The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel (CBSI) is "the first and most important popular campaign organized outside occupied Palestine...even prior to the call of Palestinian civil society in 2005." These are the words of friend and ally - co-founder of the global BDS movement Omar Barghouti.
Much less known globally than BDS, CBSI is an earlier sister campaign that a group of Lebanese, launched in the spring of 2002 in the wake of the Israeli massacres in Jenin. One of the first of its kind in the Arab world, CBSI is a popular-based campaign relying on a rigorous process of research and documentation to make the case, in Lebanon and beyond, for boycott.We had chosen to boycott "supporters" of Israel not Israel because initially we had thought that, given that Israeli companies are barred in Lebanon, there would not be any company to boycott. But in the course of our activism, we found, to our dismay, that Israeli companies – such as laser hair removal corporations Syneron and Lumenis - have actually penetrated Lebanese and Arab markets in roundabout ways.
From the outset, we were clear about our goals and principles: That our boycott is not aimed at certain nationalities or countries or religions; for that would reproduce the racist and discriminatory ideology of the Zionist project. Nor did we conceive of boycott as an end in itself, but rather as a means of protesting these companies and pressuring them to end their complicity in Zionist violations of International Law and human rights.With the launch of BDS in 2005, we witnessed the birth of a new and much-welcome ally. We thus set out on a path of coordination and collaboration with BDS, and expanded our activities to include the cultural boycott of international artists who support the Zionist project. We endorse the vision of BDS in its fight against an apartheid system in Historic Palestine including its three pillars: Ending the occupation of Arab lands, eliminating Apartheid in 1948 Palestine, and upholding the Right of Return for any Palestinian to his or her homeland. Nevertheless, our movement is partly motivated and informed by the long history of occupation, mass murder, water theft, and other crimes committed by Israel within Lebanon (and parts of the Arab world) and by the counter-history of struggle and resistance in all its forms.At the level of the Arab world, it is important to point out the long history of boycott that stretches all the way back to the mid-20th century and even earlier and was part of a global vision among the colonized peoples. The concept of boycott itself was employed against the European colonizer well before the creation of the Zionist state: In the early part of the 20th century, for instance, Egyptian national liberation leader Sa'd Zaghlul invoked boycott to build an independent national economy in the face of British domination, and the call for boycott was popularized through the writings of poet Bayram al-Tunisi. In Palestine, commercial boycotts were endorsed on a massive scale as far back as the 1930s against Zionist expansion and complicit British policy.Following the creation of the state of Israel and the Arab - Israeli war, boycott emerged as a transnational state policy. When the Arab League imposed a boycott of Israel and the companies supporting it in the late 1940s, the losses of the Zionist state in the period 1948-1993 were estimated to be billions of US dollars. But the official path of "settling" the conflict that started in the 1970s and culminated in the Oslo process undermined official boycott efforts. Companies that were initially banned regained a foothold in the Lebanese and Arab markets. This showed that many Arabs were not fully attuned to the Culture of Boycott and were rather bound to it by law. The failure to sustain the boycott without legal enforcement led us to make the following two inferences: that there is a dire need to create public awareness that goes beyond the issue of imposing laws from atop; and that these laws themselves will not be implemented except through public pressure.Another important dimension of boycott efforts in the Arab world - especially those countries in direct contact with the Zionist state - is the long history of armed resistance against direct and systematic violence of occupation, dispossession, terror, and destruction. This meant that many people were dismissive of non-violent means of resistance in the face of the Israeli war machine. In fact this was the case in India and South Africa among other countries. Very few people in North America may remember or highlight the role played by armed struggle in the defeat of Apartheid, a role that Nelson Mandela, among other resistance leaders, rightly refused to denounce till the very end of his life, even after he turned from a "terrorist" in the eyes of the Western media to a darling. In Lebanon, armed resistance has played a decisive role in liberating the country form Israeli occupation. Had it not been for the resistance, which started back in the 1960s as secular and leftist in nature, there is little doubt that the Israeli Apartheid regime would have extended all the way into Lebanon's southern river, the Litani.A people's journey to triumph over its oppressor has more than one path. While armed struggle is often the fruit of a dedicated, courageous and young few, civil resistance, including boycott, has a wider audience and allows all segments of society to participate. The two are not mutually exclusive; they complement rather than oppose each other.We have thus had to make a convincing argument to people already opposed to Israeli apartheid as to why boycott is a weapon worthy of adoption in the fight against Zionism in the context of a place like Lebanon.Our criteria for enlisting a company or organization on our boycott list were also shaped by the political context of our country and the lived reality of our people. It is important to note that our boycott campaign is without doubt a form of solidarity with the Palestinian people, but it is equally a form of resistance of the Lebanese people themselves for all the suffering that has been inflicted and continues to be inflicted on them by the Zionist state. Israel has killed, maimed, and dispossessed tens of thousands of Lebanese people in the course of over 50 years of repeated invasions, full scale bombing campaigns of residential areas, medical facilities, power stations, and basic infrastructure. It has also imprisoned, kidnapped, and detained thousands of people. In the last few years only, several large scale Israeli spy rings have been unearthed. Israel continues to occupy Lebanese territory, and Lebanon is officially in a state of war with Israel. It violates our airspace and terrorizes our population almost daily as documented by local and international organizations and with total impunity. So what are these criteria? And what are some instances where they have been met?