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Friday, December 23, 2011

Natural History Museum, London: Christmas Carols and the Campaign Against Veolia

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The Case Against Veolia

London 17 December 2011. Report by Isvestia

Veolia is a key target of the call of Palestinian civil society for an international Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign in support of Palestinian rights. French multinational Veolia directly supports and profits from Israel’s illegal occupation through 1) its construction and management of the Jerusalem Light Rail project, 2) the operation of apartheid buses serving illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and 3) the dumping of waste from Israel and illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

As a result of successful and concerted action by human rights campaigners, both in the UK and throughout the world, Veolia lost billions of Pounds worth of business.


London's Natural History Museum

Saturday December 17th was one of the coldest days in London. However that did not deter seventeen human rights campaigners who turned out to raise awareness of Veolia’s activities with visitors to the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition whose corporate sponsor is Veolia. Campaigners used specially designed flyers and postcards summarising Veolia’s complicity in supporting Israel’s grave breaches of international and humanitarian law, denying justice, equality and freedom to the Palestinian people.

Human rights campaigners have been at the Natural History Museum (NHM) every two weeks since the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition opened in November and have distributed thousands of postcards and flyers about Veolia to the visitors and tourists who throng to this area of London known as ‘Museum Row.’

The postcards and flyers not only provide the facts, but also ask museum-goers to complain to the NHM about its choice of corporate sponsor. As on previous occasions, many people stopped to express their support and also say that they too were unhappy about Veolia’s sponsorship of the exhibition. Running alongside this campaign is a London BDS initiative encouraging people to post messages on the Natural History Museum’s Facebook page to urge the NHM to drop Veolia as a corporate sponsor.

Without a doubt, this is not what Veolia had in mind when it decided to sponsor the photography exhibition. Veolia thought it would be basking in the adoration of grateful museum-goers. Instead, it has made a serious miscalculation and provided a platform for campaigners to provide the public with a very different picture of the Veolia ‘brand’.

Raising awareness about Veolia's complicity in Israel's illegal occupation outside London's Natural History Museum.

If the presence of human rights campaigners were not bad enough for Veolia, seven Zionist Federation (ZF) counter-protesters turned up at the museum to shout “Support Israel! Support Veolia!” – which is not the sort of advertising or help Veolia is looking for.

The ZF’s chants and shouting were led by Co Vice-Chair of the UK Zionist Federation, Jonathan Hoffman, who has previously campaigned alongside the racist English Defence League outside the Israeli cosmetics shop Ahava.

Despite the ZF’s presence, campaigners spread out along the footpath and quietly and politely engaged with the public. The contrast with the aggressive shouting of the ZF could not have been greater.

It was not long before the ZF seemed to become frustrated with their lack of success and started to loudly interrupt members of the public who stopped to talk to the human rights campaigners.  On at least four occasions and much to the bemusement of passers-by, members of the public loudly and clearly admonished  ZF members for their behaviour and interruptions.

Rather than take the hint, the ZF resorted to chanting “No Nazi boycotts” and “They want terror, we want peace.”


 Zionists exposed! Zionist Federation hooligans unsuccessfully attempt to disrupt the carol singers and look foolish at the same time.

To mark the festive season, human rights campaigners formed an impromptu choir and started singing seasonal carols with lyrics about the illegal Israeli occupation and the plight of Palestinians. The reaction from passers-by was very positive; there were many smiles and much interest, including a young mother and daughter who were passing-by who stopped to join in the carol singing.

The reaction of the small ZF gaggle however was a different spectacle; they became even more aggressive and loud. Hoffman and his close ZF associate Harvey Garfield, started loudly chanting “Go home you bums” at the human rights carollers – to the visible disgust of the public and Natural History Museum staff.

The carol singers refused to be silenced by the ZF and continued with their full repertoire of alternative carols while other campaigners took the opportunity to engage with the public about Veolia and distributed even more literature.

At this point the ZF became even more visibly divided – some desperately tried to calm down their thuggish colleagues but with little success. As the human rights campaigners finished their protest, members of the ZF were last seen arguing loudly and aggressively with Natural History Museum security personnel.

The net result for Veolia and its brand? A public relations disaster.

And with friends like Jonathan Hoffman and his Zionist Federation entourage, Veolia must be wondering who needs enemies?

For more information about Veolia and its activities, visit the BIG Campaign’s Veolia page.

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