Tag Archives: BDS movement

Settlement Builder Africa-Israel Faces Trouble on Two Fronts

First a boycott campaign, and now a lawsuit.

Africa-Israel, an investment company which is implicated in the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, has announced that it will no longer be “involved in Israeli settlement projects and that it has no plans for future settlement activities,” according to the New York group Adalah, which works on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.  The announcement follows a three-year boycott campaign against Lev Leviev, the Israeli billionaire and chairman of Africa-Israel, and companies that he is involved in.  Leviev is still involved with “settlement construction through other companies like Leader Management and Development,” as Ethan Heitner, an activist with Adalah-NY, noted in the group’s press release.

And in New York City, the New York Post is reporting that Shaya Boymelgreen, a former business partner of Leviev’s, and Africa-Israel are facing a lawsuit over conditions in a luxurious apartment tower in Manhattan:

The glamorous apartment tower at 15 Broad St., home to celebrities and Wall Street moguls, is also full of dangerous glitches, unfinished work and funny smells, according to a $20 million lawsuit just filed against converter Shaya Boymelgreen and his Africa Israel International Investments.

The 330-unit address, known as “Downtown by Starck” after interior designer Philippe Starck formed it out of two adjoining buildings, including the landmarked former home of JPMorgan, has been one of the city’s most heavily-hyped condo conversions.

Now, the suit — filed by the four members of the 11-person condo board who are not controlled by Boymelgreen and by some apartment owners — claims he reneged on certain promises to buyers, including a movie theater that can’t be used at all because it falls short of Building Dept. code.

Though the two developments may not be necessarily related, it’s certainly been a bad week for Africa-Israel–which means it’s a good week for human rights and Palestinian justice.


How Much Money is Needed to Stop the BDS Movement?

$6 million dollars:  enough to combat a largely grassroots, bottom-up and growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel?  That’s what the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are hoping.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are launching a multimillion-dollar joint initiative to combat anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns.

The JFNA and the rest of the Jewish federation system have agreed to invest $6 million over the next three years in the new initiative, which is being called the Israel Action Network. The federations will be working in conjunction with JCPA, an umbrella organization bringing together local Jewish community relations councils across North America.

The BDS movement–whose demands are based on international law–is clearly scaring Israel and the Jewish establishment, who have labeled the movement “the second most dangerous threat to Israel, after Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

The article also reports that the new anti-BDS initiative sprung from the urging of the Israeli government, which “has been advocating for this, especially over the past six months or eight months,” as Jerry Silverman, the head of the Jewish Federation of North America, told JTA.

It appears that the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are following the recommendations of the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government, who called on the Israeli government to “sabotage” and “attack” the BDS movement in a February 2010 report.

The investment of a large amount of money to combat what is essentially impossible to combat as long as Israel continually flouts international law is a recognition of the powerful effect the BDS movement is having.  Members of the Israeli Knesset certainly see BDS as a threat, having introduced a bill that would make it illegal for Israelis to “launch or incite” a boycott against Israel.

When $6 million is apparently needed to attempt to halt the BDS movement, that means something.  But all the money in the world can’t stop the movement for Palestinian justice.  Couldn’t someone tell that to the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs?  Their money would be better spent on something else.



‘The Burning Truth of White Phosphorus': Responding to the ADL’s ‘Anti-Israel’ List

Among the groups on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” was Students for Justice in Palestine, a  nationwide group of organizations on a variety of college campuses working on Palestine solidarity in universities.

SJP chapters have been instrumental in moving the cause of Palestinian justice and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement forward in the United States.  At Hampshire College, the SJP chapter successfully pressured the college’s board of trustees to divest from holdings it had in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation, a first in the United States.  Last academic year at the University of California, Berkeley, the SJP chapter there attracted international attention for its groundbreaking effort to push their college to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, although their initiative was ultimately felled by a veto from the president of the student government.

It’s no wonder why the ADL is targeting the group.

Immediately after the ADL’s release of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” list, a number of SJP chapters quickly organized to put out a response, calling the list a “disingenuous and misguided attempt to vilify students that criticize Israel’s occupation, which denies Palestinian human rights and self-determination.”

For more on SJP’s response to the ADL, I recently caught up with Yaman Salahi, a student at Yale Law School who is involved with SJP at Yale.

Alex Kane: What was your immediate reaction to SJP being included on the ADL’s list?

