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Pushing BDS in Brighton

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This is the second article in a series that will look at various BDS movements from around the world and the campaigns that these movements focus on.

The English town of Brighton is a picturesque seaside resort town, far away from the chaos of London city’s life. It’s not a place where one would expect a thriving pro-Palestinian movement. But far from being placid, Brighton is more than meets the eye and has a small, but very active Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction movement (BDS).

Despite the existence of an active solidarity movement in Brighton, BDS Brighton came into being in the summer of 2013, after a company called EcoStream opened.

EcoStream is a subsidiary of SodaStream whose main factory is located on an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Following two years of regular street protests by people, associated with BDS Brighton and other pro-Palestinian groups, outside the EcoStream store in central Brighton, the shop announced that it was closing down.

“We discovered that EcoStream was owned by SodaStream, an Israeli Company and we launched a weekly picket, every Saturday afternoon, outside the store,” says Russ Clark from BDS Brighton.

For Clark this was the birth of Brighton BDS. Brighton had already had a Palestinian Solidarity movement in the community, but Brighton BDS was able to draw in a bigger crowd of people all under the umbrella of the BDS movement who came out to support the picketing every week.

“BDS Brighton doesn’t exist as a formal group, as there is no organisation and no members. There is only a twitter account and in a sense the twitter account is the only real evidence of a group. We act as an umbrella for campaigns and actions and it is a source for putting out information,” Clark explained.

Campaign strategy

“Our main message that we were sending out to the public was to ask the community of Brighton not to shop in that store and to push the message of BDS out,” Clark went further.

The protests raised awareness about the role of the shop’s parent company SodaStream in Israel’s land removals in the occupied West Bank territory and the human rights violations that have occurred as a result.

Clark says that the campaign against the EcoStream shop was ultimately successful, but noted that it took 18 months of picketing every week in order to be successful.

“Over the 18 months of picketing the shop, the protest grew in size and it was obvious that the shop was suffering in trade; we had a lot of support locally from people who, once they became aware of the background to the shop, it became clear that they should support BDS,” Clark continued.

“The fact that it (EcoStream) was due to be a pilot for a UK chain and that came to nothing made it a greater victory”.

Clark attributes the ultimate success in the physical presence that the movement had in Brighton. People were able to engage with BDS members and it gave BDS Brighton a platform to get the wider message of BDS across to the public.

Stiff opposition 

However, as a result of the ever increasing support for Palestine, Clark says that they unwittingly created an opposition to their movement.

“We did attract a counter opposition to ourselves of quite hard-line people who publicly called themselves Zionists, that were not representative of the Jewish population of Brighton as a whole,” Clark mentioned.

“Brighton has a sizeable Jewish population so we had to be clear that this is not about anti-Semitism, this is not about being anti-Jewish…this was about a multi-national Israeli company that was complicit in the occupation.”

This opposition to BDS went on to form an organisation which is now one of the most active pro-Israeli organisations in the country.

Clark says that having pro-Israeli groups picketing against the BDS Brighton group, whilst they were picketing against the store, just drew more attention to the store. This was in fact creating more publicity for the movement and their goals. This campaign received wide media attention and was featured on an Al Jazeera insert. Clark says that this campaign became the symbol for their BDS campaign.

“It wasn’t an overnight success but we did have something which we could physically focus on rather than arguing in the abstract the need for BDS,” Clark said.

Divestment 

“One of the other things that we focused on is the fact the Barclay’s bank held shares in an Israeli weapons manufacturing company Elbit and we demanded that Barclay’s sell their shares in Elbit,” Clark continued.

Barclay’s is a universal bank with its headquarters in London. Its main focus is in retail, wholesale and investment banking, as well as wealth management, mortgage lending and credit cards. Elbit on the other hand is an Israel-based international defence electronics company engaged in a wide range of programs throughout the world.

Barclay’s held shares in Elbit and BDS Brighton called for the divestment of Barclay’s from Elbit.

“We have done things like occupying the bank; we had a pop up art gallery filled with pictures of the devastation caused in Gaza last year and at Christmas, Santa Clause actually glued himself to the doors of Barclay’s to stop them from opening,” Clark added.

“We put a banner above the doorway saying ‘blood bank’ so that customers would see it as they enter the bank and last December. Barclay’s announced that it was divesting from Elbit.”

This campaign, Clark notes, drew in anti-arms activists and not only a Palestinian activist crowd.

“People are happy to come under our banner because they see our social media profile and can see that Brighton BDS actually does things,” Clark continued.

He concluded that the group prefers direct action which allows for more attention to be drawn to their BDS cause and for the BDS movement as a whole.

This year marks the 10th anniversary since the start of the BDS. The movement calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine and for the right of Palestinian citizens to return to their original homeland.

The campaign now has thousands of volunteers worldwide, lobbying companies, governments and citizens to sever ties with Israel.

All around the world there are various Palestinian groups, but not all of them have titled themselves as a BDS movement. In February, in a letter to the Guardian, more than 600 artists and cultural workers announced their support for the boycott of Israel.

It is safe to say, however, that the global BDS campaign has increased awareness surrounding the Palestinian issue. VOC (Umarah Hartley)


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