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Home Article 74 BDS and the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement (Summer 2008 ) Organization and activities working for boycott of Israel in Sweden

Organization and activities working for boycott of Israel in Sweden

Written by  Tove Myhrman

In Sweden, the general public is largely aware of the need to boycott Israeli agricultural products such as avocado and citrus fruits due to a long standing understanding of the illegitimacy and criminality of Israeli policies and practices. However, there is a more alarming trend in the official Swedish-Israeli governmental relationship. Some organizations in the country have worked actively to highlight and counteract this.

The organization that worked the longest to mobilise behind BDS is the NGO Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden (PGS), which first launched boycott initiatives in the 1980s. At present, activists in PGS believe that it is a central priority to focus Palestine solidarity work against Swedish-Israeli military cooperation, the EU-Israel Association Agreement, as well as demanding the exclusion of Israeli cultural, academic and sports representatives unless they publicly condemn the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

 Some of the PGS's activities are especially worth mentioning. In 2006 the organisation produced a report revealing information about Sweden's military cooperation with Israel, information not previously well-known among the general public. PGS managed, in August that year, to get an article published in the country's largest morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter. The article presented this information and demanded that the Swedish government terminate the military cooperation with Israel. This generated an intensive debate, which led some prominent political groups to take strong public positions condemning the Swedish-Israeli military cooperation.

 The organization has sent out letters to several of the leading universities in the country. The letters encourage universities not to cooperate with Israeli academic institutions or to individual academics who do not condemn the Israeli occupation.

 PGS has also been active in raising awareness about the fact that international companies, such as Caterpillar and Swedish-made Volvo machines are used by the Israeli army to destroy Palestinian homes and infrastructure on both sides of the Green Line. PGS sent letters to these companies' representatives in Sweden, demanding that they stop selling these machines to Israel as long as the Israeli army uses these machines in their comission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Finally, through its webpage and other campaign activities, PGS encourages the general public to boycott Israeli products.

 Some of PGS's work in Sweden has received notable attention in the media and led to debate about trade and other cooperation with Israel. At the same time, representatives of PGS point out that it has been difficult to get full support for boycott and sanctions against Israel. Old traditions of unquestionable support for Israel still prevail among some politicians and parts of the public in Sweden.

 In addition to PGS's work, there are other smaller organizations that have been active in the Swedish BDS campaign. In 2003, a network called Boycott Israel Now, was officially formed. The network's main aim is not to negatively affect Israel's economy or trade, but rather to engage people and organizations against Israel's oppression and occupation of the Palestinians and their land. The main aim of the proposed boycott is to facilitate individual and organizational participation in the struggle for a free Palestine. The network came to include several Swedish organisations that have been part of the solidarity movement for Palestine, such as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) Sweden, the Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden (PGS), the Palestinian Association, as well as the youth wings of some of the smaller left political parties' in the Swedish parliament.

 The platform of the Boycott Israel Now network was agreed upon by the member organizations, and

  • Encourages individuals to not by products from Israel or to take tourist trips there;
  • Encourages companies and Swedish authorities not to do business with Israel or Israeli companies;
  • Demands that the Swedish government work within the EU for cancellation of the EU-Israel Association Agreement;
  • Demands that the Swedish government stops all military trade with Israel.

 However, the campaign has primarily focused on informing the general public about how they can actively boycott Israeli goods sold in stores around Sweden. For example, over 250,000 informational stickers and flyers have been distributed to the Swedish general public during demonstrations and pickets outsides stores selling Israeli products.

 The network's activities have decreased over the last years. Presently the network focuses mostly on disseminating information about different ways to boycott Israel and protest against its occupation policies through its website. Nevertheless, when the network was most active, it managed to publish a debate article in Dagens Nyheter which highlighted Sweden's import of Israeli military goods and Sweden's military cooperation with Israel. The article was signed by several prominent people among them Sten Andersson a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. The article contributed to a general debate about the issue in Sweden, which in turn contributed to prevention of the Swedish army from participation in an international military training to which the Israeli army was invited.

The Boycott Israel Now network has also tried to mobilize other groups in Sweden, such as labour unions behind the demand to boycott of Israeli goods and sanctions against representatives of Israel. However, this has been an uphill battle. Ammar Makboul, representative of Boycott Israel Now says that this can be partly explained by looking at the limited support of the boycott campaign by representatives of the Palestinian Authority. According to Makboul, representatives from the PA have been invited to conferences and events in Sweden during which they have encouraged Sweden and the EU to support free trade between Israel, Palestine and the EU. This has caused confusion among politicians and organizations in Sweden about where to stand in regards to the boycott of Israel.

 In response to a request from churches in the Middle East, several Swedish churches have organised themselves to provide support for a just peace and end of the Israeli occupation. The HOPP-campaign was launched in the spring of 2004. The campaign had several activities aiming at contributing to peace and end of the occupation, and includes boycott activities. However, the campaign does not support boycott of Israel as such, but of products from Israeli settlements.

 Examples are:

*Demanding that the trade under the EU-Israel Association Agreement adhere to the clause binding EU countries to boycott settlement products;
*Encouraging the Swedish government and parliament to ensure that products from Israeli settlements on occupied territory not reach Sweden or the EU.
*Encouraging the Swedish public not to buy products from Israeli settlements on occupied territory.

The campaign was supported by several of the main Churches in Sweden, including the Church of Sweden. However, it has also led to intensive debate within the Christian community in Sweden about whether it was right or wrong to support the campaign. The Churches that had chosen to stand behind the campaign provided extensive information about the situation in Palestine and backed up their support with rights-based arguments. The campaign ended in December 2005. Since then there have been similar but smaller initiatives within the different churches, organized primarily by church youth groups. The Church of Sweden's emphasis that it still works for a just peace in the Middle East also continues.

 Representatives of the Church of Sweden point out that the campaign raised awareness among many of the church members around a just peace in the Middle East. At the same time, many understood it as a boycott against Israel. This was because they could or did not want to differentiate between boycott of products from settlements and products from Israel more generally. The campaign also managed to raise awareness about the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The campaign managed to convince Swedish authorities to prevent import under the Agreement of settlement products.

 In conclusion, it could be said that there are or have been different initiatives in Sweden to boycott and enforce sanctions against Israel or products from Israeli settlements. However, the boycott movement was more active in the beginning of the second Intifada and activities have since then declined. The popular support for boycott of Israeli products or cultural or sport exchange has also varied over time. It was for example nearly impossible for shops to sell Israeli fruits and vegetables in the early years of the second Intifada, but these products have found their way back onto Swedish supermarket shelves. There is also less evident public protest against Israeli participation in sport and cultural events.

 

Tove Myhrman

Tove Myhrman

Tove Myhrman works as a consultant in development. She lived and worked in Palestine between 2001-2006. She can be reached at tovemyhrman@hotmail.com