What is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement?

Palestinians live under a brutal Israeli military occupation, which grows more repressive every day. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement pressures Israel to comply with international law and works to end Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

BDS is a globally recognized nonviolent movement against Israel’s 70-year-long program of occupation, discrimination and displacement.

In the words of the BDS Movement:

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Why should the 2020 Debian conference not be held at the University of Haifa?

Under the #BoycottDebConf20 banner, we, the wider community of tech workers, Debian users, contributors, activists, and supporters of freedom and justice demand that Debian live up to its ideals by reversing this decision and withdrawing the DebConf 2020 conference from the University of Haifa in Israel.

Since racism and apartheid prevent human freedom, these policies are directly incompatible with the goals of Free Software. Therefore, to meet its goals and to abide by its Social Contract, Debian must take the just stance to cancel DebConf 2020 at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Though the Haifa bid organizing team surely worked hard on their bid, the DebConf committee made a mistake in selecting this bid instead of the bid for Lisbon, Portugal:

  1. The decision was made behind closed doors, and it narrowly passed with a vote of 3 in favor of Haifa and 2 opposed. This hides problems and circumvents a lack of consensus.
  2. The Haifa bid was not chosen to prioritize the users and Free Software; instead, it was chosen to reduce the difficulty in organizing, and because government and university representatives were “extremely keen” to have the conference. In addition although Israel is “politically questionable…it would be unfair to the bid team…[to] reject it because of an issue with their country”.
  3. Israel is known to discriminate against individual activists and journalists by barring them entry, jailing them, or killing them. It discriminates against groups with racism and islamophobia, under which the UN determines to be an “apartheid regime” (in a report which has since been suppressed). By choosing to hold the conference in Haifa, counter to the international calls for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, Debian tacitly condones this discrimination and subjects conference attendees to it.
  4. The DebConf code of conduct declares no tolerance for “unwarranted exclusion from conference or related events based on age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion”; yet it is widely known that Israel frequently forbids travel precisely based on race and religion.

Debian is known for doing what is right instead of just choosing what is easy or popular. Thus, to follow through with this decision is tantamount to betraying Debian’s entire mission.

Why boycott Israeli institutions? Aren’t all countries unjust in some way?

The call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli government was put out by a huge coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations and leaders. It is a globally recognized nonviolent movement against the government’s decades-long program of occupation, discrimination and displacement.

The BDS movement calls on us to boycott all Israeli universities due to their playing “an organic part of Israel’s military establishment and its role in denying Palestinian rights.” Haifa University specifically currently grants degrees to Israel’s three military colleges, allowing active-duty officers to pursue higher education at the same time that they carry out their duties enforcing Israel’s brutal occupation.

Just as it was crucial to support the global boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era despite the existence of many other injustices around the world, today those of us who believe in human rights and equality must respect the call for BDS.