Open Letter

Palestinian civil society to Austrian Parliament: Oppose resolution to criminalize peaceful activism for Palestinian human rights


Austrian parliament should respect rights of Palestinians and Austrian citizens to support BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality

2 January 2020

Dear Members of the Austrian National Parliament and Political Parties,
 
We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society coalitions, human rights organizations and  labor unions write to you regarding the resolution (141/A(E)) “Condemnation of Antisemitism and the BDS Movement” tabled jointly by all elected political parties for discussion and vote in the Austrian parliament.
 
We commend all genuine and serious efforts to combat antisemitism because, like you, we reject antisemitism as one of the most harmful forms of racism, especially in the light of rising anti-Jewish bigotry and hate crimes across Europe.
 
At the same time, we expect you to recognize that the fight against antisemitism must not be abused to suppress the fight against other forms of racism and racial discrimination, regardless of the perpetrator.
 
In this regard, we wish to remind you that the International Criminal Court  (ICC) recently announced that it is convinced that war crimes have been committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and that it will open an official investigation. We expect you to recognize that it is legally wrong and morally and politically reprehensible to criminalize and suppress peaceful opposition to Israel’s crimes under the pretext of fighting antisemitism.
 
BDS is a global movement for Palestinian human rights that opposes Israel’s war crimes and human rights abuses with nonviolent means. Similar to the international movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa, it carries out peaceful campaigns for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) vis-a-vis institutions and corporations, Israeli or international, as well as governments, that assist or otherwise enable Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and grant Israel impunity for its flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The BDS movement is supported -- and led -- by the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society and enjoys broad support worldwide, including among Jews in the US and Europe. 
 
Bearing this in mind – and for the reasons explained below - we urge Austrian political parties and members of Parliament in the strongest terms to withdraw your tabled resolution, and to give it no vote or other support.  
 
First, your resolution is based on a fraudulent definition of antisemitism that conflates peaceful protest against Israel’s war crimes and human rights abuses with antisemitism. The examples of “contemporary Israel-related antisemitism” in the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism which you endorse are deliberately vague so as to invite the wrong conclusion that criticism of Israel is always an expression of hatred of Jews.
 
More than 40 Jewish groups have denounced the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism for this reason as unsuitable for the fight against the real existing antisemitism and even distracting from it. They, as well as numerous Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian scholars, jurists and advocates for Palestinian rights, have warned against adoption of the IHRA Working Definition in the UK, France, Austria and elsewhere, explaining that it is promoted and used by Israel’s far-right government and lobby groups as a means to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights, and to shield Israel from international sanctions for its flagrant violations of international law.
 
Even the author of the IHRA document himself has repeatedly explained that the IHRA Working Definition was to serve data collection only and was never intended for adoption and use as an instrument to curb freedom of expression about Israel and the Palestinian people.
 
Secondly, your tabled resolution distorts the facts and uses outright lies in order to demonize the BDS movement as antisemitic. Even a cursory examination of the website of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broad coalition of Palestinian civil society that leads the global movement, would have shown you that:

  • The BDS movement is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rejects all forms of racism and discrimination;
  • Nothing and no one is boycotted because they are Jewish or Israeli. BDS campaigns target Israeli and international institutions, corporations and governments because of complicity in Israel’s flagrant violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, and,
  • Palestinian civil society’s BDS Call of 2005 explicitly calls on conscientious Israelis for support, a call that has since been heeded by many.

With regard to your claim that the BDS movement would be antisemitic because it “challenges the right to exist of the Jewish state with the demand for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees”, we clarify once more that the BDS movement seeks to achieve Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. The right of return is a fundamental human right of every human being. Moreover, the UN resolution which affirms this right specifically for Palestinian refugees has been reaffirmed over a hundred times since 1948 by UN member states, including Austria.
 
Based on the above, we are wondering: Do political parties and elected representatives of Austria, a state based on the rule of law and a member of the United Nations, hold the position that compliance with public international law by states, and the realization of fundamental human rights by people, constitutes a threat to the existence of states? Or that Israel is above the law? Or that Palestinians are sub-human?
 
Finally, with your proposed resolution, you are calling on the Austrian government to act in contravention of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Austrian constitution and EU law. This is because, based on the false and defamatory accusation of antisemitism against the BDS movement, your resolution requests from government to withhold facilities, infrastructure and financial subsidies from organizations, groups and activities of the BDS movement and of groups supporting its aims.
 
We remind you that the right to advocate for peaceful boycotts to end injustices falls under the fundamental right to freedom of expression, a right that should be respected by Austrian political parties and elected representatives, even if you strongly disagree with the aims and tactics of the BDS movement. It is a right that is protected by the Austrian constitution (Article 13), the European Human Rights Convention (Article 10) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19). Accordingly, the European Union, the governments of the Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden, the parliament of Spain and the Upper House of the Swiss parliament have all affirmed that they respect the right of citizens to carry out and support BDS campaigns.
 
In Germany, where shameful anti-BDS resolutions of the kind now tabled in the Austrian parliament have been passed by cities and the German federal parliament, 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars, including authorities on antisemitism and the history of the Holocaust, issued a call to the German government, urging it to dismiss the Bundestag resolution, not equate BDS with antisemitism, and refrain from suppressing freedom of speech in defense of Palestinian rights.
 
German courts, moreover, have repeatedly convicted city governments for violation of the rights to equality, freedom of expression and assembly, because they had denied local associations and individuals the use of public event facilities based on these anti-BDS resolutions. In two cases, a German court clarified explicitly that these resolutions, including the resolution of the German Bundestag, “are political resolutions” which “alone cannot justify, from any legal perspective, the restriction of an existing legal right.”
 
We call on the Austrian parliament and government to respect our right and the right of Austrian citizens to carry out and support BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.

Signatories:
 
Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (12 Palestinian human rights organizations)
General Union of Palestinian Workers
Federation of Independent Trade Unions
Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS)
General Union of Palestinian Women
Union of Palestinian Farmers
General Union of Palestinian Teachers
Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE)
General Union of Palestinian Writers
Union of Public Employees in Palestine-Civil Sector
General Union of Palestinian Peasants
Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations
Union of Professional Associations
Agricultural Cooperatives Union
Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine
Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
Palestinian National Institute for NGOs
Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition
National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba
Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem
Coalition for Jerusalem
Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Initiative
Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign - Stop the Wall
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC)
Women Campaign to Boycott Israeli Products
Palestinian Economic Monitor
National Committee for Grassroots Resistance


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