Israel “quietly” pushed for anti-BDS legislation in US, UK

Israel plans to ramp up monitoring of activists by its embassies as part of its effort to thwart the boycott movement.

Mark Esper Polaris

The Israeli government played a direct role in recent policy and legislative moves in the US, UK and other countries to suppress the free speech rights of citizens calling for the boycott of Israel over its human rights abuses.

Israel is now planning to significantly step up its efforts to thwart the Palestine solidarity movement, through its embassies in key capitals.

A 23 February article in Israel’s Ynet takes to task Israeli politicians for making too much public noise about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

It cites as an example the fuss Israeli politicians made about the “subvertisements” Palestine solidarity activists placed on the London Underground this week.

Ynet claims that Israeli politicians helped the activists achieve their goal by giving them free publicity.

“The government, which prefers to deal with BDS activists quietly and under the radar, is now forced to deal with local politicians who threaten to ‘hijack’ this work to serve their local political interests,” the article states.

“Successes”

While it is no surprise that Israel and its lobby groups are backing the heavy-handed censorship of the Palestine solidarity movement around the world, Ynet provides confirmation of the Israeli foreign ministry’s direct lobbying and political interference in domestic legislation in several countries.

“In cooperation with Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations, the ministry convinced several American states to pass legislation against the boycott of Israel,” Ynet states.

This is a reference to a raft of federal and state-level legislation that aims to penalize companies or blacklist individuals who support boycott or divestment from Israeli or other companies or institutions complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

Human rights defenders say the initiatives violate a landmark US Supreme Court ruling that boycotts and related activities to bring about political, social and economic change are political speech, occupying “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”

The Israeli government is also claiming credit for new UK regulations aimed at stopping public bodies, including democratically elected local municipalities and public universities, from boycotting Israel.

“The Israeli embassy in London succeeded through quiet and effective work in convincing the British government to pass a directive prohibiting municipalities and public bodies from taking decisions to boycott Israel,” Ynet reports.

Overblown

The UK policy is far from a ban or prohibition, although it threatens public bodies with civil court cases which could result in “severe penalties” if they take ethical investment or purchasing decisions to exclude companies from World Trade Organization member states that violate human rights.

Israel is a member of the World Trade Organization.

Riya Hassan of the Palestinian BDS National Committee says that the government of Prime Minister David Cameron “is going further than Margaret Thatcher ever went to defend South African apartheid.”

But the Israeli claims of a major victory here appear to be overblown.

The BNC notes that the existing Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which are based on EU law, allow for companies to be excluded from public procurement if they have committed “gross misconduct,” a provision that does not appear to have been changed by the new policy.

According to Hassan, the UK government is merely trying to “intimidate councils into falsely thinking that they are no longer allowed to exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises.”

“We’re seeking further legal advice but it appears that it remains perfectly legal for councils and universities to take ethical stances that reflect the views of their communities and exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises,” Hassan adds.

Ynet cites other “successes” for Israel’s anti-human-rights strategy, in Luxembourg, Sweden and France, including a vote by the Paris city council to condemn the BDS movement.

“An additional specialization of Israeli embassies is the use of existing legislation against boycott: in several countries there exists legislation against boycott and discrimination,” Ynet observes. “The embassies were requested to check how it is possible to use local law to curtail boycott initiatives.”

Ramping up

Israel’s efforts to sabotage and attack the BDS movement are not new.

It is already known, for instance, that Israeli military intelligence spies on “overseas organizations” that advocate BDS as a strategy to support Palestinian rights.

And in 2013, Israel beefed up its London embassy with staff dedicated to fighting BDS.

According to Ynet, these kinds of efforts are about to be dramatically ramped up.

Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Gilad Erdan as minister with the responsibility to combat the movement for Palestinian rights, and armed him with a budget of $30 million.

Following the London Underground posters incident, Erdan announced that he intends to allocate $1 million “to create ten BDS coordinator positions in important Israeli embassies throughout the world,” Ynet states.

“The coordinators will collect and coordinate information from the ground concerning boycott movement threats” and “will further assist in promoting projects for positive Israel branding.”

As part of this work, Ynet reports, Israel will “hire local citizens – Jews and non-Jews – who will work in the framework of the Israeli embassies.”

Pushing back

While there is no doubt that Israel’s bullying and harassment of those calling for full rights for Palestinians is going to increase, it is doubtful that it will do much to gain Israel any public sympathy.

Israel’s problem is not the marketing, but the product: brutally enforced occupation, settler-colonialism, war crimes and state-sanctioned racism.

As long as Israel is unwilling to end these practices, it will only generate more opposition both to its policies and its smear and censorship tactics.

In the latest example, 22 Jewish academics, artists and activists published a letter in The Guardian objecting to bogus claims of anti-Semitism made by anti-Palestinian activists after the Oxford University Labour Club decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week.

“Those who deliberately confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism give comfort and aid to the real anti-Semites in our society,” the letter states. “Like the boy who cried wolf, they ensure that if anti-Semitism does rear its ugly head, people will assume that this is just another false accusation.”

