I took part in yesterday’s Holyrood debate discussing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), that aims to put pressure on the Israeli state to end the oppression of Palestinians.
The debate provided an opportunity to outline why the Scottish Green Party is supportive of BDS as an effective strategy, inspired by similar action in apartheid South Africa.
The video of my speech is here, and you can read the full text below.
The Scottish Green Party supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign because it is a very effective tool for supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle against oppression.
There has long been an international failure to hold Israeli Governments to account for disregarding international law and ignoring the health, safety and human rights of Palestinians.
As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign highlights, the 2005 call for boycott came from leading Palestinian cultural and academic figures, who urged their counterparts in civil society and “people of conscience all over the world” to undertake “initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
By putting economic pressure on the Israeli Government, we can join a worldwide campaign that calls on corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories to pull their funding.
Boycott is a legitimate form of protest, and of course it is one that we do not undertake lightly. As my colleague John Wilson points out in his motion opposing restrictions on the right to protest, similar campaigns helped to weaken the apartheid regime in South Africa.
As was said by my colleague John Finnie, this is not a boycott against Israeli artists who are not being used to support brand Israel—the Israeli propaganda strategy that is designed to whitewash human rights abuses—but a boycott of the Israeli state and those who seek to normalise the occupation of Palestine.
It is important that we understand that a deep and unwavering commitment that none of us should ever forget or downplay the atrocities of the Holocaust and the oppression of Jewish people is entirely consistent with opposing any abusive actions by the Israeli Government or, indeed, any Government. To argue otherwise obscures the genuine attempts of those who want to see a secure and lasting peace in the middle east and who believe that the biggest obstacle to achieving that is oppressive Israeli state action.
Mr Carlaw suggests in his motion that we should pursue greater cultural links with Israel rather than boycotts that make clear that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is unacceptable. However, to do that while the oppression of Palestinians continues would be to sweep under the carpet the Israeli attacks on Palestinian culture, including vandalism, destruction, the closure of and military attacks on Palestinian cinemas and theatres, the banning of cultural events and restrictions on the movements of Palestinian artists.
It is truly alarming that it is still, in this day and age, impossible to express solidarity with desperate and oppressed people without facing accusations of bigotry against their oppressor.
I do not agree with Mr Macintosh and Mr Carlaw that there is growing hostility towards Israel. Absolutely every person on this planet—not just in Scotland but globally—is entitled to a peaceful existence. I want to work with all parties that can contribute to the end of the occupation of Palestine by non-military means. A just peace in Israel and Palestine could be the catalyst for achieving wider peace in the region and across the world. Efforts to criminalise boycotts or publicly smear those who express support for the Palestinian people serves only to hinder any progress towards peace.
We have the choice of following those such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fought to end South African apartheid and who supports the BDS campaign, or of failing to play any part in the efforts to end the apartheid in the middle east.
The cultural boycott of Israel is moderate in its objective, which is simply to ensure that Israel observes international humanitarian law.