Boycotting Israeli Apartheid: Report from the Toronto Conference

November 8th, 2006 | Posted in Boycott, Culture, Palestine, Economy, Solidarity
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CONFERENCE REPORT

Almost 30 Montrealers travelled to Toronto to participate in this conference. The movement to boycott Israeli Apartheid is growing in Montreal: contact Tadamon or the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (www.cjpp.org) to find out how you can get involved.

The landmark conference held in Toronto from 6-8th October 2006 “The Struggle Continues: Boycotting Israeli Apartheid“, was an inspiring and significant event. Over 600 people attended the conference sessions, one of the largest Palestinian solidarity conferences ever held on this continent.

Although the conference was primarily designed for Palestine solidarity activists in Ontario, a significant number of participants came from across Canada including Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver as well as the US. International guests included Jamal Jumaa from the Stop the Wall Campaign in Palestine, Salim Vally from the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa, Betty Hunter from the Palestine Solidarity Committee in the UK, and Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics and member of the British Committee for Universities in Palestine. Robert Lovelace, Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, closed the conference with a powerful comparison of the experience of colonialism in Canada and Palestine.

  

The conference was designed primarily as a working event. As such, it aimed to develop the concrete next steps in the global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid. One of the most exciting aspects of the conference was the widespread view feeling that the campaign is reaching a turning point in popular support. The strong participation in sectoral networks (labour, students, community groups etc) was testament to the optimism that defined the conference.

This report aims at summarizing the main decisions and basic principles coming out of the conference. For further information and to get involved in the anti-apartheid campaign in Toronto, please contact the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) at endapartheid@riseup.net

1. BASIC PRINCIPLES

The conference affirmed the central demands of the CAIA basis of unity: an end to the Israeli occupation of all Arab and Palestinian lands, the release of all Arab and Palestinian political prisoners, full equality for all citizens of Israel, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled from 1947 to the present day. These demands are understood in the framework of a set of basic political principles that guide the work of CAIA:

a. The Israeli state is a settler-colonial project that closely resembles features of South African Apartheid. The Israeli state was founded on the expulsion of more than three-quarters of its indigenous population, who became refugees in neighboring countries and around the world. One of the first laws passed by the Israeli state was the so-called Law of Return, which permitted any person of Jewish background from anywhere in the world to immediately become an Israeli citizen. Yet Palestinians, who now constitute the largest refugee population in the world, are still denied the right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled. The campaign against Israeli apartheid is fundamentally centered upon the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled.

Those Palestinians who managed to remain on their land and became Israeli citizens are deliberately denied equal access to social services and the material resources of the state. Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute one-fifth of the Israeli population yet it is illegal for any individual or party to run for the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) if they do not support the Jewish character of the state. Israeli Knesset members have openly advocated the forceful expulsion of Palestinian citizens. In Israel proper, 93% of the land is earmarked for Jewish control and development through state ownership, the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Lands Authority, even more than the 87% of the land reserved for whites in apartheid South Africa.. Israeli state policy deliberately engages in the de-development and ghettoization of Palestinian areas while promoting Jewish population centers. The 2002 state budget, for example, allocated around $30 per person of the housing ministry budget to Arab communities compared with $3100 per person in Jewish ones. Over 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel are from “unrecognized villages” – residential areas that have existed for hundreds of years but are deliberately refused recognition by the Israeli government. These citizens are denied basic services such as running water, electricity, proper education and health services, and access roads. In May 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court effectively banned marriage between Israelis and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a decision that the Israeli daily Haaretz termed “shameful”. Until recently, the Bank of Israel and the state electricity company did not hire anyone who was Arab.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians under military occupation have been herded into isolated cantons divided from one another by illegal Israeli settlements, Israeli-only roads, military checkpoints, electric fences and concrete walls. Palestinians are forced to carry different coloured ID cards and apply for permits from the Israeli military in order to travel between areas. At the entrance to each of these large “open-air prisons”, checkpoints with cattle-like turnstiles have been erected to control Palestinian movement. Palestinians are treated under military law – a separate and discriminatory “legal” sytem drawn up by the Israeli military and regulated by Israeli military courts -while Israeli settlers in the same area are treated under civil law. Over 10,000 Palestinians are being held as political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers accused of violating this military law.

b. The campaign against Israeli apartheid is a Palestinian-led movement. The initial call for the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions came from over 170 Palestinian organizations in July 2005. Earlier calls have come from Palestinian academics to engage in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. These initiatives provide the strategic focus for international solidarity.

