While Arab countries have been preoccupied with confronting Iran in many hot spots in the region, Israel and its western allies are involved in a fierce war against the Palestinian boycott movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).
On February 18, the Independent newspaper pointed out that the British government issued on February 15 a “memorandum of procurement policy” criminalising the boycotting of Israeli goods, which stipulates harsh penalties for boycotting of Israeli goods for ethical reasons, according to the newspaper. Ministers have now issued a so-called procurement policy notifying public authorities that they face “severe penalties” if they continue procurement boycotts on ethical grounds” the paper added.
The paper added that Prime Minister David Cameron made the decision without taking it to parliament
The British government justified the criminalisation of the boycott of Israeli goods and products as a matter of “national security” adding that “There are wider national and international consequences from imposing such local level boycotts. They can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security” according to the Independent.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the US Democratic Party Presidential nomination, pledged in a letter to the American Jewish billionaire Haim Saban in July 2, 2015, to work together against the Palestinian BDS movement and make this goal a priority for her. It seems that entertainment industry mogul Saban is the right person to be addressed with such an obligation of this type by Clinton. A regular donor to both the Democratic and Republican parties and Israel’s Labour party and the man who gave the largest individual donation to the Democratic Party of $10 million (Dh36.7 million) in the 2000 election, Saban has only one cause as he said in 2010: “I am a man of single cause, my cause is Israel”.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the Labour Party criticised the memorandum as an “attack on democracy”, while the Campaign Against the Arms trade said it was an attack on “the rights of all local people and campaign groups across England”. Other critical groups include Amnesty UK and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which said the policy was a “gross attack” on democratic freedoms.
Why would David Cameron’s government issue such a decision described as a gross attack on democratic freedoms? Obviously, the decision comes in the face of an escalating boycotting trend against Israel in Britain. In 2014 the Scottish Parliament published a contrasting procurement notice to local councils warning that it “strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal [colonies]” set up by Israel, according to the Independent, as well as many local councils in a number of cities across Britain, which has issued strict instructions to suppliers not to import any goods from Israeli colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Prior to that, the British physicist Stephen Hawking said in May, 2013, that he would not attend a major conference in Israel held under the auspices of the then Israeli president Shimon Peres (responsible for the Qana massacre in southern Lebanon in 1996) in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Yet, Cameron’s government has to explain why and how the boycott of products from illegitimate Jewish colonies on the Occupied Palestinian Territories would affect Britain’s national and international security?
Such a decision doesn’t seem surprising. It comes in the context of an inherent bias in the British attitude towards Israel in spite of all the British diplomatic eloquence about the two-state solution or a peaceful settlement or other vocalisations that British diplomats effluent.
More importantly, it means recognition by the British government of Israeli colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and recognition of one of the most important consequences of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. But from a historical context, it reminds us of a policy seemingly not abandoned by Britain, which influenced the history of other nations: the colonial history of Britain.
Somehow it reminds us of what we might call an inherent “psychological sensitivity” toward boycotts. In the context of British history itself, the story of this “psychological sensitivity” starts when the British solidified their control on the sub-Indian continent by the end of the 19th century.
The beginning was simple: forcing Indians to buy British cotton products and the destruction of the local cotton industry. Cotton was, at the time, the oil of the 19th century. The genius of Mahatma Gandhi lies in the fact that when he realised that the law would not make India gain its independence, he resorted to peaceful resistance and one of its most important tools was the boycott of British goods, cotton and salt.
How did the British respond to the boycott campaign? By brute force. The boycott of English cotton and salt was a blow to the very heart of the economy of the British occupation of the subcontinent and when the boycott intensified and its results were tangible, the British decided to negotiate with Gandhi and the Congress party.
As for the Palestinians, the message is the same as that received by the Indians decades ago, the same message that was received by the South African people in their long struggle against the apartheid regime, where Nelson Mandela remained on the list of terrorists in the US until he was elected president of the Republic of South Africa in the mid-1990s.
In the context of the long history of the Palestinian struggle, Cameron’s decision has one meaning: the Palestinians are prevented even from the peaceful struggle for their rights and for freedom from Israeli occupation and to gain their right to establish an independent state.
On the other hand, pledges by Clinton to Saban to work together against the BDS movement, is part of a frantic movement that began several years ago, and the magical tool of this hectic movement is a fitter weapon: “the legacy of McCarthyism”.
In their efforts to counter the widening solidarity in American universities and scientific societies with the BDS movement against Israel, drafts of anti-movement provincial laws were presented in 2014 in the states of New York and Maryland, which contain punishment of any university or educational institution that joined the boycott. These draft laws were withdrawn after criticism from teachers and university professors who described the bill as an attack on academic freedom.
A draft, called “Protecting Academic Freedom Act”, which was submitted to the US House of Representatives in March, 2014, prohibits government funding for universities that support the academic boycott of Israel. Beyond this, drafts of laws have been submitted in several states with harsh punishments to universities if any members of their teaching staff participate in any actions or hold political views that commend the boycott.
Also, some American universities expelled student activists of the “Justice in Palestine” group and threatened to take other disciplinary actions against other members of the group. What is the meaning of all this? To punish people for their opinions. Is there another definition of McCarthyism?
Thus, the western “McCarthyism fraternities” are awake on both shores of the Atlantic in the denial of any rights of the Palestinians to resist the occupation by peaceful means, and swallow all its eloquent talks of human rights as long as it comes to Israel and Israel only.
It is obvious that the Palestinian boycott movement raises the “psychological sensitivity” to its highest levels for the residents of 10 Downing Street because it reminds them of the time when Gandhi was able to defeat the empire, on which the sun never sets, only by boycotting its products.
Mohammad Fadhel is a consultant in regional affairs in “BHUTH” research centre in Dubai.