Around 200 leading legal experts have signed a statement defending the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) as a lawful exercise of freedom of expression.
The legal experts from 15 countries agreed the BDS movement should be treated the same way as the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa.
Lawyers backing Friday’s statement include South African jurist John Dugard, who served at the International Court of Justice, and Guy Goodwin-Gill, former legal adviser for the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“No government ever attempted to outlaw or criminalise the Anti-Apartheid Movement for advocating boycott, disinvestment or sanctions to compel South Africa to abandon its racist policies,” Dugard said. “BDS should be seen as a similar movement and treated accordingly.”
Robert Kolb, a legal expert who served with the Swiss Foreign Ministry, said BDS activism should be legally protected.
“The right of citizens to advocate for BDS is part and parcel of the fundamental freedoms protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights,” said Kolb, who was part of the group that signed the statement.
BDS groups welcomed the lawyers’ statement, terming it a “defining moment” before saying the backing would help quell attempts by pro-Israel groups to proscribe the movement.
“This is a defining moment in the struggle against Israel’s patently repressive legal war on the BDS movement for Palestinian rights,” said Ingrid Jaradat of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, a coalition of civil society groups at the forefront of the movement.
“Leading European jurists have now confirmed that advocating and campaigning for Palestinian rights under international law is a legally guaranteed right for Europeans and indeed all citizens of the world.
“Israel’s desperate attempts to outlaw the BDS movement and to legally bully its supporters into silence threatens democratic space.”
Crackdowns on BDS
A number of measures targeting the BDS movement have been introduced in Israel and Western countries with varying degrees of success.
Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama approved legislation that required official non-cooperation with groups that comply with boycotts of Israel. Around 20 US states have passed anti-BDS bills or are in the process of doing so.
In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has tried to equate the BDS movement to the “loathing of Jews”, a charge activists reject.
Attempts at censoring BDS activism have not been successful, however.
A French court in Tolouse overturned a ban on a BDS event in May, describing attempts by the town’s mayor to stop the gathering as illegal.
In England, a court struck down a legal challenge attempting to force councillors in the city of Leicester to reverse a motion to boycott Israeli goods.
Supporters of the BDS movement argue attempts to stifle it are proof that it is an effective means of protesting Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
The movement is particularly visible among students and activists on campuses across the world who are attempting to pass motions backing Israel’s boycotts despite strong opposition from pro-Israel groups.
On Thursday, students at the University of Manchester in northwest UK passed a motion forcing their union to support the BDS movement.
Etisha Choudhury president of the pro-Palestinian student group Action Palestine said attempts to stop BDS were part of broader efforts to prevent criticism of Israeli policies.
“BDS is a call from 171 Palestinian civil authorities from within the occupation so essentially they [opponents] are just trying to block the Palestinians,” Choudhury told Al Jazeera.
Huda Ammori, who put forward the motion, said BDS was one of the few remaining ways Palestinians could effectively challenge Israeli occupation.
“I think BDS is the last hope for Palestinians,” said Ammori, describing efforts by the international community to help Palestinians to date as lacking. “The movement is a call to wake up and bring attention to the cause.”