Canadian student federation backs boycott


In another big blow to Israel’s efforts to thwart the growing boycott campaign, the largest student organization in Canada voted on Monday to support Palestinian rights.

On the same day, the Quaker church in the UK announced it would not invest any centrally held funds in companies that profit from Israel’s human rights violations.

Both announcements came as one of the world’s largest home rental websites, Airbnb, said it was dropping hundreds of listings from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank following nearly three years of pressure from boycott activists.

In its vote Monday, the Canadian Federation of Students resolved to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, to condemn Israel’s ongoing occupation and atrocities in Gaza and to provide financial donations to various Palestine solidarity organizations.

The federation, which represents more than 500,000 students across Canada, also said it would support local chapters to begin weapons divestment campaigns targeted towards their individual university administrations.

It added that it will explore how to “better support locals with individual organizing” on ongoing boycott campaigns while recommending further campaigns at its next general meeting.

“This is a crystal clear sign that the BDS movement is gaining momentum both in Canada and around the world, especially amongst students,” said Corey Balsam of Independent Jewish Voices, a Canadian human rights group.

“The Canadian Federation of Students supported the boycott of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and has once again opted to stand on the right side of history,” Balsam added.

The federation follows the lead of several Canadian universities and individual chapters of the federation of students which have adopted BDS measures.

Rebuke of Trudeau

The student federation’s support for BDS is a clear rebuke of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unabashed vilification of the boycott campaign and his historic and ongoing alignment with Israel’s leadership, policies that clash with the views of his electorate.

Students and activists have admonished Trudeau’s recent comments conflating the boycott movement with anti-Semitism.

In a formal apology earlier this month to European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution who were turned away by Canada in 1939, Trudeau alleged that Jewish students “still feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable on some of our colleges and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation.”

Trudeau echoed claims made by Israeli and American politicians after the 27 October massacre of Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh that the anti-racist activists for justice in Palestine are to blame for anti-Semitism, not anti-Jewish white supremacists and violent bigots emboldened by the Trump administration.

Support for the BDS campaign is high in Canada, even if Trudeau’s government continues to condemn the boycott movement and smear its supporters.

A 2017 poll found a major disconnect between Canadians’ views of Israel and the policies of the Canadian government.

Another poll last year found that 80 percent of Canadians believe that the boycott call is reasonable, while more than half of the population expressing an opinion also opposed their parliament’s condemnation of the BDS campaign.

Quakers in Britain support boycott

Saying it is the first UK church to take such a step, Quakers in Britain, also known as the Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, voted to formally ban investments in companies that profit from Israel’s occupation.

The church says the move “fits into a long Quaker history of pursuing ethical investments” and follows previous decisions by the church “not to invest funds in, among others, the fossil fuel industry, arms companies, apartheid South Africa and – going even further back – the transatlantic slave trade.”

The UK Quaker church, which represents more than 22,000 members, stated that it has boycotted Israeli settlement goods since 2011 and doesn’t believe it currently holds investments “in any company profiting from the occupation of Palestine.” But it added that Monday’s decision was a formal amendment of its investment policy “to ensure this remains the case in the future.”

“With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation,” said Paul Parker of Quakers in Britain.

The church also urged the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to release its anticipated database of companies that profit from Israel’s settlement industry and the entrenched occupation of Palestinian land.

“We recognize the help this – and others including the Investigate database compiled by the American Friends Service Committee – will give our investment managers in implementing this new policy,” said Ingrid Greenhow of Quakers in Britain.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an Israel lobby group, condemned the Quakers’ decision and claimed that the church was singling Israel out – a common attempt by Israel’s defenders to deflect criticism of the state’s crimes against Palestinians.

The decision by the Quakers in Britain follows two divestment moves in 2012 by the US-based Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation to pull its funds from several companies that profit from Israel’s human rights violations.

Other US church denominations have pulled their funds from similar investments over the years, pledging to support Palestinian rights.

Earlier this year, Israel blacklisted the American Friends Service Committee, a US-based Quaker organization, along with 19 other groups that work for Palestinian rights and support the BDS campaign.

The AFSC began its work in Palestine in the refugee camps of Gaza in 1949.

Its recent grassroots organizing helped bring to Congress a bill that aims to stop Israel from using US aid for the military detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children.

But the UK Quakers’ open support of the movement for Palestinian rights marks yet another failure by the Israeli government to thwart the boycott movement and attempt to intimidate other groups and faith-based organizations into silence.

“This decision shows that Israel’s bullying, its retaliatory measures and its threats do not deter people from taking moral and ethical actions,” said The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, speaking to Al Jazeera English on Tuesday.

“Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land”

Airbnb announced on Monday it was dropping hundreds of listings from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, following years of pressure by human rights activists around the world.

The announcement came on the eve of the publication of a report on the ways rental property companies like Airbnb and Booking.com profit from the illegal Israeli settlement industry.

The report, “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements,” jointly compiled by Human Rights Watch and land research group Kerem Navot traces the settlement economy and reveals how Israeli settlers and these corporations “benefit from the serious rights abuses and entrenched discriminatory practices stemming from the settlements.”

Though Airbnb’s move to delist West Bank settlement rentals was welcomed, Palestinian boycott campaigners called it a “partial victory for human rights and accountability” as the company did not appear to include Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, which under international law is part of the occupied West Bank conquered by Israel in 1967.

Nor did Airbnb indicate that it would remove listings inside settlements in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory also occupied by Israel since 1967. All Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under international law.

“It is a first step in the right direction to end Airbnb’s profiting from Israel’s theft of indigenous Palestinians’ lands and natural resources,” stated the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) on Tuesday.

“Socially responsible tourism and pilgrimage should exclude all illegal lodgings. The Israeli tourism industry uses the stolen homes of Palestinian refugees, for instance, as hotels, rooms-for-rent, restaurants and more,” the BNC said, adding that the campaign against Airbnb should continue “until it fully complies with its human rights obligations. There is no tourism as usual with Israeli apartheid.”

The BNC said that it also recognizes Airbnb’s “global role in systematically undermining housing rights and unionized work in the hospitality industry.”

“We stand in solidarity with all those organizing to hold it accountable on these grounds.”

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