Supporting the BDS campaign against Israeli state abuse

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.

~ Alison

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.


Edinburgh museum in the firing line

Museum of Fire SmallLast week, I had the chance to visit the Museum of Fire in Edinburgh. In my opinion, it’s one of our city’s hidden gems.

It’s housed in a gorgeous old fire station on Lauriston Place, and takes visitors back to the dramatic past of city fire fighters who saved lives as part of the oldest Municipal fire brigade in all of the UK.

This is a history to be proud of. Before the Edinburgh Fire Brigade was established in 1824, fires were extinguished by insurance companies who all owned their own engines.  In today’s Scotland, a system where only those with the relevant insurance would be rescued from deadly fires, seems ludicrous. We owe a big thank you to the decision-makers and firefighters who pioneered a fire service for the common good.

The Museum of Fire showcases wonderful old fire engines and firefighting equipment. All these artefacts are in their beautiful original setting, the station that has been standing in the Old Town since the early 1900s.

Places like the Museum of Fire are what make Edinburgh such a magical city. Full of human history, unexpected finds and fabulous old architecture.

Now the Museum is under threat of closure. It’s owned by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), who are considering selling the building and relocating its contents to other museums. Dedicated volunteers who have kept the museum going for decades have started a campaign to keep the museum in its original home, and I am very happy to support them.

In times where budget cuts are hitting our public services hard and people are struggling to make ends meet, defending spending on museums and other cultural institutions can be an extremely hard sell.

But we need to recognise the importance of hanging onto our cultural treasures – they make our cities more attractive to visitors; they provide free and accessible places for people to visit in their spare time; they remind us about our past and help us think about the future. I urge the SFRS to reconsider its options and hold onto this brilliant bit of local history.

I have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to draw attention to the trouble the Museum of Fire is in, and hope that my MSP colleagues will support it.