Archive for February, 2009

Power of student action forces university to divest its holdings in major arms companies

Posted in International BDS Actions on February 28, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Feb 27 2009 by Lisa Jones, South Wales Echo

Power of student action forces university to divest its holdings in major arms companies

A THREE-DAY sit-in by students protesting against their university’s investment in major arms companies has ended.

Cardiff Students Against War yesterday finished its occupation of the Shandon Lecture Theatre in Cardiff University’s main building on Park Place after bosses agreed to pull funds out of two companies.

Cardiff University has given students written confirmation that they have divested from the arms trade and have instructed fund managers not to reinvest.

Johnny, a spokesman for the coalition, said: “The mood has been very upbeat throughout. People have felt that what they are doing is really achieving something.

“They felt they’ve made a difference.

“There’s been a buzz around the campus.

“It certainly shows that student activism is on the increase.”

During the sit-in, the 100 or so participants listened to talks from visitors, took part in a live link-up with Gaza and watched documentaries about the conflict in the Middle East. A student spokeswoman, who did not want to be named, said: “The university conceded to our key demand which was to divest from the arms trade. They have sold all their shares in BAe and General Electric and instructed their fund managers not to invest in the arms trade.

“This is a major success for the occupation.

“We’ve been the most successful across the UK. It confirms the power of student action. A lot of us have been campaigning against the arms trade for some time.

“We’ve been consistently ignored by the university. They have forced us to take this action.

“It’s not interested in the will of the student, which is why we were forced to take action.”

The sit-in began on Tuesday when students massed outside their union building with a Books Not Bombs protest, where students brought along a book to signify their support for education, not war.

They claimed the university had money invested in BAe Systems and General Electric, which it accuses of supplying military equipment to Israel.

They were refusing to leave the lecture theatre until their demands were met. They were also calling for Cardiff University to be twinned with Gaza and for five students from the troubled region to be given scholarships at Cardiff University.

It is the 28th such protest to take place on campuses around the United Kingdom.

A Cardiff University spokesman said: “In the course of the last few days the University’s investment managers have divested the University of its holdings in both BAe and the infrastructure arm of General Electric.”

The new movement against Israel’s apartheid

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, What You Can Do, Zionism on February 28, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Eric Ruder looks at the new movement taking shape in this country and around the world–for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people.

February 27, 2009

Some 5,000 people turned out in Los Angeles to demonstrate against Israel’s war (David Rapkin | SW)

THE RUTHLESS assault on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza marked a decisive turning point in Israel’s six-decade war of conquest.

In the course of 22 days, Israeli air strikes, artillery shells and invasion forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, injured 5,000 and devastated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The onslaught also shattered the illusion that–after more than a decade of a “peace process” that was supposed to establish a Palestinian state–Israel has any intention of letting Palestinians realize their aspirations for self-determination.

The ferocity of Israel’s offensive, the enormous loss of civilian life (more than 90 percent of those killed and wounded were civilians) and the unanimous support for the carnage across the Israeli political spectrum shocked the world. Hundreds of millions of people watched in horror as the images of devastation and reports of civilians burned by white phosphorous bombs or buried in the rubble of their former homes filled evening news broadcasts.

But the assault on Gaza has also brought a change of another sort. It stirred a commitment among people around the world that the time has come to do something about the intolerable conditions facing Palestinians.

Labor unions, student groups and other organizations have responded to the renewed calls from Palestinians for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to put pressure on Israel to end its apartheid policies toward the Palestinian population, both within the state of Israel itself and under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Britain, student groups at two dozen universities organized sit-ins and building occupations to demand that their educational institutions condemn Israel’s war crimes, cancel speaking events or honorary titles for Israeli officials, donate surplus supplies such as computers and books to Palestinian schools, and grant scholarships to students from Gaza.

In South Africa, dockworkers refused to unload a ship carrying Israeli goods. The action had a special symbolic significance, given the inspiring example of the South African struggle that overturned apartheid in 1994. As the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) stated in a February 4 press release:

Coming weeks after the massive Israeli massacre in Gaza, this distinguished expression by SATAWU [the union of South Africa’s dockworkers] of effective solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and with Gaza in particular, sets a historic precedent that reminds us of the first such action during the apartheid era taken by Danish dock workers in 1963, when they decided not to offload ships carrying South African products, triggering a similar boycott in Sweden, England and elsewhere.”

Dockworkers in Greece threatened to block a ship carrying weapons to Israel during the Gaza offensive, and in late January, the Maritime Union of Australia endorsed the call for a BDS campaign, and pledged to boycott all Israeli vessels, as well as all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

In the U.S., a wave of student occupations is taking shape, starting with the University of Rochester and New York University, and others in the planning stages.

