Since January, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for the economic and cultural isolation of Israel until it complies with international law on Palestinian rights, has seen a lot of action.
In January, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits announced its decision to divest from five Israeli banks it said failed to meet its 2015 investment criteria based on human rights and excessive sustainability risks.
According to the board, holdings in Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank were all sold because of their financial involvement in Jewish-only Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Al Jazeera approached Colette Nies, the managing director of communications for the board, who declined to comment further on the divestment and pointed to several press releases stressing that the Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant church in the US with 13 million members, is “not divesting” from Israel entirely.
A cultural matter
The board’s move was still greeted with excitement by BDS activists across the US, who see a changing tide in US activists’ fight for Palestinian justice.
“When we started demonstrating in support of the Palestinian call for BDS, it was a real victory to get BDS mentioned in the press. Now, the movement is making a real impact,” said Ethan Heitner, a political cartoonist and activist, in an interview with Al Jazeera. He works with Adalah-NY, an all-volunteer collective that campaigns in support of the Palestinian call for BDS.
He sees, in the near future, an end to the Israeli occupation. “We’re getting closer every day.”
Adalah-NY is a coalition of organisations that has been campaigning against Israeli policies since 2006, when Israel was at war with Lebanese militants Hezbollah. The group is without hierarchy, and has been active in organising street protests and other campaigns.
For Heitner, artists are integral to advancing the movement: “Every cultural worker has a platform, and they speak at the level of narrative. They don’t speak the language of ledger books or profits.”
Adalah-NY has campaigned to make cultural workers and international organisations take a stand on Israeli human rights violations. For example, it was part of a large coalition campaigning against the actress Scarlett Johansson’s dual role as ambassador for Oxfam, a British rights group that works to find solutions to worldwide poverty and injustice, and spokeswoman for SodaStream, an Israeli soda company with factories in the occupied West Bank.
“Obviously, Johansson chose SodaStream but she was forced to make her priorities known,” Heitner said, referring to her decision to step down from her post at Oxfam after the group asked her to choose between advertising and human rights.
Now, Adalah-NY is focusing on the relationship between the billionaire diamond mogul Lev Leviev and the pop star Taylor Swift
Victor Vazquez, aka Kool AD, a rapper, novelist, and artist who challenged The New Yorker to a cartoon competition (and won), endorses the boycott.
Vazquez told Al Jazeera that the “brutal, violent, nigh fascistic occupation of Palestine” had been tolerated for far too long.
The list of cultural workers who endorse the BDS movement is growing, with both internationally renowned and underground artists voicing their support for the boycott. Among them are filmmakers Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard, and musicians Brian Eno and Roger Waters. Others, such as Lauryn Hill and Stevie Wonder, have cancelled concerts after pressure from activists.
Vazquez sums this up matter-of-factly: “I’m pretty sure any reasonable person would protest [or] boycott Israel if the facts were put to them.”
The more than 200 Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, punitive housing demolitions, three wars on besieged Gaza that have killed thousands of Palestinians, limitations on freedom of movement, the chokehold on Palestinian water, among other things, were all in the rapper’s mind while discussing the boycott.
Vazquez said that cultural and academic efforts must be “part and parcel” of an economic boycott.
“The weapons, bulldozers, ammunition, walls, checkpoints, manpower, [and] bureaucracy that holds this system in place is funded largely by American and European corporations,” he concluded.