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Iceland Capital Boycotts Israeli Goods, Cites Apartheid

September 21, 2015

“‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.'”  (Acts 10:34–35)

In her final act on Iceland’s capital city council, Bjork Vilhelmsdóttur successfully pitched a measure to ban city purchases of all Israeli goods.  On the same day, she resigned, stating her plans to volunteer in “Palestine” until January.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemned the municipal ban on Israeli products and services in a statement:  “A volcano of hatred spews forth from the Reykjavik city council building.  For no reason or justification, except hatred for its own sake, calls of boycotting the state of Israel are heard.”

Reykjavik Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson said Saturday, however, that Reykjavik City Council’s controversial decision to boycott Israeli products will be amended to a boycott of only those goods produced “in occupied areas.”  (Times of Israel)

Bjork Vilhelmsdóttur and her husband (Source: Facebook)

Bjork Vilhelmsdóttur and her husband  (Source: Facebook)

The September 15 vote at Reykjavík City Hall had sought blanket sanctions “to press the Israeli authorities to abandon its military operations and comply with international law,” the Social Democrat councilwoman told Icelandic media, connecting the ban of all Israeli products “during the occupation of Israel in the Palestinian territories.”  (RÚV translation)

“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,” an Israel Foreign Ministry statement said.

Objections from inside of Iceland apparently helped turn the tide somewhat.

Lawyer for the Iceland Supreme Court Einar Gautur Steingrímsson stated that the Reykjavík purchasing ban is illegal, discriminatory and violates the Icelandic constitution.  (visir)

“This is as illegal as refusing to do business with red-haired people and it makes no difference whether they justify their decision with references to some alleged actions by the Israelis,” Steingrímsson said, rebuking the city for acting outside of its role.  (Times of Israel)

In a statement to Icelandic media, Steingrímsson said, “Iceland has a political agreement with this country, and it means nothing for the city to contend that they are the only ones with the right opinion on as complicated a subject as the Middle East.”

As a side note, the wife of Iceland’s President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson, Dorrit Moussaieff, is Israeli—born in Jerusalem, where she lived until age 13.  (JPost)

A report linked to Vilhelmsdóttur’s boycott measure stated support for a sovereign Palestinian state in the borders of territories liberated by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, including eastern Jerusalem.  The report said that a boycott amounts to peaceful resistance to “countries where human rights are not respected and the international conventions are ignored.”

While the measure found a majority vote, other council members rejected the bid.  Independence Party councilperson Kjartan Magnússon identified its passage as hypocrisy of the ruling coalition, stating that despite China’s occupation of Tibet since 1950, there has been no measure to boycott Chinese goods.  (The Reykjavík Grapevine)

Reykjavik mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson

Reykjavik mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson  (YouTube capture)

The passage of the ban resulted from the council members’ condemnation of Israel’s “policy of apartheid,” which the president of the African Christian Democratic Party in South Africa, Kenneth Rasalabe Joseph Meshoe, said in August is “inaccurate and malicious”— “an empty political statement that does not hold [any] truth.”

In a weeklong visit to Israel in August, Meshoe told Israel’s Channel 10, “Those who know what real apartheid is—as I know—know that there is nothing in Israel that looks like apartheid.”  (JPost)

Meshoe observed that “people of different colors, backgrounds and religions” interact every day, while South African apartheid subjected all aspects of life to legalized discrimination. 

“Skin colour determined where you were born and lived, your job, your school, which bus, train, taxi and ambulance you used, which park bench, lavatory and beach, whom you could marry, and in which cemetery you were buried,” writes South African-born journalist Benjamin Pogrund on South African apartheid for The Guardian.

“Israel is not remotely like that. … for critics it’s not enough to denounce its ills and errors: instead, they exaggerate and distort and present an ugly caricature far distant from reality,” he said.

multicultural Jerusalem

The multicultural streets of Jerusalem

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States (2009–2013) and Knesset Member Michael Oren also writes that Israeli hospitals employ and treat “thousands of Palestinians,” as well as Jews, Israeli Arabs, Druze and even Syrians wounded in the civil war.

Non-Jews in Israel have the right to vote and to serve in the Israeli parliament, and have the option, not the requirement, to serve in the Israel military or in national service.  Schools are formed based on cultural preferences, thereby categorized as religious, secular, Jewish, Muslim or Christian, but are not discriminatory and show mixed attendance.

Arabs, including non-Israelis, drive on Israeli roads and study in Israeli universities, with Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) valedictorian this year an Egyptian-American, Haisam Hassanein, who said he was “raised on anti-Israel hate” but that his career as a student in Israel revealed his misconceptions for what they were.

“Growing up in Egypt the entire country had opinions about Israel and none of them were positive.  All we knew was that we had four bloody wars and they were not like us,” Hassanein said in his speech to the student body, citing Egyptian music, television and movies that showed Israelis depicted “as spies and thieves.” “Instead of the fact that the two countries struck a very famous peace accord in 1979, the Israelis, I was told, were our eternal enemies.”

“The diversity I found here was as surprising as the warmth of the people,” Hassanein said.  “On my very first day here at the university, I saw many kippahs, women in headscarves and hijabs.  I saw soldiers walking peacefully among lively crowds of students.  I learned there were people of every kind in the university and the university had a place for all of them—Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and even international students.”

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”  (Ephesians 1:18)

“I discovered that the diversity of the TAU campus was reflected in Tel Aviv City as well.  How fascinating is it to be in a city where you can go to a beach in central Tel Aviv and you see a Muslim woman, a couple of gays kissing and a chasid [religious Jew] sharing the same small space?” he asked.  “Where else can you see a Bedouin IDF soldier reading the Quran on the train during Ramadan?”

“While traveling beyond Tel Aviv, one cannot help but note the proximity of kibbutzim to Arab villages and the easy relationship they seem to share with one another. … People are still able to live their daily lives in a spirit of cooperation,” Hassanein added.

The accusations of Israeli apartheid also fall flat when 16 Arabs were elected to the Israeli Parliament, the 2012 winner of The Voice Israel was Israeli-Arab Lina Makhul, Miss Israel 2013 was black Ethiopian Jew Yityish Aynaw, and six months ago a Palestinian was appointed Israel’s Chief Scientist.

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