Video: Ali Abunimah on efforts to outlaw Israel boycott in US, Canada

I spoke to The Real News Network on Tuesday about Israel lobby-backed efforts to repress and legislate against the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States and Canada.

Watch the video above.

On Monday, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed a law that would force state pension funds to divest from companies that have themselves boycotted or divested from activities supporting the Israeli occupation.

The law, the first of its kind in the US, defines “boycott” to mean any actions “that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”

As such, the law seeks to penalize and discourage even efforts against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are considered “illegitimate” by the US government and illegal under international law.

But the Illinois initiative is not alone, as legislatures and government officials in Indiana, California and the US Congress, among others, seek to halt BDS.

In Canada, the government recently threatened to prosecute people who advocate for Palestinian human and political rights through BDS, using “hate speech” laws.

In the interview, I argue that the Israel lobby’s turn to heavy-handed government repression and regulation is an attempt to hold back the changing tide of public opinion.

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Good points in the interview. I think it's disingenuous and exaggerated to claim these legislative initiatives are "outlawing" boycotts of Israel.

I also don't think that these efforts indicate that public opinion is hopelessly against Israel. There was not a single dissenting vote in the Illinois Legislature, and this is in a solidly blue state containing many heavily Arab-American districts. Nobody feared that his/her constituents would punish them at the ballot box for supporting this.

The BDS movement has, from the perspective of achieving its 3 goals, been an abject failure in the United States. It has made more progress in Europe, but it has still failed to develop enough to impact policy made in London, Paris, Berlin or Brussels. Conservative-nationalist governments are in the ascendancy in Europe and bastions of liberal activism are being squeezed more than ever -- and conservatives feel much more warmly about Israel than do socialist-liberal parties. These are trends that pro-Palestinian activists cannot simply wish away.

I think that Ali is indeed correct when he says that public opinion is against the Israeli occupation. In that sense, BDS is succeeding by giving people the tools to take tangible action in opposition to this Israeli policy. However, BDS is not succeeding in painting Israel as a vile pariah country that should be boycotted to death, and is not convincing the public that the problem is Zionism and not the occupation. When it comes down to it, most people believe that Jews deserve a Jewish-majority country in their ancestral homeland. They just want this to be done without cosmetically-ugly human rights abuses.

I assume you were paying attention to what happened at Bowdoin College, where the first undergraduate academic boycott referendum was utterly crushed. This was at a liberal arts college -- the failure would probably be even more humiliating at a major research university. The US people don't hate Israel.

Ali Abunimah's picture

I think when Canada threatens to use “hate speech” laws against BDS campaigners, that qualifies as “outlawing” boycotts. My point was that the Israel lobby is turning to government repression because that is where the Israel lobby is still unassailably strong. There was by all indications, as I mentioned, a “bipartisan” deal in Illinois to pass this anti-Palestinian law. But the tide is changing as recent surveys indicate, including the recent Bloomberg Politics poll

I’m not aware of any calls for Israel to be boycotted “to death.” Rather the Palestinian call is for Israel to be boycotted, divested from and sanctioned until all Palestinian rights are respected, including the right not to be forcibly expelled and excluded from one’s country just for being from the wrong religion or ethnicity. I do recognize, however, that opponents of full rights for Palestinians view an end to ethno-racial discrimination by Israel as a form of “death.” Indeed supporters of apartheid in South Africa always used to say that granting full rights to Black people would be “national suicide.”

As to the rest, I’m perfectly happy to let viewers decide.

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I looked over this poll. The results are not surprising and do not indicate anything without additional contextualization.

Republicans are, according to Bloomberg, as enthusiastically pro-Israel as ever, and Democrats simply believe the US should prioritize its own national interests over its relationship with Israel. Is this really surprising or big news?!? If you don't have a religious or ideological affinity for Zionism and Israel, why would you believe in supporting it at the expense of your own country's interests?

The real question is how many of these Democrats actually believe that supporting Israel runs counter to US interests. If Democrats stop seeing Israel as a Western country, then Israel has a problem. But the truth is that most Democrats see Israel as a decent, democratic country even if they oppose the occupation and much of its right-wing politics. Gallup indicates that Americans as a whole are as pro-Israel as ever -- Democrats included. http://www.gallup.com/poll/161...

Your essential claim is that pro-Israel groups, having lost the battle for public opinion, are wielding their last bastion of power -- the lobby -- to enlist government agencies to crush BDS. But if the public were really so anti-Israel or engaged with foreign policy, the lobby would be totally ineffective in the face of powerful grassroots opposition. I do not agree that BDS has won the battle for American public opinion. The data simply do not suggest this. Though the electorate is racially diversifying, there is still hope for Israel. Among Hispanics, the largest growing segment of the population, Evangelical Christianity is experiencing a growth spurt-- pro-Israel sentiment won't be too far behind.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

http://www.christianitytoday.c...

Ali Abunimah's picture

My argument, simply, is that things are changing, not that the battle is over and won. Israel still has massive support in the US, especially in institutions, but people, especially the young, are more receptive than ever. That’s my experience on dozens of campuses and that’s what many surveys, not just the one from Bloomberg, show. It’s also what big Israel lobby groups say in their panic-filled reports and white papers about how the old propaganda messages are no longer working with the young. 

