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As part of a regular feature, The Electronic Intifada brings you this roundup of activism news related to the growing Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. This month, several Canadian universities launched strategic campus divestment initiatives, a Danish-owned Israeli security company is forced to pull out of contracts in the occupied West Bank due to public pressure, and legendary musicians Pete Seeger and Roger Waters come out in support of the BDS movement.
A student-led divestment initiative at Carleton University in Ottowa is gaining ground after a massive show of support during a student council meeting last month. Meanwhile, students at York University and the University of Toronto officially launched their divestment campaigns during Israeli Apartheid Week events last week.
Canadian civil society news website Rabble reported on 7 March that activists with Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University had collected more than 2,000 letters from students on campus in support of a comprehensive initiative to divest the university’s pension fund from Israeli ties.
“The support for divestment culminated in an extraordinary show of student solidarity at the [Carleton University Student Association] council meeting on 17 February,” Rabble reported (“Carleton students push student union to support divestment from illegal occupation,” 7 March 2011).
“Over 300 students, alongside faculty and staff, gathered outside of the meeting room ready to speak in support of SAIA’s motion … To these people, the message was clear: by speaking up for social justice and human rights in Palestine and demanding their tuition fees not contribute to ongoing oppression, they were on the right side of history,” Rabble added.
The divestment initiative was launched last year by SAIA-Carleton activists, and has gathered endorsements from more than two dozen student groups on campus.
A video of the students’ rally on 17 February was posted to YouTube (“17 February 2011 – Student Rally for CUSA Divestment Vote“). Carleton University’s SAIA updates can be viewed on their website, http://carleton.saia.ca.
Elsewhere in Canada, on 7 March, the first day of events scheduled for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), SAIA activists at York University and the University of Toronto declared their official launch of a comprehensive divestment campaign.
Campus activists are demanding that their universities divest pension, endowment and investment funds currently allocated to four companies that create military technologies used by the Israeli military. SAIA’s initiative is supported by more than a hundred faculty members and visiting scholars, academics and activists who lectured during IAW events, including The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and social theorist Judith Butler, also signed on in support of the initiative.
For the full text of the initiative, the online petition and more information on the SAIA divestment campaign at York University and the University of Toronto Divestment Campaign can be found at the campaign webste (toronto.saia.ca).
New York City
A Jewish-Zionist group on campus at New York University canceled an event that was set to feature an Israeli Navy Seal involved in the lethal attack on activists aboard the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010.
However, citing “serious safety and security concerns” in an email sent to registrants for the 10 March event, the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, Birthright Israel Next and cosponsoring groups canceled the talk and did not reschedule. The groups did not specify what safety and security concerns they had. The Israeli Navy Seal was touted by the organizing groups as being one of the first soldiers to board the Mavi Marmara.
Nine persons were killed in Israel’s brazen interception and attack on the ship, an assault that was widely condemned by the international community.
Concurrently, activists with the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine had organized a protest that was to take place during the event. On the Facebook page for the demonstration, SJP stated that “[i]n response to Students for Justice in Palestine’s increasingly successful Israeli Apartheid Week, Zionists at NYU have put together ‘Israeli Peace Week’ … We need to send an unequivocal message that war criminals are not welcome on our campuses” (“Mobilize against Mavi Marmara War Criminal @ NYU Thursday!,” March 2011).
Several days before, SJP announced on its website that it launched a divestment initiative aimed at divesting faculty and staff pension funds from TIAA-CREF, a major financial services company that invests in companies that contract with the Israeli government and its military (“NYU to TIAA-CREF: Divest from the US-backed Israeli Occupation Now!,” 4 March 2011).
Activists with CodePink’s Stolen Beauty campaign, a global initiative to boycott Israeli Ahava cosmetic products, reported that a gift shop in the National Cathedral has decided to stop selling Ahava products after the shop received complaints concerning the company’s practices in the occupied West Bank.