As a solidarity movement, CAIA does not seek to impose solutions, strategy or tactics on the Palestinian struggle. Nevertheless, Palestinian activists here in Canada and Toronto have formed the core of anti-apartheid initiatives over the last few years and will continue to do so. These activists have a special responsibility in also helping to rebuild and strengthen the Palestinian national movement, which has been decimated as a result of the narrowing of the Palestinian ‘question’ to just the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Building bases within the Arab and Palestinian communities in Canada is of vital importance, especially when these communities are on the defensive, and often divided. Of particular priority is encouraging Arab and Palestinian youth to become active in these struggles and confident in articulating an anti-apartheid politics.

c. The Canadian state is also a settler-colony. There are many stark parallels with the Palestinian experience in the way that Canada was settled and the indigenous population decimated. The pass-cards and Bantustans that were used in South Africa were actually inspired by the policies of the Canadian settler state towards the indigenous population. These same policies are now being implemented in Palestine. We are very proud of the relationship that the Palestine movement in Toronto has forged with indigenous struggles. While we still have a long way to go in educating ourselves and our communities that Canada is not “our home and native land” but the result of violent and aggressive European settlement, we will continue to prioritize our support and solidarity with the indigenous resistance in this land. Colonization is not something that happened centuries ago, but is an ongoing, daily reality.

Concretely, this means that the anti-apartheid movement should be at the forefront of solidarity efforts with indigenous struggles. We need to be pro-active in demonstrating this solidarity at all times. One particular contribution we can make in this regard is working within the Arab and Palestinian communities to widen understanding of the realities of Canadian colonialism. This is a huge issue given that many migrants buy into the myth of Canadian “multiculturalism” that makes the daily reality of colonialism invisible. We can organize support trips and fact-finding missions to different indigenous communities as a way of educating ourselves about these struggles. We also need to look for ways of linking our struggles around practical campaigns – e.g. the role of Israeli apartheid in the international diamond trade and the continuing dispossession of indigenous people by mining companies.

d. In opposing the policies of the Canadian government towards indigenous populations here, as well as the support of the Canadian government to Israeli apartheid, we help to undermine the myth of Canada as a ‘peace-keeping’ country. It is not by accident that the Canadian government supports Israeli apartheid. The struggle against Israeli apartheid is one part of a broader struggle against Canadian imperialism. The Canadian government has supported a wide variety of undemocratic regimes throughout history and it continues to do so today – the most recent examples being Canadian intervention in Haiti and Afghanistan. We should see our activities against Israeli apartheid as part of these broader movements and also encourage individuals who are active against the war in Iraq or against Canadian intervention in Haiti and Afghanistan to understand just what Israeli apartheid is about. There have been big steps forward in this regard, but there is a reticence from some individuals who are afraid to use the term apartheid but willing to talk about ‘peace’. We need to support, encourage and educate people to develop an understanding of Israeli apartheid and a confidence to openly work on BDS.

2. MAIN THEMES AND RESULTS OF THE CONFERENCE

The conference was organized in two main sections. Large public plenary sessions addressed themes such as the nature of Israeli and South African apartheid, the global campaign of BDS, the lessons from the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Israeli lobby and repression of Palestinian solidarity work in Canada. Smaller closed workshops developed strategies and networks in the sectors of labour, campus, media, research, community organizing, faith-based groups and lobbying.

The conference was very privileged to have Jamal Jumaa’, coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign in Palestine, as a keynote speaker. Jamal gave a powerful presentation that traced the evolution of Israeli apartheid from the expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-1948, through the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, to the Oslo Accords and the construction of the Apartheid Wall. He stressed the continuities of this strategy that aimed at expulsion of the indigenous population and the racist concerns with preserving an exclusively Jewish state. Jamal also discussed the grassroots campaign against the Apartheid Wall, noting that this movement was not affiliated to any political party but driven by local communities and the voluntary participation of the people.

Jamal highlighted the important step forwards in the BDS campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian universities are actively involved in the campaign, and are working to encourage local products in place of Israeli-made goods. There has been a strong international response to the call for an academic boycott of Israel. Networks have also been formed in the occupied Golan Heights, and in neighboring Arab countries. Trade unions in Palestine have strongly supported the boycott call, and were particularly inspired by the CUPE Ontario resolution of May 2006. Jamal emphasized that this global movement would succeed as it had in South Africa, “We promise you we will not give up. We will stand firm on our land; Israeli apartheid will fall.”

The other keynote international speaker at the conference was Salim Vally, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa. Salim is a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and was a student leader of the Soweto Uprising and former political prisoner of the apartheid regime. Salim stressed that the anti-Israeli apartheid movement outside the country is integrally linked with the mass, popular struggle inside the country and that the time has come for a full-fledged international boycott of Israeli apartheid. In 2001, a conference against racism in South Africa attended by thousands of people from around the world publicly launched the second anti-apartheid movement against Israel. The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is founded upon an understanding that the Zionist movement is a colonial and racist project. This movement was responsible for the expulsion and massacres of 1948, 1967, 1982 and this summer in Lebanon.

