Boycott Israel campaign starts to bite
9 May 2009

Motorola, Caterpillar, Veolia, the Tesco supermarket chain, and other companies 
across the world that do business with Israel are suffering losses due to a 
global boycott in support of Palestinian rights. 

On May 4, protesters greeted Motorola shareholders, already disgruntled by the 
company's losses, as they arrived for their annual meeting at the Rosemont 
Theater in Chicago. 

The protest, organised by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, is 
part of a drive to "Hang Up On Motorola" until it ends sales of communications 
and other products that support Israel's military occupation of Palestinian 

Inside the meeting, the Presbyterian, United Methodist and other churches urged 
shareholders to support their resolution, which calls for corporate standards 
grounded in international law. Doing the right thing could also reduce the risk 
of "consumer boycotts, divestment campaigns and lawsuits". 

Although Motorola executives deny it, such risks must have played a part in 
their decision to sell the department making bomb fuses shortly after Human 
Rights Watch teams found shrapnel with Motorola serial numbers at some of the 
civilian sites bombed by Israel in its December-January assault on Gaza. 

The US protests are part of a growing global movement that has taken 
international law into its own hands because governments have not. And, 
especially since the attacks on Gaza, the boycotts have been biting. 

There are three reasons why. 

First, boycotts enable ordinary citizens to take direct action. For instance, 
the New York group Adalah decided to target diamond merchant Lev Leviev, whose 
profits are plowed into colonising the West Bank. 

During the Christmas season, they sing carols with the words creatively altered 
to urge shoppers to boycott his Madison Avenue store. 

The British group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine teamed up 
with Adalah and others to exert public pressure on the British government 
regarding Leviev. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv recently cancelled plans to 
rent premises from Leviev's company Africa-Israel. 

There are other results. Activists in Britain have targeted the supermarket 
chain Tesco to stop the sales of Israeli goods produced in settlements. 

In a video of one action - over 38,000 YouTube views to date - Welsh activists 
load up a trolley with settlement products and push it out of the shop without 

All the while, they calmly explain to the camera just what they are doing and 
why, as they pour red paint over the produce - and as British Bobbies quietly 
lead them away to a police van. 

The result of such consumer boycotts? A fifth of Israeli producers have 
reported a drop in demand since the assault on Gaza, particularly in Britain 
and Scandinavia. 

The second reason boycotts are effective is the visible role of Jewish human 
rights advocates, making it harder for Israel to argue that these actions are 

For example, British architect Abe Hayeem, an Iraqi Jew, describes in a 
passionate column in the British Guardian exactly how Leviev tramples on 
Palestinian rights, and warns Israeli architects involved in settlements that 
they will be held to account by their international peers. 

In the US, Jewish Voice for Peace has led an ongoing campaign to stop 
Caterpillar from selling bulldozers to Israel, which militarises them and uses 
them in home demolitions and building the separation wall. 

The third, key, reason for the growing success of this global movement is the 
determined leadership of Palestinian civil society. The spark was lit at the 
world conference against racism in Durban in 2001. In 2004, Palestinian civil 
society launched an academic and cultural boycott that is having an impact. 

In 2005, over 170 Palestinian civil society coalitions, organisations, and 
unions from the occupied territories, within Israel, and in exile issued a 
formal call for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions 
(BDS) until Israel abides by international law. 

The call sets out clear goals for the movement and provides a framework for 

In November 2008, Palestinian NGOs helped convene an international BDS 
conference in Bilbao, Spain, to adopt common actions. This launched a "Derail 
Veolia" campaign. The French multinational corporation, together with another 
French company, Alstom, is building a light railway linking East Jerusalem to 
illegal settlements. 

The light rail project was cited by the Swedish national pension fund in its 
decision to exclude Alstom from its US$15 billion portfolio, and by the 
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council in its decision not to further consider 
Veolia's bid for a $1.9 billion waste improvement plan. There were active 
grassroots campaigns in both areas. 

Other hits: Veolia lost the contract to operate the city of Stockholm subway 
and an urban network in Bordeaux. Although these were reportedly "business 
decisions" there were also activist campaigns in both places. The Galway city 
council in Ireland decided to follow Stockholm's example. 

Connex, the company that is supposed to operate the light rail, is being 
targeted by Australian activists. 

The "Derail Veolia" campaign has been the movement's biggest success to date. 
Veolia and its subsidiaries are estimated to have lost as much as $7.5 billion. 

As one of the BDS movement leaders, Omar Barghouti, put it: "When companies 
start to lose money, then they listen". Perhaps governments will too. 

[Nadia Hijab is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in 
Washington. Reprinted from]

Reply via email to