United Church of Canada to decide on settlement produce boycott
This week, the United Church of Canada’s governing body will decide whether to endorse a boycott of goods imported to Canada from Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. The boycott, recommended by a United Church working group, is both legally and morally just.
Criticism has been levelled by a group of nine Canadian senators, echoed by numerous pro-Israel groups and commentators, who fret about the church interfering in Canadian foreign policy. They question whether a “one-sided” critique of Israel promotes the cause of peace.
The senators’ views are out of step with global opinion. Every country in the world, except Israel, considers the settlements illegal under international law. In the U.K., measures have been in place for years requiring products from Israeli settlements to be labelled. Denmark and South Africa adopted new labelling rules earlier this year, dropping “Israel” from products originating in occupied territory.
In a recent legal opinion, Cambridge University law professor James Crawford advised EU member states that international trade rules were no obstacle to any government wishing to ban the import of Israeli settlement produce on “public policy grounds.” Crawford, a distinguished international jurist, noted that trading with Israeli settlements could amount to “aiding and assisting” breaches of international law.
Acting on their own initiative, a number of European supermarket chains have already decided to keep Israeli settlement produce off their shelves.
Local and global peace activists have long described the settlements as inhumane and the biggest obstacle to peace. Crawford’s report characterizes Israel’s policies as “de facto” annexation of Palestinian territory.
Encroaching on Palestinian towns and villages, settlements are fortified, Jewish-only enclaves that divide and rule the West Bank. Some Jewish settlers are ideologues, intent on fulfilling a biblical promise. Many are economic migrants, able to use their Jewish identity to gain access to a better life, subsidized by the Israeli welfare state.
Jewish settlers enjoy the privileges and democratic rights of Israeli citizenship, while the Palestinians are disenfranchised and subject to military authority.
Earlier this year, the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities spoke out strongly against a proposal to accredit a new university in the sprawling West Bank settlement of Ariel. The University Center of Samaria is the first new Israeli university in 40 years. Funded by the state and built entirely within occupied Palestinian territory, the school bars Palestinians from enrolment or employment.
More than 1,000 Israeli academics signed a petition calling the accreditation anti-democratic and illegitimate.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that many Israelis oppose, even despise, the settlements. Nonetheless, since 1967 each and every Israeli government, of every political stripe, has worked to grow the settlement project.
Over the past decade, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank has nearly doubled, virtually eliminating the viability of a Palestinian state. The Associated Press reported recently that since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election just over three years ago, the settler population has increased by 18 per cent, nearly twice the rate of growth in Israel proper during the same period. Today, one in 10 Jewish Israelis is a settler — a population of nearly 650,000.
It’s little wonder many have lost hope in the political process. The dysfunctional Israeli electoral system continues to produce governments bent to the centre-right. Over-representation of extremist and religious parties often gives fanatics the balance of power in shaky coalition governments.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians view their official leaders as lame ducks. The schism between Hamas and Fatah has crippled their capacity for decent and effective political leadership. The most popular and promising Palestinian politician, Marwan Barghouti, has been imprisoned by Israel since 2002.
The failure of politics has been matched by the failure of international law. Lacking effective enforcement, decades of reports and declarations at the United Nations have been unable to halt land seizure and settlement construction. The world community wrings its hands, and the settlements continue to grow.
So civil society stepped in. Driven by a global moral conscience, and armed with the language of international human rights, a diverse and dynamic group arose. The Palestinian solidarity movement began the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions in 2002 as a rejoinder to the failures of international relations.
A successful boycott of settlement products will not produce a political solution to the conflict. But it will expose a wrong and affirm that international trade should not be done at the expense of human rights.
The market should never reward illegality. Naming and shaming offenders of international law is an eminently Canadian thing to do.
That Israel is an ally makes it even more important that Canada take a principled position. Israeli settlement products should be kept out of the Canadian market.
Faisal Bhabha is a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, and has lived and worked in Israel and the occupied territories.
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