The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois has today strongly condemned a resolution before the state senate calling on Illinois college and university presidents to publicly condemn academic boycotts.
The ACLU notes that such boycotts are constitutionally protected free speech.
The resolution, introduced by Democrat Ira Silverstein of the Illinois eighth senatorial district, includes a thinly veiled charge that the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in human rights crimes against Palestinians constitutes anti-Semitism.
The text states that “students of the State of Illinois need to have access to a global education, which is prohibited by academic boycotts of any particular country.”
It claims that “Singling out one nation for a boycott on purported human rights grounds, while ignoring nations with egregious human rights records, is a disturbing trend among some segments of the scholarly world, and, in the context of unfairly targeting only the nation of Israel, further raises questions of anti-Semitism.”
The resolution also lauds a number of Illinois university presidents who spoke out against boycotts in the wake of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) vote last December to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott of Israeli institutions.
Boycott constitutionally protected
In its message to senators, the ACLU of Illinois affirms that:
A boycott is an important and powerful form of protected expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech and nonviolent picketing in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process. By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost.
The statement notes that the US Supreme Court has emphasized “the importance of the freedom of association in guaranteeing the right of people to make their voices heard on public issues,” and “has noted that effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association.”
The ruling in the case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), referenced by the ACLU, upheld that a boycott of Mississippi businesses because of institutionalized discrimination against African Americans was a constitutionally protected activity.
In claiming that Israel has been “singled out,” Silverstein’s resolution ignores the numerous boycotts that the ASA itself has supported, the long history of boycott in the American struggle for civil rights and the fact that Palestinians themselves have requested this action.
The resolution makes no mention of the fact that many supporters of boycotts targeting Israel do so precisely because Israel is singled out by the US government with enormous amounts of military, political and diplomatic support denied to Palestinians as well as to other countries.
Last week, for instance, the US government was the only country to vote against UN Human Rights Council resolutions holding Israel accountable for a host of human rights crimes.
The Judiciary Committee of the Illinois senate will consider the resolution at a hearing on 1 April. Illinois residents can record their opposition or support for the resolution using an online form and register to give oral or written testimony at the hearing.
The Illinois resolution is the latest legislative effort to combat the Palestine solidarity movement in the US.
In February two members of the US House of Representatives, also from Illinois, introduced a bill, inspired by a former Israeli official to punish American universities if their members support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
Similar anti-boycott bills have been introduced in Maryland, Florida and New York.
The Florida resolution took a step forward when it was passed by the state senate’s Education committee last week.