European trade unions call for economic boycott of Israel

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29 European trade unions accuse the EU of complicity in Israeli crimes against Palestinians. At a seminar in Brussels, the unions, representing more than 3 million workers, called on the EU to scrap a trade deal with Tel Aviv due to its breaches of international law.

Trade between the EU and Israel is conducted on the basis of the Association Agreement. The European Union is Israel’s biggest trading partner.  In 2013 the total volume of bilateral trade (excluding diamonds) came to over €27 billion. In 2013, 32% of Israel’s exports (excluding diamonds) went to the EU, and 34% of its imports (excluding diamonds) came from the EU.

Total EU trade with Israel rose from €19.4 billion in 2003 to €31.0 billion in 2012 and €31.4 billion in 2013. EU exports to Israel reached €17.9 billion in 2013, while imports from Israel were €13.5 billion. The trade deficit with Israel was €4.4 billion in the EU’s favour in 2013.

Under the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, the EU and Israel have free trade in industrial products. The two sides have granted each other significant trade concessions for certain agricultural products, in the form of tariff reduction or elimination, either within quotas or for unlimited quantities.

BDS Movement

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (also known as BDS and the BDS Movement) is a global campaign attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the movement: the end of Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The campaign is organised and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The campaign was started on 9 July 2005 by over 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations in support of the Palestinian cause for boycott of Israel, disinvestment from Israel and international sanctions against Israel. Citing a body of UN resolutions and specifically echoing the anti-apartheid campaigns against white minority rule in apartheid era South Africa, the BDS campaign called for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law”.

Supporters of BDS compare the movement with the 20th century Anti-Apartheid Movement and view their actions similar to the boycotts of South Africa during its apartheid era, comparing the situation in Israel to apartheid. Protests and conferences in support of the campaign have been held in a number of countries around the world. Supporters of BDS include academics, trade unions, political parties and Israeli citizens.

Critics argue that the BDS movement disincentivizes the Palestinian leadership from negotiating with Israel at present,  is anti semitic,  and that it is a form of anti-semitic anti-Zionism that promotes the delegitimization of Israel.

There is considerable debate about the scope, efficacy, and morality of the BDS movement.

BDS campaign

The international BDS campaign to boycott Israel has recently had several successes in the international arena. They included official support from the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini.

In answer to a parliamentary question on whether the EU commission will commit to defending BDS activists’ right to exercise their democratic freedom of expression, Mogherini was clear:

“The EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association… including with regard to BDS actions carried out on this territory.”

The question was asked by Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson.

The EU official also noted that the European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that freedom of expression applies to ideas “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.”

Meanwhile, Sweden, Holland, Ireland, Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights — along with other countries and organisations — defended the right to boycott Israel as part of the struggle for Palestinian rights.

In France, the municipal council in Évry has adopted a resolution supporting the right to boycott Israel and called on the French government to end its criminalisation of BDS. The Paris suburb’s decision also includes a boycott of Israel goods produced in illegal settlements; it called on the government to take similar measures.

The Green Party in Kibik, Canada, has responded to the BDS call for an academic, cultural, military and economic boycott of Israel pending the end of the occupation and Israeli apartheid. Across the border in the US, the Student Council of Portland University in Oregon adopted overwhelmingly a decision calling for the university administration to divest from the occupied territories.

In occupied Palestine itself, the Europe Campaigns Officer of the Palestinian BDS National Committee said that Israel has allocated €33 million to fight BDS. It proposes to trace, monitor and damage its work on the internet and to expose the people who are behind the boycott movement. The committee added that Israel has authorised the interior minister to refuse entry permits to any BDS activists trying to visit Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories.