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PACBI | 2 April 2013

Israelís Lawfare against BDS in Tatters

PACBI and the entire BDS movement around the world celebrated what commentators described as a “crushing defeat”[1] of legal efforts by Israel and its powerful lobby groups to delegitimize BDS and anti-Zionist activism in general.  This month, a British employment tribunal dismissed a lawsuit against Britain’s largest academic union, the University and College Union (UCU), that sought to silence the union’s deliberations on BDS at its annual conferences.[2]  The lawsuit was brought about by a Zionist member of UCU who accused his union of “institutional anti-Semitism” for debating the academic boycott against Israel’s complicit institutions.
The court ruling stated:
“Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought.  At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated” (paragraph 178).
The claimant, supported by a prominent lawyer [3] and key Israel lobby groups in the UK, also attacked UCU’s solid rejection of a newly created definition of anti-Semitism that includes anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel.  In response to this, the court emphatically distinguished between Judaism and Zionism, stating that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act of 2010.  Commenting on this, British Committee for Universities in Palestine (BRICUP), which leads academic boycott efforts against Israel, stated:
“’Fraser vs. UCU’ was viewed by activists as a test case for all UK unions’ right to advocate boycott of Israeli universities and products, and firms that operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It also has important implications for free speech on Palestine and Israel on university campuses.” [4]
What is less known about this and other anti-BDS litigation cases is that the Israeli government stands behind them.  Amir Sagie, director of the civil society affairs department in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, admitted [5] in an Israel advocacy conference in Johannesburg in February that Israel is deeply worried about the growth of BDS and is trying to combat it on several fronts, including the legal one.  Several Israeli government ministries, Sagie disclosed, have been “investing heavily” in legal warfare, or lawfare, against BDS in key EU countries. He said:
“Over the last six months Israel has taken on two (court) cases in partnership with UK Jewry. We are trying wherever possible to challenge BDS morally and legally.  But some legal systems are not geared to this. France’s legal system (provides ways to challenge boycotts) while the UK (legal) system is not (similarly geared).”
Israel’s attempt to popularize its new definition of anti-Semitism, that includes anti-Israel and anti-Zionist speech and activism, is at the core of this legal warfare on BDS. But Israel and its pressure groups are also engaged in many other forms of what a leading Israeli think-tank called “sabotage”[6] and spying on European and other human rights activists.  In March 2011, Israeli media sources revealed that Israel’s military intelligence had created a special department to “collect information” on activists involved in BDS, and similar activities, in those activists’ own countries. [7]
Israel’s worries about BDS are not getting any reprieve lately [8].  In 2012, and the first three months of 2013 alone, there has been a sharp rise in BDS victories.  European governments are for the first time seriously considering punitive measures against Israel’s illegal settlements; the UN Human Rights Council welcomed a UN Fact-Finding mission report that calls for sanctions against Israel over its settlement construction; major churches and student unions across North America have adopted targeted BDS measures; the South African ruling party, the ANC, has endorsed BDS; the cultural boycott has continued to grow with more prominent artists and cultural figures refusing to visit Israel or cancelling scheduled events there; leading international figures have endorsed the Palestinian civil society initiated call for a military embargo of Israel; and an effective boycott of Israeli agricultural companies is spreading across Europe and beyond.
Even US president Barrack Obama, Israel’s most loyal -- and generous-- friend, has reportedly admitted that Israel was heading towards “near-total isolation” and that the world may soon start treating it as an “apartheid state.”[9]
Israel’s lawfare defeat in the UK is precedent setting in its impact.  It may herald a new, long-awaited era of accountability for Israel and institutions that are complicit in its crimes.  For now, BDS activists and all supporters of free speech will welcome this verdict.  BDS activists have the right to mobilize global support for isolating Israel, just as was done in South Africa under apartheid, in order to bring about freedom, justice and equality.

Posted on 03-04-2013

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