Ahava products are made in the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank, from materials taken from the Dead Sea.
Nancy Kricorian of CodePink in Washington, DC told The Electronic Intifada that the gift shop at the Cathedral — affiliated with the Episcopal Church — was contacted by boycott activists who reached out with information about the origins of Ahava products. Kricorian said that the shop’s inventory of Ahava “could only have been an oversight because of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s endorsement of the boycott of settlement goods last spring.”
On 16 March, Kricorian followed up by phone. The management of the shop confirmed to her that the Ahava products had been taken out of the inventory.
This is the latest in a series of victories by the Ahava boycott campaign.
San Francisco Bay Area
Guerilla art activists in the San Francisco Bay Area responded to a slew of posters in BART subway stations that they say were Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian by installing a collection of posters that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and call out Israeli apartheid policies.
Local independent news site Indybay reported that in January, “BART riders complained about anti-Palestinian ads posted in the subway system by a Los Angeles-based pro-Israeli lobby [group] called StandWithUs. The posters depicted the eyes of a menacing-looking Arab ‘terrorist’ wearing a kuffiyeh [traditional Palestinian scarf] and the message ‘Stop Palestinian Terrorists.’ BART officials responded to complaints by pulling the ads” (““Stop Israeli Apartheid” in BART Stations Throughout Bay Area,” 23 February 2011).
Indybay added that a new version of StandWithUs’ ads appeared the next month — text-only posters reading “Stop Palestinian Leaders From Teaching Hate & Violence.” Palestinian solidarity activists in the Bay Area — calling themselves “culture jammers” — replaced the new ads in various BART stations sometime on 21 February.
Indybay reported that the new guerilla ads read, among other statements, “Stop Israeli Apartheid — Human Rights for All Is The Answer.” The original and altered posters can be viewed on Indybay.
Students, members of the local Palestinian community and solidarity activists with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) held a rally at Edinburgh University on 21 February to protest a planned event to host Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UK.
Meanwhile, ten student activists entered the venue and led a peaceful demonstration while Prosor delivered his speech. Edinburgh University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stated in a press release that the protesters “stood up one by one, shouting the name of a Palestinian child that they were there to represent” (“Students protest Israeli ambassador’s visit to Edinburgh University,” 22 February 2011).
All of the names, SJP added, were of children killed in Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09. The students then taped their mouths shut to symbolize the silencing of those children’s voices, and turned their backs on the speaker.
SJP noted that this is the second time in three weeks that students at the university have disrupted the speech of an Israeli official.
Earlier in February, an advisor to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was canceled after demonstrators disrupted the event.
SJP stated in its press release that “Edinburgh students are playing an increasing role in the campaign to boycott Israel until they end their apartheid, colonial policies towards the occupied Palestinian people. Ron Prosor was here to spew Israeli propaganda and defend war crimes and the actions of the protesters sent him a clear message that he is not welcome at our university. We continue to be deeply disturbed by the Politics Society’s decision to host such a representative. However, Prosor’s presence in Edinburgh yesterday only strengthens our resolve to continue the fight for the boycott of apartheid Israel on campus.”
Meanwhile, a motion to boycott Israeli apartheid was “overwhelmingly passed” at the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) on 14 March. In a press release, SJP reported that the motion, entitled “Boycott Israeli Goods in EUSA shops and supply chains,” was passed by a landslide vote of 270-20 (“Press Release 16/03/11: Edinburgh University students vote overwhelmingly for boycott of Israeli goods,” 16 March 2011).
“Despite the meeting requiring over 300 students to attend for it to be quorate and for decisions taken to be binding, the huge level of student support for the motion means that EUSA will be under severe student pressure to adopt it as official policy,” the press release added. “Similar motions have been passed at SOAS, Manchester and Sussex Universities in recent years. This latest result seems a clear indication that students in the UK are continuing to play a prominent role in the campaign for a just peace in Palestine.”