building has been the target of many protests and Adalah New York thus, focussed their boycott and divestment campaigns on him.
“Leviev Diamonds was opening up in New York and Adalah New York protested outside the grand opening of the store. It drew attention as it was a celebrity gala so there was a crowd of people,” Kadi stated.
Through the campaign of targeting Leviev, Adalah New York received information that not only had Leviev been involved in the South African diamond industry, but that his main diamond operation was based out of Angola.
“As a result Adalah New York worked with Angolan human rights activists to learn more about his operations there and we added cases, where Leviev’s company were involved in human rights violations, into our campaign,” Kadi said.
“Between three to four years of targeting Leviev, Adalah New York successfully got organisations like UNICEF and Oxfam to distance themselves from him noting that he had claimed philanthropic contributions to both of those organisations.”
UNICEF renouncing Leviev had made international news and Oxfam had said that they had never received support from him and his claim was actually fraudulent.
“In addition to that, his company hosted celebrity endorsements and we began reaching out to the celebrities that wore his diamonds highlighting Leviev’s human rights violations and violations of international law that Leviev was actually involved in,” Kadi continued.
“As a result at first one or two celebrities came off of his website, but then the entire celebrity section of his website eventually disappeared.”
Adalah New York further pushed their campaign against Leviev by working with organisations to press for divestments from Leviev’s companies to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Activists also worked with an organisation in the United Kingdom in order to challenge the UK government which was planning to rent its embassy space from his company in Tel Aviv.
“The UK government held a parliamentary session to discuss this matter and the foreign office announced that they would not be renting from him and that they would be taking a stronger position or taking a stronger stance in regards to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” Kadi added.
“This is an ongoing campaign.”
In 2010, Leviev’s Africa-Israel company said that they had no longer any plans to continue settlement building, resulting in an investment by a European pension fund. However, Adalah New York was able to provide evidence that Leviev companies were still involved in settlement building.
The most significant campaign involving Leviev occurred when media mogul Oprah wore Leviev diamonds on the cover of her O magazine.
“We (Adalah New York) worked with a variety of organisations to put together a letter calling on Oprah to distance herself from Leviev in light of his human rights violations in Angola and in light of his violations of international law in Palestine,” Kadi expressed.
He added that the letter was then celebrated by pro-Israeli organisations because Oprah didn’t take action nor respond.
Other work that Adalah New York has worked on includes boycotting SodaStream, which is a worldwide campaign which many BDS movements are involved in. The movement has also worked on a variety of cultural boycott campaigns ranging from pressing artists not to perform in Israel to protesting Israeli dance companies that come to the US portraying themselves solely as artists but taking money from Israeli government entities.
ENDING THE OCCUPATION
The US Campaign to End the Israeli occupation was founded in 2001 and is a coalition over 300 organisations from the US challenging Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices by doing, in Kadi’s words, “what we can to support Palestinians on the ground.”
“In many cases it involves making space for them (Palestinians) by giving them access to congress or working on BDS campaigns and being a resource to the organisation doing that work,” Kadi further added.
Kadi says that they (US campaign) were involved in a St Lewis campaign targeting the French multi-national Veolia.
“In St Lewis they (Veolia) were going for a water contract with the city there and one of our member groups targeted this issue and basically pushed Veolia out,” Kadi stated.
So far Veolia has lost over 20 million dollars in campaigns around the world.
Kadi says that the roles of the US campaign is to co-ordinate campaigns between movements and bring it to a national level.
“A campaign in the US has been implemented and is gaining some momentum is against HP for their involvement in the occupation,” he continued.
With regards to the academic boycott of Israel, Kadi added that they are not quite at that point where academic institutions (in the US) have completely severed their ties with Israeli universities.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals. According to PACBI, “all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights.”
Until April 2013, no American school had ever divested from or imposed an academic boycott on Israel despite strong boycott campaigns. In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) voted to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions. It was joined in December by the American Studies Association (ASA).
The reasons given were “Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; (and) the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights,” and thus “negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”
“Nonetheless there is an understanding that academia in Israel for the most part is complicit in a lot of the operations of the military in the designing of weapons and plans of strategy,” Kadi said.
In response to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine the group was placed on the Anti-Defamation League’s top ten anti-Israel groups.
“This is an organisation that is supposed to be focused on dealing with anti-Semitism in the United States, but instead has a long history of being involved in a lot of Islamophobic things,” Kadi explained.
“It is also very much involved in defaming Palestinian human rights activists.”
Kadi goes further to say that initially people were not supportive of using BDS as a tool and to end the occupation and were dismissive of it.
“People have realised the potential in doing this type of work and using this as a tactic because of the way that BDS is framed; it has explicit principles and by-lines that come from Palestinian civil society and furthermore it has the involvement of Jewish Americans in the movement.”
“It’s becoming more and more difficult for groups to dismiss this as being anti-Semitic,” Kadi concluded. VOC (Umarah Hartley)