In Canada, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents some 200,000 government and other public-sector workers, passed a motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel and an end to any research or investments that could benefit the Israeli army. British and French academics have likewise issued statements calling for a boycott of Israel.

Thus, despite the trauma inflicted during the Gaza offensive, the emerging BDS movement has given a renewed sense of optimism to millions of Palestinians who have felt for years that the world shrugged as they faced daily threats to their existence. As the BNC continued:

If Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity, the fast-spreading BDS movement around the world has passed the test with flying colors. In fact, worldwide support for BDS against Israel in reaction to its war crimes…has shown that international civil society fully recognizes that Israel must be held accountable before international law and must pay a heavy price for its atrocities and ongoing willful destruction of Palestinian society.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NEVERTHELESS, SOME people raise objections about whether a BDS campaign is justified or effective–or both. Does it make sense to describe Israel as an apartheid state, they ask–and in any case, will a BDS campaign have the desired effect?

While some who raise such considerations would defend Israel no matter how blatant its injustices, others have honest questions about such issues, which deserve careful answers, especially considering that so many people are just learning about the Palestinian struggle.

Though Israelis generally recoil at any comparison of Israel and South Africa, the shared pattern of racist discrimination and control is unmistakable.

“Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land,” said South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils during a visit to Jerusalem. “That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the Occupied Territories–the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common.”

Kasrils should know what he is talking about. He is one of a handful of Jews who was active as guerilla fighters in the African National Congress during the anti-apartheid struggle.

Even a few prominent Israeli politicians draw the connection between Israeli and South African apartheid.

“The Intifada is the Palestinian people’s war of national liberation,” wrote former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair in 2002 in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, referring to the Palestinian uprising of that year. “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities…We established an apartheid regime.”

Indeed, Palestinians today endure the Israeli equivalent of the pass laws of South Africa’s white minority regime. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians must spend hours waiting to pass through checkpoints to travel distances that should take minutes–all while suffering humiliation and abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Then there are the house demolitions, the strangulation of the economy and the constant threat of worse, in the form of targeted assassinations or violence from Jewish settlers.

“The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and Black South Africans is very great in respect of their residency rights,” says John Dugard, a professor of international law who helped construct South Africa’s human rights law in the post-apartheid era, and now serves as the UN’s chief human rights monitor in the West Bank and Gaza. “East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or hospital.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT EVEN if Israel can be accurately called an apartheid state, won’t a BDS campaign–and especially a cultural, academic and sports boycott–make impossible precisely the kind of exchange necessary to end Israeli apartheid?

As Haider Eid, a resident of Gaza, a professor of English literature, and a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, explains:

The same argument was used against the academic, cultural and sports boycott of South Africa.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan talked about ‘constructive engagement’ as a way to defend their diplomatic ties with South Africa. Some academics and athletes echoed these same arguments. But they forget that they are making an abnormal situation into a normal one. The international community had to make it clear to the white racists of South Africa that what they were doing was unacceptable.

I have no problem with the exchange of academic ideas. But I myself am an academic. I have been invited to five conferences over the last year, but I have not been allowed by the Israelis to leave Gaza. Why should there be such preoccupation about the freedom of exchange of ideas with Israeli institutions when Israel itself denies such exchange to Palestinians in all spheres of life?

Also, it’s important to point out that we are only talking here of boycotting institutions, not individual academics, and we are in favor of exchange with Israeli academics who object to Israel’s occupation, who support the right of return of the more than 6 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the region and so on. Israeli academic institutions, on the other hand, have unfortunately supported the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, supported the dispossession of Palestinian refugees since 1948, and have not raised their voices against the latest massacre in Gaza.

An international campaign of the sort that was essential to the eventual victory of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa is just as essential–if not more so–in the case of Israel because of the blanket support Israel receives from the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations Security Council.

The U.S., for example, gives billions of dollars annually–in the form of both military and economic aid–to Israel, and this support is crucial to Israel’s ability to continue its policy of territorial expansion and repression of Palestinians.

Likewise, the European Union in recent years has expanded, rather than reduced, its economic ties with Israel, a development that no doubt encouraged Israeli leaders to carry out the recent Gaza massacre without fear that such conduct might jeopardize their economic and political standing in the world.

The United Nations regularly reaffirms resolutions stipulating that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and calling on Israel to accept the return of Palestinian refugees. But when it comes to enforcing its resolutions, the UN, which is beholden to world powers such as the U.S., won’t take any action to compel Israel to live up to its obligations under international law. As Eid explains:

We’ve lost faith in governments, in the United Nations, and the rest of the so-called international community. We’ve said our only hope is with civil society organizations, unions and solidarity movements–and this is what is happening right now.