Yaman Salahi:  Given the ADL’s record for smearing anyone speaking out for Palestinian freedom, for justice and human rights, it was not surprising. But the idea was kind of creepy — what kind of person would be interested in this kind of Top 10 list? What’s the point of the list? Why did the ADL create it? There’s no real useful substance in it at all, there are not even compelling factual findings. To the extent that the ADL smears activists supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality, it just didn’t seem like a very effective smear.

I think that the list really has a marketing function. The ADL list is an exercise in branding. The ADL recognizes that SJP and groups like JVP [Jewish Voice for Peace] have a growing influence on fair-minded people. It recognizes that these groups are breaking out of the activism circle and have growing influence on the mainstream. It recognizes that these groups are getting savvier by the day and are learning how to mobilize and intervene effectively.

Nowhere in its report does the ADL challenge the basis for our activism. Nowhere in its report does it say: “Israel should, in fact, be allowed to use white phosphorous as a weapon against civilians.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel should be allowed to bomb, indiscriminately, the civilians of Gaza.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel has a right to demolish the homes of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and hand their properties over to Jewish settlers.” Those are all the implications though because that is the kind of stuff we speak out against. But the ADL report constructs a vacuum completely devoid of moral principles and ethical concerns, nowhere acknowledging our motivating principles, and implies that if you object to any of these kinds of injustices, that you are simply “anti-Israel.” It can avoid the burning truth of white phosphorous by relying on these kinds of sophomoric labels. But if its definition of “anti-Israel” is nothing more than holding Israel to universal standards of decency and justice, then “anti-Israel” can only be a badge of honor.

So the ADL is engaging in a branding campaign to combat the fact that we are social justice and human rights activists coming together to put a stop to a real wrong. It wants to dismiss all of these legitimate and compelling concerns and rely simply on the label “anti-Israel.” It doesn’t even define “anti-Israel” — instead, the ADL relies on whatever preconceptions exist in readers’ minds to define the term for themselves. So you can see, it brings together not only ten very different organizations, all over the political spectrum, in order to imply some sort of “guilt” by association, but also to brand all these groups as nothing more than “anti-Israel.” It wants to distort the causality by suggesting that we are irrationally “anti-Israel,” that we have no legitimate reason for our attitudes. In fact, activists speak out against Israel because of what we know about Israel’s history and because of what we know about what Israel does every day to the Palestinians. The ADL wants to pretend that people who speak out against what Israel has done and continues to do are not motivated by the Nakba, the occupation, the siege of Gaza, apartheid, war crimes, etcetera, but by something else. It has to pretend that’s the case in order to dodge the real issues. That’s a deliberate strategy. The ADL doesn’t want Americans to judge Israel based on the facts; it wants to judge Israel based on marketing images.

AK: What do you think SJP’s inclusion on the list says about the state of the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S., and specifically on campus?

YS: I think it reflects the tremendous growth of student activism on the issue. By and large campus organizations are autonomous of one another, but now, networks are beginning to form. I think that these networks have a lot of potential. I believe that the response issued by SJP and signed by over 60 campus groups is the first coordinated action of that scale. It’s really promising because such networks can be leveraged in support of much more ambitious and effective campaigns, on a national scale. I think that the ADL sees the writing on the wall, and that is why it wants to focus on SJP. I think it believes that the divestment Debate at UC Berkeley was just the tip of the iceberg, and that because it can’t argue on the merits, the ADL has to resort to ad hominem attacks instead.

Nevertheless, it’s important not to react triumphantly. Just because the ADL puts us on its blacklist doesn’t mean we are guaranteed to succeed. We will succeed, but only if we are serious and work hard. The best way to honor this report is for students to find ways to provoke meaningful discussion and action on their own campuses. Students must always re-focus the discussion on Israel’s actions, because the ADL and other groups like it want to derail all discussions about Israel’s actions. We have to provoke the discussions that they can’t win.

AK: What do you think the list itself tells us about the ADL?

