SACC is disappointed by the stance taken by the Scottish Government in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as set out in a recent statement by Humza Yousaf MSP, Scotland's Minister for External Affairs and International Development. We are calling for the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure that it is not complicit in human rights abuses by Israel.
In Humza Yousaf's statement, he says unreservedly that the Scottish Government does not advocate a boycott of Israel.
He rightly states that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal and says that the Scottish Government views them as an obstacle to peace, but he makes no distinction between goods from Israel and goods from illegal Israeli settlements.
SACC supported the call by Palestine civil society in 2005 for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. And we welcomed the decisions taken in support of BDS by the TUC and the STUC. We continue to support these policies.
Accordingly, we would like the UK Government and, in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum, the Scottish Government to move towards a policy of BDS against Israel, and to advocate for BDS internationally and within the EU.
Pending such a policy, we believe that the Scottish Government should take steps to ensure that it is not complicit in the economic exploitation by Israel of the Occupied Territories (in breach of the Geneva Conventions), that it does not encourage Scottish businesses to participate in illegal exploitation, and that it does not give public contracts to businesses involved in human rights abuses.
Measures of this sort do not amount to a boycott policy. They are not intended primarily as a means of putting pressure on Israel to change its policy, and fall far short of what would be needed to have any such effect. They are minimal measures to ensure that the Scottish Government does not aid and abet criminal acts.
We are therefore surprised that Humza Yousaf made no mention of such measures in his statement – even though the UK Government's Trade and Investment guidance (published 1 June 2014) says:
"There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment."
The latest version of the guidance is here.
Humza Yousaf states that the Scottish Government will not "dictate" to other organisations and institutions. In doing so he acknowledges the right of organisations to adopt their own policy of BDS. But he has said nothing about any government measures to ensure that people who wish to boycott Israeli produce are given the information they need in order to do so, even though the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has since 2009 published voluntary guidelines on labelling produce from Israeli settlements.
Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:
"Even if the Scottish Government is unwilling to support sanctions against Israel, it can and must ensure that it does not itself benefit financially from crimes committed against Palestinians, and it must at the very least avoid encouraging Scottish-based businesses to profit from Israeli crimes, and avoid giving contracts to businesses anywhere that do so. I am very disappointed to find no mention of these matters in Humza Yousaf's statement on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
"It looks rather as if the Scottish Government may be trying to build a relationship that would assist it, in the event that Scotland becomes independent, in concluding a Trade Treaty with Israel. It should go without saying that Israel is not a suitable partner for any kind of trade agreement until it desists from its violation of international law and the large-scale abuse of the rights of Palestinians.
"I fear that the Scottish Government may be on the way towards making itself the Scarlett Johansson of the international community."
SACC welcomes the Scottish Government's continued support for international calls for an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza. We also congratulate the Scottish Government on the support it gave to Palestine's bid for enhanced UN status in 2012.
SACC will of course continue to work with other organisations in support of justice for the Palestinian people, and to this end we encourage our supporters to engage in and promote a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
-- ENDS --
Added 26 June 2014
- Humza Yousaf has subsequently commented that the advice on Israeli settlements given to businesses by Scottish Government is exactly the same as the advice from the British Government quoted above (as of course is inevitable under Scotland's current constitutional arrangements). However, the absence of any reference to this in Humza Yousaf's statement of policy on the Israel-Palestine, or in the report by Scottish Friends of Israel on a discussion held on 13 May, suggests to us that the Scottish Government does not see this advice as an important element of its policy towards Israel-Palestine.
- The British Government's warning over economic activities in the settlements was first published in December 2013. It produced media interest and negative comment from the Israeli Embassy in London, which said: "issuing such a recommendation at this time will only do harm."
- The French Foreign Ministry has recently published advice on economic activities in the settlements that is very similar to the British advice ( visit their Israël/Territoires palestiniens web page, then click on the "Infos Utiles" tab).
Zaid Shuabi, a spokesperson for the BNC, the Palestinian civil society coalition that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, has welcomed the news, saying he hoped it would “encourage French businesses to abandon their complicity in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.” However, he added that “France, the EU and all European states must do much more to end the involvement of European businesses in Israeli human rights abuses, including by explicitly prohibiting business relations with Israeli public and private entities in the occupied Palestinian territory, and by ensuring that companies involved in war crimes are brought to justice.”
- Companies implicated in illegal activity and human rights abuses by Israel include G4S, Veolia, JCB and Alstom.
- In January 2014 Scarlett Johansson ended her collaboration with Oxfam International in favour of honouring her contract with SodaStream: an Israeli company that operates in the Occupied Territories.
- Open Letter to Humza Yousaf from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Palestinians in Scotland, Friends of Al Aqsa - Glasgow. The letter calls on the Scottish Government to "make a clear and unambiguous statement condemning Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the people of Palestine, calling for the dismantling of the apartheid wall in line with the ICJ decision, and reaffirming FM Alex Salmond’s 2010 call for an end to business as usual with the State of Israel while it commits serious war crimes and, in the words of the UN Goldstone Commission, possible crimes against humanity." The letter is open for online support by individuals and organisations at the link above.
- Open Letter to First Minister Alex Salmond from Scottish Friends of Palestine. The letter urges Scottish Government to acknowledge the position of Israel as an apartheid state, and states that "the prohibition of apartheid under international law is a core value of international public policy and does create obligations on states."