Salim detailed the many lessons from the South African struggle. He stressed that while some activists engaged in lobbying of various bodies and institutions, we must remember that power resides within and amongst ordinary people.  It was the every day actions of people around the world that sustained the movement in South Africa: the workers who went on strike in Ireland because the supermarket had South African products, the tens of thousands of musicians who boycotted South Africa, those who refused to go to sporting matches, the academics who boycotted South Africa. All of these experiences played a vital role in ending South African apartheid and provide us with an inspiring precedent.

Salim rebutted many of the myths from the pro-Israeli apartheid forces and noted how exactly the same arguments were heard in the South African situation. It is not true that BDS hurts the oppressed; rather it is the oppressed that call on us to isolate Israeli apartheid. It is not true that academic boycott shuts down dialogue. Israeli universities are not about dialogue but about re-producing racist ideology that justifies apartheid (e.g. “the Centre for Demographic Affairs”) and there are prominent academics in Israel who are themselves calling for boycott. Salim also pointed out that South African anti-apartheid movement activists came under attack by the media and pro-apartheid forces. We need to support each other loudly and publicly against slander and charges of anti-Semitism and be clear that we do not tolerate any forms of racism within our movement. We also need to better understand the different components and ways in which the pro-Israeli apartheid lobby functions.

Rafeef Ziadah, from the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, also spoke at the opening session on the importance of boycott, divestment and sanctions for Palestine solidarity work in Canada. Ziadah described the origins of CAIA in the coming together of Palestinian solidarity organizations to oppose a proposed visit of Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon to Toronto in November 2005. After a successful demonstration against Sharon, the groups decided to take up the call from Palestine to launch a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. CAIA was formed, bringing together every organization in Toronto that was active in Palestinian solidarity work.

Ziadah emphasized that the BDS call has come from a wide variety of Palestinian organizations and provides a concrete direction for action in Canada. The Canadian government demonstrated this summer its thorough complicity in Israeli war crimes with Stephen Harper’s statement that Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon was a “measured response”. In Canada, we can target the companies and institutions that support the structures of Israeli apartheid. Most directly, this includes Canadian companies that invest in, and profit from, Israeli apartheid. Our primary goal is to make it politically and morally unacceptable to openly engage in activities that support and sustain the apartheid regime.

Audio of some of the keynote sessions are available here:

· Inside the Apartheid Wall – speaker Jamal Jumaa’ :
www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=20129

· Building an Anti-Apartheid Movement: from South Africa to Palestine – speakers include Larissa Cairncross, Jamal Jumaa’, Salim Vally, and Rafeef Ziadah :
www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=20091

· Israel Advocacy in Canada – speakers include Ahmad Shokr, Dan Freeman Malloy, Diala Al Dabbas, David Noble : www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=20141

In addition to these keynote speeches, a variety of strategy sessions were held during the conference to determine plans of action for different sectors. The main outcomes of these sessions are as follows:

a. Research
CAIA will establish a research committee to conduct detailed and accurate research into Israeli apartheid and Canadian complicity. Over 35 people at the research workshop indicated their interest in becoming part of such a committee, including representatives from Montreal. An advisory board of academics will be established to support this research and look for possible funding. The research committee will look at producing working papers on particular themes, longer pamphlets and booklets, and a WIKI. To contact the research committee of CAIA, email research@caiaweb.org

b. Labour
Around 80 workers and trade union activists attended an exciting labour discussion that reflected on the experience of the South African anti-apartheid movement and the Palestinian labour movement. A cross-workplace labour caucus was formed that will carry the work forward in the coming months. In addition, caucuses for CUPE and Ontario teachers met during the conference. These bodies will investigate the possibilities of bringing rank-and-file union activists from Palestine to tour Canada, and holding a labor solidarity conference aimed at workers in Canada. Jamal Jumaa informed the workshop that Palestinian unions will soon make a public call for unions to boycott the Histadrut (a pro-apartheid Israeli “trade union federation”). To contact the labour committee of CAIA, email labour@caiaweb.org

c. Media
The media session focused on the importance of working with journalists and other media professionals, particular community radio, in explaining the issues of Israeli apartheid. A network of anti-apartheid media activists was launched at the conference that will continue to meet in the coming months. One of the first tasks of this network will be to hold training sessions for journalists and others involved with the media on Israeli apartheid.

d. Community
The community workshops stressed the importance of linking with other local communities in their struggles against the Canadian state. This includes different ethnic and migrant communities as well as understanding the strategic importance of locally based neighborhood work. We also need to address issues within the Arab and Palestinian communities such as poverty, racism, police harassment, and youth issues. Out of the conference the first neighborhood committee – Parkdale for Palestine – was launched as an immediate step in working at the local level. This neighborhood committee will do outreach in the Parkdale area, including door-to-door campaigning and working against businesses and other institutions that support Israeli apartheid in the area.

