The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign in Spain

The Commercial Relationship between Spain and Israel

 Spain and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1986. From then on, the volume of bilateral economic and commercial activity between the two countries has continued to increase. Spain has become the tenth largest commercial partner of Israel, and Israel is Spain's principal market in the Middle East. According to the Israeli ambassador to Spain, the bilateral commercial interchange increased to $1.241 million in 2005. Israel has exported $564 million worth of goods to Spain, and Israeli imports from Spain reached $677 million.

Israeli exports to Spain are principally chemical industry products (34% of the total value of the exports), machines, especially for agriculture and irrigation (29%), plastic and rubber products (13%), plants and vegetables (6%) and, to a lesser extent, products related to the telecommunications industry, software and medical equipment. The use of Israeli technology in irrigation and water desalination (especially on the Mediterranean coast) is particularly noticeable. The Spanish exports to Israel consist of transport equipment (37%), chemical products (14%), machines (10%), plastic and rubber (8%), mineral products (8%) and basic metals (5%).

 On the other hand, Spain has signed various agreements and bilateral conventions with Israel. The Cooperation Agreement for Investigation and Industrial Development (1993), agreements in the areas of agriculture and energy, and the convention to avoid a double imposition are of particular importance. The governments of autonomous communities have also signed agreements with Israel.

 The BDS Campaign in Spain

 The BDS campaign is driven by various associations which form part of the Solidarity Network against the Israeli occupation, mainly NGOs, solidarity groups, some minority political parties as well as some labor union locals. The campaign consists of four main areas of action: the commercial agreements between the European Union and Israel, the arms traffic between Spain and Israel, the cultural and consumer boycott of Israeli products. In the first two, we address governmental institutions and in the other two, the society at large.

 Break the commercial agreements between the European Union and Israel!

In 1995 the European Union and Israel signed the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement which eliminated the customs barriers and the quantity restrictions on imports and exports between the EU and Israel. The agreement, which came into effect in June 2000, establishes the basis of the relationship as “the respect of democratic principles and Human Rights (preamble and article 2) and includes a rule of origin (article 83) which excludes from the agreement all products coming from the occupied territories, i.e. the Israeli colonial settlements in the West Bank and, at the time, Gaza. As Israel illegally exports products manufactured in the colonies, the European Commission published a “Notice to importers” in the Official Bulletin of November 2001 in which it declared that the import of these products could lead to a “custom debt” and recommended the European importers and the customs authorities of the member states take precautionary measures in the form of a guarantee deposit. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it requested the Council and the European Commission to suspend the Agreement (10 April 2002). This resolution itself has not been implemented, despite the fact that the European Parliament is supposed to represent the democratic will of the peoples of the continent.

A central demand of the Spanish BDS campaign, as well as most other BDS campaigns in Europe, is that the Euro Mediterranean Accord be suspended. This demand has been manifested in the distribution of leaflets and the collection of signatures on petitions under the framework of the European Coordinating Committee of NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP). In January 2007, 18,750 signatures were handed over to the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. The public impact of this initiative has been minimal and the response of the government, a reverberating silence.

 Arms Traffic

Spanish companies sell arms to Israel. As of 1991, these added up to a value of at least 1,000 million Euros. This commerce constitutes a clear violation of the European Union's Code of Conduct for Arms Export which urges the member states not to export arms to countries where there are situations of conflict or tension, where human rights are violated or where international humanitarian law is not respected. All three conditions apply to Israel, although only one is enough to make such arms sales a violation of the Code. On the other hand, the Spanish government also buys Israeli arms, some with the sinister guarantee that they have been tested in real-life situations, such as the failed but brutal Israeli reinvasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

The Spanish companies responsible for the sale of arms to Israel are not susceptible to being boycotted by ordinary consumers and, as can be deduced from the criminal nature of such commerce, they are not receptive to ethical arguments. For this reason, the campaign has been limited to raising awareness about the case, and handing out leaflets of information and calling for citizen complaints.

