This is the fourth 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.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, known for trying to disturb the “status quo” has made headlines all over the world for various campaigns that are undertaken to support the Palestinian cause for the right to self-determination. So what started out as a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel has turned into a global movement with hundreds, if not thousands, of members working daily to raise awareness on the Palestinian issue.
In 2005, when various Palestinian solidarity groups from around the world issued a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) call, various groups in Switzerland came together in order to create an umbrella organisation in the country known as BDS Switzerland.
In 2014 after the assault on Gaza, by Israeli forces, known as Operation Protective Edge, 640 Swiss artists and cultural actors published a public statement on the 23rd of September condemning these atrocities as war crimes committed by Israel.
Switzerland, known for its long history of armed neutrality has frequently been involved in peace-building processes around the world. Roman Vonwil from BDS Switzerland describes the group as a collective of individuals and civil society organisations answering the call for the Palestinian Boycott movement from 2005.
“We established our group in the autumn of 2005 when some Palestinian solidarity groups in Switzerland launched a website which publishes information in German and French about the international BDS movement,” Vonwil explained.
This was officially the first BDS movement then established in Switzerland and thereafter other groups and BDS movements was founded in various cities around the country.
“Since 2006 we have been a national co-ordination group which is an umbrella organisation for all the local groups and as such we have no formal membership,” Vonwil continued.
“The idea is more that individuals and organisations can participate in this group on the condition that they must back the Palestinian and BDS call for boycott divestment and sanction against Israel”.
Israel is known to be the fourth largest arms exporter in the world and Switzerland is known to import arms from Israel. At the moment, one of the campaigns that BDS Switzerland is working on is an arms embargo.
“We are demanding a military embargo on Israel from the Swiss government; this campaign was launched because Switzerland decided to buy drones from Elbit systems which is an Israeli arms company,” Vonwil said.
“The news that the government intended to buy these drones was a trigger for launching a military embargo campaign.”
A petition was thus, launched by the group and according to Vonwil, it garnered over 20 000 signatures from the public.
“However, the purchasing of the drones was passed in parliament this (past) summer, but we decided to keep on with the campaign and coordinate further to a military embargo campaign,” Vonwil added.
On September 7, 2015 the Swiss parliament voted on the purchase of Hermes 900 drones from Israeli company Elbit Systems for the Swiss army. In remembrance of the victims of last year’s attack on Gaza and to remind the parliamentarians that Switzerland is complicit in these crimes by working together with the arms industry of Israel, BDS wrote the names of the children killed by Israel on stripes of cloth and hanged them in public spaces in the cities of Basel and Genève.
“When we launched the arms embargo we had a favourable response from people as most people are against the dealing of arms,” Vonwil mentioned.
Another campaign that the group is focusing on involves two major supermarket chains in Switzerland.
“In this campaign we are demanding that the stores at least put labels on products that come from settlements and they have agreed to these demands so we are now planning to go further to demand that they should not sell any settlement products at all,” Vonwil expressed.
BDS Switzerland forms part of a national committee that is responsible for the co-ordination of various groups around the country and hosts national meetings every two months in order to discuss and prepare various campaigns.
Vonwil says that at these meeting activists from various local groups meet and discuss and draft and prepare the main campaigns and then they take the information back to their local groups.
“These local groups might encompass four of five people, but larger groups will have about 30 activists.”
Vonwil notes that at the start of the BDS group, many Palestinian solidarity groups were not as welcoming of BDS as they might have felt that the group could possibly destroy any approach between Jewish Israeli and the Palestinian side by being too radical and threaten any peaceful solution based on negotiation.
He highlighted, however, that this has changed as people from these solidarity groups like giving attention to BDS and now work together to create more awareness around the issue.
“I think it’s important for BDS to continue to run in the way that they do because, contrary to other Palestinian organisations, we not only focus on the occupation, but also promote solutions for the right to return and apartheid within Israel,” Vonwil concluded.
Most recently reports have surfaced stating that American Jewish hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer has established a non-profit organization to lure international investment to Israel and counter the efforts of the anti-Israel boycott movement.
In the next article we will move down south, where BDS is a continent wide movement. VOC (Umarah Hartley)