City leaders in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, have voted in favor of a boycott of Israeli goods to protest the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the Jewish state’s “racial apartheid government.”
The controversial measure was introduced by Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, councilwoman for the Social Democratic Alliance, who is retiring from politics.
According to the motion, Reykjavik will no longer purchase Israeli products “as long as the occupation of Palestinian territories continues” in a show of support for “the right of Palestinians to an independent and sovereign state… in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242 and a parliamentary resolution on the recognition of sovereignty and independence of Palestine.”
The motion also “expresses disapproval of the racial apartheid government in Israel.” It is meant to be a peaceful means “to influence the government and control groups in [a country] where human rights are non-compliant with international agreements.”
“Opposition worldwide against apartheid in South Africa is a good example of a country where the boycott of trade and various other relations had a significant impact,” the measure states, adding that in Israel, “conditions are in many ways similar and in South Africa of the apartheid regime.”
Iceland Magazine reports Sóley Tómasdóttir of the Left Green Alliance—who forms part of the governing coalition in Reykjavík along with the Social Democrats, Bright Future and the Pirate Party—said the city might boycott products manufactured in other states which engage in human rights violations.
Reaction from Israel was swift and harsh. The Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned what it called “a volcano of hatred [that] spews forth from the Reykjavik city council building,” a reference to the island nation’s intense volcanic and geothermal activity.
“For no reason or justification, except hatred for its own sake, calls of boycotting the state of Israel are heard,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We hope someone in Iceland will come to their senses and end the one-sided blindness fielded against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Shurat Hadin (Israel Law Center), a legal advocacy group, issued a blistering condemnation, replete with insulting language, of the Reykjavik motion.
“Iceland, which is still weathering the results of its own massive economic crisis, has no business trying to bring financial or political sanctions against anyone, much less against the only stable and democratic nation in the war torn Middle East,” the group said in a statement. “It seems they have learned nothing about free trade from their own near economic collapse. Like their soulmates the Palestinians they neither invent nor manufacture anything and do not play any role in the world economy.”
“Iceland has in the past provided refuge to fugitive Nazi war criminals and is merely intent on blatantly impressing Muslim countries in its bid to become members of the UN Security Council,” the statement continued. “We challenge the city and the rest of Iceland too to really disconnect from Israeli technology and go back to living in the stone age. Israel needs to place an export embargo on Iceland and not allow any more of our technology to be sold there.”
Israel National News reports the European Jewish Congress (EJC) also accused Reykjavik’s council of “discrimination, warped hatred and singling out of one nation in the world for opprobrium” and threatened to sue the city over the measure.
There is no evidence to support Israel’s allegation that Reykjavik’s motion is hate-based. Iceland Review Online reports council leader Björn Blöndal insisted that the measure is in no way motivated by anti-Semitism and pointed out that councilwoman Elsa Yeoman, who is Jewish, voted for the boycott.
According to many critics, including former Israeli education minister Shulamit Aloni, Israel and its defenders often accuse those who speak out against Israeli policies and actions of anti-Semitism in a bid to deflect legitimate criticism.
Israel’s deputy ambassador in Oslo, Dan Poraz, wryly noted in an interview with Iceland’s RUV TV that Vilhelmsdóttir should give up her tablet computer, since it runs Israeli research and development, and that the city’s hospitals will need to give up some of their most important medicines and medical equipment.
Others noted the hypocrisy of boycotting Israel while engaging with other human rights violators around the world. Kjartan Magnússon, Reykjavik city councilor for the conservative Independence Party, wrote a letter to Iceland Review Online in which he did not refute claims of Israeli human rights abuses but argued that boycotts should be applied consistently wherever crimes occur.
“China would be an obvious example, the country where most acts of human rights abuse take place, as documented in reports by international human rights observers,” wrote Magnússon. “According to these reports, human rights abuse in China has lately been on the increase. Not least in Tibet, a country illegally occupied by China since 1950.”
“Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson, council leader of Samfylkingin (social-democrat), has not let this widespread and widely reported human rights abuse in China hinder him from going on official visits to China on the invitation of the Peking regime,” continued Magnússon. “Boycotting one country while finding nothing wrong with being regaled by the World leader in human rights abuse reveals utter hypocrisy and base duplicity.”
Magnússon added that boycotts “seldom have the desired affect,” citing “the US embargo against Cuba for over half a century” as a “case in point.”
Eggertsson, who supports the boycott and who spoke last year at a Reykjavik rally where thousands of people protested Israel’s bloody Gaza offensive, responded by calling claims of anti-Semitism “ridiculous.”
“Reykjavík is a city of human rights. We have protested against China’s infringements on freedom of expression and the government’s oppression of dissenters, we have protested against the Russian government’s treatment of homosexuals and their allies by cutting ties with Moscow,” the mayor wrote in his newsletter. “The approved proposal from Tuesday is the logical extension of this.”
The Times of Israel reports Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has distanced itself from Reykjavik’s motion.
“The Ministry for Foreign Affairs wishes to underline that the City Council’s decision is not in line with Iceland’s foreign policy nor does it reflect on Iceland’s relations with the State of Israel,” a spokesperson said by email, adding that the capital, which is home to a third of the nation’s population, “formulates policies pertaining to its own local affairs, including its procurement policy, ensuring that it is in accordance with national legislation.”
Israel’s occupation and settlements in Palestine are illegal under international law, as the Fourth Geneva Convention expressly states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies.” But many Israelis believe that ‘God’ promised them, as ‘His’ chosen people,’ all of Palestine, which was the site of ancient Jewish kingdoms. But from biblical times until the early 20th century, Jews never numbered more than 10 percent of the population of the territory that would become the modern Jewish state of Israel.
According to the United Nations, Israel has established around 150 official settler colonies, as well as another 100 or so unapproved outposts, since conquering and illegally occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1972, there were some 10,000 Jews living in settlements. By 2008, there were more than 500,000, with thousands more Jews settling on Palestinian land each year.
Before retiring last year, United Nations human rights official Richard Falk, a Jewish American, repeatedly asserted that Israeli settlement expansion is a “form of ethnic cleansing.” Other prominent international observers, including the Nobel peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, accuse Israel of practicing apartheid policies.
“When Israel [occupies] territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200 or so settlements with each other with a road and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing that road, this perpetuates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa,” said Carter, the former US president who won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a lasting peace between former bitter enemies Israel and Egypt.