The City of Reykjavík’s decision this week to boycott goods and services from Israel was a symbolic gesture intended to garner publicity and generate conversation. The fallout is probably more than the council bargained for.
Mayor in Spotlight
Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson has admitted that the declaration could have been better-researched, worded differently and discussed longer—had it not been Björk Vilhelmsdóttir’s final proposal before leaving the city government.
He defended the decision, however, saying: “The city council voted this week to task the mayor’s office and the city purchasing office to investigate how they can avoid Israeli products on the basis of the city’s purchasing code which says, “When purchasing, as well as cost, attention shall also be paid to quality and environmental and human rights points-of-view.” Attention therefore focuses on companies and goods which are made in occupied territories and illegal settlements in Palestine.
“I note that this has been called a trade ban, which it is not, and that it has been described as an act of hate towards Jewish people, which is clearly absurd. Reykjavík is a human rights city. We have protested the Chinese authorities’ approach to freedom of speech and the country’s repression of people in opposition; we have protested the treatment of Russian authorities of gay people and have even seriously considered cutting ties with Moscow as a twin city.”
Government Washes Hands
A statement released last night by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that the city council’s decision in no way reflects the position of the Icelandic government—going as far as to state that it is probably illegal.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Icelandic embassies abroad and Promote Iceland have … received many enquiries about the authorities’ reaction to the city council resolution. Tourist agencies have also expressed their concerns over the matter and are already noticing trips being canceled.
“Municipalities are, like other authorities, bound by law. That means that the City of Reykjavík must abide by its government in accordance with law and that its decisions may not go against that, including laws on public sector purchasing, whereby it is prohibited to discriminate against companies on the basis of nationality or other similar reasons.
“The resolution of the City of Reykjavík to change its purchasing policy in a binding fashion so that Israeli goods shall be avoided, therefore conforms neither to Icelandic law or provisions made in international responsibilities prescribed by the WTO on public sector purchasing, which Iceland is a member of and which the City of Reykjavík and other municipalities are bound by.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizes that the decision of the Reykjavík city council is not in accordance with Icelandic foreign policy and neither is it indicative of relations between Iceland and Israel."
Opposition from Within City Hall
In a letter to Iceland Review, Independence Party councilor Kjartan Magnússon points out that some international coverage of the events seems to indicate that the council voted unanimously for the action, which is not true. All Independence Party councilors, for example, voted against it.
The party’s leader in the council, Halldór Halldórsson, says the decree is “nonsense” which should be rescinded at the first opportunity. The Simon Wiesenthal Institute agrees; calling on all Jewish people to boycott Iceland until the City of Reykjavík reverses its decision.
In lighter news, a car has been spotted in Reykjavík bearing a sign in its window stating that it is owned by an Israeli citizen—and therefore cannot pay parking charges to the city without contravening the ban. Parking wardens are kindly requested not to ticket the car, as it would, alas, also not be possible to pay them, Vísir reported.