BDS is free speech, says Dutch government

The Netherlands has affirmed that activism calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel is a form of free speech. In response to parliamentary questions from Green Left MP Rik….

The Netherlands has affirmed that activism calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel is a form of free speech.

In response to parliamentary questions from Green Left MP Rik Grashoff, Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders said that “statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Koenders also said that the Dutch government regularly discusses BDS with Israel and makes clear to Israel that it “opposes a boycott of Israel, but that endorsing BDS falls under freedom of expression.”

The Dutch foreign minister’s comments are a serious blow to Israel’s relentless efforts to criminalize BDS and silence supporters of Palestinian rights.

At Israel’s urging, governments in the US, UK, France, Canada and elsewhere are introducing anti-democratic legislation and taking other repressive measures to undermine the BDS movement.

Israel recently imposed a de facto travel ban on BDS campaign co-founder and Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti and it seems intent on revoking his residency.

Israel has also said that it is using its intelligence services to spy on BDS activists overseas.

The Dutch government’s statement also comes as lawmakers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, last week rejected a law that would have punished BDS activism.

Civil liberties groups and legislators had warned that the law would have violated fundamental free speech rights.

Previously, Sweden had been the only European government to recognize that BDS is a civil society movement and that governments should not try to impede it.

In March, the Swedish foreign ministry told The Electronic Intifada that BDS “is a civil society movement” and that “governments should not interfere in civil society organization views.”

Uniting to defend BDS

In a related development, 352 organizations from across 19 countries have published a statement urging the European Union to protect BDS as a form of free speech.

It is the most widely signed statement by European organizations on Palestine in many years.

The list of signatories includes the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Norwegian United Federation of Trade Unions, major Belgian civil society coalition CNCD and French Catholic organization Terre Solidaire.

Podemos, the leftist Spanish political party that won 21 percent of the popular vote in recent elections, has also backed the statement.

The groups urge the European Commission, the EU’s governing bureaucracy, to introduce “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and right to boycott and to use all other means you have in your disposal to support European citizens in their struggle to uphold basic human rights.”

Also among the signatories are six Irish parties including Sinn Féin and the Irish Green Party; France’s Left Party, Communist Party and New Anti-Capitalist Party and trade unions including Italy’s Fiom/CGIL and France’s Union Syndicale Solidaires.

In addition, more than 30 Belgian organizations including the ABVV/FGTB trade union federation and major Christian organization Broederlijk Delen have issued their own statement urging the Belgian government to resist calls by pro-Israel groups to legislate against BDS.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also made statements in response to the attacks on the BDS movement and its activists.

Israel’s dangerous and desperate attacks on the BDS movement appear to be having some unintended consequences: they are prompting European governments and some of the world’s best known organizations to declare their belief that BDS is an entirely legitimate movement.

UN appeal for #RightToBoycott

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) is inviting supporters of free speech and Palestinian rights to co-sign an appeal to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urging him to take action to protect the rights of Palestinian, Israeli and international BDS activists.

The BNC has also published a comprehensive legal briefing, “BDS: a legitimate human rights movement to be respected and protected by states,” that has more useful background and analysis.