Connie Hackbarth contributed translation.

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Comments

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The boycotters are getting boycotted !

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Israel can influence countries but not the individuals in those countries. BDS will win this battle against Israel's imperialism and apartheid. It's a war Israel cannot possibly win.

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Israel is resembling the repressive regime of Eritrea, which is known for harrassing everybody worldwide that is opposing the regime. Through it's embassies it is actively monitoring, intimidating and prosecuting people who publicly detest its human rights violations. Just like Israel.

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"Human rights defenders say the initiatives violate a landmark US Supreme Court ruling that boycotts and related activities to bring about political, social and economic change are political speech, occupying “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”

Please provide the exact name of the decision and year.The votes
pro and con would be helpful. A link to the decision would also
be of great assistance. Also who wrote the majority decision and if
a minority decision was written, who is its author?

Isn't there a Norman Law in the US? I am unsure of its
correct name. Naming it in a Senatorial hearing
resulted in Senator William Fullbright's defeat in the
next Arkansas primary. Clarify if this is incorrect, please.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Using the information AA provided and reading the decision
I have learned that advocacy of a boycott (if non-violent)
is CONSTITUTIONAL. It is according to the Supreme
Court protected free speech according to:

NAACP v ClaiborneHardware Company 458 U.S.866 (1982)

The decision read in full also protects protesters from liability
based on other Court decisions.

I immediately contacted my Congressional Representative
and so informed him. I urged him to make his colleagues
aware as well.

(Note: You are the ONLY one who can contact the
Rep from your district.Others are automatically
blocked. The procedures differ in the Senate.)

While the Israeli basic law (= "constitution" may
not protect such rights, the US Constitution does!!)

Once more my non-legal thanks to AA for this info.

(PS Justice Thurgood Marshall recused himself---
did not participate in the decision----in 1982.)

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Getting through all of this will be more than enough
for this NON-LEGAL mind of mine.

When involved in advocacy I have found that while
total and intimate knowledge of each decision is
probably not required, it is always helpful to know
what, when, and who voted etc. Otherwise---one
person tells another tells another...and soon no one
knows what happened etc.

Of course, we could always go back to the days of
President Andrew Jackson who said about the
Court: "Justice Marshall has made his decision.
Now let him enforce it!" The result of those
decisions in 1831 nd 1832 was that STATES
RIGHTS prevailed, Native Americans
lost virtually all rights in many states and
were coerced to sign on for "Indian Removal"

Thousands died.

See: 1. "THIS COUNTRY WAS OURS..." by Virgil J.
Vogel, a source book for issues concerning Native Americans

2. "FATHERS AND CHILDREN: ANDREW JACKSON AND
THE SUBJUGATION OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN".

I have been drawn to the study of Native Americans precisely
because of so many similaritities with the Palestine/Israeli
conflict. Of course there are differences but all of us have
so much to learn from those events. The laws passed
in Georgia in 1828/1829 depriving Native Americans of nearly
all of their rights (See Vogel, op cit) are so similar to
todays decision in the Knesset, You b e the judge(small
"J"!)

----Peter Loeb,Boston, MA, USA

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Well said, Peter. Zionists never admit to an affinity with the Third Reich. But many Israelis have identified the historical pattern of conquest and dispossession in the United States as precedent and justification for their own depredations in Palestine. In fact, the resemblances form something of a bond between the two nations. Many Americans see themselves in the Israeli settlers, and a new vindication of their own past in Israel's racist crimes.

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I would like you to know, Peter Loeb, how much I appreciate your cogent and well documented comments. You add a lot to discussions on the Electronic Intifada.

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"..In December 1828, it was enacted that all[Indian]
territory lying within the the state of Georgia and occupied
by Cherokee Indians was to be divided into
parcels and added to Georgia counties. and opened
up for white settlement...One year later a second act
....went on to to annul all laws made by the
Cherokee nation and further declared that no
Cherokee Indian could testify in court against a
white man.." Excerpt from THIS COUNTRY WAS
OURS....by Virgil J Vogel (Harper & Row, NY,1972)
p. 114

CHEROKEE NATION v GEORGIA 1831

Chief Justice John Marshall for the Court majority
wrote (in part): ...an Indian tribe is not a nation
within the United States and cannot maintain
an action in the Courts of the United /states...

The motion is denied."

Further details available in cited text.

Perhaps the Israeli's do indeed understand
"the pioneer spirit". Make false and fraudulent
promises never kept. Underlying reasons in
this case were profit, land speculation
and the like.

President Andrew Jackson, former land
speculator himself, was satisfied with defending
the sovereignty of the states ("states rights")
which he (falsely) claimed he could not
abridge. (He felt no such compunction in the
"nullification crisis", another story in itself not
affecting Native Americans.

We have have seen this movie many times, as
the fashionable saying goes.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Is it possible to get an English translation of the Ynet article? The admission that the Israeli foreign ministry was involved in some of the state legislation is an important admission.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.