We don’t want people just to react to the Gaza massacre for a couple of months, and then forget about it. We want this to continue. Israel is under fire now from civil society organizations. This is a historical moment, and we must seize it.

What you can do

If you want to learn more about the growing struggle against Israeli apartheid, see the Global BDS Movement Web site and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott Web site.

Union activists considering ways to bring up the issue in their own locals will find handy materials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario Web site.

Haidar Eid has written an article titled “Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009″ that recounts his experiences during Israel’s war and adds his voice to call for an international movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, modeled on the anti-apartheid movement.

The One Democratic State Group has issued “A Call from Gaza” that asks activists and organizations to demand that their governments sever ties with Israel, and calls for Israel’s war criminals to be brought to justice.

انطلاق “وطني” مبادرة وطنية لتعزيز المنتج الفلسطيني

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on February 28, 2009 by Marcy Newman

نشر السـبت 28/02/2009 (آخر تحديث) 28/02/2009 الساعة 18:20
تكبير الخط تصغير الخط
رام الله – معا – تحت رعاية الرئيس محمود عباس، أنطلقت اليوم المبادرة الوطنية لتعزيز المنتج الوطني الفلسطيني تحت شعار “وطني”، بحضور شخصيات وطنية ورجال أعمال، في
مقر المقاطعة في رام الله ظهر اليوم السبت.

وقال رئيس ديوان الرئاسة د.رفيق الحسيني :” رؤيتنا ان يكون هناك منتج وطني يتمتع بقدرة تنافسية عالية في الأسواق الداخلية والخارجية، وتعزيز المنتج الوطني أمام المنتجات الأجنبية، من خلال رفع الجودة، والسعر المنافس، وتعزيز الوازع الوطني لشراء المنتج الفلسطيني”، وشدد خلال الافتتاح على ضرورة إقناع المواطن الفلسطيني بأن شراء المنتج المحلي هو عمل مقاوم ووطني، ويلعب دور أساسيا في تثبيت المواطن الفلسطيني على أرضه، فهي وسيلة سلمية يستطيع المواطن العادي استخدامها للتصدي للهجمة الاستيطانية التي يتعرض لها أبناء شعبنا.

وبدوره أكد وزير الاقتصاد الوطني كمال حسونة، على أن دعم المنتج الوطني، هو واجب وطني وأخلاقي، يساهم في تثبيت المواطن الفلسطيني على أرضه، مشيرا أن الحكومة الحالية ومنذ تشكيلها عملت على مساعدة القطاع الخاص الفلسطيني، من خلال سن القوانين الحديثة التي تساعد في نمو الناتج المحلي.

ومن جانبه قال رئيس الاتحاد العام للصناعات الفلسطينية “باسم خوري”، اننا نسعى إلى زيادة حصة المنتج الفلسطيني في السوق الوطنية، وذلك من خلال توفير منتج بجودة عالية، وبسعر منافس، ومطابق للمواصفات العالمية، مضيفا ان المبادرة تعبر عن قدراتنا في مواجهة التحديات الكبير من اجل تمكين اقتصادنا الوطني.

كما وقال جمال حداد ممثل صندوق الاستثمار الفلسطيني، ان دعم المنتج المحلي يعد من اعمدة المقاومة ضد الاحتلال، وذلك في المساهمة من تقليل التبعية للمنتجات الاسرائيلية وتحويلها للمنتجات الوطنية، معتبرا المبادرة بأنها خطة بالاتجاه الصحيح لاعادة احياء الاقتصاد الوطني، ودعمها يأتي من جانب المسؤولية الاجتماعية.

rominent South African calls for sanctions against Israel

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on February 27, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Ronnie Kasrils fought for decades against apartheid in his South African homeland, and with victory served in the governments of Nelson Mandela, and later Thabo Mbeki.

On March 20, he will be speaking at the University of Strathclyde (6:00 p.m., P5.14, Graham Hills Building) on the need for a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid.

Listen to Red Eye radio interview with Kasrils (February 25, 2009 show).

PACBI Salutes Canadian Academic Trade Unionists

Posted in International BDS Actions, Labor Organizing on February 26, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Ramallah, Occupied Palestine

25 February 2009

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) applauds CUPE-Ontario’s University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) for its principled support for the cause of justice in Palestine by adopting, at its annual conference on 22 February 2009, significant steps in the direction of applying effective pressure on Israel and holding it accountable for its colonial and apartheid policies which violate international law and fundamental human rights.

