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Call to Boycott Israeli Goods Faces Threats

The Herald (Harare)
Felicity Arbuthnot
May 21, 2002

Trade unions and campaigners around the world are urging a global boycott of Israeli goods to protest the Jewish state's violence against the Palestinian people.

Among them are Jewish organisations too - such as the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and prominent individual Jews who are rejecting Israeli policy and saying "not in our name".

But some of them are being threatened with violence by pro-Israeli activists who on 11 May attacked organisations maintaining stalls in support of Iraq and Palestine in several British cities, including Manchester, Leeds and Cambridge.

The police were summoned when the threats became abrasive.

Britain's biggest trade union Unison has now been joined by Christian Aid, one of the country's largest international non-governmental organisations, in urging British MPs to demand the suspension of the European Union-Israel Association Agreement.

This agreement which came into force on 1 June 2000, is an extensive free trade arrangement that liberalises goods and services, permits free movement of capital and economic, social, political and cultural co-operation.

Europe accounts for 23 percent of Israeli exports, and 40 percent of Israel's imports are from Europe.

They have also called on the minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Peter Hain, to endorse this at the European Union-US Summit held in Washington in early May and the EU-Mediterranean Summit in Spain in late April.

But nothing happened. Hain, a prominent campaigner for economic sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime in his youth, now holds government office and Britain toes the line of most Western administrations sympathetic to Israel.

When the European Parliament voted for suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement in April, a foreign office spokesman in London said: "Sanctions won't help; we should use our influence with both parties."

Labour MP Lynn Jones has tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament supporting Christian Aid's call for an end to the agreement.

Even some big manufacturers, such as Texas Exports, an American auto parts exporter, are willing to put pressure on Israel.

"We will not do business with Israeli citizens at this time," Texas Exports chief executive officer John Harris wrote to an Israeli business in April. "We urge you to reign in your military and stop your oppression of the Palestinian people. Your country has lost the respect of the civilized world."

The letter resulted in Harris receiving hundreds of telephone calls and death threats.

Pro-Israeli organisations that outnumber protestors on many US university campuses hit back accusing lobbyists of dubious motives.

The boycott lobby's goal, David Livshiz, a member of the American Movement for Israel told the New York Times, is to "get Israel disliked, to see it as a racist, horrible regime (and Palestine) as a trendy cause".

Christian Aid also came under attack. Fiona McCauley, public affairs director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews dismissed the boycott call, saying, "We are appalled at the statement by Christian Aid which is absolutely outside their remit. Further they have completely omitted any historic(al) perspective."

Israel, she says, has suffered 12 500 acts of terrorism in the last 18 months.

Across the Atlantic, the boycott of Israeli goods can cost US citizens dearly. On this issue even protesting can be an offence.

In the mid-1970s the US adopted two punitive laws to counteract the participation of US citizens in economic boycotts and embargoes.

The 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act, forbid US citizens from participating in them. Refusal to do business with Israel may result in a fine of up to US$50 000 and five years' imprisonment or five times the value of exports involved - whichever is the greater.

The updated Emergency Economic Powers Act of November 2000 threatens imprisonment of up to 10 years for "willful violation".

La Voz de Aztlan, a California-based pro-boycott online news service, told Gemini News Service that its research identified several powerful multi-national companies and key figures in them supporting Israel.

It says cosmetic giant Estee Lauder's chairman Ronald Lauder served as chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organisations and is current president of the Jewish National Fund that endorses Israeli policy on Palestine.

Robert P. Van der Merwe, Europe, Middle East and Africa president of Kimberley Clark, whose products range from cleaners to skincare and protective clothing, received in 1998 the Jubilee Award - the highest tribute awarded by Israel - for his contribution to strengthening the Israeli economy. The tribute was presented by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Coca Cola was honoured by the government this year for its 30 years of support of Israel and refusal to abide by the Arab League boycott.

Nestlé of Switzerland is moving to Sderot, a town in Israel's Negev desert, according to the 21 April issue of the Israeli newspaper Maariv, to develop a global research and development centre for snack foods. Nestlé co-owns Israeli food producer Osem Investments.

Intel, producer of Pentium processors, Adobe and others, has a 28-year-old plant at Qiryat Gat built on land confiscated from the Palestinian village of Iraq al Manshiya which had 2 000 people living in 300 houses, with two mosques and a school. The village was razed to the ground.

Now the organisation that compiled the list says it is facing death threats from pro-Israeli groups and individuals. "I would continue to speak out, but I have the safety and well-being of my staff to consider," commented its chief executive.

- About the author: Felicity Arbuthnot is an award-winning campaigning journalist based in London.