Quarterly Updates for (16 Nov 2016 — 15 Feb 2017)


In the biggest BDS-related development of the quarter, the UK security company G4S announced (12/2) that it had sold off most of its business in Israel, 9 mos. after announcing plans to do so and several years after BDS activists began targeting the company (see JPS 45 [4]). Although G4S never admitted to pulling out in response to the BDS campaign, BDS activist Rafeef Ziadeh said (12/2) that the announcement represented a major victory. “We have succeeded [in pushing] one of the world’s largest corporations into selling its key business in Israel,” she said. “Our globally coordinated campaign has had a real impact.” Activists kept up the pressure on G4S in the wake of the announcement. The UN World Food Programme in Jordan (12/6) and Lebanon’s UN International Children’s Emergency Fund branch (UNICEF, 12/24) both stated that they would no longer work with the company, joining a handful of other UN agencies dropping G4S (see JPS 46 [1, 2]).

U.S. sports stars got in on the BDS action this quarter, too. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, one of professional football’s politically active players, was set to participate in a National Football League delegation to Israel in mid-2/2016. But a week before the trip, he posted a statement to Twitter explaining his decision to stay home. He said that after reading an article about the Israeli govt.’s efforts to undermine the BDS movement, he decided to follow in the path of his idol Muhammad Ali and be a “voice for the voiceless.” He expanded on the statement as follows: “Like 1968 Olympian John Carlos always says, ‘There is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or you’re out.’ Well, I’m in.” Bennett’s stance caused a minor media sensation in the U.S., and 5 of his colleagues ultimately joined the protest, leaving only 5 of the 11 originally invited participants to go ahead with the trip.

Various municipalities around the world threw their weight behind BDS as well. On 11/17, the City Council of Trondheim, Norway’s 3d-largest city, voted to boycott goods and services from Israel’s settlements, amplifying the citizen-led BDS movement in Norway. The city council of Portland, Oregon, voted (12/21) unanimously to suspend investments in all corporate securities, including Caterpillar and Wells Fargo, in response to demands from BDS activists, environmentalist groups, and prison divestment groups. Finally, the Provincial Council of Valencia, representing a region of 2.5 m. people in Spain, adopted (12/29) a general policy to boycott Israel. A rep. of the left-wing party València en Comú, which submitted the motion, said (12/29) that the vote was “a grand success for the Palestinian cause.” Despite BDS’s gathering strength in Spain, the Spanish courts pushed back, striking down at least 10 BDS res. in municipalities across the country in late 2016 and early 2017 (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2/24).

Boycott campaigns in the U.S. and UK academies were also active this quarter. On 12/8, the University of Manchester’s student union senate approved a res. backing BDS and demanding divestment from companies deemed complicit in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. The res. was explicitly designed in response to the university’s 2013 partnership with Israel’s Technion. Later, the student govt. at the University of California at Riverside approved (2/1) a ban on Sabra hummus, citing the Sabra parent company’s financial sponsorship of the IDF’s Golani Brigade. However, university administrators said (2/2) they had no plans to comply with the students’ wishes.

Meanwhile, the movement for BDS suffered 3 major setbacks in U.S. academia. On 1/7, the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted against endorsing an academic boycott of Israel at its annual meeting in Philadelphia. The MLA’s delegate council instead approved a res. calling on the MLA to “refrain from endorsing the boycott” on the grounds that it undermined the group’s mission to promote scholarly exchange, teaching, and research. At the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Denver, the association’s governing council rejected a petition calling for an investigation into “the charges that academic freedom is widely violated in Israel and the oPt.” In late 12/2016, Fordham University’s dean, Keith Eldredge, informed students who had applied to form a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in 12/2015 that he was denying their request. “[I] cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group and against a specific country,” Eldredge wrote. SJP is one of the main campus groups responsible for the wave of BDS support across the U.S. in recent years.

In the religious realm, the Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz, California, voted (12/6) to stop purchasing Hewlett-Packard products, making it the 1st U.S. church to heed the call for BDS action against companies deemed complicit in Israel’s occupation. (For more on BDS, see Palestine Unbound.)