In particular, PACBI applauds the OUWCC for passing a number of resolutions aimed specifically at challenging and ending business-as-usual with the Israeli academy. The conference has decided to “[e]ncourage its member locals to hold public forums to discuss an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions;” to “[a]sk campus representatives to work with locals to investigate both research and investment links between Ontario Universities and the state of Israel’s military;” to “[m]obilize campus allies to pressure universities from engaging in acts of cooperation that assist and aid military research at the institutional level with Israeli universities;” to “[w]ork with campus and community allies to pressure Ontario universities to refuse collaborations, corporate partnerships and investments that would benefit, either directly or indirectly, military research or the Israeli state military;” and to “[r]equest funding and support from CUPE Ontario to conduct an education campaign on the academic boycott, coordinate education sessions and assist in the implementation of resolution 50 as passed in 2006.”

These resolutions, taken together, amount to a resolute decision to challenge the notion that Israeli universities and academic institutions can be “normal” partners of any self-respecting Canadian institution. Indeed, it has to be recognized by academics the world over that Israeli universities are part and parcel of the structures of domination and oppression of the Palestinian people. They have played a direct and indirect role in promoting, justifying, developing or supporting the state’s racist policies and persistent violations of human rights and international law. It is significant that not only have they not condemned the state’s colonial policies and practices and the longstanding siege of Palestinian education, they have facilitated and enabled the collaboration of their faculty members and researchers with the Israeli military-security establishment, in flagrant violation of the principles of the independence of universities and academics. Israeli universities and research institutes have been complicit in the crimes of the state since its founding; in fact, they have served the Israeli state’s determined effort to whitewash its crimes and portray itself as an important center of global learning and scholarship.

The sincere solidarity with Palestine shown by Canadian academic trade unionists is particularly timely in light of the recent Israeli war of aggression against the people of Gaza. During this lethal assault during which many war crimes were committed, 1440 Palestinians were murdered (of whom over 400 were children), 5380 were injured [1], and scores of institutions—including a university and several schools— and neighborhoods were partially or completely destroyed. The impunity of Israel must be challenged. Academic and cultural boycotts are effective measures available to world civil society to indicate its intolerance of oppression and as a means to bear pressure upon Israel to cease its campaign of ethnic cleansing and colonial control over the Palestinian people. The PACBI call for boycott in 2004 of Israeli academic and cultural institutions [2], like the Palestinian civil society’s widely endorsed call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in 2005 [3], is based on the same moral principle embodied in the international civil society campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa: that people of conscience must take a stand against oppression and use all the means of civil resistance available to bring it to an end.

info [at]

[1] Palestinian Ministry of Health figures as of 5 February 2009. See

The Haverford Campaign Calls for Divestment from Israel

Posted in International BDS Actions on February 25, 2009 by Marcy Newman

By Nathan Karnovsky [Bi-College News] 24 February 2009 – “Do you notice that, even among educated people, there is general recognition of the fact that the modern state of Israel was founded as a symbol of the suffering of humanity…but almost no awareness that this has been at the expense of another people who were innocent of guilt?”

These are the words of Harry Saul, a member of Haverford College’s Class of 1972.

Saul is a member of a group of Haverford alumni that have started The Haverford Campaign, at The Campaign calls upon Haverford to divest fully from any entity that contributes to or supports what he calls “the apartheid” in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.

Saul was inspired to start this campaign by his son, a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine group at Hampshire College, who recently helped convince the school’s administration to completely divest.

“The goals of the campaign are twofold,” Saul said. “First to get the college to completely divest…second…to [help in] raising awareness.”

According to Saul, one of the major challenges is educating people about the role that the United States plays in the conflict.

“People in this country need to first know about what their government is doing,” said Saul. “There is little awareness that the weapons…being used to inflict suffering…are made by American companies and largely paid for by people living in the United States.”

Although as Saul acknowledges, “it is notoriously difficult to get information about investments from private colleges,” he is confident that Haverford must be investing in at least some of the companies that provide support to Israel.

Saul cites Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola, and Terex as a handful of the major companies that must be divested from.

When asked about his use of the word “apartheid” to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saul responded that the accounts of the fighting reminded him of colonial war.

“It was more like reports I’ve read about the British circling and killing basically defenseless aborigines in Australia,” he said.

Victory for student movement: Strathclyde University to end complicity with Gaza conflict

Posted in International BDS Actions on February 22, 2009 by Marcy Newman

A vibrant and wonderful student movement has flowered a the Strathclyde University which has scored two major victories for peace and justice within this month. We at PULSE salute all the students, in particular Strathclyde Stop the War, Action Palestine, and the Strathclyde University Muslim Students Association (SUMSA) for their indispensable work. In today’s excellent guest editorial, Kim Bizzarri, who has himself lead from the front, reports on these successes and the prospects for future.

