European Parliament event highlights struggle for BDS and need to confront repression

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network participated on Monday, 23 January in an event at the European Parliament organized by the GUE/NGL(European United Left/Nordic Green Left) group in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and against attempts to criminalize BDS movements, organizations and organizers.

The conference was originally organized in response to an Israel-lobby organized event in the European Parliament, which was initially to feature former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni as a keynote speaker. Livni, however, did not attend the event, citing “illness;” her decision not to attend followed the announcement that Belgian police would arrest and question her in relation to war crimes complaints against her in relation to her involvement in the 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead” attack on Gaza.

Many Palestinian community and Palestine solidarity organizers attended the event, filling the room for the discussion of pushing back attempts to suppress Palestinian and solidarity organizing in Europe.

The event was opened by MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis of Cyprus, who emphasized the importance of international support for the rights of the Palestinian people, followed by MEP Malin Bjork, who focused on the relation of the repression of the BDS movement to an overall attempt to silence freedom of expression and shrink democratic spaces for organizing and struggle across the continent.

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Charlotte Kates, Samidoun’s international coordinator, presented at the event on the growing international efforts to attack and criminalize BDS organizing. She spoke about the Israeli state-sponsored attempts to push back against “delegitimization,” itself caused by ongoing Israeli settler colonialism and violations of Palestinian rights. In particular, she highlighted the cases of several Palestinian prisoners, including journalist Omar Nazzal, imprisoned as he attempted to attend the European Federation of Journalists conference in Sarajevo in 2016; re-arrested hunger striker and journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq; and Salah Khawaja, member of the Secretariat of the BDS National Committee being pursued under a “secret file.”

Kates highlighted European complicity with Israeli occupation and oppression, particularly citing the example of LAW TRAIN, an EU-funded research project that brings Israeli police and universities together with the Belgian ministry of justice and the Catholic University of Leuven to share expertise in interrogation techniques. Over 5 million Euros are invested in this project, with half of those funds going to Israel. In Portugal, the Portuguese movement and Palestinian organizations were successful in convincing the Portuguese government to pull out of LAW TRAIN, while there is a growing campaign in Belgium to do the same.

Anna Wester of the Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden spoke next, focusing on their successful campaign targeting Veolia and other local BDS actions. She highlighted several examples of attempts by Israel lobby groups and the Israeli embassy directly to smear and attack Swedish organizing and work for Palestine, noting the impact of such attacks on building support for BDS.

Photo: Mahmoud Nader

Wester was followed by Dror Feiler of the European Jews for a Just Peace and Ship to Gaza – Sweden, who discussed the long-time and growing progressive Jewish movement internationally to challenge the Israeli state and Zionism. He discussed the role of EJJP and other Jewish organizations in standing up to attempts to criminalize BDS and exposing attempts to label the Palestinian or Palestine solidarity movement as “anti-Semitic,” noting the role of far-right organizations in Europe and the U.S. in supporting the Israeli state.

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The meeting then featured a Skype call with Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian BDS National Committee and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Barghouti spoke about the BDS campaign and its role in working for justice for all sectors of the Palestinian people. He highlighted the centrality of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the largest sector of the Palestinian population, in working for Palestinian rights. He also highlighted the importance of connections between struggles for justice, including the Palestinian liberation movement, the Black movement, indigenous rights movements and other social justice struggles. Barghouti urged an arms embargo on the Israeli state as well as a ban on settlement products, emphasizing the need to put an end to European complicity with the occupation.

Following the presentations, participants engaged in an active discussion about expanding the BDS movement and confronting targeting and criminalization; towards the end of the event, representatives of the Israeli mission to the EU and other pro-Zionist attendees of the anti-BDS event entered the room in an attempt to film, photograph and disrupt the attendees.