As activists in Scotland who campaign in support of the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, we feel it is necessary and important that we distance ourselves from the actions and statements of George Galloway MP last week.
The incident, in which Galloway walked out of a debate at Oxford University claiming that he would not debate with an Israeli student, received much attention across mainstream media in the UK and internationally. Galloway later defended his actions, posting on Twitter: ”Israel: simple, No recognition, No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment, sanctions.”
Whilst Galloway is respected as one of only a few voices in mainstream British politics to have publicly supported anti-imperialist struggles and has been a vocal opponent of Israel, he is clearly not a political ally of those individuals and organisations who have embraced Boycott as a peaceful, non-violent and more importantly anti-racist tactic for challenging Israeli apartheid.
Whether or not one agrees with Galloway’s decision not to debate with an Israeli student is irrelevant; the fact remains that there are clear guidelines for exactly who and what is and is not ‘boycottable’, and a statement released this week by the Boycott National Committee affirms that ”BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli”.
Galloway has a history of misrepresentation and false reporting on BDS. During a lecture at Glasgow University in 2011 he proudly announced that French multinational company Veolia – who are the target of BDS campaigns around the world due to their complicity in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank – had dropped all of their contracts in Israel and were therefore no longer a complicit company.
Unfounded and poorly researched claims such as those posited by Galloway are potentially damaging to everyone working to secure BDS victories and raise public awareness about international complicity in Israel’s numerous crimes. Recent action taken by students at Edinburgh and Essex Universities to shut down talks by Israeli politicians fall completely within the guidelines for Boycott, as these individuals are paid representatives of the Israeli state. Galloway’s misuse of the BDS name may have created a more difficult political climate for student BDS activists, yet principled actions such as those in Edinburgh and Essex will continue. We hope the whole episode serves to increase engagement with the guidelines, strategic aims and discourse of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Here is the full statement released last Thursday by the Boycott National Committee:
”The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian unions, mass organisations, refugee networks and NGOs that leads and and sets the guidelines for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, supports all principled action in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality that is in line with universal human rights and international law.
In its 2005 BDS Call, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations that sustain its occupation, colonization and apartheid, and official representatives of the state of Israel and its complicit institutions. BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.
The global BDS movement has consistently adopted a rights-based approach and an anti-racist platform that rejects all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
These guidelines and the fact that BDS has been initiated and is led by Palestinian civil society are major reasons behind the rapid growth and success that the BDS movement has enjoyed around the world.”