GLASGOW, February 21 – Students at Strathclyde University won the vote on Thursday to cut the university’s ties with arms manufacturer BAe Systems which supplied components used by the Israeli military in the recent massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Students win majority support in historic AGM

The vote, which took place in relation to a motion submitted by a group of students to their Union’s General Meeting (AGM) – the student’s highest decision-making body – won with an overwhelming majority of the over 200 students who queued in the union’s corridors and stairs to participate in the event. Such a high student attendance had been unprecedented in any previous AGM, most of which failed in the past 10 years to even reach quorum.

Despite attempts by the Union’s administration to dilute the substance of the motion and have it voted upon by the conservative Student Representative Council (SRC) – who had already rejected a similar popular motion two years earlier given the uncomfortable position it placed the University vis-à-vis its corporate funders – the fervent group of passionate students were successful in galvanising sufficient support amongst their fellows to turn the motion into student policy.

Within just a couple of weeks from occupying the McCance Building – heart of the University’s administration – the original 60 students involved in the occupation have already gained the support of a sizable number of their fellow students.

Occupation encourages University to take action

With the national media reporting on the new wave of student activism, and with regular updates being posted on, the official site centralising information about UK universities in occupation, the Strathclyde student group has been able to spread its message and influence far beyond the university’s walls.

Within hours of starting the peaceful occupation, messages of support were flowing in from students across the UK, and around the world, with some touching declarations of solidarity received directly from Palestinian students closely monitoring the students’ activities.

What followed was a series of exhausting negotiations between the students and the University’s Principle and Secretary to ensure that the occupation would deliver more than just a message of solidarity to the people of Palestine.

By the end of the second day of the occupation, the students achieved a remarkable victory when the Principle agreed to end with immediate effect the university’s purchasing contract with the water-supplying company Eden Springs – whose Israeli-owned parent company has been found to be operating commercial activities in breach of international law within the Occupied Territories.

Following the recent bombings of Palestinian universities by the Israeli army, the Principle also agreed to make 3 scholarships available to Palestinian students from Gaza, pledging to incite other Scottish universities to follow suit and possibly pull resources together for the creation of a Scottish-wide fund.

University denies major R&D funding from the arms industry

As part of the occupation, students also requested that the University cut its ties with the arms industry after discovering that major research contracts were underway between the university’s engineering department and BAe Systems – the UK’s largest arms manufacturer and supplier to the Israeli army of components used in the targeting systems of F-16 fighter-bombers responsible for the killing of Palestinian civilians, including children and women.

Data acquired through Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted to the University last year by Strathclyde student and prominent Scottish political figure Tommy Sheridan, revealed that BAe systems invested £7.8 million between 2000 and 2007 in joint research projects with the University’s engineering department. FoIs also revealed that several other companies involved in the arms trade, including BAe subsidiaries, had ties with the University’s research departments – with many of the contracts still under way.

Peter West, Secretary of the University, denied the allegations and confirmed only the existence of one contract between the University and BAe Systems for a total of £5000.

University is to look for alternative and ethical sources of funding

The students will now proceed with the submission of a series of FoIs to the university to verify the exact scale of current investments channelled into the University’s research labs by the arms industry.

Meanwhile, some engineering students at Strathclyde fear that the dissolution of the university’s ties with BAe Systems will impact negatively on the department and their career prospects.

In order to allay these fears, a number of their fellow engineering students supporting the occupation are now encouraging a debate within the department to look at possible alternative channels of funding from non-lethal industries, including green and civil technologies.

The rise of a new wave of student activism

The experience of the Strathclyde students has been an encouraging one that illustrates well the idea of “glocalisation”, a term often used to define how individuals can act on their immediate surroundings to impact on global issues.

Naturally, there are no illusions that the occupation of Strathclyde university, or that of any other UK university, will alone lead to the freedom of Palestine, or that of any other oppressed people. But what students have been successful in achieving so far is the adoption of policies aimed at undermining the structures fuelling the conflict and feeding the oppression.

Through the occupation, students have sent a clear and powerful message of dissociation from any complicity in the suffering of the Palestinian people that might have been brought by their universities’ lack of ethical procurement and funding policies.

With over 25 UK universities having gone into occupation, and Manchester university now formally entering in its 3rd week of resistance, British students are building, consciously or not, a new wave of student political activity across the entire country, with universities in the US now looking at their British counterparts for inspiration.

Nostalgic UK political commentators have already drawn bold parallels between this new wave of student activism and the one often associated with 1968. But whether students will be able to widen the breadth of their current political focus and coalesce the disparate activities into a unified and organised movement of students, it is yet to be seen.

