The piece, which can be seen in full here, concludes with powerful arguments from Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian BDS National Committee and Ronnie Barkan of the Israeli group Boycott from Within.
On March 19 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) became the first UK professional association to take action against Israel for its breaches of international law.
“It is now time for sports initiatives to add their voice….[to] commercial and cultural actions worldwide … demanding an end to Israel’s repressive policies,” says the petition text.
Today’s MORNING STAR (“The People’s Daily”) carried this feature about the foundation and work of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.
DEBORAH FINK and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi are co-founders of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-Big), a group which has scored major successes as progressive Jewish people respond to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The pair met through Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), founded in February 2002 in response to the second intifada.
Fink joined in July that year. Coming from a conservative, pro-Israel background, she found it reassuring to meet fellow Jews who were against Israel’s policy in Palestine.
She sees JfJfP as an important organisation.
“It shows the world that Israel does not represent all Jews, that it cannot count on all Jews for support,” she says.
“And to a certain extent it protects non-Jewish critics of Israeli policy from bogus charges of anti-semitism.”
Anti-semitism is often the accusation thrown at Israel’s critics, with the aim of intimidating them into silence.
Fink felt there needed to be a specifically Jewish voice supporting the campaign to boycott Israeli goods, so with Wimborne-Idrissi she founded J-Big in 2006.
They chose the tongue-in-cheek slogan “it’s kosher to boycott Israeli goods,” highlighting the fact that many Jews are involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, so it’s “kosher” to take part.
Wimborne-Idrissi comes from a left-wing Jewish household. Her father used to sell the Morning Star’s predecessor the Daily Worker, so solidarity with oppressed peoples is something she grew up with.
She discovered JfJfP in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
A speaker at a Stop the War demo was speaking, as a Jew, for Palestinian rights. Wimborne-Idrissi signed up there and then.
She felt that JfJfP, while doing great work in the Jewish community, did not go as far as she and others wanted in the boycott campaign. A further step was needed.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign had set up a Boycott Israeli Goods campaign and was showing an interest in getting a specifically Jewish voice involved.
Wimborne-Idrissi and Fink pulled together some like-minded people and set up J-Big. A founding statement was published, a banner sporting the “kosher” slogan produced and J-Big set about mobilising support.
Wimborne-Idrissi says it wasn’t long before the expected deluge of venomous accusations flooded in.
They were denounced as “self-hating Jews” and “traitors to the Jewish state of Israel.”
“We had no illusions that the campaign would bring the Israeli economy crashing down,” she says.
“Boycotting avocados and peppers grown on illegally occupied Palestinian land and then sold as Israeli would not bring the country’s economy to its knees, but the immorality of how and where these goods are produced is an important message to get across.”
J-Big became more interested in boycotting Israel at an institutional level — by, for example, boycotting cultural events such as when Israeli musicians come to Britain under the Israeli flag to perform here while Palestinian artists are suffering under the occupation.
Here Fink’s musical training — she’s a bachelor of music and a trained soprano — came to the fore.
Working with others in the BDS movement Fink debuted by interrupting the Jerusalem Quartet at the Wigmore Hall in 2010, singing a parody of Jerusalem, Holy City.
J-Big was involved when the campaign tackled a more high-profile target, encouraging as many as possible to join in the protests when the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra played the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.
There were many disruptions to the orchestra’s performance, the first of which involved 13 activists in a choir led by Fink.
Sue Blackwell, a prominent member of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine who had written the words to the Wigmore parody, wrote a new version of Ode to Joy as Ode to Boycott, including the words “Israel end your occupation, Palestine must now be free, ethnic cleansing and apartheid should belong to history.”
Protesters, who came from as far afield as Edinburgh and Brighton, were strategically seated around the auditorium and their interventions carefully timed.
During a quiet musical passage protesters in vacant choral seats stood up with cloth banners which together spelled Free Palestine.
The protesters were eventually escorted out of the hall, but the protest made global news.
Fink explains the controversial action by pointing to the way the orchestra operated as a cultural ambassador, making Israel appear civilised.
“As a musician I find it hard to disrupt beautiful music,” she says. “But basic human rights are more important.
“It’s not just about influencing the audience at a prom, but about influencing world opinion. You can’t do that by handing out a few leaflets.”
Wimborne-Idrissi adds that the protests were planned to disrupt the beauty of the music as little as possible.
The Bruch violin concerto was part of the programme, for instance. So “free Palestine!” would be shouted when the conductor was raising his baton at the start of a piece, but not once the violin had started playing.
The disruptions were done to be in keeping with the performance, turning it into a weapon for the Palestinians.
The concert was not aborted. It was the BBC that cut the broadcast — which had never happened before in the history of the proms.
It was an even more successful protest than the previous action at Wigmore Hall.
I suggested that what this party of 30 or more people had done that night at the Albert Hall was not so much to disrupt Beethoven, who featured, but to be true to his spirit.
Fink and Wimborne-Idrissi agree: “Beethoven was a revolutionary.”
