In June 2013 more than 100 activists gathered in Auckland for a weekend conference of discussions and debates that led to the formation of the Aotearoa Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions network. This was the first national Palestine conference in Aotearoa for more than 20 years. The sense of unity and purpose the call for BDS sent out energised Palestine solidarity campaigners.
If the conference was the theory, a picket in Wellington on 22 February was the practice: 60 protesters, some of whom had travelled from Auckland, demonstrated outside a performance by the dance troupe Batsheva, part of the New Zealand Festival running through February.
Batsheva, which is funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and which was sponsored at the Festival by the Embassy of Israel is, in the words of Israel’s Foreign Affairs ministry, “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Their presence in the Festival was part of a campaign by the Israeli state to enhance Israel’s public image. As the Aotearoa BDS Network noted, “this is part of a deliberate strategy of using arts and culture to whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law”.
Israeli apartheid is a particularly charged topic in this country, given the importance of boycott of South African rugby in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and 80s. John Minto, a veteran of that movement, made the obvious comparison between Israel and South African apartheid during the Batsheva picket, to the feigned outrage of the 40 pro-Israel counter-picketers who had gathered to support the performance.
These counter-protesters, many of whom had been bussed in by evangelical protestant churches, obviously hoped they could discredit the Palestinian cause by smearing it as anti-Semitic and as “racist lies”. No such luck – between 5 and 10 people decided not to attend the performance after talking with BDS picketers. We came away feeling inspired for further protest in favour of boycott, divestments and sanctions.
The International Socialist Organisation has been a proud supporter of BDS from its inception.
This is just the beginning.