Redefining progressive democracy

The conditions within which students operate today are very different from those of our parents’ generation. Universities are no longer the hubs of progressive political thinking. More often than not, students in Britain appear affected by political apathy, reducing the university experience to a necessary step towards employment and a possible space for collective entertainment.

The neo-liberal influences brought on to academia through Thatcherite policies are partly to blame. The lack of political leadership following the death of party politics has also left students disoriented, with those showing an aptitude for political activity often joining groups and organizations with admirable intent but tactical rigidity, where powerful symbolic protests make up for an overall lack of vision.

For the student movement to strengthen and grow it will be necessary to ensure its independence from political association, learning to network rather than affiliate, where common objectives can be jointly pursued through common strategies.

With a largely apathetic populace – minds addled with reality TV, spectator sports, and celebrity trivia – these politically active students must resist the delusion that a revolution is just around the corner. Instead, they should build the momentum for change through the accumulation of the many ostensibly smaller victories by setting limited, achievable goals. The cumulative effect of such successes is more likely to have an impact than holding on to a utopian wish, however noble.

What students must aspire to is the creation of a new, collective political imagination, defined by bold and visionary approaches to their common identity.

Whichever way the students choose to ride the current wave of political fervour, the recent events in British universities testify to the irrepressible nature of resistance inherent in the student population, offering us all a powerful source of inspiration.

CUPE union votes for academic boycott of Israel

Posted in International BDS Actions on February 22, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Feb 22, 2009 08:23 PM

Adrian Morrow
staff reporter

University workers in the Canadian Union of Public Employees have passed a controversial motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel, and union members from at least one Toronto university are planning to pressure their school to cut any financial ties with the country.

Although the motion didn’t call for a boycott of individual Israeli academics – as some union members had suggested last month – it encourages union locals to publicly discuss boycotting Israeli universities and to push Canadian universities to end any research or investments that could benefit the Israeli army.

Members of Jewish organizations say the motion sets a dangerous precedent by singling out Israel and vow to keep fighting it.

Delegates representing university workers in CUPE’s Ontario branch, which represents 200,000 government and other public sector workers, voted on the motion at a meeting in Windsor.

The committee, which represents the union’s university workers, called on the union to develop an education campaign on what its proponents label Israel’s “apartheid” practices, such as building a wall around Palestinian territory and invading the Gaza Strip in December; asks the union to back an international campaign of sanctions and boycotts against the country and asks the national union to start researching Canadian connections to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The boycott, however, stopped short of calling for Canadian universities to ban Israeli academics, an idea previously floated by CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan.

“(We want to) do what we can in a peaceful way to end the occupation of Palestine,” Ryan said, adding that the idea of the motion is to boycott research that helps the Israeli military and to investigate any ties between Canadian universities and Israel, not to ban individual Israeli professors.

How the motion is put into place will be left up to individual union locals, he said. At least one Toronto local was planning to support the boycott.

“This is a disastrous and horrific situation that’s developed (in Israel), especially in light of recent events in Gaza,” said Tyler Shipley, spokesperson for CUPE local 3903, which represents contract faculty and teaching assistants at York University. “It’s just unconscionable for us not to take some sort of action.”

Shipley says his local will be pushing York to sever its financial ties to Israel. Local 3903 will also be backing the events of Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual series of lectures and panel discussions opposing Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories, scheduled for next week.

“It’s important that we get our institution here to grapple with its ties to the Israeli state,” Shipley said. “This is a colonial state, this is a state that has been perpetrating unspeakable human rights abuses.”

Jewish groups and some of CUPE’s own unions opposed the motion.

“Here we have a situation where a once-proud union has sunk so low as to have a small group put forward a motion that is, on its face, bigoted and discriminatory and anti-Jewish,” said Bernie M. Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who argues that the motion is discriminatory because it targets a single country. He notes that the union isn’t, for instance, calling for a boycott of Sudan over alleged human rights abuses in Darfur.

“The sole target is Jews, is Israel,” he said.

Farber called on the national union not to put the motion into practice. The Congress pointed out that the motion was adopted by a committee of the union and not the entire membership.

Others in the Jewish community were more fearful of the motion’s consequences.

“Our fear and our concern is that there could be violence against Jewish workers,” said Meir Weinstein, national director of the Jewish Defence League of Canada, which is considered a radical group. “Wherever there are calls for a boycott of Israel and the Jewish state, there is violence against Jews.”

Weinstein fears that the tensions on some university campuses – where pro-Palestinian campaigners have scuffled with pro-Israeli students – could boil over into the other workplaces that CUPE represents.

