Israel fights boycott movement as pro-Palestinian campaign gains global support

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…May rejects Corbyn’s offer as businesses warn of Brexit cliff edge***

Gil Sima doesn’t support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

But that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from dropping out of his Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival to protest the country’s policies toward Palestinians.

“We are a very human-rights-oriented film festival. Here in Israel, they think we’re left-wing queer weirdos,” Sima, its executive director, said. “But outside, it’s the same: ‘You’re from Israel, you’re right-wing, you’re an occupier.’”

Like many other entertainment and cultural events here, the film festival has been targeted by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign.

Founded in 2005, BDS calls for “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” It also advocates for the return of millions of Palestinians to the homes their ancestors left or were forced from when Israel was established in 1948.

Israeli officials allege the BDS movement is anti-Semitic and seeks to destroy the country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has spent at least $15 million on combating BDS since 2015.

The campaign is reverberating in the United States, where the Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow states to punish businesses that take part in Israel boycotts.

But despite vigorous efforts to quash BDS, the pressure from those who support it is mounting.

Measures calling for boycotts of Israel, many of which are modeled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, including divesting from companies that sell to Israel’s army, are roiling college campuses.

During the summer, more than a dozen performers backed out of Israel’s Meteor Festival after headliner Lana Del Rey canceled.

Last month, some 50 artists, including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, singer Peter Gabriel, and pop band Wolf Alice published a letter calling for this year’s Eurovision song contest to be moved from Tel Aviv because of “Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.”

Scientists, academics and even fruit fans have backed BDS: Grape exports to Europe from the Jordan Valley in the West Bank have fallen by 80 percent since 2007 because of boycotts, according to the head of the regional council there.

Airbnb announced Nov. 19 that it would stop listing some 200 properties in Jewish settlements in the West Bank — an area Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War. Palestinians and most governments consider growing settlements — thought to house some 435,000 Jewish residents — illegal and a hindrance to peace. Around 3 million Palestinians also live in the West Bank.

The Airbnb decision prompted outbursts from Israeli officials and allies, with Israel’s tourism minister calling the decision “hypocritical and disgusting,” and threatening the company with legal action.

Senior Airbnb executives visited the West Bank and met with local Israeli officials and the company appeared to waver on its decision. And at the end of January, it was still possible to post new properties, and make and accept reservations on the site.

When asked to comment on its current position, an Airbnb spokesman pointed to a Jan. 17 statement that said it was “working with experts to develop and validate the means to implement our policy.”

Michael Oren, an American-born former Israeli ambassador to Washington, was among those who called for a boycott of Airbnb in November. He criticized the company for not applying similar policies to Tibet or to Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

Oren, who also serves as a minister in Netanyahu’s government, explained his reaction this way: BDS unfairly singles out Israel and is “designed to take us down.”

In the meantime, Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”.

The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals.

But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later.

The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions.

“If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan.

But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union.

In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”.

She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

May accepted a customs union could potentially have delivered her a Commons majority but at the serious risk of splitting her party. This was reinforced when Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, indicated she would resign if this happened. She told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday show: “I absolutely do not think that should be our policy.”

In other parts of her letter May was more conciliatory, notably on environmental and workers’ rights. Here, she rejected Corbyn’s idea of “dynamic alignment” – automatically keeping the UK in step with EU standards – saying this should be a UK decision.

But she added: “In the interests of building support across the house we are also prepared to commit to asking parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas.”

If, as seems inevitable, May has no revised deal to put to MPs before Thursday, the government is committed to tabling another amendable motion, as happened in late January, when MPs passed up chances to extend the Brexit deadline or rule out no deal.

Thursday had been billed as a crunch moment, but those behind a series of amendments that failed to pass at the end of January have said they want to delay again.

With the deadline fast approaching, business leaders have called for quicker action. The head of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, said the UK was “in the emergency zone of Brexit now” and the confusion would not just affect jobs and investment, but harm the UK as a long-term business destination.

“I think that the bigger thing that is going on is that there is also a real recalibration, if you like, of what the UK is like as a place to invest,” Fairbairn told Ridge.

Fairbairn said firms would welcome proposals such as that by Labour: “The issue now is time, and we are heading towards that cliff edge, so we need that deal.”

US firms have also started warning of the risks of no deal, with companies including Lockheed Martin, Expedia and food firm McCormick issuing formal stock market notices about consequences including higher costs and business uncertainty.

NBC with additional report from Guardian UK