YS: It re-affirms that the ADL can’t be taken seriously when it comes to the Middle East. It has no moral authority. It is nothing more than a cheerleader for Israel, with absolutely no fidelity to values of justice or equality. It can’t cite a single progressive value that would support the creation of such a McCarthyist list. Seriously, what value does it promote? None. That’s not the ADL’s only unprincipled position lately. It took the shocking position that Muslims trying to build a mosque in New York City were doing something “offensive.” It’s almost as if the ADL was saying that, in order to avoid offending anyone, Muslims should only build mosques at the back of the bus. As far as the ADL is concerned, Muslims and Arabs have fewer rights than others. It can’t be taken seriously. It just honored Rupert Murdoch — what kind of organization that cares about racism, equality, civil rights would celebrate Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News?

AK: Do SJP chapters plan on capitalizing on the attention the ADL has given you guys, and if so, how will you capitalize on it

YS: I can’t really speak for any SJP chapter on this. I think the fact that so many groups came together to issue that joint statement says that there’s definitely an intention to use this opportunity to contribute to the public discourse, to defend student activism, and to make sure that Israel is accountable for its actions. However, to be honest, the ADL’s report itself didn’t get very much attention. Generally, only Israeli newspapers and a couple Jewish-American publications covered it, and most focused on the inclusion of Jewish Voice for Peace.  This focus itself reflects a characteristic of public discourse that I think can only be described as a form of racism: many people only pay attention when the right-wing Israel defenders attack Jews or Israelis, but insofar as they’re only attacking Arabs, Muslims, or other human rights activists, not very many people are interested. It’s funny, in a way, though, that the ADL would include JVP on this list. It goes back to the whole guilt by association thing. Here, the ADL is basically saying: “Look, JVP hangs out with Arabs & Muslims!” In other words, they’re Arab-lovers! Last time people talked like this, they lost. I think this attack by the ADL is a good opportunity for SJPs to gain access to public forums and respond. I hope people can use the opportunity to draw more attention to the real issues, like Israeli war crimes and the occupation of Palestinian land.

Israeli Beauty Products Company Ahava Complicit in the Sins of Occupation

This article originally appeared in Alternet:

Walk into any Ricky’s store, a beauty shop chain in New York, and you will find a shelf filled with Ahava products. For $28, you can buy mineral toning cleanser; for $22, Dead Sea liquid salt; and for $9, purifying mud soap. The products made by Ahava (which means “love” in Hebrew) seem innocent enough, perfectly enticing for anyone fond of beauty products.

But looks can be deceiving. As activists from the peace group CodePink’s Stolen Beauty campaign are fond of chanting at protests, Ahava can’t hide its “dirty side.”

For nearly two years, an international campaign spearheaded by Palestine solidarity activists has targeted Ahava and the various stores that carry its products, including Ricky’s, calling for a boycott. The boycott campaign has heated up recently, eliciting push-back from Jewish organizations around the country and a response from the CEO of Ahava.

While Ahava labels its products “made in Israel,” they are actually manufactured in a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in Palestine. According to the Stolen Beauty campaign, the company exploits Palestinian resources from the Dead Sea.

Under the Geneva Conventions, and various United Nations resolutions, all of Israel’s settlements–which house about 500,000 settlersare illegal, as is excavating natural resources in an occupied area. Israel has occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Six-Day War. The settlements are widely seen as an obstacle to the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

“[The boycott] is about a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” said Nancy Kricorian, CodePink’s coordinator for the Stolen Beauty campaign. “The situation on the ground there is dehumanizing and demoralizing and terrible.”

Ahava, which rakes in profits of nearly $150 million a year, according to a Dec. 2009 CNN report, is owned by entities deeply involved in Israel’s settlement project in the occupied West Bank. According to Who Profits? 37 percent of the company is owned by Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal settlement located in the eastern West Bank; another 37 percent by the private investment fund Hamashibr Holdings, which also is a major shareholder in two companies that export produce made in settlements; 18.5 perent by the U.S.-based Shamrock Holding, owned by the Roy E. Disney family of Walt Disney fame, and which is a shareholder in a company that manufactures electronic detection systems that are used on the West Bank separation barrier; and 7.5 percent by the West Bank settlement of Kalia.

In an interview, Kricorian acknowledged that Ahava is a huge target, and likened the Stolen Beauty campaign to a “game of whack-a-mole,” as new places where Ahava products are sold pop up frequently. But Kricorian says it isn’t just about hurting the company’s sales.

“A boycott campaign is strategic, and it’s a long-term thing,” she said. “It’s not just about hurting the company’s sales. It’s also about educating the public about, in this particular case, the company’s illegal practices and sullying the company’s name and reputation.”