On the other hand, the academic institutions focused on the investigation for peace (UNESCO professors) and reputable NGOs (Amnesty International, Intermon Oxfam, Greenpeace) have repeatedly requested that the Spanish government impose an arms embargo on Israel. The European Parliament also demanded that the European Commission implement an embargo (10 April 2002). None of these appeals and resolutions have resulted in government action.

 The Cultural Boycott

This area, which also includes the sports and academic boycotts, we consider very important, due to the large media impact it can have. Since it concerns people and institutions with public notoriety, the cultural boycott contributes to generating a social debate about the legality of maintaining relations with Israel.

With this in mind, we carried out visibly disruptive activities in the FC Barcelona pavilion when the Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv was playing. The social impact was remarkable and the indications of wide public support were very positive. However, police repression was disproportionate: fines of 3,000 euros for carrying a Palestinian flag! All considered, these experiences confirm that this is a line of action with great potential.

In addition, a letter was sent to the President of Spain requesting that the Minister of Foreign Affairs not attend the 60th anniversary of Israel celebrations. Another letter was sent to a distinguished Catalan writer requesting that he not participate in the International Writers' Festival in occupied Jerusalem; and another, to the director of the Saragossa Expo 2008 requesting him to withdraw his invitation to the Israel Symphony Orchestra. None of these three cases had successful outcomes, although there was great value in publicizing the letters.

 In the strictly academic area, the campaign has not taken off. It is worth noting, however, that the relationship with Israel in this area is not as deep as in other countries.

 729: Consumer Boycott of Israeli Products

With the appeal for consumer boycotts of Israeli products, we have addressed Spanish society on two different levels: requesting individual consumers and institutions not to buy products produced in Israel, and requesting that companies not sell them. We have quite a thorough list of the Israeli products sold in Spain and the establishments where they can be found. They are, above all, agricultural produce, wine, cosmetics, games, technology for agriculture and technological patents. In addition, there is Eden Springs water. The truth is that it is been difficult to find Israeli products appropriate for commercial boycott: identified, easily substituted and of popular consumption.

 We produced leaflets, with arguments and lists of products, which were widely distributed. We have also sent letters to establishments which sell these products, we had meetings with them and we carried out protests at their entrances. In some cases, we have established an interesting dialogue with the companies, even though we have not yet obtained boycott commitments from any of the major corporations. Some individual consumers and socially conscious companies have adhered to the boycott, but the objective is to get a big company to publicly announce a boycott of Israel to encourage others to follow suit. Finally, various organizations have sent letters to Spain's official distributor of Caterpillar, with a predictable silence as the response.


 Palestine solidarity organizations have started to spread the word about the BDS campaign, and it has been received favourably in many circles despite the fact that this positioning is conditioned by a conjunction of factors and by the state of current affairs in the media. In the area of the labor unions, however, the reception has been rather cold, related to the ideological crisis of the traditional labor organizations and unions.

 In the first two areas (EU agreements and arms traffic) we have not achieved results due to the geopolitical alignment of Spain and the EU on the side of Israel. Due to the centrality of EU institutions in these two areas, the campaigns in the different European countries will need to better coordinate in order to mount the necessary continent-wide challenge. On the other hand, in the other two areas we have obtained a few successes and, above all, have started the large-scale dissemination of campaign materials and information. It appears, therefore, that there is great potential for the campaign to move forward in the consumer and cultural boycotts.

 We consider that the BDS campaign is very important for mobilizing consciences and the solidarity with Palestine in our country. It is the answer to that question which so many people and solidarity organizations put to us: “What can we do from here to help the Palestinian people?” Well, we can listen to the Palestinian voices and do what they are asking us to do: build and push forward the BDS campaign. We also consider it very important that our boycott initiatives have some tangible effect on Israel in some way. That an artist or academic declines an invitation, that a Spanish company informs an Israeli supplier that their products provoke rejection or that Palestinian banners are seen on Israeli television sets during the Maccabi games. This is our way of contributing to Israel's understanding that its policy has a cost and that the world will not consider it a normal country until it changes.