- Building factories, as well as research and development centers, in ethnically cleansed Palestinian areas. In 2002, Coca Cola, for instance, signed an agreement with the Zionist government to open a new factory in the settlement of Kiryat Ghatt that was founded on the ruins of two ethnically cleansed villages, Falluja and Iraq al-Manshiyyah. The factory provided a material base for the sustenance of the settlement and thus consolidated the colonial presence of the Zionist state. Nestle has also built a large factory and set up a joint research and development venture in the settlement of Sderot, the town of Najd that was ethnically cleansed in the 1940s – thereby ensuring the viability of a settlement that lacked its own means of survival.- Buying stocks in Israeli companies. This enhances the standing and worth of these companies in the international capital market. Examples include General Electric that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Israeli companies, and Coca Cola that bought in 2005 the majority of shares in Tifour, an Israeli brewery.- Direct funding of Zionist "charity" organizations that ultimately help "resettle" Jews only, while depriving Palestinians of their inalienable right of return. Coca Cola falls into this category as well.- Contributing to the Israeli war effort. General Electric manufactures plane engines and body parts of the phantom and F16 fighter jets. As for Caterpillar, its D-9 model has broken the bones of Palestinians under the ruins of their own homes while demolishing the latter, and led to the murder of activist Rachel Corrie in 2002 while she was trying to prevent a home demolition.- Sponsoring cultural, artistic, sports, and educational events. In 1996, for instance, Philip Morris funded the Biennial of Sculpture in Ayn Hawd, another village ethnically cleansed in 1998.- Publicly supporting the Israeli army or government. Microsoft had the audacity of putting up a huge banner in Tel Aviv in the wake of the Jenin massacre in 2002 expressing "from the bottom of its heart" its gratitude for the Israeli army.- Normalizing, popularizing, or extolling Zionism. Hasbro, a company that sells toy products, issued a rubber doll of an Israeli soldier brandishing grenades and an M-16 rifle, providing children with a supposed role model in the face of Arab and Palestinian "terrorism." In light of these principles, what are some of the challenges we faced and continue to face in Lebanon?- The persistence of a culture of antipathy to boycott as a powerful weapon against Israel. Although we have made some important strides in this respect, many Lebanese continue to uphold a dismissive attitude towards any possibility of change by local actors on a grassroots platform.- Political parties and organizations that are explicitly opposed to the Zionist project have unfortunately failed to endorse the cause of boycott.- The collapse of a near-consensus among the Lebanese people over the nature and priority of the struggle against Israel, especially after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the Syrian uprising. One of Lebanon's two major political camps accused the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon of the assassination, and the struggle against Israel became marginalized.- The Campaign's difficulty in expanding its membership base, improving its research skills, and reaching out to other campaigns abroad.- The negative role played by some intellectuals that are "specialized" in chronic self-criticism and spread an atmosphere of defeatism, thus systematically doubting the ability to achieve any meaningful victory against Israel through boycott. Despite these challenges, we have scored several victories in the past and more recently. These include:- Barring two Israeli companies, the aforementioned Syneron and Lumenis, that had been selling their "beautification" products in Lebanon, from doing any further business in the country.- Barring the showing of a normalizing movie, The Shock, in Lebanon and other Arab countries. The movie's Lebanese director Ziad Duwairy had shot much of the movie in Tel Aviv in collaboration with an Israeli technical team and actors – in direct violation of Lebanese law. We also managed to dissuade an Israeli apologist French singer, Lara Fabian, from performing in Lebanon after we sent her letters urging her to rescind her public support of Israel. We were of course accused of cultural terrorism, even though we simply exercised our right to call on people to freely boycott her. Our critics seemed to care much less for the cultural terrorism exercised by the Israeli government against Palestinian artists, scholars, and intellectuals.- The successful cancellation of a normalizing festival sponsored by the Israeli embassy in Austria after we alerted all Arab participants to the sponsor's identity, and they withdrew.- The setting up of the Arab world's major online research and documentation website to serve as an information portal for boycotting Israel and its supporters.- The development of a nuanced and meticulous discourse regarding the distinction between censorship of cultural and artistic events and works on one hand, and the boycott of artists supporting Israel on the other – and that includes a distinction between those artists who visit the Zionist state, and those who publicly express their support for the Apartheid state and go as far as singing its national anthem (like Julia Zinati).The backlash we have faced has not been solely motivated by political interests. Following our campaign's calling on the Lebanese to boycott a concert by music band Placebo, the event organizer had the audacity to sue the campaign and Samah Idriss personally, as well as the BDS movement itself and Aidoun Center for Palestinian Refugees, for compensation because we allegedly caused a drop in sales and loss in revenue. The case led to an unprecedented support for our group and hundreds of prominent activists and politicians signed a petition declaring the lawsuit one against all of them. The road to boycott is a long and winding one, as is the case with every road to freedom. For decades, Lebanon has emerged as a vanguard for armed struggle against Zionist occupation and oppression. Through our persistence and resilience, and in partnership with other mass movement boycott campaigns around the world, we hope that Lebanon will also provide a model and flagship of civil resistance in Lebanon and the Arab world - so that the inevitable end of Apartheid takes place sooner rather than later.
عنوان: بيروت - لبنان
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