JPRS 2nd Ed: Lobbying for Justice and Rights
Most of the contributions to the Nakba Conference in January focused on developments in the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself; the continueddenial of the right of Palestinians to self-determination, and the discrimination, expropriation of land and property and displacement that attempt to manipulate the demography of Israel itself as well as in the Occupied Territories, and to extend Israeli territorial control as widely as possible.
In my contribution I have been asked to describe the role of lobbying in support of justice for Palestinians. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of lobbying, and of action by civil society in general, in influencing or effecting change. But there are indications that groups lobbying on behalf of justice for Palestinians have been more effective than might have been expected given the financial and political resources of those ranged against them. In 2011 the BBC World Service Country Rating Poll showed 66% of Britons had a negative view of Israel, the highest negative score in any EU country, and Foreign Office civil servants report that government ministers are concerned about the hostility to Israel amongst Parliamentarians as well as the public. The Israeli government is clearly worried by the effectiveness of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), which is why it and its clients like NGO Monitor have made wild accusations against the PRC and why the Knesset is implementing legal moves within Israel that attempt to weaken Israeli human rights groups and cut off any external funding.There are many campaigning and lobbying groups in the region itself, both Palestinian and Israeli, that are courageous and highly effective in support of Palestinian rights, but I will concentrate on lobbying here in the UK since that is what I am most familiar with. Although detailed strategies would be different in other countries, as they need to take account of the local situation, the same principles of effective lobbying apply everywhere.The purpose of lobbying is to support change on the ground in Israel and the Occupied Territories through changing “policy” here in the UK. When I talk about “policy” I do not just mean influencing the government and UK foreign policy, but also influencing the behaviour and practice of the public, and of civil society, including Trade Unions, arts and sports organisations, universities, and of public authorities and businesses.What are the key factors in successful lobbying? To be effective lobbying must be accurate and evidence-based, consistent and persistent, be realistic and timely. The co-operation of a wide range of organisations using different tactics, sharing information and complementing each other, is crucial. To expand these ideas:• Lobbying must be based on evidence and be accurate. It is important not to exaggerate or use exaggerated language to describe what is happening. The reality of the occupation is so bad that no exaggeration is needed in any case, but the Israeli government will seize on any exaggeration or inaccuracy to sow doubt and undermine the whole campaign. The importance of evidence and accuracy is demonstrated by the huge shift in UK public opinion since Operation Cast Lead. The Israeli government has spent a great deal on its PR and lobbying, but the accumulation of evidence (most recently the TV and radio reports of what actually happened) has challenged the Israeli account and no amount of PR can overcome this.• Lobbying must be consistent and persistent. It takes time to change public opinion and “messages” have to be repeated many times to be heard and to have an effect. An important role for lobbying is to inform people but also to shape the agenda – thus events such as Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade or settlement expansion need to be presented in the context of the illegal Israeli occupation, not (as the Israeli government tries to do) in the context of security for Israel or in the context of Israel as a buttress for the West against Al Qaeda.• Taking MPs, opinion formers, church and trade union groups to the Occupied Territories or to the refugee camps is very valuable. Seeing the situation on the ground, meeting ordinary Palestinians and hearing their stories gives people a personal experience against which they can test Israeli PR.• It is crucial tobuild alliances – the task is too great for effort to be wasted in conflict between groups that may have different methods but are all working for Palestinian rights. We need to acknowledge the debate within Israel and within the Jewish diaspora, and always distinguish between the Israeli government and Israelis in general, and between those Jewish & settler organisations that uncritically support the Occupation and those who challenge it.• Co-operation between organisations on specific campaigns will maximise effectiveness. Different groups may favour direct action, demonstrations, consumer and other boycotts, legal challenges against individuals or companies, public lobbying, private lobbying behind the scenes, or research that can then be used by others. Each of these is valuable and they complement each other. It is not necessary for all groups to agree on everything as long as their aims are complementary and they share information and do not cut across each other.• But, as well as broader agenda-setting, it is important to narrow down to lobby on very specific, short-term, practical and achievable goals. For example,the overall aim may be to end the occupation and dismantle all settlements, but the short term goal might be to encourage a consumer boycott of settlement goods. A range of arguments should be marshalled to support each campaign; technical and legal arguments can be extremely powerful but must always be soundly based. Setting short-term goals is very important in motivating activists as short-term successes empower campaigners, show that activism can make a difference, and motivate them to continue towards the ultimate long-term goal.• Achieving both short-term and long-term goals requires arealistic analysis of where power lies, how to influence it, where change can occur and what change can realistically be expected. For example, the European Union has never cancelled an Association Agreement and there is only one instance when an agreement has been suspended on human rights grounds (and then only briefly). Calling for the EU-Israel Trade Agreement to be suspended has a poor chance of success, but blocking an upgrade or insisting no settlement goods should benefit from the Agreement are much more achievable. Success is even more likely if campaigners offer workable solutions to deliver the desired outcomes.