Estimates on the number of people who showed up to protest CUPE’s meeting in Windsor varied – from 35 reported by CUPE to more than 100 estimated by Weinstein. They were met with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Rafeef Ziadeh, a teaching assistant at York and CUPE member, however, said the discussion of the motion at CUPE’s meeting in Windsor was civilized.

“The debate was very, very respectful, in CUPE style,” she said.

The final vote passed with a clear majority.

For the most part, the union will start searching for connections between Israeli institutions, such as the army, and Canadian ones, such as its universities, she said.

CUPE passed a second motion to send statements to universities asking them to allow debates on Israel to happen on their campuses, she said.

The Jewish Defence League, meanwhile, is planning a meeting for tomorrow night to discuss how to oppose the resolution now that its been adopted.

Significance of Dockworkers’ Refusal to Offload Israeli Cargo

Posted in International BDS Actions on February 20, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Report by Azad Essa

Published here: 15/02/09

11 February, 2009

When COSATU and its affiliate SATAWU made it clear that their dockworkers would not be offloading the Johanna Russ, in palpable solidarity with the Palestinian people last week, a largely irrelevant port in the Southern tip of Africa called Durban was making history across the globe once more. Of course, the Israeli goods were offloaded a few days before the scheduled docking, by virtue of scab labour thwarting the blockage and mass protests planned on Sunday. But the message was out: a new wave of civic angst towards injustice had begun. And it was the labour movement at the head of it all.

This is a significant important gesture from COSATU – not only because it is the first of its kind with regards to the Palestinian people and as a symbolic gesture to the Palestinian cause – the stand against Israel by workers is but another case of the infinite possibilities presented by a unified and decisive labour movement towards tackling social injustice beyond the workplace.

Already in 2008, SATAWU, with the support of Anglican Church leaders and other community activists, prevented the An Yue Jiang – the now infamous Chinese ship filled with arms and ammunition – from reaching Zimbabwe. Through SATAWU’s linkages with the International Transport Federation (ITF) and unions organizing in Mozambique and Angola, the ship was turned away by workers across the continent, finally sailing back to China.

The actions of COSATU and its affiliate SATAWU suggest a dramatic shift back to the social movement unionism that defined the union movement at the height of the liberation struggle. It was a time when workplace bread and butter issues were not separated from the socio-political inequity and challenges that existed outside the workplace. COSATU, being drafted into the tripartite alliance with the SACP and the ANC at the dawn of a new democracy, became thoroughly formalized entities; often criticized as lacking the fluidity required of a movement.

But SATAWU General Secretary Randall Howard disagrees, “There will always be particular struggles that seems to have brought upon resurgence in Cosatu’s community ambitions, which seemed otherwise dormant. I don’t think Cosatu has ever shifted away from the community issues. We always knew that our role was always going to be more than merely workplace based issues”

And while this might be true in principal and in policy, Cosatu’s ambivalent role in the tripartite alliance has always been fodder for the purists, convinced that Cosatu’s potential will remain compromised whilst in the alliance.

While COSATU has focused on their institutionalization within the alliance, forcing them to stomach neo-liberal discourse including GEAR and its residual products of privatization and casualisation, which invariably resonated harsh realities onto their membership, their level of internationalization as a movement has never been any better.

“Cosatu’s philosophy of internationalism is exceptional, far advanced amongst the world’s working classes. We’ve seen great actions against oppression in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Burma and now Palestine,” says Director of the Centre for Civil Society Patrick Bond.

But SATAWU dock worker aren’t alone. During the Gaza blockade, Greek dockworkers raised the alarm on ships carrying arms to Israel, even threatening to block them. Following SATAWU’s decision to boycott Israeli cargo, similar activities are being replicated across the world. Already, the Maritime Union in Western Australia have pledged their support to the Palestinian cause and refuse to off-load Israeli ships or cargo.

Meanwhile, a spate of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts are underway in a number of European countries as well as in Brazil, Malaysia and Spain. While governments in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Qatar and Mauritania have severed severing diplomatic ties with Israel after the Gaza invasion.

International worker solidarity in countries still fulfilling business-as-usual diplomatic ties with Israel are essentially then seeking to rewrite foreign policy from a bottom up perspective; the impact of which is not to be scoffed at. In the early sixties, dock workers in Denmark refused to off-load South African goods, and this was soon followed by dockworkers in England and Sweden. It was ultimately these boycotts that led to the harsher sanctions on South Africa in the years to come.

“If our Durban transport workers can prevent Israeli ships from offloading, that will be one of the greatest steps forward in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, and will really punish Israeli war crimes”, added Bond

But it is a long and difficult road; especially in a multi-union environment and the reality that there are just enough people who simply can’t afford to turn down casual work.

