Did Palestinian Authority help undermine Israel boycott in Iceland?

Ali Abunimah Electronic Intifada, 20 September 2015

The mayor of Reykjavík is backing away from a measure adopted by the Icelandic capital’s council last week boycotting all Israeli goods until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Dagur B. Eggertsson now says he wants to limit the boycott only to products from Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.

The mayor’s quick cave-in came after a storm of protest and implied threats from anti-Palestinian groups, as well as harsh criticism from the Israeli government.

But it also appears to be a result of pressure from the national leadership of his Social Democratic Alliance party whose leader told The Electronic Intifada it has consulted the Palestinian Authority about the matter.

“I have stated that it should have been made much clearer in the text [that only products from territories occupied by Israel should be boycotted], although that’s what we had in mind,” Eggertsson said, according to Iceland Review.

Eggertsson said he wanted to follow the precedent of the Danish capital Copenhagen, whose council voted in June in favor of boycotting trade with Israeli settlements.

Palestinian Authority role?

The leader of Iceland’s Social Democratic Alliance has backed the quick turnabout..

“The mayor has explained that the proposal was intended to cover goods originating in the occupied territories manufactured by Israeli companies there,” Árni Páll Árnason wrote in an email to The Electronic Intifada. “It was therefore necessary to withdraw the proposal and develop it further following consultation, including with the Palestinian Authority.”

The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee – the broad Palestinian civil society coalition that steers the BDS campaign – calls for boycotts of all Israeli companies, goods and services, as well as those of international firms involved in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and international law.

But Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, has publicly opposed this policy and called only for boycotts of settlement goods.

“We in the Social Democratic Alliance are committed to a policy of recognition of Palestine, which we drove through as Icelandic policy when we were in government in 2011,” Árnason added.

He said that along with other social democratic leaders from Nordic countries, “We have spoken out against Israeli oppression and proposed limited sanctions.”

A statement Árnason co-signed with counterparts from Sweden, Finland and Norway treats Israel and those resisting its occupation and siege as equally liable for the summer 2014 carnage in Gaza, proposes minimal symbolic measures such as labeling settlement products and calls for a “two-state solution.”

The statement recommends that businesses not deal in settlement products and services and notes that, “We will work internationally for bans on products produced in the occupied territories.”

Israel lobby backlash

After the original vote, Israel claimed that a “volcano of hate” had erupted at the Reykjavík city hall.

The measure’s author Björk Vilhelmsdóttir previously told The Electronic Intifada that she had been called an “anti-Semite” for proposing the measure.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Zionist advocacy group extensively involved in efforts to suppress the Palestine solidarity movement, issued a “travel advisory” for Jews intending to go to Iceland’s capital.

Israel lobby groups routinely claim that those objecting to Israel’s well-documented abuses of Palestinian human rights, including war crimes in Gaza and the violent colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank, are actually motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice.

Trade threat?

The Anti-Defamation League warned that the Reykjavík city council’s decision would “harm Iceland’s reputation in the US, an overwhelmingly pro-Israel country, which imported almost $300 million of goods from Iceland in 2013.”

The Icelandic authorities will likely take this implied threat to their economy seriously.

Israel lobby groups have recently backed a raft of legislative measures in the US designed to penalize those seen supporting the Palestinian call to hold Israel accountable through boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The World Jewish Congress also urged Iceland’s national government to denounce Reykjavík’s decision.

The Israel lobby group’s president Ronald Lauder demanded “a dramatic public gesture that will demonstrate to the people of Iceland and the world that … boycotts are wrong and counterproductive.”

Iceland’s center-right Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson apparently agreed, calling the boycott “ridiculous,” according to Iceland Review.

Taken aback

Mayor Eggertsson admitted to being taken back by the backlash from anti-Palestinian groups.

“I did expect a reaction, but nothing like this,” he told media. “The reaction this decision has received appears to be much more intense than when Iceland recognized the state of Palestine.”

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights campaigner and co-founder of the BDS movement, had predicted accurately that Israel would “pull out its entire bullying arsenal to try to reverse this precedent-setting, historic victory for the boycott movement against its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

But nothing, he added, could “undo the moral victory and the taboo-shattering Icelandic boycott volcano that has just erupted.”

Israel lobby groups have certainly won a partial victory, demonstrating once again their power to intimidate politicians.

At least for now, however, Eggertsson is not abandoning the boycott altogether and the city council must still have its say.