Wimborne-Idrissi stresses that the global boycott movement, started by the Palestinians themselves, does not target individual Israelis — and certainly not Jews as Jews.
It targets institutions and aims for equality for Palestinians living in Israel, freedom for Palestinians living in the occupied territories and justice for Palestinian refugees, including the right of return for all those forced to flee their homes since the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1948.
Together, these movements hope to win justice for Palestinians — something the UN has signally failed to achieve.
Thanks are due to writer and BDS advocate Mike Marqusee for a powerful response to the critics of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and to Ami Asher from the Israeli organisation Zochrot for exposing the “filthy work” of ethnic cleansing on which the State of Israel rests.
Follow the links to read these valuable pieces in full.
Marqusee publishes an edited version of a letter he sent to a relative in the US who’s been trying to figure out the BDS issue in the wake of the recent onslaught against the American Studies Association’s decision to support the academic boycott.
It’s important to remember that what BDS calls for is basically the withdrawal of the current support given to Israel by our governments and institutions. If you invest money in a company that is profiting from the settlement programme in the West Bank, you are investing in ethnic cleansing – and the first thing you should do when you learn that is simply to stop doing it. All the rest is special pleading.
Asher responds to Israeli journalist Ari Shavit who has written about the expulsion and massacre of Palestinians in Lydda, 1948 in the New Yorker, asserting that even ‘the critics of later years enjoyed the fruits of their deed.’
Shavit struggles to make sense of the “black box of Zionism,” as he calls Lydda. He starts by describing the neighboring Jewish youth village of Ben Shemen and also ends there, with a commanding view of the town. A Palmach militia fighter recently interviewed as part of Zochrot’s oral history project had a similar point of view to offer. Look at the town as you drive past it on your way back to Tel Aviv, he said, and imagine it bustling with a million Palestinians – then you will thank me.
Shavit is just as candid. He too feels enormous gratitude for the perpetrators of the Lydda massacre for doing the “filthy work” because even “the critics of later years,” who I can only assume include the likes of me, “enjoyed the fruits of their deed.” This zero-sum hypothesis – us or them – is the very essence of Zionism.
Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods pays tribute to Veronica Planton, a dedicated campaigner for justice, who died of cancer at Guys Hospital in London on November 19, 2013.
Veronica was a constant presence at demonstrations in London highlighting Israel’s injustices against Palestinians. She played an active role in many of the boycott actions covered in this blog and initiated an inspirational campaign to send teddy bears to the children of Gaza.
She also made use of her background in theatre and the arts in productions bringing to life the Palestinian experience. One of these, Love Letters to Gaza, was staged at the Calder Bookshop in October 2011 and formed part of an evening of poetry and theatre promoted by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
Veronica refused to allow ill-health to prevent her tireless work on behalf of her local community in the Waterloo district of London, the people of Palestine and the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
When it became too difficult for her to play an active role in street demonstrations on behalf of Palestinian prisoners or other causes, she continued to send the 700 supporters of her local Wandsworth and Lambeth PSC branch frequent emails containing carefully researched digests of news from and about Palestine.
Tributes read to friends, relations and fellow activists who gathered for her funeral at the City Crematorium on December 3 testified to the range of communities in which Veronica had made her mark.
Messages came from companions who had worked with her at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre in the 1960s, from members of the Coin Street community where she lived, from Palestine solidarity activists in London and in Palestine itself, and from the Moslem organisation Inminds which announced her death to the activist community.
Born 1939, died 19 November 2013
We are very saddened to announce that our dear sister Veronica Planton, a dedicated campaigner for the Palestinian cause, has passed away last week after becoming very ill in the spring.
Despite suffering from severe asthma and always being breathless she passionately stood up for Palestinian rights. She regularly attended protests outside the Israeli settler store Ahava untill it finally closed down, then she joined protests outside the Tower of London in support of the Samouni family of Gaza whose children amongst others were massacred by the Givati Brigade of the Israeli army which is funded by the Steinmetz diamond company whose diamond was on display in the Tower of London. It was part of the Boycott Israeli Blood Diamonds campaign.
The children were especially close to her heart and she ran a project to send teddy bears to the children of Gaza. After Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza, Veronica would carry a blooded doll at protests to symbolise the murdered children of Gaza. She also helped stage a theatrical performance for Gaza called “Love Letters to Gaza”.
Rest in peace, our dear sister who showed us that even a debilitating illness cannot stop a person who has decided to fight for justice.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un – “Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return”
I have no words to express how deeply sorry I am to hear about your great loss . I’m in shock to hear this news. My prayers and thoughts are with you all during this horrible time. I love you all and please give a big hug from us to each one who are attending the funeral . I would love to be there tojust to say the word.
Our thoughts with all of you in this time. Veronica was the one said, ” Yes, Palestinians deserve a better life, life of freedom ,justice and the right to return to their villages and beloved ones .”
Its the time to say that we will follow up your steady search for justice and freedom..
Horia Falastine (Free Palestine)Your Sincerely, Mohammad Sarhan, Ramallah