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Outrage Over Gaza Drove Iceland’s Capital to Back Israel Boycott

Destroyed buildings in Gaza pictured six months after the beginning of the latest Israeli military assault. February 26, 2015. (Photo: Oxfam International)

The City of Reykjavík has decided to boycott Israeli goods.

The city council in Iceland’s capital voted by a 9-5 majority on Tuesday to bar Israeli products from official purchases as long as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory continues.

The decision has been welcomed by Palestinian rights campaigners and drawn anger from Israel.

“The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement all over the world is becoming stronger because we know how boycotting goods has influenced other states like South Africa,” Björk Vilhelmsdóttir told The Electronic Intifada by telephone from Reykjavík.

Vilhelmsdóttir, a member of the Social Democratic Alliance, sponsored the motion as her last act before retiring from a long stint on the city council.

She said the 51-day assault that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in 2014 had been “the last straw” and had generated a lot of discussion about taking action.

“Finally I decided just to make a proposal so the political will would be clear because the majority in Reykjavík stands with human rights,” Vilhelmsdóttir said.

An explanatory memorandum notes that the boycott is meant to show that the City of Reykjavík supports the right of Palestinians to independence, while condemning “the Israeli policy of apartheid” in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to Iceland Magazine.

“The Icelandic population has been very pro-Palestine and their knowledge of the situation has been increasing a lot,” Yousef Tamimi, a nurse and activist in Reykjavík, told The Electronic Intifada.

He said that during the attack on Gaza more than 3,000 people attended a protest in Reykjavík in solidarity with Palestinians – about one percent of Iceland’s population.

“This is fantastic and will help us put pressure on the Israeli government,” Tamimi added, welcoming the boycott vote. “The next step is to talk to other towns in Iceland to get them to start boycotting Israel as well.”

“Warm salute”

In an email message, Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights campaigner and co-founder of the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement, predicted that “Israel, with its powerful tools in Washington and Brussels, will certainly 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.”


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

Barghouti sent a “warm salute to all Palestine solidarity and BDS movement partners in Iceland who contributed to writing this piece of the history of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

“Volcano of hate”

The Israeli foreign ministry also referred to the North Atlantic island nation’s famous geology to condemn the Icelandic capital’s decision.

Spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Jerusalem Post that “a volcano of hate exploded in the building of the Reykjavík municipality.”

With no “reason or justification, except for pure hatred, calls were heard to boycott the State of Israel,” Nahshon claimed. “We hope that someone in Iceland will wake up and put an end to this blindness and one-sidedness that is demonstrated toward Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Vilhelmsdóttir rejected accusations that her initiative had been driven by prejudice.

“Some people have been saying I am an anti-Semite,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “I don’t understand it because I only feel love and peace to Jewish people and all others. But we also love human rights for the Palestinians and Israel’s occupation is taking them away.”

“Israel likes to be in the victim’s role,” Vilhelmsdóttir added, “but that is not true.”

While the Reykjavík vote is not likely to have a major economic impact on Israel, it carries symbolic weight.

Similar resolutions in city councils around the world boycotting South African goods helped to popularize and legitimize the struggle against apartheid during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Reykjavík decision is another indicator of how mainstream support for Palestinian rights has become.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and a fellow with the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC.  Abunimah is Executive Director of The Electronic Intifada.

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