Letter to Marrickville Council signed by prominent academics, and political and cultural figures 18Apr11 April 19, 2011

18 April 2011

Dear Marrickville  Councillors,

We, the undersigned (see additional names) would firstly like to congratulate the Marrickville Council in Sydney’s Inner West, Australia for their courageous motion (dated December 14, 2010) in support of the Palestinian-led global movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.

The BDS campaign is deeply inspired by the South African anti-apartheid boycott and divestment campaign for freedom and equality. We understand the Marrickville councillors have come under immense pressure to reverse their decision.  After concerted political attacks laden with misinformation about BDS and its alleged costs to the council, a vote is being held on Tuesday April 19 to attempt a reversal.  As supporters of universal principles of human rights, we are writing today to appeal to all Marrickville councillors to uphold their principled motion in support of BDS.

Supporting BDS means first and foremost upholding universal human rights and the just and fair application of international law to end Israel’s occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights.  It does not in any way entail or necessitate adopting sweeping boycott or divestment measures that may have a disproportionately negative economic impact on Marrickville or any other council.

BDS is not a one-size-fits-all formula; its endorsers around the world converge on the rights-based approach of the Call but apply context-sensitive measures that best fit their own reality and particular circumstances. Some boycott campaigns, such as the CodePink-led “Stolen Beauty,” focus on one specific company that is implicated in Israel’s occupation or war crimes, while others, like “Derail Veolia and Alstom”, target a number of complicit institutions, companies or products.

The smear and intimidation campaign waged against the brave Marrickville motion and its supporters has neglected to mention that in 2005, an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society called upon conscientious citizens and civil society groups around the world to implement diverse, creative Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality for all, irrespective of their identity [1].

The BDS movement appeals to people around the world to heed the call until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and removes all its colonies and walls in those lands; implements United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and recognises the right of its Palestinian citizens to full equality [2]. On this last dimension, it is worth noting that the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights reports has persistently condemned Israel’s “institutional, legal, and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens. [3] These three demands are firmly based in international law; by supporting this movement the Marrickville Council is expressing its solid commitment to human rights locally and internationally.

In light of the hundreds of UN resolutions condemning Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal, and considering the failure of all forms of international intervention and peace-making to oblige Israel to comply with international law, respect fundamental human rights and end its occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, BDS has become the most urgent form of morally-consistent solidarity that can effectively further the demand for implementing Palestinian rights in accordance with international law. Marrickville Council is not alone in taking this moral stand: it has joined a long list of councils, civil society organizations, prominent artists and intellectuals around the world who have taken initiatives to hold Israel accountable similar to those used to end apartheid in South Africa [4].

We understand that some defenders of Israel’s occupation and racial discrimination system have argued that it would be costly and difficult for Marrickville to implement its BDS policy. This is  little more than a cynical diversion by those who wish to protect Israel from being held accountable for its gross violations of international law. BDS need not be unduly costly – councils across the world have taken action in support of Palestinian rights at little or no cost. By being focused, nuanced, and tactical, Marrickville Council can implement BDS in a way that best suits the local context in which it operates while still making an important contribution towards just peace and respect for the rule of international law.

We warmly welcome your solidarity with Palestinians struggling for their inalienable rights. We believe that the time has come to apply BDS as a minimal, non-violent, yet clearly effective form of pressure on Israel, as was done successfully in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Please uphold your boycott policy and stand firm in your commitment to human rights.

Victoria Brittain,
journalist and playwright, London

Judith Butler, Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Hedy Epstein, Holocaust survivor and peace activist, Missouri

Chris Hedges, award-winning American journalist and author, US

Ronnie Kasrils, former South African government minister and African National Congress executive member

Naomi Klein, author and social activist, Toronto

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Belfast

Miriam Margolyes, actress, London

Joseph Massad, Professor, Columbia University, New York

John Pilger, journalist and documentary maker

Sarah Schulman, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, City University of New York

Clare Short, former UK government minister, London

Baroness Jenny Tonge, life peer and former UK member parliament, London

Salim Vally, lecturer, University of Johannesburg

John Berger, writer, UK

Paul Laverty, writer, UK

Mike Leigh OBE, Director, Palm D’Or Laureate

Ken Loach, filmmaker, UK

Cynthia McKinney, former Member of US Congress and 2008 Green Party Presidential Nominee

China Miéville
, writer, UK

Alice Walker, novelist, Pulitzer Prize laureate, US

Robin Yassin-Kassab,
novelist and writer, UK

South African Municipal Workers Union
COSATU-led Coalition for a Free Palestine (CFP)

[1] http://www.bdsmovement.net/call
[2] Ibid.
[4] http://www.bdsmovement.net/2010/five-years-statemen-4602

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