By Tyler Vosgerchian
On March 17 in Dearborn, Michigan, over 100 activists attended a town hall meeting at the Arab American National Museum hosted by New Generation for Palestine on the topic of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. New Generation for Palestine was founded in 2018 to “foster a new generation of empowered Palestinian Americans”. Other groups in attendance were the Palestinian Youth Movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), the Universal Unitarian Church of Ann Arbor, Communist Workers League and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). A representative from JVP was proud to announce that the group had come out in explicit opposition to Zionism.
The BDS movement was launched in wake of the Second Intifada of the mid-2000s by 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies. They drew on the long tradition of a boycott of Israeli goods as well as the successful boycott of the South African apartheid regime.
The goals of the BDS campaign are:
- ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall;
- recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Implicit in the third demand is reparations for the financial and emotional losses suffered by the people of Palestine and the diaspora.
Applying those tactics to her hometown of Dearborn, USPCN activist Julia Kassem spoke about setting her sights upon Hewlett-Packard (HP) as a potential target of a BDS campaign.
According to the BDS movement’s website, “HP plays a key role in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. It provides technology, equipment and services to the Israeli military, including for the checkpoints and ID card system that underpin Israel’s apartheid policies and its movement restrictions for Palestinians.”
Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, it was discovered that Dearborn Public Schools has a contract with HP. As of 2016, almost 66 percent of the Dearborn Public Schools students were Arab American. Palestinian students, teachers and staff have a right to a school system which isn’t complicit in the oppression of their homeland.
Laws that punish companies that choose to boycott Israel have been adopted by 26 states, including Michigan. According to Michigan law, state agencies “may not enter into a contract with a person to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, or information technology unless the contract includes a representation that the person is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the person will not engage in, the boycott of a person based in or doing business with a strategic partner.”
These laws are of dubious constitutionality and they are nonetheless designed to make waging a BDS campaign a risky proposition. Knowing this, Matt Clark, an ally from Jewish Voice for Peace, volunteered to do the legal research required.
“Dearborn Public Schools uses millions of dollars’ worth of computers, printers, and laptops from Hewlett-Packard, a major target of the BDS movement,” said Clark as he announced the work that he and the other activists had been doing to prepare for this campaign.
The proposal received unanimous support from the pro-BDS crowd. Obviously, a campaign like this must have community support if it is to have any chance of success. After the town hall, activists from the various groups got together to plan the next steps. Only time will tell whether this campaign will be successful. One thing is certain: the fight does not end with HP.
George Khoury, a board member of the USPCN, commented that the fight “will not be limited to specific companies.” Of the BDS movement, he stated, “I think what we should emphasize is that as long as the Palestinians don’t get their minimum requirements — no equal rights, no human rights, no right to dignity — the fight will continue.”