Quarterly Updates for (16 Nov 2017 — 15 Feb 2018)


Following in the footsteps of Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, Lauryn Hill, and others, New Zealand pop star Lorde joined the cultural boycott of Israel this quarter. An open letter published at The Spinoff initially called (12/20) on the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter to consider canceling the Tel Aviv stop on her 2018 world tour. Boycott activists all over the world echoed the letter’s sentiments, and a few days later, Lorde made her announcement. “I’ve received an overwhelming number of messages and letters and have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show,” she wrote, without specifically mentioning the BDS movement. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Apart from high-profile moves like Lorde’s, there was evidence that the cultural boycott was growing in quiet ways. On 1/21, Haaretz reported that Israeli theaters had been struggling in recent years to secure rights to perform plays by international playwrights. “Only in a few cases are hints offered as to the reason for the refusal,” the report stated. “But the Israeli recipients have no doubts: It’s not only touring musicians who decide to skip Israel after receiving a polite request from Roger Waters, or academics who choose to avoid mingling with Israeli colleagues at professional conferences.”

This quarter also saw the BDS debate resume within the ranks of the UK Labour Party. Following comments opposing BDS by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry in 11/2017, shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor quote-tweeted (12/9) an explanation of the BDS movement from the Institute for Middle East Understanding using the hashtags “#freedom,” “#justice,” and “#equality.” Boycott activists in the United Kingdom lauded her comments, prompting the press to ask Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to reconcile the divide within his shadow cabinet. “Jeremy is not in favor of a comprehensive or blanket boycott. He doesn’t support BDS,” a spokesperson told The Guardian on 12/13. “He does support targeted action aimed at illegal settlements and occupied territories.”

Also of note: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven), a research university in Flanders, Belgium, announced (12/6) that it would not be renewing its participation in a project, dubbed LAW-TRAIN, which involved researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Israel’s Public Security Ministry. According to a report in the Electronic Intifada, LAW-TRAIN began in 5/2015 with the goal of “harmonizing and sharing interrogation techniques between the countries involved, in order to face the new challenges in transnational criminality.” Explaining the decision not to renew KU Leuven’s participation, university rector Luc Sels wrote, “The participation of the Israeli Public Security Ministry indeed poses an ethical problem taking into account the role which the strong arm of the Israeli government plays in enforcing an unlawful occupation of the Palestinian territories and the associated repression of the Palestinian population.” In a similar move, the Tshwane University of Technology’s governing council decided (11/24) that the South African university would not be entering into any scientific partnerships with any Israeli organization until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory (Electronic Intifada, 12/13).


In an unusual development, the New Orleans City Council unanimously approved (1/11) a nonbinding resolution “encouraging the creation of a process” to help the city divest from contractors that profit from human rights abuses. Palestinian solidarity activists, some of whom helped draft the resolution, celebrated the vote as a victory for the BDS movement. Following pressure from pro-Israel groups, however, City Council president Jason Williams said (1/17) he was not aware of the resolution’s connection to the BDS movement and that the council would be reconsidering the measure. “Let me be very clear to citizens of New Orleans and citizens of the world—this City Council is not anti-Israel,” he said. On 1/25, the council unanimously voted to rescind the measure.