e. Campus
The campus workshop discussed the experiences of the South African anti-apartheid movement on campus as well as more recent reports from Palestinian solidarity student activists across Canada. Out of the workshop, a cross-campus student network was formed representing groups in Ontario that will work towards a coordinated Israeli Apartheid Week in February 2007, as well as launching a boycott and divestment campaign on campuses. Larger campuses or those with more established campaigns will assist smaller campuses with resources and support. To contact the student network of CAIA, email campus@caiaweb.org

f. Lobbying
The lobbying workshop saw prominent lawyers and community representatives as well as Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign, address the issue of making lobby work effective. There was a general emphasis on the importance of seeing lobbying work as an adjunct of building a powerful campaign at the grassroots level. Further work will continue in identifying and supporting representatives at all three levels of government who are sympathetic to the anti-apartheid struggle.

g. Faith Communities
The faith workshop stressed the importance of strengthening links between BDS activists and different fath-based groups. Different mechanisms were discussed to facilitate members of CAIA accessing and speaking to faith-groups. It was also stressed that it is very important that we work to confront the so-called “balanced” approach of some faith groups that conflates the colonizer and colonized and only serves to strengthen the structures of power that maintain apartheid.

h. Art and Culture
The art and culture workshop heard performances from well-known Toronto performers who led a lively discussion on ways to develop a cultural boycott of Israeli apartheid. The workshop developed a network that will continue to meet, develop a “code of ethics” for artists, and look at promoting the boycott of Israeli state-funded cultural events. The workshop also stressed the importance of developing alternative spaces to promote and encourage Palestinian work. To contact the art and culture committee of CAIA, email artists@caiaweb.org

3. MOVING FORWARD

The success of the anti-apartheid movement will not come from a handful of people. It must be a broad effort that allows groups and individuals to take their own initiative, utilize their own creative energies and organize themselves. The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid sees its responsibility as supporting and providing the resources to help strengthen the efforts and initiatives of the different networks that are forming throughout Toronto and Canada. These networks must continue to meet and work. We need to be united in our efforts but also to realize that the diversity of different groups and their individual expertise must be encouraged and respected. The reason for this is that we can’t know what will work without having the flexibility to try out different tactics and ideas. We need to learn from each other and be able to share experiences of how to do things better.

One of the very important principles underlying the work of CAIA is the notion of non-sectarianism and “putting the movement first”. The conference was marked by a very broad participation from a variety of groups and a serious attitude of those in attendance. We need to continue these efforts at being a pluralist movement that brings together different groups and individuals who may have disagreements about tactics, strategy and the specificity of analysis but see the overall goal of challenging Israeli apartheid as being above these differences. This can’t be dominated by one organization or individual – but rather guided by an appreciation that unity should be sought in a common political practice.

The most pressing task flowing from the conference is to build the structures that will enable implementation of the workshop decisions. Committees have been formed around each of the areas discussed above and will continue to meet in the coming period. It is imperative that the decisions of the conference are followed up and implemented in a thorough and professional manner.

Key to this will be building regional and national mechanisms to co-ordinate the campaign. Anti-apartheid groups are forming on campuses and towns across Ontario and other provinces. This process will be strengthened through joint collaboration and common projects.  At the same time, we should be careful not to impose a cookie-cutter organizational model on other cities but realize that the campaign needs to be led by forces local to each city, taking into account the needs and specificity of different experiences. We need to avoid a Toronto-centric campaign and look at ways of strengthening links and learning from the experiences in Quebec and other sites of organising.

This is a very exciting moment for the Palestinian solidarity movement. For the first time in decades we can see the cracks appearing in the ideological edifice supporting Israeli apartheid. On this continent, popular opinion is moving in our favor as the Bush and Harper governments align themselves ever more closely with Israeli racism and aggression. We stand, however, with the vast majority of the world’s population in opposing the crimes of the Israeli state. We can be absolutely confident that we will win this struggle: and that Israeli apartheid will fall.

1 Comment »

I would like to join to your movement. I agree with the comparison you make with how Canaian gov. treats the Indians. Especially the fact that the Indians do not blow them selvs up in the name of Alla. As a Canadian I wish that they were more violent to the Canadian gov. and maybe blow up a Canadian gov. office without giving to much tought as to who might be inside the building during the blast. That way Canadians will respect and fear the Indians and would break the walls so that Indians can blow themselvs up freely with minimum effort. And say that one of your relatives would have been killed in the blast, whould you still be against the wall. Thank god that the Indians are human beings who respect life, unlike the muslim extremists.

Hey I am against the wall as well, but I will help to tear it down only when muslim extremists will stop killing innocent people. Than and only than I will take down the barrier and talk peace.

Comment by Mohamad Abas — April 5th, 2007 @ 3:40 PM

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