Saturday, April 21, 2007

[wvns] More Jews for Boycotting Israel

Jews for Boycotting Israel: A New Initiative
Ruth Tenne
The Palestine Chronicle
April 2, 2007

The latest report of the International Development Select Committee
regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories (31 January 2007) makes
for very distressing reading. In its section on trade, it refers to
the ongoing restrictions in movements and access faced by the OPT,
citing an OXFAM report which points out "that transaction costs for
Palestinians wishing to export products are up to 70% higher than for
Israelis exporting the same product. This market benefit is also true
of products produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank who can get
direct access to markets in or through Israel without the disruptive
road blocks and back-to-back transfers faced by the Palestinians.
In addition, Palestinians face a range of regulations which do not
appear to be linked to security. Moreover, the Palestinians are
obliged to rely on Israeli intermediaries to transport their goods and
therefore, do not pay purchase taxes and customs to the Palestinian
Authority, which creates further losses to the economy of 3% of the
GDP a year. The report concludes that "the viability of a future
Palestinian economy depends significantly on its trading opportunities."

In order to challenge the stronghold Israel has on Palestine and its
fledgling economy, a group of Jewish and Israeli residents in Britain
was set up as a subsection of the campaign undertaken by Boycott
Israeli Goods - BIG ( <>) . The new group, J-BIG, is an outcome
of the deep frustration Jewish peace activists feel towards the
inaction displayed by the Jewish community and its liberal wing with
regard to Israel's repressive occupation of Palestinian land. J-BIG
members believe that Israel's policies "constitute a betrayal of the
best trends in Jewish ethical tradition" and operate a form of racism
which is reminiscent of South African Apartheid - inflaming hatreds
that render impossible the achievement of a just peace for both
Israelis and Palestinians. Like 'Enough!' - the new coalition of trade
unions, peace, faith and human right organisations in Britain- J-BIG
believes that the British Government fails to stand up for the right
of the Palestinian people and thus, calls for a consorted grass roots
action. Along with the wider BIG campaign, members take part in direct
action aiming to prevent the marketing and selling of goods and
produce originating from the illegal settlements in the West Bank and
from Israeli companies, especially those which are known to profit
from the unlawful occupation. J-BIG's strength is in the fact that
being Jewish, we are unlikely to encounter charges of Anti-Semitism,
made frequently by the Jewish community against those who criticise
Israel's policies. At the same time, we hope that our stance will act
as a "wake- up" call for the Jewish community in Britain and offer
some symbolic support to the Palestinians who tend to regard the
Jewish community as a keen champion of Israel's policies. We hope that
our actions will help attract greater publicity for the BIG campaign.
Indeed, a recent picketing of Carmel- Agrexco, an Israeli marketing
company, gained much publicity in the Jewish and Israeli press.

Carmel-Agrexco is a 50% Israeli state-owned export company which is
responsible for exporting the majority of fruit and vegetables from
illegal settlements in the West Bank to the UK. The UK forms a large
part of the market for settlement produce, making up 60% of Agrexco's
total exports. Agrexco profits from Israel's illegal occupation and
entrenched system of racial apartheid in the occupied Palestinian
territories. In the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, Agrexco set its
farms on confiscated Palestinian land offering Palestinian farmers
less than a living wage. Carmel-Agrexco can deliver fruits and
vegetables to Europe in 24 hours while the produce of Palestinian
farmers cannot get through the illegal Israeli military checkpoints
and has to be left to rot in the field .

The picket of Carmel - Agrexco took place shortly before Valentine Day
when the demand for Agrexco's flowers is at its highest. Although the
number of those picketing was just above 100, the attendance of J-BIG
attracted special attention by the Israeli press. Interviewed by the
Jerusalem Post, Deborah Fink - the convener of J-BIG, contended: "This
is a grass roots action. It is a way the ordinary person can put
pressure on Israel... It's also to tell Jews that what Israel is doing
is wrong. What Israel is doing is going against Jewish ethics.
Uprooting olive trees is against Jewish law" Although the
representative of Carmel -Agrexco UK dismissed the disruptive action,
there is no doubt that such an action has a cumulative effect which
help to turn consumers and the public against Israel, whose 2006
bombardment of Lebanon, "summer rain" shelling of Gaza and continued
military incursions into the West Bank are etched in the public
consciousness. Indeed, the results of a recent worldwide BBC's poll of
28,000 people in 27 countries show that Israel is the most negatively
viewed county. 56% of interviewees felt that Israel has a mostly
negative influence on the world - a rating which is higher than any
other country, including Iran and North Korea (Jewish News 8 March 2007).

J-BIG's campaign however, is not focused on one-off events. It is in
the process of launching an ongoing campaign which will put pressure
on supermarkets by informing them and their customers about Israel's
violation of human rights in the Occupied Territories, and of Israel's
use of unethical and exploitative methods in marketing the produce of
its illegal settlements in the West Bank - taking advantage of
Palestinian labour and produce. In addition, J-BIG members will be
requesting supermarkets to clearly label all goods which originate
from the West Bank and Israel in order to help consumers make an
ethical choice.

An additional aim of J-BIG is to promote Palestinian produce,
especially extra virgin, organic, olive oil which is marketed by
Zaytoun ( <> ) in accordance
with the Fair Trade's code of practice. The olive oil comes directly
from the West Bank and from Israeli Palestinian farmers who suffer
from restrictions on their land ownership and use of water resources
in Israel, (for a full account of the restrictions and discrimination
suffered by Israeli Palestinians see Susan Nathan's book:The Other
Side of Israel,2005). J-BIG members are promoting the sale of Zaytoun
oil by giving it greater publicity through the media and by direct
contact with potential vendors. They also aim to improve the market
penetration of Zaytoun by selling the oil directly to friends, family
relatives and members of the public. Palestine is the origin of the
olive tree with some of the oldest olive groves in the world dating as
far back as 1500 to 2000 years. This fact combined with the
Mediterranean climate, rich fertile soil and the use of organic
traditional farming methods makes Zaytoun's Palestinian olive oil a
world beating product, with which Israeli olive oil that is produced
mostly from younger olive trees, will find hard to compete.

On a political level, members of J-BIG have joined the wider campaign
for abolishing the special trade and economic benefits granted to
Israel as part of its trade agreement with the European Union. Indeed
a significant number of British MPs appear to support this campaign.
In February 2007 an Early Day Motion (EDM ) submitted to Parliament by
Derek Wyatt notes that Israel "has routinely prevented the free
movement of Palestinian goods and people and has withheld Palestinian
funds from their people. ..... These and other grievous human rights
abuses represent a clear breach of Article Two of the EU-Israel
Association Agreement, which calls for adherence to human rights" .
The EDM goes on to commend the International Development Select
Committee's recommendation that "the UK should urge the EU to use the
Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and to
consider suspending the Agreement until there are further improvements
in access arrangements".

J-BIG and other activists have been writing to their respective MPs
and requesting them to support Wyatt's EDM. It appears that the number
of British MPs who have been signing the EDM is indeed growing, and
the campaign for bearing pressure on Israel is taking root.

Being an Israeli-born citizen I hope , like the rest of my colleagues,
that our campaign of boycotting Israel's produce of repression and
"fruits of injustice" will successfully spearhead a grass roots action
within the Jewish community against a brutal occupation which seeks to
stamp out the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for nationhood.



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