With the recent announcement of the Church of England that the Church would divest from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation, as well as a similar divestment by an Architect’s Association in England, the ‘Boycott Israel’ campaign appears to be gaining ground.
Based on a similar ‘divestment/boycott’ campaign against the apartheid regime of South Africa in the 1980s, the focus of the boycott is to put pressure on companies that do business with Israel to divest until Israel changes its policies.
The Anglican Church will divest the 200 million pounds it currently has invested in Caterpillar Company, a company whose bulldozers (particularly the armored D9 model) are used to demolish Palestinian homes. The Israeli practice of demolishing Palestinian homes that are in a ‘security zone’, or near the path of the Wall’s construction, or a planned settlement, has rendered at least 27,000 Palestinians homeless over the last five years, according to human rights organizations.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, stated that this vote "sends a clear message to Caterpillar that profiting from human rights violations is not compatible with socially responsible business practice."
Similarly, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, a group including some of Britain’s most prominent architects is calling for an economic boycott of Israel’s construction industry to protest the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories.
Former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African activist and Nobel Prize winner, is a vocal champion of Palestinian rights. He compared Palestinian life under occupation to his own experiences living under Apartheid.
Archbishop Tutu wrote in 2002, "yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the Occupied Territories." In the same article, he promoted a letter several hundred Jewish South Africans wrote drawing "an explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies."
The American-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) commended the move. Their statement suggested that divestment "stands in the best tradition of nonviolent efforts for change." JVP supports divestment since "governments have failed to end the occupation." They contend that non-governmental groups such as faith-based institutions, unions, companies and individual citizens have to "take the lead in seeking justice."
Pro-Israeli groups in the US have challenged the boycott – the Anti-Defamation League, for example, called it a "moral outrage."
Meanwhile, the Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine plan to go ahead with a boycott and divestment campaign.
Eyal Weizman, the Israeli director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmith’s College in London, urged action. "A boycott would be totally legitimate," he said. "The wall and the settlements have been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and we should boycott any company which does business, any architects that participate – anyone facilitating these human rights violations and war crimes."
Charles Jenckes told British newspaper ‘The Independent’: "There reaches a certain point where an architect can’t sit on the fence. Not to stand up to it would be to be complicit."
He said the separation barrier built by Israel was "a contorted, crazy, mad, divisive, drunken thing".
"In 10 years’ time its builders will see it as a great folly," he said. "Architecturally it is madness. I understand fully that security is the problem for Israel and they have the right to protect themselves. But this is not the solution.
"It is an extremist measure which forments extremism, by incarcerating and intimidating Palestinians." He called for architects to gradually increase pressure on Israeli. George Ferguson, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who was not at the meeting, said: "It is right that architects should not play a part in building communities and structures that drive people apart."
The biologist Steven Rose, who led the British academic boycott of Israel from 2002, said: "Architecture and planning are an integral part of the racist apartheid state."