No BDS ban for Scottish institutions

In response to the UK Government’s ban on public bodies and institutions supporting BDS, a petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, on behalf of SPSC, calling on them to ensure that no such ban applies here. Anyone anticipating a protracted argument would have been disappointed, as the Scottish Government made it clear in their own submission to the Petitions Committee that they ‘do not wish to mandate how Scottish public institutions, organisations or individuals approach this issue’. Discussion was brief – and sometimes confused as committee members had clearly not read the petition – but the result was a clear statement in support of the rights of public bodies to support BDS, which was what had been aimed for.

The petition and all associated documents, including our supporting submission, can be found on the Scottish Parliament’s website. We also include our submission below:

Scottish Jews Against Zionism submission of 10 September 2020

The following is a statement from members of Scottish Jews Against Zionism in support of Petition 1803.

A campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, is a non-violent
mechanism for putting pressure on foreign governments that are causing systematic human suffering. It is a grassroots campaign for an ethical foreign policy. The most widely known example was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa. The right to argue for BDS, and for our democratically elected public bodies to implement BDS, should be guaranteed by any country that values political freedom.

A campaign for BDS is never directed against a nation or a people, but against a government whose policies are widely regarded as unacceptable. This is clear from any unbiased examination of what BDS campaigns have actually done; however it is in the interest of the targets of those campaigns and those who represent them officially and unofficially to try and misrepresent them. So, criticism of Israel is portrayed as criticism of Jews as a people – but Israel is a political entity, while Jews are a diverse, self-identifying religious/ethnic group.

To assume that all Jews think in a particular way would rightly be considered racist. It is racist as well as incorrect to assume that all Jews support the Israeli government, or even the concept of a specifically Jewish state (Zionism). Indeed, it is the conflation of Jews with Israel, and the implied assumption that all Jews think the same, that is anti-Semitic in that it portrays that all Jews support the political entity that is Israel.

We are Jews living in Scotland who argue against the basic premise of Zionism – following a position that many Jews have taken since Zionism’s invention in the nineteenth century. However, you don’t have to be anti-Zionist to understand the vital distinction between action taken to attempt to overturn the harmful policies of a political entity and action taken against a people or a group by virtue of their identity. Campaigns for BDS take considerable care to make clear that distinction.

BDS campaigners argue, as do we, that the right to self-determination must apply equally to everyone who lives in a place and must not prioritise one group over another. It is not anti-Semitic to argue that any form of ethnic nationalism is unacceptable and should be resisted. The Scottish Government’s emphasis on an inclusive civic Scottishness, is an example of the opposite position which we, as Scottish Jews, recognise as vitally important.

The BDS campaign is taking democratic action against an example of massive human injustice and suffering that has struck a chord internationally. If it can help bring about change there will still be many other examples of oppression, but a win for human decency anywhere is a boost for humanity everywhere.

We call on the committee to take account of our support for the petition and help ensure that Scotland supports the right to effective political action. To conclude, we emphasise again that to restrict BDS on the grounds that this will prevent anti-Semitism is dangerously misguided and risks wrongly associating all Jews with Israel’s actions. It appals us to think that people should be prevented from supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against oppression under the misconception that opposing that oppression is somehow anti-Semitic.