Can we extend support for BDS?

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On the January 3rd, two Palestinian citizens were forced to leave the plane taking off from Athens to Israel, after Jewish Israelis targeted the Palestinian travelers as a security risk. Even after the confirmation by the police, that the two Palestinians were not in any way a threat, a larger group of Israelis on plane declined to fly with them.

This is just one of the recent examples of a widespread mentality of discrimination against Palestinians. Born under an occupation, denied the right to fight for their independence, Palestinians face growing attempts by the Israeli state to be marginalised and diminished in their own land.

There is a widespread consensus about the restoration of 1967-borders, yet the Israeli government continues to approve and fund settlement projects in the occupied areas. Just recently the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories quit due to Israel’s failure to grant him access to the areas he was tasked with monitoring. Israel was not willing to cooperate with the UN investigations into human rights abuses during the 2014 Protective Edge campaign, as its leaders know very well that many of the methods used were not strictly up to the standard of Geneva.

One of them was the infamous roof-knock system, where Palestinians received warnings to leave their homes in the form a non-explosive device thrown through their roof. If that device was not noticed, as it might have been dropped during the night, or too little time was left for the Palestinians to get out of the house, the Israeli Defense Forces claimed to have the right to call these victims as justified collateral damage.

During Protective Edge, Israeli residents of Sderot, located less than one mile from the Gaza strip, reportedly gathered on a hilltop and celebrated the spectacle of aerial bombardment with eating popcorn and smoking water pipes. This grotesque image is in no way meant to illustrate every Israeli’s view on this matter, but it does illuminate on just how extreme the paranoia and existential crisis of Israel can be.

While this is a conflict that many have tried and continually failed to solve, there is a momentum growing around the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, to influence and pressure the Israeli government to stop building settlements, to end the occupation and recognize the right to return and the full equality of Arab-Israeli citizens.

Several notable figures have joined the movement such as Stephen Hawking and Desmond Tutu. Just recently in October, over 500 academics in the UK joined the boycott promising not to attend conferences or accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions. Even six Bath professors joined in (Dr. Severine Deneulin, Dr. Jason Hart, Dr. Bryn Jones, Dr. Sheikh Meeran, Dr. Aurelien Mondon and Dr. David Moon), which is a triumph on its own considering the general conservative right-wing atmosphere on campus.

Although the BDS movement has achieved a lot, with even European Union joining in by implementing labeling laws for settlement products, there has been a significant pushback from the Israeli authorities to limit the BDS movement.

The UK government, a strategic ally of Israel has started to systematically work against the BDS. British Conservative ministers have announced a new policy that cancels local council powers to divest from trade or investments they regard unethical, including from businesses that operate on the settlements.

Stripping powers from local councils illustrates the trend for centralization and a decrease in local democracy. The Conservatives justify this move by claiming to protect UK security and taxpayers’ interests. There seems to be a paradox in this line of argument though. People now have less control over the policies taken by local councils while the Conservatives claim to know better than the people. The Tories now represent wishes and grievances, which English and Welsh citizens might not necessarily agree to have.

It is vital, that the support for the BDS movement continues to grow. The movement equates itself to the boycott during Apartheid in South Africa, and quite rightly so. There are several similarities between the two regimes; the Israeli government continues to treat Arab Israelis as second-rate citizens. Therefore it might be time to start discussing our university’s full support for the boycott.

Transparency in the university’s spending is relevant not only for the BDS, but also for divesting from the fossil fuel industry, as the Policy Proposal for its support was just passed by the student community. Therefore it is worrying that the government is planning to exempt universities from the Freedom of Information Act, which guarantees the access to information held by public authorities, as this is the only way for students to gain information on where their tuition fee money is being spent.

While finding support for the BDS will most likely be an uphill battle, it might just be worth it, considering we can show our solidarity and support for the Palestinian cause. The growing hostility towards the BDS has to be countered by more energetic support.

The attack against the local democratic powers and the freedom of information are just symptoms of a wider campaign to reduce political activism. Therefore it is out duty as students to be knowledgeable and fight back.

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