As has increasingly been the case in recent years, Hollywood produced the highest profile boycott-related development of the quarter. The Genesis Prize Foundation, which annually awards individuals “who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel,” cancelled (4/19) its annual award ceremony when this year’s recipient, Academy Award-winning actor Natalie Portman, decided she would not be traveling to Israel to accept the $2 million prize in 6/2018. Portman, an avowed Zionist and dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, said she did “not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” due to “recent events” that were “extremely distressing to her,” according to her representatives. Coming amid reports of a mounting death toll in Gaza, the announcement made international news, with Palestinian solidarity activists pleasantly surprised by her apparent reversal on Israel and defenders of Israel shocked at her apparent betrayal. Less than twenty-four hours later, Portman clarified, on Instagram, that her decision was not meant to signal support for BDS. “My decision [. . .] has been mischaracterized by others,” she wrote. “I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli prime minister] Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. [. . .] Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
Meanwhile, boycott activists launched two major new campaigns this quarter. On 3/28, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) published an open letter calling on the online television and movie screening service Netflix to remove the Israeli drama Fauda from its offerings. They argued that the show, which depicts the actions of an undercover Israeli soldier in the West Bank, served as “racist propaganda for the Israeli occupying army.” PACBI also threatened legal action should Netflix ignore their campaign. Second, BDS Argentina launched a campaign in 4/2018 calling on the country’s national soccer team to cancel a friendly match scheduled for 6/9 in Tel Aviv. With the hashtag #ArgentinaNoVayas, the campaign gained momentum through the end of the quarter.
Ireland was a hotbed of boycott-related activity. On 3/22, nearly two-thirds of the student body at Trinity College Dublin voted for a measure calling on their student union to adopt a long-term policy in support of BDS. The following month, the Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO), the country’s largest teachers’ union, unanimously approved (4/4) a motion calling on INTO to address Israel’s abuses of Palestinian children and mandating INTO leaders raise the issue with “the relevant government departments.” The following day, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), representing approximately 374,000 students at universities and colleges across the country, approved (4/5) a similar measure. “The students of Ireland have today made the historic decision to support the people of Palestine,” USI president Michael Kerrigan said (4/5). Finally, the Dublin City Council unanimously approved (4/9) a motion endorsing BDS and committing the city to ending contracts with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and its subsidiary DXC, both accused of supporting the Israeli occupation.
In the United States, the Durham City Council in North Carolina unanimously voted (4/9) to block the city’s police department from participating in any “military-style” training programs abroad, including those in Israel. Likewise, in Italy, the University of Pisa’s student government adopted (3/24) a motion calling for the university’s administrators to “condemn [the Israeli] regime” and “reject any contracts with Israeli universities committed to supporting the state of apartheid imposed on the Palestinian territories.”
The U.S. academy was the primary arena for divestment-related action this quarter, and BDS proponents achieved a string of victories. In a referendum at the University of Minnesota, the student body called (3/11) on the university’s administrators to divest from companies deemed complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Second, Barnard College students approved a similar divestment measure on 4/18, with 64 percent of the votes in favor. However, Barnard’s president Sian Beilock rejected the call on 4/23, informing the students that she would not consider divestment action until a clear consensus formed across the Barnard community (fewer than half of all enrolled students voted in the referendum). Finally, George Washington University’s student senate passed (4/23) a resolution calling on their administrators to divest from nine companies that were contributing to abuses of Palestinian human rights: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Elbit Systems, Caterpillar, CEMEX, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Motorola Solutions.