More than 300 groups in Europe have urged the EU to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations and join a global campaign for boycott of Israeli products.
The 352 signatories to a letter include human rights and aid organizations, church groups, trade unions and political parties from across the continent, including France, Germany, Norway and Belgium.
In their letter, they have urged the EU to defend the right of individuals and institutions to take part in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The movement campaigns for a boycott of all Israeli goods and questions Israel’s legitimacy.
The BDS movement is currently asking people to add their names to an appeal to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take necessary measures to protect those who campaign for Palestinian rights.
The letter comes in response to recent efforts by European governments, at the request of the Israeli authorities, to introduce legislation and take other repressive measures to confront the BDS movement.
In February, Britain introduced new rules, banning local authorities and public-sector organizations from boycotting Israel and pledging severe penalties for violators.
The signatories of the letter denounced such moves and urged European governments to follow many civil society organizations and representative bodies in the continent in standing up for human rights.
“Rather than helping Israel to repress the BDS movement, it is time for the EU to meet its obligations under international law,” said Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer for the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
He urged European governments to “hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law” and “take part in the non-violent BDS movement.”
The letter by the European groups has also called on the EU commission to “introduce the human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech.”
Aneta Jerska, the coordinator of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), hailed the public support for the BDS movement against Israel.
“This is a powerful sign that European public opinion is increasingly viewing BDS as an act of free speech. We will continue to fight to bring an end to Israel’s unjust system of oppression over the Palestinian people.”
In France, however, banking behemoth Credit Mutuel shut down the account of La Campagne BDS France at the request the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF).
BDS France removed a link on its donor webpage for Credit Mutuel and added a link to PayPal as a method of contribution.
Having failed to stop the growth of the movement, Tel Aviv has launched an unprecedented attack against the BDS.
Israeli authorities recently barred one of the founders of the BDS, from travelling abroad. Omar Barghouti does not hold a passport and instead requires special permission to travel in and out of Israel.
The restriction came weeks after the Israeli interior minister threatened to revoke the residency rights of the Qatari-born Palestinian.
Anti-BDS bill voted down in Ontario
In Canada, however, the legislature in Ontario voted down on Thursday an attempt to prevent the provincial government from doing business with companies that support the BDS.
A majority of the lawmakers said they did not support the bill because it infringed on the right to free speech.
Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is in the midst of a trip to the Middle East, has said she supports free speech.
“I support all rights to freely express their views, freely expressed without fear of discrimination or persecution, whether in Ontario or in the Middle East,” she said.
The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations that were pushing for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
Thousands of volunteers worldwide have joined the BDS ever since to help promote the Palestinian cause.