Towards broader support, understanding and acceptance
This article was written in 2010 as a contribution to a BNC e-magazine commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BDS call in July 9th 2005. Click here to read other articles in the magazine.
During the last two years, BDS has gained much greater acceptance and support in Switzerland. Boycott initiatives and first attempts to coordinate them on a national level already existed since the Second Intifada. The Palestinian BDS call gave these activities a clear framework and orientation as to the targets, demands and criteria of boycott activities.
Attempts to broaden the support for BDS have been made in several directions: towards the solidarity movement itself, which today in Switzerland by a majority has adopted the BDS-call; and towards larger circles of the Civil society, where the first encouraging steps have been made.
Over several years, a solid network of the Palestine Solidarity movement has been built both around concrete mobilisations after different Israeli attacks and the war on Gaza, the war on Lebanon and other emergency issues, and around the idea of working towards coordinated campaigns on the national level. There has been a special focus on questions that are relevant for the BDS-campaign and lead to a better understanding and support of the BDS demands: In 2008 a campaign with large-sized posters, was carried out on the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of the Nakba, proceeded by an educational workshop for activists and accompanied by a conference on the "Logic of displacement" and the ongoing Nakba, organised by the Forum for Human rights in Israel/Palestine, a network of NGOs and solidarity groups that are active in the Middle East. Conferences with Ilan Pappe also emphasized the focus on refugee rights and the ongoing Israeli practice of displacement. In 2009, another educational workshop was prepared on the occasion of the Durban Review conference in Geneva and the alternative Israel review conference organised by Badil with a special focus on the institutionalised discrimination of Palestinians and the Israeli apartheid regime. One of the gains of the conference was the establishment of first contacts with former anti-apartheid activists in Switzerland Other common efforts focused on the Gaza Freedom March and the accession of Israel to the OECD.
In 2010, another conference has been organised with international speakers by the Forum for Human rights in Israel/Palestine, addressing churches, unions, political parties and other representatives of NGOs with the aims of introducing the BDS-campaign to them and seeking to establish common activities in that field. As a result, the legitimacy of BDS in the civil society has been strengthened; several left wing parties are currently discussing their position on BDS and possible ways to support it. The task now is to find the best way of linking grass-root activities with the work of NGOs and unions, utilising their specific focus, skills and resources.
The BDS movement itself has expanded independent resources: developments include a website that reflects the international and national campaign, a national coordination committee that meets several times a year, with a newly appointed board to prepare meetings and coordinate the local activities and resources, local BDS-groups in almost every city, an internal platform to share the results of individual research that is done on different subjects, working groups on several fields of intervention (Agrexco, Soda-Club, Academic and Cultural boycott, Consumer's boycott, labour unions, JNF). Another educational workshop for activists in June 2010 on the concept of Israeli Apartheid is aimed at deepening the understanding of the institutionalised character of the Israeli repression of the Palestinians and at the same time preparing for an Israeli Apartheid week in March 2011 in several big cities. Actions have been undertaken in front of shops (super markets, H & M) to inform consumers, an ongoing campaign is attempting to convince Coop and Migros to abstain from selling Israeli products, protests were also organised during the soccer match Israel-Switzerland in October 2009, with about 30 activists attending and during the screening of new Israeli films at an alternative cinema, which was subsidised by the Israeli embassy.
Despite the specific linguistic situation of Switzerland being sometimes an obstacle for coordinated activities on a national level, it has the advantage of developing contacts with the BDS-movement in France, Germany and Austria which encourages profit from other resources and experiences.
BDS has proved to be a very convincing tool for the solidarity work and first of all provides a convincing tool for the analysis and understanding of the Palestine conflict. The tasks for the BDS movement in Switzerland are multi-fold: to continue to deepen the understanding of the Palestinian demands and defend them against the Zionist propaganda; to offer forms of activities for people who are willing to support the campaign at different levels; to gain more organisational backing in terms of official endorsement and practical support; to develop strategies to achieve visible successes; to translate international campaigns (e.g. Jewish National Fund) to the Swiss reality; and finally to lobby the political institutions.
Birgit Althaler is a member of BDS Switzerland http://www.bds-info.ch/