BDS in England and Wales

This article summarizes the current major effort by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and other Palestine solidarity groups in England and Wales to build a really dynamic and concerted BDS campaign across eight action areas for the next year. In the process of describing this, examples will be given of the range of past campaigning actions which are now being drawn together and stepped up, to achieve greater visibility and impact.

  This initiative arose from a PSC workshop held in May 2008 with members from branches around the country and with representatives of sister organizations, especially Scottish PSC, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), Interfaith Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG). The immediate impetus was to respond as forcefully as possible to the Palestinian civil society BDS call of 9 July 2005.

 The concrete aim of the workshop was to produce action proposals which were precisely defined, feasible and had identified timings and lead groups. A comprehensive Action Plan and Calendar for the year ahead emerged, which we are now committed to carrying through with as wide a network of support as possible. There will be a follow-up workshop in November in York to review progress and develop ongoing plans.

 The following is a very brief summary of the eight Action Areas in the Plan. In all these, there will be links with all local branches, production of relevant literature and website revamps, and an organizational framework to check on progress and report back to such bodies as the PSC Annual General Meeting who will convene at the end of this year.

 Consumer Action

 Two work-groups took the lead examining the Boycotting Israeli Goods (BIG) campaign and the specific case of settlement produce, which is so graphic in its illegality that it can be used as an entry point for persuading the public and introducing the case for a general boycott. In addition to continued research and lobbying, there will be a relaunch of the BIG campaign in September, with letter-writing campaigns targeting the large supermarkets and the press from the first day of the month; letter-writing to local supermarkets from 7th; and a national week of action beginning on the 20th. These activities will build on regular work by local groups to picket and leaflet supermarkets and to clarify to the public that the new labeling of some goods as 'West Bank' is absolutely not evidence of their being genuinely Palestinian, but only of the EU's further complicity with Israeli occupation. Complicit Firms

 Intensive campaigns directed at Agrexco (Israeli agricultural produce exporter, much of its production coming from Jordan Valley settlements), Veolia (Jerusalem tramway servicing settlers in the occupied West Bank), Eden Springs (water from the occupied Golan), and Leviev Diamonds (owned by settlement construction mogul Lev Leviev), which have so far mainly been conducted in Britain by local groups in Brighton, Portsmouth, Scotland and - for Leviev - New York (USA), will become national campaigns with tailored lobbying of company headquarters, local outlets and clients (including shops, local councils and educational institutions). There will be seasonal focus on specific Agrexco products (e.g. dates during Ramadan), and continued direct actions. Since 2004, campaigners have targeted the Agrexco UK headquarters with repeated blockades, leading to an attempted prosecution by the company which led to a finding of 'no case to answer' after the protesters argued Agexco's business was unlawful and demanded disclosure of the company's dealings with Israeli settlements.

 EU-Israel Association Agreement

 Much work has been done in the UK and elsewhere on the continent to oppose the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the 2005 'Technical Agreement' on settlement produce between the EU and the Israel Customs Cooperation Committee. This work will continue, and a coordinating group will research the economic benefits illicitly received by Israel (tariff concessions obtained by the mislabeling of settlement products). The research will also aim to quantify the cost of Israeli destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, especially to EC-supported projects and aid program. The campaign against the Association Agreement will involve lobbying UK Members of Parliament and EU parliamentarians to take positions against the Agreement, as well as preparing for the new reform treaty that is due in June 2009.

 Academic Boycott

 In May 2008, the University and College Union (UCU - representing 120,000British academics) passed a new motion on Palestine. The motion calls on members of the union 'to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions' and proposes that 'Ariel College, an explicitly colonizing institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal Greylisting Procedure,' a procedure used by the union against institutions which contravene good labour relations practice. As a result of the resolution, there is new commitment by BDS activists to stand with academics who support the academic boycott and who have faced intensive pressure and legal threats from the Zionist lobby. The PSC will identify its academic members and, with BRICUP, will encourage them to undertake silent (personal) boycotting of Israeli institutions, and - also with students - to work on identifying their universities' research and other links with Israel.

Cultural, Sporting and Professional Boycott

A precise formulation of the criteria for cultural boycott, based on the PACBI call, and a calendar of events for action through the year will be drawn up. This will cover: events such as the recent International Writers Fair in Jerusalem, and the recurrent fundraising events and performances for the Jewish National Fund; sporting events which include Israeli individuals or teams - such as the demonstration at Wembley last September for the qualifying match for the Euro 2008 football competition, and action against football clubs which promote Israel (e.g. Arsenal's contract to advertise Israeli tourism); a template letter for artists accepting invitations to perform in Israel (such as Paul McCartney); and a 'hall of shame and fame' for artists, professionals and sports-people who visit and work with Israel or Israeli institutions, or who pull out of doing so, which will be compiled for the website.

 Pensio and Investment Funds

 There will be work with institutions and with trade union officers and members, and with pension fund managers, to get information on the make-up of funds, and to call for divestment from firms complicit with the occupation as appropriate, following the work which has been pursued in the last few years by Methodist and Anglican churches.

 Faith Group Action

 Groups within the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, and their community associations, will work to support the consumer action, cultural, and divestment campaigns, with specific elements appropriate to their circumstances - e.g. calls for pilgrimages that benefit Palestinians, and boycotting of Israeli-initiated or Israeli-supporting religious and other visits. This work will be led by IMRI.

 Trade Union Action

 There will be continuing contact and actions with trade unions in Palestine, and encouragement of trade union twinning arrangements to underpin BDS actions (e.g. Palestinian workers can supply local information on complicit firms and their abusive practices). Seventeen of the major British trade unions are now affiliated to the PSC, and the affiliations have produced a Trade Union Advisory Committee to follow-up on the campaign. Whilst several of the unions have passed pro-boycott motions, there is a lot of work to be done at grassroots level to identify possibly appropriate and feasible BDS options for each union in its own circumstances, and to increase support for these campaigns. This is advanced through education work among rank-and-file workers, and the provision of speakers and materials.

Progress with the Action Plan will be checked and supported by a central coordinating group, and actions reported through regular planning meetings and through the second Workshop in November mentioned above.

 Lessons from the Campaign

 The British experience with BDS suggests several lessons for the BDS movement. First and foremost is how important it is to keep up the momentum in each area of campaigning, and not to allow either an initial impact or setbacks to stop progress. Examples would be the work on the Caterpillar campaign where the first round of boycott and divestment campaigns made real impacts but seemed to reach a peak. We now realize we must return to this work because it is such a graphic case, along with action against other complicit firms. But perhaps we have to find some new approaches. An example of an apparent setback was the overturning of the original academic union boycott motion in 2005. The vituperative Zionist backlash could have been a real deterrent; it needed steady determined work to produce the new solidarity motions, and much follow-up work at the grassroots will be needed to push the academic boycott campaign forward.

 The second lesson is the importance of drawing boycott campaigns in different areas together so they can reinforce each other, especially complicit firms, consumer boycott and divestment, also drawing in legal support wherever possible. And finally, there is the need to work through as many channels as possible: solidarity organizations, churches, mosques, trade unions, the national and European parliaments, but also the twinning movement. At least a dozen Palestine Solidarity Campaign branches now have links with Palestinian towns or regions and these can provide powerful information (e.g. evidence of settlement produce being exported to British supermarkets) and can also strengthen support for BDS in Britain through the links with local schools and other institutions. We can never do enough BDS work, but we must do as much as we possibly can.