Protesters disrupt Vienna city council over BDS censorship

Ali Abunimah 4 October 2019
Activists in Austria disrupted a session of the Vienna city council on 26 September to protest tightening censorship of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As the video above shows, activists in the gallery displayed banners and dropped leaflets bringing the session a halt.
Many call out, “free, free Palestine.”
The protesters admonished the city lawmakers for slandering their campaign and for ignoring their repeated efforts to organize a meeting between city officials and Ronnie Kasrils to explain the BDS movement’s goals.
Kasrils, who is Jewish, is a veteran of South Africa’s anti-apartheid freedom struggle.
In March, Vienna’s Volkskundemuseum canceled a lecture by Kasrils.
His was one of several Palestine solidarity events banned following a June 2018 city council resolution smearing the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.
BDS is modeled on the international solidarity campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.
Its goals are to pressure Israel to obey international law by ending military occupation of Palestinian land, abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to go back home.
“We tried to speak with mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig and tried to arrange a meeting with him and Ronnie Kasrils,” BDS Austria organizer Marco Van Jura told The Electronic Intifada.
“But the mayor never replied to our numerous emails and calls. Also emails sent to all sitting members of the city council were not answered, not by a single member of the 100 seats [in the council].”
Finding all avenues to dialogue with the city council closed, and increasingly alarmed by the unhinged claims and censorship against the BDS movement, activists took the decision to disrupt the meeting.
During the protest, Van Jura can be heard calling out: “The BDS movement has legitimate demands: equal human rights. Are equal human rights too much to demand of you?”
He also asks whether Judith Butler, Angela Davis and Desmond Tutu – prominent human rights campaigners and intellectuals – are “all anti-Semites” for supporting the campaign.
He challenges city officials over whether they have even read the Palestinian call for BDS.
Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan accuses the city council of repeating similar policies to Karl Lueger, Vienna’s anti-Semitic mayor from more than a century ago, by “accusing Jews of hate speech.”
Barkan pointed out how today the city’s anti-Palestinian policies mean that Jews like himself, late Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Kasrils – who support Palestinian rights – are being banned from speaking.
The protesters were wrestled out of the gallery by security guards.
As the video shows, following the protest, the city councillors held a closed session.
When they return several give speeches calling the protesters a security threat.
Anton Mahdalik, of the neo-Nazi Freedom Party, equates the peaceful protesters with terrorists.
“These people had banners and leaflets in their pockets,” Mahdalik says. “They could have had a pistol as well.”
The presiding officer announces that every visitor to the public gallery was registered and that “the people who disrupted the session will be pursued accordingly.”
It would appear therefore that when it comes to questioning their unconditional support for Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, Vienna city councillors are not open to peaceful dialogue and remain determined to punish democratic protest as well.