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Chile latest BDS battleground as boycotting Israel ruled illegal

Chile is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora community outside of the Middle East. [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 December, 2018

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The city of Valdivia in southern Chile became the first in Latin America to officially boycott Israel, but now the federal government is stepping in.
The Chilean National Comptroller ruled this week that it is illegal for local municipalities in the South American country to boycott Israel, wading into an ongoing national debate over the BDS movement.

Earlier this summer, Valdivia in southern Chile became the first city in Latin America to officially boycott Israel after a local government vote initiated by the Mayor Omar Sabat, who is of Palestinian origin.

Chile is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora community outside of the Middle East, with a population of 500,000. Around 18,000 Chileans identify as Jewish.

The measure declared Valdivia an "Apartheid Free Zone" and banned the city from working with any businesses linked to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The city also called for the Israeli ambassador to Chile to be expelled and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing.

The Chilean National Comptroller, an autonomous body which oversees legal and financial functions of the civil service, issued its decision following complaints from the Chilean Jewish community about Valdivia's motion.

In its ruling it stated that it was the job of the head of state to conduct relations with foreign powers, ruling that local municipalities, while granted a degree of independence, do not have the authority to do so.

As a result, the motion by Valdivia was ruled illegal.

In November, the Chilean Congress approved a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli settlements by a vote of 99-7, with 30 abstentions.

The resolution included a demand to re-examine all agreements signed with Israel to ensure they cover only territories within the Green Line, while a second demand called for assurances that all future agreements only pertained to Israel proper, not occupied territory.

The motion also ruled on giving guidelines to Chilean citizens doing business in Israel so as not to "support colonization or cooperate with human rights violations in the occupied territories".

The congress also called for mechanisms to ban the import of settlement produce.

This week, Ireland's Senate approved a landmark bill that criminalises the import and trade of goods and services from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the first EU country to do so.

In July, the Spanish city of Sagunto declared itself part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign following a vote in the city council declaring it an "Israeli apartheid-free space".

In June, the city of Valencia, Spain's third-largest, also voted to boycott Israel following a motion presented by a local faction of the leftist party Podemos.

The BDS movement began in 2005 following a call by 170 Palestinian civil society groups.

Its supporters take inspiration from the campaign used by international activists to end apartheid in South Africa by isolating Israel politically and economically.

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