And this is precisely what happened: Workers from the United transport and allied union (Utatu) agreed to off-load the ship. “We tried to persuade them (Utatu) to support the solidarity action, but this didn’t work. When we found out they had agreed to off-load the cargo, we chose to stick to our principles which was essentially mobilizing our membership in showing solidarity with the Palestine people. We didn’t want to become sidelined with other unions and we also didn’t want confrontation between workers on this issue”, explained Howard.

However, this is not the only obstacle towards fulfilling their mandate and objectives. Howard added that ships often came in with other country’s flags and that intelligence will play a crucial part in this campaign.

But SATAWU will not waver, and the boycott is set to continue, if not intensify.

Azad is also a free lance journalist, having completed work with the Mail & Guardian, Al-Qalm and Pambazuka online. Azad is passionate about popularizing socio-economic issues, towards advancing awareness, freedom of expression and democratic values. He is the editor of Commentary and is a columnist on Thoughtleader. He may be contacted at studio505 [at]

Global boycott movement marks its successes

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on February 20, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Jeff Handmaker, The Electronic Intifada, 20 February 2009

Responding to the many calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, solidarity movements around the world have marked many successes. It is important for human rights advocates to build on this momentum and seize the opportunity to do what is within their power to try and hold Israel accountable for its abuses of human rights and other international laws.

Since the initial BDS call by Palestinian intellectuals and academics in October 2003, which was followed by separate calls for sports, arts, economic and other calls for BDS, there has been a seismic shift in the global solidarity movement for human rights in Israel-Palestine. Lawyers, doctors, academics, students, trade unionists, school teachers and many other activists have marked successes around the world. Their efforts are an inspiring reflection of the South African anti-apartheid movement, where BDS was also used very effectively.

In first few weeks of 2009 alone, European, North American and South African solidarity movements have made remarkable progress:

* A growing number of politicians in Europe and North America have put forward uncomfortable, probing questions to their governments and clearly want to do more. One example is the “Break the Silence” campaign within the Dutch Labor Party.

* Numerous letters and opinion pieces have been published by prominent figures in major national newspapers, including statement by prominent lawyers and professors published by The Sunday Times on 11 January 2009.

* The global “Derail Veolia” campaign has grown in leaps and bounds. An important success was the decision by the Stockholm municipality to cancel an agreement with Veolia Transport, on the basis of its involvement in the Jerusalem light-rail project, to the tune of several billion euros.

* There have been calls for international investigations of war crimes from the UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestine refugees) and the UN Secretary General as well as scores of high-profile international lawyers around the world.

* The European Parliament managed to halt negotiations on strengthening the trading relationship between the EU and Israel in the framework of the Association Agreement and there are new, emboldened efforts to try and get the Association Agreement suspended altogether.

* Countless demonstrations have taken place in villages, towns and cities around the world, from Cape Town to Swansea and from Stockholm to Montreal and they are attracting decent publicity. Where there has been no television crew present, activists have made effective use of online resources such as YouTube.

* In South Africa there was a major success when dockworkers affiliated with SATAWU and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) refused to unload a ship containing Israeli goods. The story made national headlines for several days.

* Academic boycott is taking hold in academic institutions around the world — students in particular have been leading the way on this, but academics also.

Israel’s 22-day-long bombardment of Gaza, the greatest use of military force in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967 and what several commentators have already referred to as the Palestinian Sharpeville, has greatly fueled BDS efforts.

Especially before the blockade and recent carnage in Gaza, some activists raised concerns that by pursuing BDS, they may be curtailing dialogue, isolating progressive elements within Israel or even harming Palestinians. However, these concerns have greatly diminished as activists have realized how effective a mechanism BDS really is. In any event, the existence of a dialogue towards a just and sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israel is clearly non-existent, and there is little incentive on the part of Israel to engage in this any time soon. Progressive elements within Israel are still very marginal, but growing and many of these courageous, progressive Israelis have themselves called for BDS against Israel. As for harm against Palestinians, the fact that Palestinians themselves have called for BDS should be as clear a sign as any that the cost of not responding to the call causes far more harm.

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, activists should continue to grasp the opportunities that BDS offers and build up the momentum that has been generated. As Israeli apartheid week, taking place worldwide from 1-8 March (see, solidarity activists should continue to work within the narrow, but highly significant space that exists for them to try and hold the Israeli government, and their own governments, accountable for abuses of human rights and humanitarian law against Palestinians.

Jeff Handmaker is an author, a human rights lawyer, and a researcher and university lecturer in human rights at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. A version of this article was originally published by Indymedia US.

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