From Socialist Voice, June 2010


Palestine: victories and setbacks

This article was written before the act of Israeli piracy on the high seas and the massacre of members of the Gaza Freedom flotilla.]
The past few months have seen a number of major developments—both positive and negative—in the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli state. Here we report some of the most important ones.
     In early May the BDS movement in Ireland scored a significant victory when Dublin City Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling on the city manager not to sign or renew any contract with Veolia until it ceases its apartheid-enabling operations in Palestine. Veolia, which operates the Dublin tram system and private waste and water management services, is involved in the running of the Jerusalem Light Rail, which links illegal Israeli settlements in and around Palestinian East Jerusalem.
     While this is a somewhat symbolic victory—as the the city manager has said he will ignore the democratic wishes of the city council—it is nonetheless a very powerful statement of solidarity, representing a European capital city saying No to companies that collude with Israeli apartheid. It adds to the string of defeats that Veolia has suffered internationally, and Dublin City Council is now the third Irish council—along with Sligo and Galway—to pass such a motion.
     The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign will continue working with councils to ensure that many more of these resolutions are passed and stepping up the pressure on the Rail Procurement Agency, the body responsible for the granting of the Metro North contract, which Veolia (as part of Transdev) is tendering for.
     Also in May the Irish transnational corporation Cement-Roadstone Holdings—which, through its Israeli subsidiary Mashav-Nesher, is supplying the cement being used in Israel’s apartheid wall and colonial settlements—held its AGM in Dún Laoghaire.
     The IPSC organised a loud and colourful protest, featuring a scale model of the wall, outside the meeting. It was heartening to see that so many local people were not only supportive but fully aware of CRH’s complicity with Israel’s human-rights abuses against the Palestinians.
     Meanwhile inside the AGM members of the IPSC who are shareholders dominated the proceedings, asking a series of awkward questions, and distributed an Alternative Annual Report. Many shareholders were supportive, including one who spoke of his shame upon seeing the wall for himself while visiting Jerusalem last year.
     The following day, reports and pictures of the IPSC’s intervention appeared in the business pages. While this not a victory per se—CRH did not suddenly divest from Israel—it was a strong opening salvo in what will be a sustained and high-profile campaign against CRH until it divests.
     In April the ICTU held a conference on the Middle East and how to move forward with its own BDS campaign. More than 150 delegates attended, and they were resolute in their commitment to trade union solidarity with Palestine.
     The presence of a leading member of the Zionist trade union federation, Histadrut, had no effect: indeed she may have done even more damage to their cause. The pièce de résistance of her presentation was a video of a former British army commander defending the Israeli massacre in Gaza. Clearly someone forgot to remind her of what country she was in. The Scottish TUC also reaffirmed its commitment to BDS the following week.
     There have also been a number of victories in the cultural boycott, with the musicians Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana and Gil Scott Heron and the Irish theatre group Gare St Lazare Players all cancelling dates in Israel under pressure from fans and BDS.
     finally, last week saw the joint publication by the IPSC and the Phoenix of a supplement on Palestine, dealing with “war crimes in apartheid Israel,” in which prominent Irish politicians from all the Dáil parties call for sanctions against Israel.
     Unfortunately, there have been some setbacks too, the most important of which was the acceptance of Israel’s membership of the OECD. Despite expressing “reservations,” the Irish delegation failed to use their veto to stop Israel’s membership.
     However, the very fact that reservations were expressed shows that they knew public opinion was against them on the issue.
     The EU Commission has reportedly signed an agreement about selling Israeli pharmaceuticals (though insiders report that it is doubtful whether the EU Parliament will ratify it), while no action has been taken to suspend Israel from the Euro-Med Agreement, which grants it favourable trading status, even though it is clearly in violation of its human rights clause (article 2).

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