Boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel promoted at Montreal conference

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Palestine solidarity organizations from communities and movements across Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will be meeting in Montreal for a historic conference this weekend, Friday October 22 to Sunday October 24.

Carrying Forward the Moment Against Isreali Apartheid will map the future of the growing anti-Israeli apartheid movement by bringing together activists from across the country, as well as from the U.K., France, the U.S., and, most significantly, South Africa and Palestine. The intention is to assess and advance the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of the Israeli State until there is full justice, equality, and dignity for all Palestinians.

This international campaign is based on the July 2005 call put forth by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, which demands that Israel respect the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, that Israel dismantle the wall and put an end to its colonization of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, and that Israel grant full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The aim is to assess and advance a comprehensive global campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions until there is full justice, equality and dignity for all Palestinians.

The conference opens on Friday evening with a panel titled "From Sharpeville to Gaza: five years since the Palestinian call for BDS," in which the Steve Faulkner, Omar Barghouti, and Areej Ja'afari will compare the experiences of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in South Africa and Palestine.

Steve Faulkner is a member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), as well as the South African Municipal Workers Union which is campaigning to make every one of the 283 South African municipalities Israeli-apartheid-free zones. Omar Barghouti is one of the founders of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Boycott National Committee. Areej Ja'afari is the West Bank co-ordinator for the Palestine Freedom Project. A Palestinian refugee herself, Ja'afari has been working with other Palestinian refugees and women to engage in the BDS movement in the West Bank

Many different elements of this movement are going to be in attendance at this historic conference. This is a rare opportunity, and it is the first time since the BDS call more than five years ago that the different individuals, collectives, and organizations mobilizing for Palestinian justice, equality, and dignity have come together to strategize.

The different realms of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are represented in the seven sectors of the conference, namely: cultural, academic, consumer, queer, labour, community, and government

Trade Unions that are engaged in BDS and participating in the conference include the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, Conseil central du Montréal métropolitain of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CCMM-CSN), a labour council that represents over 80,000 members in 12 federations and more than 600 unions from various sectors and CSN federations, including construction, education, health, and communications, and (FNEEQ) Federation Nationale des Enseignantes et des Enseignants du Quebec representing 20,000 college level teachers.

Queer activists from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and Q-Team in Montreal are attending the conference. Artists and film makers such as John Greyson, Malcom Guy, Marie Botie, Detroit hip-hop artist Invincible, as well as other artists engaged in the cultural boycott will be participating in the cultural sector of the conference. Invincible will be performing at a Saturday night as part of Artists Against Apartheid series -- a Montreal initiative that worked on the historic letter signed by 500 artists in Montreal who support BDS.

The Academic sector will bring together faculty from across the province and country, as well as those working for academic boycott in France and England. Students from Hampshire College in the United States, as well as Carleton University in Canada will also be speaking about their divestment campaigns on campus. Within the government sector, Amir Khadir, who represents Quebec Solidaire -- a progressive Quebec political party that has adopted BDS, will speak as well.

More than 60 different organizations have endorsed this conference, such as Fédération des femmes du Québec, Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), Canadian Arab Federation, US Palestinian Community Network, Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from within (Israel). Their participation, as well as the participation of individual speakers is evidence to the strength of the movement, and of the conference.

Hopes and aims

The conference takes place at a very contradictory moment. Canadian support for the brutal regime of apartheid in Israel is growing, and Canada has made every effort to support Israel's siege on Gaza, the 2008/2009 war on Gaza, and the war on Lebanon. Not only has the Canadian government supported these crimes, but has celebrated them. In fact ,this year, Canada bolstered its bi-lateral trade with Israel, "since the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement came into force, two-way merchandise trade has more than doubled, reaching $1.3 billion last year," stated by Peter Van Loan, Canadian Minister of International Trade.

Nonetheless, we know that there is a growing shift on the ground in support of our movement. And we hope that this conference will be a space for strategizing, co-ordinating, and consolidating the work that has been done over the course of the last five years, in order to expand the BDS movement from a place of education and support, towards one moving into action. In order to do so this, the conference hopes to facilitate a focus and intensification of our efforts on building a campaign that can truly shift public consciousness and sever the links to Israeli apartheid. Even though this movement might take years, it is such gatherings and conferences that help set the path towards eradicating Israeli apartheid and ensuring Palestinian freedom.

Those who are interested in ending Israeli apartheid, and who wish to one day see a Free Palestine, should join us this October 22-24.

Mostafa Henaway is one of the organizers of the BDS Conference in Montreal. More information on the movement can be found here.


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