Naomi Klein, John Berger et al: An open letter to Marrickville Council

Below is an open letter to the Marrickville Council (via Antony Loewenstein) from prominent international academics, writers and artists who support the council’s BDS position. Marrickville Council is voting on the boycott again today.

Dear Marrickvile councilors,

We the undersigned 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 councilors 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 councilors 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 recognizes 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 a 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.

John Berger, writer, UK

Victoria Brittain, journalist and playwright, London

Judith Butler, Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Hedy Epstein, Holocaust survivor and peace activist, US

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

Paul Laverty, writer, UK

Mike Leigh OBE, Director, Palm D’Or Laureate

Ken Loach, filmmaker, UK

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Belfast

Miriam Margolyes, actress, London

Joseph Massad, Professor, Columbia University, New York

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

China Miéville, writer, UK

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

Robin Yassin-Kassab, novelist and writer, UK

South African Municipal Workers Union

COSATU-led Coalition for a Free Palestine (CFP)


[2] Ibid

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  1. Dear Marrickville Councilors,

    A courageous person is one who is willing to admit his/her mistakes and learn from them.

    One such grave mistake was last December when you aligned yourself with the BDS people. The BDS people are simply anti Israel advocates who want nothing but to see the destruction of Israel.

  2. ‘Courageous’? Pretty much exactly the wrong word to use. ‘Cowardly’ is far closer to the mark.

    The influence Marrickville has on world affairs is pretty much between bugger all and nothing. So making a boycott decision like this? No-one outside of Marrickville will care. It’s just a pusillanimous way to appear virtuous to a bunch of insular inner-city folks, mostly Sydney Uni students.

      1. It’s a good story, and it’s not as if the Murdoch rags always comment on ‘important’ and ‘influential’ stories. The mainstay of the Herald Sun, remember, is footy players and kitten photos.

        1. But the mainstay of numerous articles in the “quality papers” and statements by Rudd, Gillard and Bob Brown are not footy players and kitten-up-the-tree stories…

  3. Many Marrickville residents supported their council’s endorsement of the global BDS campaign. Although the decision was rescinded last night, this was because of the sustained bullying of the media, the state and Federal governments.As for Marrickville’s influence on world affairs, of course it is small, but these many small actions work together like water dripping on a stone until it is worn away.
    And the target, not Israel but Israeli Apartheid, the enormous edifice of discriminatory laws which privelege one group of Israeli citizens above another, and discriminate even more drastically between the two groups of residents in the Occupied Palestinian Territories under Israel’s control.
    When Israel becomes a democracy for all its citizens and all people living under its control, then there will be no need for boycotts

    1. It’s worth noting that Marrickville was also the first council in the world to place sanctions on Burma. And I for one am proud of that.

      I’m also astounded at the extent to which the media seems to be outraged that the Marrickville Council might express actual leadership for the people who elected them and pay them rates. We voted in a Green council because they represented our values. God forbid they express them.

  4. Doesn’t the “context sensitive measures” allowance make the BDS pretty superficial, desgined more for the above mentioned Sydney Uni sensibilities rather than geo-politicial realities?

    Perhaps the council could continue with the scheme but with a interpretation of ‘context sensitive measures’ moving not very far from removal of Israel made foodstuffs served at council functions. But if facing up to ‘bullying’ is too much, this may still be too onerous a task, after all isn’t engaging with such ‘bullying’ the whole point of any BDS act?

    Perhaps the rescinding is just a recognition that foreign policy is best argued out at the federal rather than council level of government. There seems to be a good case that it is more meaningful at that level.

  5. 3 years have passed and the same undesired political conflict has once arisen yet again. Hundreds of lives have been lost and more are unfortunately expected to come in view of the failure to negotiate a truce. Indeed, citizens from various countries have joined hands in initiating protests and boycotts to show detest and disagreement against the massacre. We could see people from Israel itself, people from Asia, Australia, and many other places.

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