• It is also helpful to choose the right time to lobby on particular topics – President Obama’s speech on 19th May, and the co-ordinated responses of the EU and the Quartet, together with the recent UN Security Council resolution on settlements, are all signs of exasperation at Israeli recalcitrance over demands for a settlement freeze. Now is the right time for campaigns to focus on settlements and push for effective action – or at least more effective than the purely declaratory statements made so far.Examples of effective lobbyingBecause the Occupation continues and Palestinian rights in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and in the refugee camps remain unrecognised, and because the US and EU seem so unwilling to act to change the situation, it often appears that campaigning and lobbying are ineffective. But activism has had an influence, albeit much less than we all wish.The blockade of GazaThis is an example of how difficult it can be for campaigning to effect change. - a range of NGOs have been very active in publicising the effect of the blockade, and keeping the issue in front of the public. In January, 25 UK Development Charities issued a joint report which resulted in significant publicity.- UNRWA has been unusually outspoken, and brings great credibility- the issue has been constantly raised with MPs and in Parliament- the UK government’s position has been clear and consistent, and critical of Israeli policyBut there was no real change on the ground until the issue was forced onto the world agenda through the direct action of the Mavi Marmora Gaza Convoy and the outrageous actions of the IDF.Even though in this case direct action, with civilian activists risking and in some cases losing, their lives, was the trigger for change, this does not mean the previous lobbying was pointless – it helped to build awareness of the effects of the blockade on the population of Gaza andof the intransigence of the Israeli government in the face of international criticism, andtherefore showed why direct action was needed. This undoubtedly contributed to world opinion being largely sympathetic to the activists despite a vigorous programme of Israeli misinformation.Even now however the resulting “easing” of the blockade is largely cosmetic and pressure needs to be maintained. The probable opening of the border with Egypt must not allow the Israelis to block all movements between Gaza and the West Bank.Boycott and sanctions against the SettlementsThis is a more positive example of effective lobbying, although the ultimate aim of dismantling all settlements and ending the occupation is still distant.- The agreed position of the international community is that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace, unfortunately this is an entirelydeclaratory position and so far there has been little effective action- Lobbying to stop settlement produce from benefitting from relief of import dutyunder the EU-Israel Trade Agreement highlighted the way the Israeli government was deliberately subverting the agreement and defrauding UK Customs - In parliament, since 1997,MPs have used information from Palestinian and Israeli NGOs to challenge the UK government on the operation of the Trade Agreement. Debates and written parliamentary questions have made public the extent to which settlement produce has evaded import duty and highlighted the weakness of the technical arrangements that allow fraud to continue. Information has been shared with campaign groups and Parliamentarians in other EU member states to pressurise the European Commission and other member state customs authorities. - In 2005 the EU tightened procedures – Israeli exporters now provide postcodes of the place of origin so settlement produce is clearly identifiable, customs inspections have increased, and duty is levied on detected settlement produce. The European Court of Justice judgement in the Brita case [where Brita unsuccessfully challenged German Customs’ refusal of duty relief to products manufactured in Ma’ale Adumim] has been very helpful in restating the legal position of settlements.- Across the EU (and in the US and Canada) there are active campaigns for a consumer boycott (even when settlement goods pay import duty, they can still go on sale) and a variety of groups, NGOs and MPs lobbied for clearer consumer labelling. This resulted in guidelines published by Defra in December 2009 which insist on clear labelling of settlement produce. Tesco &Morrison’snow label herbs and dates“Produce of Israeli settlements” but other supermarkets have withdrawn completely from settlements because of ethical concerns- Several activist groups are attempting to use domestic consumer protection law to challenge non-food settlement goods that are falsely labelled “Made in Israel”. Examples include Ahava cosmetics in the UK, Sodastream in France and Agrexco/Carmel fruit and vegetables in Denmark and France.- The wider BDS campaign is campaigning to exclude settlements from cultural visits, to stop settlement businesses and institutions from participating in EU programmes, and to persuade individuals and institutions to boycott firms active in settlements e.g. G4S, Veolia and othersBetween them this lobbying, which has united a very wide range of groups using a variety of tactics, has seriously challenged the economic viability of settlements. There is evidence that many Israeli businesses are worried the boycott of settlements will have a knock-on effect against all Israeli exports, as a result international firms are dis-investing from settlement businesses and Israeli firms are re-locating from settlements to within Israel’s 1967 borders and themselves lobbying the Israeli government against continued support for settlements. It will now be easier to move to the next step of persuading EU member states to ban settlement trade altogether The challenge for those campaigning for Palestinian rights is how to apply these successful campaigning tactics to the often ignored issue of the refugees and their right of return. On the ground direct action by the refugees themselves on the borders with Syria and Lebanon and with Gaza and the West Bank, and the fatal Israeli reaction, has forced the issueback onto the agenda. The priority now for campaigners is to developimaginative and innovatory action here in the UK to take the debate forward.
Short Link :