Monday, August 5, 2013

The ABC of BDS and international solidarity

Dear friends,
please find below an article I wrote in response to an article which appeared on ABC's Drum last month written by Nicholas Herriman about the Palestinian BDS Campaign.  You can read Herriman's article here.

In solidarity, Kim


The ABC of BDS and international solidarity
by Kim Bullimore

In 1958, the African National Congress (ANC) issued an international called for an academic and economic boycott to protest South African apartheid. At the time and for many years, up until the 1990s, the supporters of the South African boycott call were regularly accused of not only unfairly “singling out” South Africa but also told the situation was “complex” and accused of not taking into account the fact that there were some white South Africans opposed to the apartheid regime. They were simultaneous accused of hurting the victims of apartheid and of supporting terrorists, while also told they had “an image problem” and their efforts would make no difference. Today, South Africa's apartheid regime has come to an end and the critics of the boycott campaigners have been shown to be on the wrong side of history.

Many of the same criticisms made against the South African boycott campaign are today being made against the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his Drum article on July 2, responding to Professor Jake Lynch's defence of the BDS campaign, Dr Nicholas Herriman repeats many. He argues BDS has an “image problem” and is tarnished by anti-Semitism because it “appears to many that Israel is unfairly singled out” Herriman also accuses the Palestinian BDS campaign and its supporters of being “inconsistent”, arguing that “the grounds on which BDS selects Israel and the manner of its action – a boycott – are unclear”.

However, there is nothing “unclear” or even mysterious about the BDS campaign's rationale or why Israel has been “selected” for boycott. BDS is a grassroots campaign initiated and led by Palestinian civil society against the state which has oppressed them since 1948. Today millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents live in exile outside their homeland, while Palestinians who were eventually granted Israeli citizenship inside the Zionist state after 1948 continue to be subject to more than fifty laws which actively discriminate against them in areas as far ranging as marriage, land ownership, housing, education and employment. In the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem more than four million Palestinian continue to live under Israel's brutally repressive military occupation which is now in its forty-sixth year.

BDS isn't a campaign initiated by non-Palestinians. Like the South African boycott campaign, it's an anti-colonial campaign initiated by an oppressed, colonised people against their oppressor. Put simply, the Palestinian people are calling for the boycott of Israel because Israel is the state which is directly oppressing them, not Russia, Australia or Syria. As such any claim that the Palestinian BDS campaign is “singling out” Israel is not only ludicrous but also utterly disingenuous. However, Dr Herriman “disappears” Palestinian agency and voice from the campaign in order to create just such a disingenuous straw argument.

Like the South African boycott campaign, the Palestinian BDS campaign is conducted in the frame work of international solidarity, calling on people of conscience worldwide to stand with an oppressed people against their oppressor. As the child of an Aboriginal parent and as someone who has actively campaign against racism in this country and supported other international human rights campaigns, I see nothing inconsistent with standing in solidarity with my indigenous sisters and brothers in Palestine (or elsewhere) when they call for international support and solidarity against the settler-colonial state which is oppressing them.

Dr Herriman's argument that Palestinians can only address and organise against their own oppression once they have put forward “more rounded and comprehensive policy on matters in international, regional and local contexts” is also ludicrous. Basically this is an argument for inaction, telling Palestinians they cannot organise against their oppressors unless they come up with policies to solve every other oppression in the world. Would Dr Herriman and other critics of the Palestinian BDS have made the same demand of the South Africans struggling against apartheid? Would they have made the same demands of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jnr. and the 1960s Black American civil rights movement?

There is also nothing “unclear” about the way in which BDS applies boycott action. As the BDS National Committee (BNC) in Palestine has explained, repeatedly: BDS utilises institutional boycotts. While the South African boycott targeted individuals and all things South African, the Palestinian campaign doesn't. As the BNC noted in their 2011 statement issued in support of Australian BDS campaigners who were – and continue to be - falsely smeared as anti-Semitic: “Nowhere in the world are BDS activities about targeting specifically business with Israeli ownership, based on the nationality of their owner. Businesses and institutions are rather chosen based on their direct contribution to grave human rights abuses and international law violations of the Israeli state and military, or to rebranding campaigns that attempt to whitewash Israel’s crimes”.

Thus Palestinian BDS fits within a diverse continuum of national and international social movements for justice and human rights, all of which engage the agency of oppressed people and those who stand in solidarity with them. And there is nothing irrational, unclear or anti-Semitic about that.

Kim Bullimore is the author of 'BDS and the Struggle for a Free Palestine' which appears in Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left, edited by Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow. She is a long time anti-racism campaigner and a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service in Palestine, the only all-women international peace team working on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In 2010, she co-organised the first Australian national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference in support of Palestine. Kim has a blog at Live from Occupied Palestine.

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