This month, Nevada became the 20th state to adopt legislation against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, after an Israel advocacy organization allegedly made threatening remarks to lawmakers if they opposed the bill.
Meanwhile, The Electronic Intifada has obtained a memo from a Nevada lawmaker to fellow Jewish lawmakers across the United States giving advice on how to fight back against the movement for Palestinian rights – including the Jewish activists who support it.
According to the Las Vegas Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, state assembly member Edgar Flores said he was threatened by the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, which told him that his political career would be ended if he did not support the anti-BDS bill.
Flores was one of only three lawmakers to abstain in a vote on the bill.
Though no other legislators have revealed they were threatened, Seth Morrison, of Jewish Voice for Peace in Las Vegas, suspects Flores was not alone.
Morrison points out that assembly member Skip Daly voted against the bill during a committee meeting, but joined Flores in abstaining for the final vote.
Jewish Voice for Peace in Las Vegas believes that Dillon Hosier, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action lobbyist, secretly recorded private meetings with at least two assembly members.
Morrison outlined these allegations of dirty tactics and intimidation in a letter to the governor, urging him to veto the legislation. But on 2 June, Governor Brian Sandoval signed the bill into law.
The law prohibits the state from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. Nevada will now prepare a blacklist of companies that are said to boycott Israel.
The world’s largest security firm, G4S announced it was dumping almost all of its business in Israel following a sustained campaign against its involvement in human rights abuses against Palestinians.
The Nevada bill was opposed by Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the Culinary Union, which all argued the bill infringes on constitutional rights to speech and association.
The Culinary Union is one of the largest in Nevada and represents workers in the Las Vegas hotel and casino industry. It also describes itself as the state’s largest immigrant organization.
The union argued that boycotts are a fundamental tool for organizing for justice.
Despite this broad opposition, the state assembly passed the bill 39-0 with 3 abstentions, and the senate voted 19-2 in favor.
The two dissenting senators were Yvanna Cancela and Tick Segerblom, both of whom have records of advocating for civil liberties.
“They are both very progressive and very brave,” JVP’s Morrison told The Electronic Intifada.
Less than two weeks after the bill became law, Nevada assembly member Ellen Spiegel sent an internal memo to the National Association of Jewish Legislators listing key lessons to the bill’s success. (The memo is attached below.)
The National Association of Jewish Legislators, of which Spiegel is an officer, has placed combatting BDS on the top of its agenda.
Spiegel writes that even though the bill passed by such wide margins, “it required a lot of work.”
The Israeli-American Coalition for Action has already spent $50,000 in 2017 to lobby for anti-BDS legislation in Congress – five times as much as it spent last year. It is the lobbying arm of the Israeli-American Coalition, which is backed by wealthy anti-Palestinian donors Adam Milstein and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Spiegel says these groups can “provide back up support throughout the process.”
She claims that the legislation passed in states across the country is “seeking to protect Israel from harm,” and urges advocates to “talk about Israel as a ‘safe haven’ for Jews” and as an “important trading partner.”
But she also encourages lawmakers to advance arguments that Israel should be entitled to keep “contested” land – the occupied West Bank – because it “won” it during the 1967 war.
Significantly, the memo indicates Spiegel’s discomfort with the fact that not all Jewish Americans support the anti-BDS agenda.
She recommends trying to discredit groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, urging lawmakers to “do some research on the people presenting the opposing testimony.”
“If they are members of an organization with a Jewish-sounding name, try to determine whether it really is a Jewish group,” she writes.
Spiegel also suggests that anti-BDS legislation should appear to represent a “bipartisan” consensus and that proponents should “invite the participation of the state’s Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”
Spiegel advises Israel advocates to prepare to answer why all Jews do not support anti-BDS legislation. She suggests invoking the words of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who several years ago expressed opposition to a total boycott of Israel.
But she fails to mention that in the same statement – which was widely criticized by Palestinians – Abbas nonetheless expressed support for boycotting products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to Spiegel, opponents of the anti-BDS bill “spoke with legislators about the importance of using boycotts as free speech and were privately telling African Americans and Latinos that they wouldn’t have equal rights if not for use of boycotts.”
Boycotts did indeed play a major role in the civil rights movement – leading to the landmark 1982 US Supreme Court decision ruling that boycotts intended to bring about social, political and economic change are constitutionally protected free speech.
Seth Morrison says that while he is disappointed the bill passed, he is also energized. He helped found the Las Vegas chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace last year, and says this was the first time that people mobilized to oppose a pro-Israel bill in Nevada.
“We’ve shown legislators that they can’t do things like this without being called out for it.”