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BDS Austria troubling Israeli-affiliated companies

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This forms part of a series focusing on BDS movements around the world

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known by its acronym, BDS, with branches quickly spreading throughout the world has quickly become the main focus of international solidarity and activism. The movement has grown in size as a result of the increased awareness the movement is creating with regards to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The Israeli government’s response to the movement has been called “predictable”. Incapable of engaging in any reasonable form of self-criticism and self-reflection, Israeli leaders have instead, turned their wrath on their accusers and their victims.

In response to the BDS movement, Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is throwing big money into fighting BDS in the US through counter-activism and mostly through buying political power in Washington DC and in various state capitals.

In an effort to force a change in Israeli behaviour in the occupied territories, BDS movements in Europe have sprung up like wildfire, and over the past weekend the movements held a wave of solidarity protests in each country in order to display their solidarity with the Palestinian people.

With a population of nearly two million, Vienna is the largest city in Austria and is its cultural, economic and political centre. Within the city lies a growing BDS movement that has gained momentum over the past year as a result of the Israeli assaults on the Gaza strip.

Anna Hennebichler from BDS Austria, situated in Vienna, says that the movement was started by a non-governmental organisation that focuses on topics from the Middle East.

“We started in May 2014, when the organisation invited an Israeli activist from within the boycott movement as well as a BDS activist from Switzerland to discuss the movement globally and in their countries,” Hennebichler explained.

“We have now been working for one and a half years to create more awareness around BDS because the movement was not known in Austria before.”

AWARENESS BUILDING

Hennebichler added that many discussions took place within the group to ascertain what the main focus and objective of the movement should be and it was then decided to direct initial focus towards awareness building.

“In 2014 when the attack on Gaza took place we were heavily involved in protest action and hosted info points where people could get information from us,” Hennebichler went further.

“The first company we focussed on was SodaStream because we orientated our campaign to align with international BDS campaigns and SodaStream is really big and visible in Austria as well,” Hennebichler continued.

In October 2014, SodaStream announced its 2014 revenue and profit had declined significantly. However, the company cited the decline in consumption of sugary drinks as a possible reason for the loss of revenue and not the BDS campaign against it.

“We had a lot of requests from people attending protests and discussion talks that we create a leaflet listing all the companies that are complicit in the occupation and Israeli war crimes that also have offices in Austria,” Hennebichler added.

In this way people themselves directly boycott these organisations, without having been made aware of the company’s involvement in illegal Israeli activity through protests.

In Europe settlement products, that have for years been exported to Europe under the false title “Made in Israel”, will have to change their labels now according to new EU guidelines, or be denied entry.

Hennebichler says that future campaigns that BDS Austria will focus on will be targeted towards Hewlett-Packard, commonly known as HP and Caterpillar as these are two prominent brands in Austria.

Unbeknown to some, HP, the computing giant, makes the high-tech identification cards that Israel uses to operate checkpoints that separate the West Bank from Israel.

Furthermore the Presbyterian Church, in America, recently voted to dump $20 million worth of shares in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and HP.

PEOPLE’S REACTION

“There has been some positive reactions from people who have subscribed to our newsletter and have shared our posts via Facebook, however we have also received negative reaction on a personal level from people familiar to members of the BDS group,” Hennebichler expressed.

She went further to say the Jewish community within Vienna has put pressure on selected venues not to accommodate the BDS group when they wish to hold discussion talks.

“We have been confronted with physical attacks on the street, sometimes by members of the Jewish community or by people that feel provoked by what we have to say or by our presence,” she added.

THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION

This year, Hennebichler says, BDS Austria was part of the Israeli Apartheid week that was hosted in March and the group also staged a massive protest in the main square of Vienna in order to bring the Palestinian issue to the forefront.

Between seven and ten people form the core group of BDS Austria in Vienna, but the group does have a few supporters that aid in organising BDS events.

“We have some activists in Graz, but they have not officially formed a BDS movement as yet,” Hennebichler stated.

She added that the BDS movement is a really unique approach to the Palestinian question because it comes from civil society and it is not bound to any parties or official bodies.

“It is based on international law so it demands the international rights of freedom, of equality, of self determination for Palestinians and I do not understand how someone could not agree with this,” she continued.

“It calls for basic human rights and that is something that everyone should support,” Hennibichler concluded. VOC (Umarah Hartley)


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