This is the first part in a series of articles that will look at various BDS movements from around the world and the campaigns that these movements focus on.
While the word “BDS” has become somewhat of a buzzword in South Africa since last year’s catastrophic war on Gaza, very few people know that the concept of a Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a global campaign attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel.
The BDS campaign was started in 2005 by over 100 Palestinian NGOs in support of the Palestinian cause to boycott and divest from Israel unless it ends its occupation of Palestine and allows Palestinian refugees the right of return to their homeland. The ultimate call for a sustained BDS cause is the end to the occupation of Palestine.
In terms of its boycott strategy, the South African chapter of BDS has targeted local retailer Woolworths because of its trade links with Israel. Through a mass social media campaign called #BoycottWoolworths, BDS SA have cemented their own consumer boycott, which has adversely affected the wholesome Woolworths brand.
Last week BDS South Africa and hundreds of pro-Palestine sympathizers staged a protest outside the Pharrell Williams concert in South Africa. The local pro-Palestine movement are up in arms over the US musicians brand partnership with Woolworths.
Various countries around the world have focused on their own BDS campaign in order to create more awareness around the Palestinian issue.
One such chapter is BDS Slovenia, who has carried out a campaign to boycott oranges that are produced in Jaffa on land that has been illegally occupied.
The oranges were first developed by Palestinian farmers in the mid-19th century and the variety takes its name from the city where the oranges were first produced for export. However, the oranges are said to now be produced in Israeli settlements on land that was taken away from its Palestinian owners. This campaign was started by BDS Slovenia approximately a year ago and they have addressed those supermarket chains who sold these oranges
Nada Pretnar from BDS Slovenia says that the BDS movement was started in 2012 on the initiative of a group of young Slovene journalists, NGO workers and university students.
“The first event that led to our formation was hosted in February 2012 during Israeli Apartheid week. Since then we have continued to meet and work consistently in Slovenia on the issue of Palestine and promoting information on the issue,” Pretnar explained.
The BDS Slovenia group is made up of two members with volunteers that come in and out of the organisation, thus most campaigns are carried out by emails.
“We do not only do campaigns, but we are also involved in awareness-raising,” Pretnar added.
For the campaign against the sale of Jaffa oranges, Pretnar says that the movement started by sending emails to the management and at the same time informing customers with flyers.
“The campaign was carried out by the use of emails and the only direct action that we used is when we gave out flyers to inform the customers about,” Pretnar went further.
“We had an initial reply from the supermarket chain, but no response after that and we had an online petition, but it did not gather many signatures”.
Pretnar attributes the lack of signatures on the petition to the fact that Slovenia has a population of over two million people, thus making it a small country. With South Africa’s population of over 40 million people, BDS campaigns garner much more public attention on top of the attention garnered through South Africa’s shared history with Palestine.
“The campaign was small, but it was sufficient to get the attention of the Israeli Ambassador in Vienna,” Pretnar noted.
“We eventually changed the direction of the campaign and tried to put pressure on institutions such as the chamber of commerce and offices who should inspect that the origin of goods are correctly marked. “
This was done so that consumers could be made aware that certain products were produced in settlements that are noted as illegal under international law.
On the success of the campaign, Pretnar says that it was not as effective as it could have been as they had a limited number of people assisting them on the ground to create more awareness around the issues that they were trying to bring to the public’s attention.
A CALL FOR BOYCOTT
Most recently, the Israeli Philharmonic orchestra visited Slovenia in August for a festival. BDS Slovenia wrote to the director of the festival and the Mayor of the city in which the festival was being hosted to raise their issues on why it would be problematic to host the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. Pretnar says that this issue gained a greater amount of attention once the media had picked up on the story.
“We wrote to the various parties to inform them why hosting the philharmonic orchestra would be problematic, it was not a call for boycott, the media picked it up and it spiralled into a wildfire,” Pretnar explained.
“It was covered in various newspapers and we did interviews on it and other organisations also joined us, but it was misinterpreted, suddenly it became a call for a cultural boycott when it initially did not start like that.”
Pretnar notes that the minute the media took it in their hands the campaign became public, otherwise it would have just been limited to emails.
On public reaction to their BDS movement, Pretnar says that the general population are actually unaware of the movement and those who attend events hosted by BDS Slovenia are already sensitive to the Palestinian issue and thus, are more inclined to go.
“We have never had any protests against us. Only when the story about the philharmonic orchestra became public, were we accused of anti-Semitism from the Jewish cultural centre,” Pretnar said.
BDS Slovenia is part of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP). Founded in 1986, the ECCP is a network of 50 European committees, organizations, NGOs, unions and international solidarity movements from 22 European countries, which has dedicated itself to the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom, justice and equality.
The ECCP functions as an Umbrella organisation in Europe who coordinates and assists various pro-Palestinian movements across the continent.
“It’s very useful as a reference point especially for a small group like us; we have regular meeting every few months and co-ordinate various initiatives through them,” Pretnar added.
The ECCP will conduct paperwork which allows BDS Slovenia to go ahead with their lobbying of MPs and various institutions in Slovenia in a more effective manner. VOC (Umarah Hartley)