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Couldn't agree more. The foreign Israel lobby has infiltrated every branch of the Canadian government and bureaucracy. Furthermore, Canada's security services are being spoon fed directly by Israeli intelligence.

This isn't quite the situation in the US, despite the massive congressional support for Israel. In the US, Israeli agents are continually being sought out and most are known. They have been caught and hauled off. US counterespionage with respect to Israel has intensifed in recent years. And there are many traitors.

Sadly, Canada is not only refusing to keep an eye on its own security. No, it has opened the doors wide open. And the Zionist tentacles reach right into the PM's office.

The Harper government is equivalent the ISIL of Canada, dismantling institutions and the Canadian heritage at breathtaking speed. Canadians now have trouble just getting survey data to be able to run their public services properly, as Harper is busy dismantling scientific research of every kind. The age of barbarism is upon us in the West, and Canada, in my opinion, is a juicy target for Zionist barbarism, because it is the weakest link.

No matter what it does, the Zionist race colony is doomed, however. I agree with this general analysis.

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John Murphy writes, "most people believe that Jews deserve a Jewish-majority country in their ancestral homeland. They just want this to be done without cosmetically-ugly human rights abuses."

That is so funny! Yes, "most people" want their human rights abuses to be cosmetically pretty (like Scarlett Johansson blowing bubbles), and "most people" want whoever believes they descended from Adam and Eve to go back to the garden of eden or get raptured or whatever! hilarious. But seriously, no, "most people" do not approve of ethnic cleansing, most Jews don't even live in Israel, and even if most people did think this, it doesn't make the crime legal!

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Also, I was talking about the Illinois law. The Canada law is too draconian for my taste.

With the "boycotting to death," comment, I think that asking Israel to take 7 million people and become a non-Jewish country is effectively asking it to kill itself.

Indeed, Omar Barghouti says he supports "euthanasia" for Zionism. That certainly carries the intimation of death in my book.

Ali Abunimah's picture

Thanks for making my point. Just like supporters of apartheid South Africa said that giving votes to Black people would be “national suicide,” Zionists — and you— make the same claim about giving full rights to Palestinians, that it is “suicide” for Israel. A state whose existence depends on denying rights to millions of people is the one with the problem, not the people who are rightfully demanding their rights.

I understand that many people are committed to Israeli Jewish rule more than they are committed to democracy and equal rights. That doesn’t obligate Palestinians to be committed to their own expulsion and subjugation in order to maintain the power and privilege of the ruling group.

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There is nothing anywhere which gives Israeli or Zionists any inherent right to
exclusive control of anything at all in Palestine. Zionism is a settler colonist
movement and never in its history intended to share anything at all with the
indigenous people of Palestine.

I do not stand for any Israeli inalienable right to commit the atrocities it has done
and continues to do. I do not think it has any right to hate.

(PS Note that Israel has defied all its obligations as an "occupier". It has
fulfilled its role as an aggressor. See UN Charter Articles 2, 4. 6.)

One state with participation on an EQUAL basis might be acceptable. Two
so-called "states" with one being supplied with billions of dollars in weapons,
high- tech intelligence, tax deduction for settlements, illegal walls, illegal
settlements... that is no kind parity. No thanks. Do not ask Palestinians to
be happy slaves. Oh, so happy!!!

----Peter Loeb, Bopston, MA, USA

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The bds campaign is not a campaign to make israel change its position through mere economic pressure.
The economic pressure of the boycott will not be sufficient to do that. But the financial pressure of divestment, and especially the political pressure of sanctions, will be much more effective.

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That makes very little sense, but this is not atypical of people who support boycotts of Israel.

How exactly would you characterize divestment and sanctions if not as economic pressure?

You basically wrote: "I don't think economic pressure will be sufficient to pressure Israel. But forms of economic pressure will do the trick!"

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John, you remind me of a bad arm wrestler who just won't call it quits and keeps twisting his hand and claiming, "Hey, you can't beat me!"

I suggest you download the following letter from former prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors, and perhaps most tellingly, a former NATO secretary-general: http://static.guim.co.uk/ni/14... .

Here is how The Guardian describes it: "In a hard-hitting letter to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, the group – which includes former prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors also expresses serious doubts about the ability of the US to lead substantive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

"It charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza.”

Like I said, this Zionist race colony is doomed. In fact, the least of its troubles now is the brazen lie about claims to Palestine. That lie is based on a forgery and has no historical, archaeological and, certain no, genetic basis at all.

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Thanks for the link. I agree-- it's just a matter of time (a short time, I believe) before Palestine and the world is free from the insidious evil of zionism.

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Another go at controlling freedom of expression by the tyrants. In Canada it has been clearly shown time and again that Stephen Harper does not respect the Constitution or the Charter of Rights,although his dedication to the zionist state of Israel is on a thin line between fanaticism and treason. He has claimed publicly that he would make policy decisions in favor of Israel that would be detrimental to Canada and that he would defend Israel "no matter the cost" , so you decide, is this the position of a Prime Minister looking out for the welfare of the country he is supposed to be head of ? Sounds like an infiltrator for a foreign government to me.