The Netherlands has become the second state in the European Union (EU) to publicly state that calls for a boycott of Israel should be protected according to the principle of freedom of expression, dealing a serious blow to Israel’s relentless war of repression aimed at criminalizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In response to questions posed recently to the Dutch government by Green Left MP Rik Grashoff on Israel’s threats against human rights defenders who are active in the BDS movement, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, stated that, “Statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Revealing that Israel regularly raises the topic of BDS in bilateral meetings with the Dutch government, Koenders reiterated his government’s opposition to the boycott of Israel but insisted that “endorsing BDS falls under freedom of expression.”
Reacting to this significant development, Riya Hassan, Europe coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition in Palestinian civil society that is leading the global BDS movement, said:
“With the Netherlands joining Sweden in defending the right to advocate and campaign for Palestinian rights under international law through BDS, Israel’s attempt to get the BDS movement outlawed in Europe and to bully its supporters into silence has been dealt a serious blow.”
In March 2016, the Swedish foreign ministry reaffirmed basic democratic principles by stating that BDS “is a civil society movement” and that “governments should not interfere in civil society organization views.”
More than 350 European human rights organizations, trade unions, church groups and political parties, some of whom do not yet endorse BDS, have called on the European Union to support the right to boycott Israel in response to its occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.
Riya Hassan added, “Across European civil society, there is a fast spreading recognition of the BDS movement as a legitimate form of nonviolent, grassroots human rights advocacy for the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people. Yet, the EU bureaucracy remains deeply complicit not only in protecting and maintaining Israel’s grave violations of international law but also in fighting what has proven to be the most effective form of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to bring an end to these violations.”
The EU ambassador to Tel Aviv participated in the largest anti-BDS conference sponsored by a right wing, anti-Palestinian Israeli media outlet in Jerusalem in March and refused to condemn the latest Israeli threats against Palestinian human rights defenders, including the threat made by the Israeli Minister of Interior of using “targeted civil eliminations” against BDS leaders.
Riya Hassan added, “Instead of shamelessly sending their envoy to join Israel’s war of propaganda, espionage and lawfare against this Palestinian-led, global human rights movement, we urge the EU, its member states, and France in particular, to join the Netherlands and Sweden in guaranteeing the right to use BDS tactics to achieve Palestinian self-determination.”
“The EU must also comply with its own policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Arab territories of 1967 by, at a minimum, banning the import of products of Israeli companies that illegally operate in the occupied territories, suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement and imposing a military embargo on Israel similar to that imposed on apartheid South Africa.”
The impressive growth in recent years of support for the BDS movement in mainstream trade unions, churches and pension funds, as well as among student governments, academic associations, racial justice movements, LGBTQ groups and artists across the world, has prompted the Israeli establishment to admit the strategic impact of BDS.
The fact that large European companies such as Veolia, Orange and G4S are abandoning or announcing plans to leave the Israeli market following BDS campaigns is also particularly worrying for Israel.
In a desperate attempt to suppress BDS from above, after failing to win many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its influential lobby groups have launched an unprecedented global campaign to silence Palestinian narratives and criminalize BDS advocacy, especially in western countries.
Israeli-induced attacks on free speech and civil rights in Europe, the US and Canada, among others, are seen by BDS campaigners as fostering an “ominous environment of bullying, intimidation and repression that has all the hallmarks of the era of McCarthyism in the US and the worst days of the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
Riya Hassan concluded, “This should deeply concern not just activists supporting Palestinian rights, but all those who value civil liberties as well as progressive movements struggling for racial, gender, social, economic, indigenous and environmental justice.”
“We shall redouble our efforts at the grassroots and civil society BDS campaigning and advocacy levels to bring about EU compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and international law, particularly as both pertain to the rights of human rights defenders to join the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.”