KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - For millions of social justice activists outside of the conflict zone of occupied Palestine, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli-made goods, services and businesses has become one of the more effective means of protest against the apartheid state. Singling out such products – and paying particular attention to companies who have installed their facilities within occupied zones – has become a real cause of concern amongst the Israeli political class. BDS campaigns have also focused on boycotting academic and artistic relations with Israel.
The BDS movement is rather more developed in the European economic zone than in Canada. There, successes have been made in divesting large-scale investment funds and state pension funds from particular Israeli banks and companies. Here, Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird recently traveled to Israel, where he noted that: “Threats to launch economic boycotts, calls for divestment and efforts to impose sanctions are unjustifiable by any objective standard. This kind of selective targeting of Israel will not succeed. We will continue to work closely together in countering these efforts, also with other like-minded partners.”
Which, in a roundabout way, is itself a nod from the Harper government that the movement is in fact succeeding.
That said, is it time to raise the stakes in the Canadian BDS movement?
Until now, efforts have largely focused on pinpointing manufacturers, like Sodastream, and applying economic pressure through boycotting their goods. Undoubtedly, such campaigns have raised the public conscience in terms of identifying brand names with links to Israel that one might otherwise not be aware of. Author, activist and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Dr. Jeff Halper, believes that if these are 'step one' targets, then it's ripe time for the Canadian BDS movement to start directing its attention towards Israel's arguably greatest export – military technology exports and training of Canadian security services. Such targets more easily draw the parallels between oppression of Palestinians, and the removal of freedoms within Canadian society.
In the following interview, we speak to Dr. Halper about the specific direction a Canadian BDS movement might take.
Miles Howe (MH): Can you describe BDS, and the effect you see it having on the ground in Israel? The movement began at the request of Palestinian society, but where is it going now?
Jeff Halper (JH): Everybody sees it as a useful tactic, but it's disconnected from an end-game right now. So, it's like there's no point in doing BDS just to do BDS. It has to be connected to a goal and I think people are missing that goal, partly because the Palestinians haven't articulated it. What are we BDS-ing for? That's kind of left hanging and I think, that's a little bit, holding up the movement.
So in a sense, BDS has to keep the momentum going, in terms of changing public opinion in favour of Palestinians and Palestinian issues even in this limbo period before we have an articulated solution. But I think it's going to come, in the next months, or maybe a year. I don't know exactly when. But I think the Palestinians will start going through this transition, and come up with an end-game. I can help, in that I talk about the one-state solution. I write about it, I have models, I can help move the discussion forward. But in the end they have to be the ones that tell us where they're going.
MH: Back to BDS itself, when you're picking targets, be it fizzy carbonated beverage makers, Caterpillar, or insurance companies, those are certainly economic hits. But do you see more applicable targets that we should be diverting our energies to?
JH: I do. I think military, police, security targets are better. From my point of view, the trick is how do we link the occupation and what's happening in Palestine with the local situation, what's happening in Canada, or here in Halifax even. And that is to look at the occupation here. And that comes through, mainly, the military, security and police. Israel trains Canadian police. Israel sells all kinds of surveillance equipment for your airports, for urban, municipal security. All these video cameras. All kinds of monitoring devices. Israel certainly works through the Canadian prison systems and border systems. And there's a lot of joint research that's being done at the universities and in companies.
So, to the degree that people here begin to look into Halifax [for example]. How much is Halifax complicit in the occupation? All of a sudden you discover not only the security parts of the occupation itself and companies that could be targeted. But you discover that you're Palestinians as well. You're on the receiving end of the same equipment, the same weaponry.
That's what I would try to do more. Bring the issue home and say to people: “We should resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict, not only because of the Palestinians, but also because it's a threat to our civil liberties.”
MH: Let's talk about how that applies on the ground though. If you're talking about targeting Sodastream at the local health food store, this was an effective campaign that happened here in Halifax. It seems like a more identifiable target, rather than saying: “Whoa wait a second, the airport's buying cameras.” How do you intervene in a contract situation? Hold signs outside the airport? I'm wondering if you have a key to effective, on-the-ground, mobilization towards those targets?
JH: Well you can. If you have a freedom of information act, make it participatory. And have your police force explain their connections to Israel. And the weapons they're bringing in and the tactics they're learning. And the fact that people in Halifax are now being seen as potential terrorists rather than citizens to be protected. That leads to demands that you stop having ties to Israel. In other words you begin to look at the police force. It can be just as 'hands on'.
It's not that Sodastream doesn't have anything. It's true. If you get people to stop buying lettuce it gives them something to do. And that's important. I guess my problem with Sodastream was to explain to people the connection between Sodastream and the occupation, for most people that aren't aware, you've got thirty seconds to explain to them. And it's kind of hard to do that with Sodastream. It's just a tenuous, abstract, sort of a thing.
So I think a target that's more up front, I mean to say what's happening in Gaza with the Israeli army is happening in Halifax, and let's stop it. That's even more in your face and local than a Sodastream campaign is, if it's done in the right way.
MH: Can you speak on the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between Canada and Israel, and the roundabout acknowledgment that BDS is effective?
JH: Well, it came out in the news that Canada and Israel had signed a memorandum of understanding to act in a way to protect the other country. But the thrust of it was that Canada would act to prevent BDS campaigns and would prevent criticism of Israel in Canada. I mean, Israel can't do much to protect Canada, so it' really a one-way sort of thing where Canada is saying: “We're going to protect Israel and not allow these campaigns to happen.”
Again, it's what I'm saying. The erosion of civil liberties in Canada, freedom of speech, is directly linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict. And that should be, in a sense, that memorandum of understanding, should be as much a part of the BDS campaign as any other target.
MH: What possible justification at this point in time can the Harper government give to say: 'Yes, criticism of Israel is something that we're going to actively try to deter?'
JH: I mean, they hit everything as terrorism. First of all: 'Israel is our friend, our ally, we have to protect Israel.' And second of all: 'Criticism of Israel is helping the terrorists. It's part of a terrorist campaign.' And in the end, I'm telling you, activists here in Canada get thrown into the same pot as Al-Qaeda, in terms of the Harper government.
It's a very slippery slope from being Palestinian, to being a critic of Israel, to being a terrorist, to being anti-Canadian, to being arrested by the Canadian security forces. There's a direct connection between the freedoms of Palestinians and the freedom of Canadians. I think that should be a thread in the BDS movement.
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