Israeli Government minister Gilad Erdan chose Christmas Day to publish a cheerful message on social media, praising the Conservative right-wing Norwegian government for its decision to stop funding organisations who support the international boycott, deinvestment and sanctions campaign (BDS).
Two days later, while Norway was still busy with Christmas celebrations, the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Norwegian government sources confirming Erdans allegations. A quick web search revealed no press releases or statements on government websites regarding what many in Norway assumed at the time were somewhat outlandish or exaggerated claims by Israeli propagandists.
However the web search revealed something else. In early December, Bjørnar Moxnes, chairperson of the left wing party “Rødt” had raised concerns in the media regarding a few sentences, well-hidden in Government’s budget proposals for 2018. He warned that the government was threatening to boycott organizations who in turn advocate boycotting Israel – describing it as “cowtowing to the Israeli occupation”, he promised to follow up the matter.
Surprisingly, neither Rødt nor any of the Norwegian parties traditionally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause seemingly chose to argue against the proposal during the parliamentary debate. Asleep at the wheel is a phrase that comes to mind. As a result, the proposal mentioned was passed with little or no attention paid in the Norwegian media and no debate in the national assembly.
It is a perturbing state of affairs for those who support the BDS Campaign and indeed human rights issues in general. The Norwegian government plan to remove state aid to Norwegian organizations supporting a non-violent international human rights campaign is a new low goal for Prime Minister Solberg’s government and cannot be seen as anything else but a direct attack on freedom of expression and human rights work in Norway. The fact that both our media and most progressive politicians failed to raise this as a matter of principle is even more perturbing.
It also represents yet another development in the Israeli government’s globally coordinated attack on the BDS movement currently being conducted in conjunction with right wing conservative forces in selected countries.
Human rights organizations across the globe have expressed concern about the Israeli strategy which is clearly aimed at criminalizing political opinions that support Palestinian rights and criticize the Israeli occupation.
And yet in spite of all its claims of international victories the Israeli government recognizes that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds. Only last week it approved over £70 million for a new front organization to “fight the BDS movement” and what it calls the “delegitimization of Israel”
The Israeli occupation is well aware that it faces considerable, principled opposition on the world stage. Amnesty International has called on the Israeli government to stop threatening people and organizations that defend human rights. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has urged states to respect and maintain citizens’ right to freedom of expression and organization. And the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) demands for an end to the criminalization of the BDS movement and has been endorsed by 356 human rights organizations and humanitarian organizations, unions and church groups across Europe.
There have also been clear policy decisions from some of the governments that are among Norway’s closest allies. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it regards BDS as a social movement, and that “governments should not interfere with the views of civil society organizations”. The Dutch Foreign Minister has declared that BDS is protected by freedom of speech, and the Irish Foreign Minister has said that there is a legitimate political position to support BDS.
The Solberg government has now chosen a completely separate line that not only undermines Palestinian rights but is a massive provocation for human rights activists here at home. Only a few months ago, more than fifty Norwegian organizations joined forces in a call that defended the right to pursue BDS work, fight for human rights and defend the Palestinian fundamental rights with peaceful means. Not all of the organizations backing the call were supporters of the BDS movement but were firmly behind Norwegian traditions of freedom of expression and the right to criticize Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation.
Among the organizations we find solidarity groups, human rights organizations, youth groups, church groups, political parties and trade unions. A further, and highly significant development came earlier this year when – after several years of fence-sitting – both Fagforbundet – the country’s largest trade union with 365, 000 members – and the Norwegian Trade Union Congress with almost 900,0000 members – passed motions in support of the international BDS campaign.
Erdan’s Christmas tweet gloating on what he called the domino effect of Israel’s anti-BDS campaign and equating BDS with anti-semitism and hate has awakened Norwegians to the fact that its government is apparently moving from a position of mediation and neutrality in Israel and Palestine, to a position firmly ensconced alongside Netanyahu’s collection of international puppets.
It remains to be seen how Solberg intends implementing this new policy currently receiving so much praise in Israel and yet still relatively unknown in Norway. The Norwegian campaign for justice in Palestine has clearly entered a new phase.
Whilst supporters of the Israeli occupation may well be celebrating the Norwegian government’s change in tact as a major setback for the BDS movement, many here will see it as an urgent wake-up call. As the saying goes, small victories can often lead to great defeats.
The decision to support the Israeli attempts to criminalize non-violent political activism and human rights work both at home and in Israel and Palestine can count on massive opposition across political boundaries in Norwegian society – not least within church groups, youth groups and the trade union movement with its recently approved policies of support for the BDS campaign.