The campaign to boycott Ahava, in both the United States and around the world, has racked up some important victories. In August 2009, activists successfully pressured Oxfam International to drop Sex and the City star Kristin Davis as a spokeswoman because she was also working with Ahava. In November 2009, the Dutch Foreign Ministry agreed to investigate Ahava’s manufacturing and labeling practices. Costco, a large U.S. retailer, was pressured into halting the sale of Ahava products at its stores in January 2010. The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, has included Ahava products in its boycott of settlement products campaign, confiscating and destroying products made in West Bank settlements. Recently, four activists in London were acquitted on charges of trespassing after direct actions in 2009 in which they locked themselves onto oil-filled drums inside an Ahava shop.

AHAVA did not respond to inquiries for comment.

The Stolen Beauty campaign, which began in the aftermath of the brutal Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008-’09, is part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that grew out of a 2005 call by a vast swathe of Palestinian civil society groups for BDS against Israel. Modeled on the anti-apartheid movement that targeted South Africa, the Palestinian-led BDS movement demands that Israel withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, implement equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognize the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Palestine during the 1947-’49 Arab-Israeli war.

“The BDS campaign has become the most effective, morally consistent, nonviolent form of solidarity with the colonized Palestinians against Israel’s apartheid and colonial rule,” Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, wrote in an e-mail. “The Stolen Beauty Campaign against Ahava, led by our partner CodePink, is a truly inspiring BDS campaign, as it is creative, focused, well-researched and very effective in conveying the message across to and, more crucially, in mobilizing BDS action in a wider, more mainstream audience.”

The Israeli government has taken notice of the growing BDS movement. The Israeli Knesset recently passed a preliminary reading of anti-boycott legislation that would impose fines on Israeli activists promoting boycotts of Israel. A February 2010 report by the Reut Institute, an Israeli think-tank with close ties to Israel’s government, identified the BDS movement as an threat to the state.

In the United States, the BDS movement, and the campaign against Ahava, has also generated controversy. After a Washington, D.C.-based group protested in July 2010 against Ahava products being sold in Ulta, a beauty store, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of Greater Washington urged supporters to buy Ahava products.

Brooklyn’s Ricky’s shop has also become the epicenter of a dispute over the Boycott Ahava movement. After a July 9 protest outside the store led by CodePink’s Stolen Beauty and Brooklyn for Peace, which signed onto the campaign in May, a group of rabbis in Brooklyn drafted a letter in response, urging people to buy Ahava products and denouncing the campaign. The rabbis’ letter claimed that “CodePink ignores the history and legal status of Mizpeh Shalom” because it is located in “‘Area C’, a huge section of the West Bank over which Israel, again by joint agreement, was granted full control, except over Palestinian civilians.” (The Area C designation comes out of the 1993-era Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Area C incorporates all West Bank settlements.)

“Local Jewish leaders find the idea of a boycott of Israel to be a misguided and one-sided approach to a complex and deeply troubling conflict,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman, a signatory to the letter and a member of the liberal group J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet. “The problem with a boycott is there’s one side that’s all right and another side that’s all wrong. If that’s what the boycotters think, then there really is nothing to discuss. But if not, then why not boycott Palestinian business for years of rejecting peace accords?”

So far, Ricky’s has not budged, and continues to sell Ahava products. Dominick Costello, the president of the store, refused to comment.

The relentless targeting of Ahava hasn’t gone unnoticed by the company. A letter that has recently been circulated by Ahava to its business partners states that “our company and products have been the subject of unfortunate, ugly and clearly politically motivated smear attacks” that are being pushed by a “couple of small radical fringe organizations, which are part of a larger and more insidious campaign aimed against the State of Israel.”

The surge in attention to the boycott campaign is a sign that “we’ve gotten attention to issue of settlements like we never got before,” said Naomi Allen, an activist who sits on Brooklyn for Peace’s board and is involved in the group’s Israel/Palestine committee. Beginning this month, Brooklyn for Peace plans to hold protests outside the Ricky’s shop in Brooklyn on the last Tuesday of every month.

“This is not an argument that we’re going to lose, because [what's] right and international law are on our side,” Allen said. “The issue of Ahava is a clear-cut issue. There’s no excusing the fact that this is occupied territory which is being stolen from the rightful owners and exploited for profit that isn’t being shared with the rightful owners.”