Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

1 Aug, 2014

Travel & tourism in cross-hairs as anti-Israel boycott takes root in Thailand

Bangkok – The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and its commercial, cultural and diplomatic interests, has taken root in Thailand with the strong possibility of expanding across ASEAN and Asia.

A preliminary report summarising the status of relations between Thailand and Israel, including an entire chapter devoted to travel and tourism, was presented at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Thailand meeting on 31 July to help ordinary Thais and Thailand residents who sympathise with the Palestinian cause vote with their wallets.

Designed to generate the same pressure as the sanctions that Western governments place on countries and leaders they don’t like, the BDS movement is a publicly-driven campaign that identifies the many Israeli and Israel-supporting companies active worldwide and leaves it up to individuals to let their conscience be their guide.

At the same time, the report highlights how the Israeli government is expanding its influence in those Asian and ASEAN countries where it has a diplomatic presence. Many of the companies identified in the report are also directly and indirectly active in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, three Muslim-majority countries which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel and are not supposed to have any commercial relations either.

However, it is these growing military, economic, academic and other relationships, which, along with fear of retaliation by Israel’s powerful backer, the United States, are giving Israel the green light to act with total impunity in flouting international law, as is the case with the current onslaught on Gaza.

The report’s primary message is that if economic sanctions can be legitimately used as a tool to force change, such as ending apartheid in South Africa, or reverse other occupations, such as that of Timor Leste by Indonesia, the BDS Movement can have the same result in terms of ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and facilitating the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The report notes that not a single Thai company has invested in Israel. On the other hand, it lists many Israeli or partially Israeli-owned companies active in Thailand, such as Netafim, Makhteshim Agan, Haifa Chemical, ATC Supply, NICE Systems, Amdocs, Comverse, Teva Pharmaceuticals, PACE Development Corporation, TGI Real Estate Investments, Africa-Israel Investments, Waldman Diamond Group, Shlomo Bichachi, Visonic, Fox Wizel, Castro Model and Jericho Cosmetics.

It also mentions Central Food Retail Co Ltd, the supermarket unit of the Central Department Store conglomerate, which sells a range of Israeli products, including dates originating in orchards in territories recognised worldwide as being illegally occupied. The department store unit is also now selling Israeli spa products.

Security and military companies named in the report include Elbit Systems and Israel Military Industries. It also lists Israel’s links with a number of Thai agricultural, education and scientific institutions and seeks explanation of how Israel, which denies the Palestinians control over water resources in the occupied territories, can claim any right to advise or cooperate with the Thais on agricultural matters.

An entire chapter devoted to travel & tourism between the two countries says that Thailand is considered an inexpensive destination for young Israelis seeking to relieve the stress of compulsory military service. In the other direction, it notes the large number of Thai Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

The report stops short of calling for a travel boycott. Instead, it says that just because Thailand gets many thousands of Israeli visitors, that should not “prevent the country to stand firm on its position against Israeli policies on occupation, colonialism and apartheid in Palestine.”

As far as Thais going to Israel is concerned, the report says, many of the Christian pilgrimage spots are in occupied Palestinian territory, such as East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the profits from these visits largely benefit Israel.

For example, it says, “Israel has isolated Bethlehem with eight-metre tall walls cutting routes to Jerusalem and also blocked movement within Bethlehem by building roads only for settlements and settlers. When a visit is made on pilgrimage tours, the road for settlers from Jerusalem to Bethlehem would be taken. Tourists bypass the small family-run accommodations, shops, restaurants and souvenir shops and contribute little to the local economy.”

In an email to members of PSC Thailand, French BDS activist Ghislain Poissonnier said that the Israeli attack on Gaza, which has caused hundreds of civilians casualties, including women, children and elderly people, made it even more important for the international community to pressure Israel to stop the massacre.

“Only the mobilization of the civil society, especially through the BDS movement can change things and force Israel to respect International Law and the basic rights of the Palestinian people,” he said. “Only BDS offers an international coordinated effort of the international civil society to put an end to the apartheid, the occupation and the colonization in Palestine.”

He cited this weblink listing nine ways to support Gaza through BDS: http://www.bdsmovement.net/2014/9-ways-to-get-involved-with-the-bds-movement-12255.

He noted that the BDS Thailand movement was launched officially in May 2014 at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok. Since then, a BDS Thailand national coordinator has been appointed, a former environmental activist who goes by the Thai nickname, Mint.

A facebook page has also been set up: https://www.facebook.com/BDSMovementThailand

The situation in Gaza attracted animated discussion at the July 31 PSC Thailand committee meeting.

One American member voiced anger that his tax dollars were helping to fund the Israel military campaign. He also lashed out at the total support being extended by the U.S. Congress and government, many of whose elected representatives, government officials and corporate executives also hold Israeli citizenship, he pointed out.

There is also talk of organising a protest at a performance of the Israeli philharmonic orchestra at a cultural festival to be organised in Thailand later this year.

Those interested in getting a copy of the preliminary BDS report or join the BDS Thailand movement can email Mint at mintbdsthailand@gmail.com. The report is still undergoing a final editorial check.

The fact that the issue is now set to enter the mainstream public discourse in Thailand will help shine some light on Israel’s strategies and activities to influence the Thai media and shape the Thai public mindset, similar to those under way in India, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Myanmar.

Trying to shout down such campaigns by hackneyed name-calling and labeling such as “terrorist sympathisers” or “anti-Semites” is set to become a losing proposition.