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Ending UK government support for Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism is more important than ever

More than 150,000 joined a protest in London against Israel's 2014 massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and there were la..

May 16, 2016, Occupied Palestine - The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition of Palestinian civil society unions and coalitions that leads the global BDS movement, strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on Palestine solidarity currently taking place in the UK, especially those targeting the BDS movement. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a nonviolent, Palestinian-led human rights movement for freedom, justice and equality.

Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It aims to end international support for Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism that began with the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinians to make way for the state of Israel, in 1948.

Support for Palestinian rights has been growing steadily in the UK, as evidenced in the massive, 150,000-strong march in the summer of 2014 against Israel’s massacre in Gaza. This public support and the strength of grassroots Palestine solidarity organising in the UK has led scores of trade unions, student unions, NGOs and grassroots groups to endorse BDS. More than 1,000 artists have pledged not to perform in Israel and more than 700 academics have committed to not cooperate with Israeli academic institutions because of their deep complicity in Israeli violations of international law.

The National Union of Students has voted to support BDS and student campaigns have in many cases successfully pressured universities to drop contracts with companies such as Veolia and G4S. Campaigning by inspiring and dedicated Palestine solidarity activists and groups in the UK has played a key role in the success of the BDS campaign that ultimately compelled Veolia to end its involvement in Israel’s illegal projects. The ongoing BDS campaign against G4S over its role in prisons where Palestinian political prisoners are subjected to torture and ill-treatment has prompted the company to claim it will eventually sell its Israeli subsidiary. We salute the thousands of committed and determined Palestine solidarity activists who are promoting Palestinian rights.

A movement under attack

Having failed to impede the impressive growth of the impact of the BDS movement in recent years, Israel and its well-oiled pressure groups around the world are desperately waging an unprecedented legal, political, propaganda and intelligence war on Palestinian, Israeli, European and other human rights defenders who advocate for Palestinian rights through BDS. Israel has just imposed an effective travel ban on BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti. This repressive move is being seen as a step towards revoking his residency rights, as Israeli ministers threatened a few weeks ago. This follows threats by Israeli ministers against Omar Barghouti and other BDS activists that have been condemned by Amnesty International.

This war against BDS has reached western states, with Israel openly using its intelligence services to spy on European, American and other human rights defenders who are active in BDS campaigning, as widely and shamelessly reported in the Israeli media. At Israel’s request, governments in the US, France, Canada and elsewhere are introducing anti-boycott legislation and taking other steps to repress BDS activism. In France, one activist was arrested simply for wearing a BDS t-shirt. This attack is also particularly fierce in the UK:

  • The UK government is seeking to bully local councils and other public bodies into abandoning efforts to end their investments in companies that support Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights by falsely asserting that they do not have the legal power to divest from these companies or exclude them from tendering exercises.
  • Israel lobby organisations are issuing legal threats against student unions and local councils that have democratically voted to adopt BDS by falsely characterising criticism of Israel as inherently “anti-semitic”.  
  • The bank accounts of various Palestine solidarity organisations have been closed.
  • Israel lobby organisations have unsuccessfully attempted to take legal action against trade unions over their support for BDS while the UK government has abortively tried to pressure academic and other unions to revoke BDS policies.

The UK government and anti-Palestinian organisations are currently undermining democracy, civil rights and basic political freedoms in order to shield Israel from public opinion and accountability. We recognise that the UK government’s attempts to undermine solidarity with Palestinians are part of a wider context of government-fuelled racism and Islamophobia, the deeply repressive Prevent agenda and ideological attacks on public services, unions and progressive political organisations. We stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone in the UK fighting to build a world based on justice, dignity and freedom from oppression.


Opposition to Zionism

The Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality is fundamentally an inclusive, anti-racist struggle. We of course recognise that anti-semitism unfortunately exists in UK society and reiterate that as a matter of principle, there is no place in our movement for racism of any kind, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism. However, we also reject any attempt to conflate opposition to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians with anti-Jewish racism or to smear opposition to Zionism and the BDS movement as somehow inherently anti-Semitic. Shockingly, the UK College of Policing and senior Conservative politicians have both adopted parts of a discredited definition of anti-semitism that conflates opposition to Zionism with anti-semitism.

Missing from the UK media discussion about Zionism is the fact that Zionism is a political ideology that is responsible for the settler-colonial project that led to the establishment of the state of Israel through the systematic destruction of Palestinian society and the ethnic cleansing of most of the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. It advocates for maintaining Israel as a supremacist apartheid state that privileges its Jewish citizens over all others and denies Palestinians their UN-stipulated rights.

Israel’s creation in 1948 involved the deliberate forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland. This was a grave injustice against the Palestinian people, the human consequences of which are still felt today. Israel has forced Palestinians into bantustans behind checkpoints and walls, repeatedly carried out brutal massacres and extrajudicial killings and denied Palestinians their inalienable right to self-determination. Israel’s construction of walls and illegal settlements and its deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians during its massacres in Gaza constitute war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Millions of Palestinian refugees are denied their right to return to their homeland, simply because they are Palestinian. Israel’s apartheid policies against the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state are also intensifying, further entrenching the supremacist regime that allocates rights based on ethnic and religious identity. For Palestinians, these are the lived and experienced consequences of the Zionist ideology. Our resolute opposition to Zionism is not an academic matter. Attempts to smear principled opposition to Zionism and Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people as anti-semitic dehumanizes Palestinians and silences Palestinian narratives.

Government complicity and popular solidarity

British governments have a long history of undermining Palestinian rights and enabling, supporting and protecting the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the maintenance, later, of Israel’s regime of apartheid and settler-colonialism over the Palestinian people that dates back to its colonial rule over historic Palestine and the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

More recently, licenses were granted for weapons exports to Israel during the period 2008-15 to the value of £292m. The war crimes carried out during Israel’s massacres of Palestinians in Gaza have been carried out using UK weapons and components. The UK government has failed to hold Israel to account for the war crimes it committed during its 2014 attack on Gaza and has ignored UN resolutions that call for sanctions and other accountability measures.

Instead, the UK government is eroding respect for international law and is working to develop even deeper economic ties with Israel. In recent months, senior Conservative figures including David Cameron, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and Boris Johnson have spread malicious lies and smears about the BDS movement and declared their unwavering support for Israel’s regime of oppression. The UK government funds various anti-BDS initiatives.

We urge civil society organisations in the UK to speak out against the attacks against Palestine solidarity that dehumanise Palestinians, silence Palestinian narratives and repress civil and democratic rights of UK citizens. We look forward to continued campaigning alongside the inspiring organisations and activists in the UK Palestine solidarity movement.


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