Florida passes law protecting Israel from criticism

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stands next to Benjamin Netanyahu, with US and Israel flags behind them.

Ron DeSantis met with Benjamin Netanyahu on a trip to prove his loyalty to Israel. (Governor Ron DeSantis)

Florida has passed a new law to redefine anti-Semitism.

Under the state’s legislation, it would be illegal to speak out in public institutions against Israel’s human rights violations.

This means that someone advocating for a single democratic state in which Israeli Jews, Palestinians and all others have full, equal rights could fall afoul of the law.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed the state bill while on an official trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank. During his trip, DeSantis visited Ariel University located in a settlement in the West Bank, which is illegal under international law.

At Ariel, he received an award in honor of “his dedication, leadership and commitment to the State of Israel.” He also met with Sheldon Adelson, a top funder of the Republican Party.

Florida’s House Bill 741 redefines anti-Semitism to include “applying a double standard to Israel by requiring behavior of Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation or focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel.”

The law also says that speech “delegitimizing Israel by denying Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist” is considered anti-Semitism.

Such tropes are classic attempts to censor criticism of Israel’s state ideology, Zionism.

The law uses language similar to the definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which has been pushed by Israel lobby groups.

“Used as a tool to censor advocacy for Palestinian freedom, the redefinition [in the Florida law] chills free speech rights and suppresses badly needed debate about US and Israeli policies that abuse Palestinian rights,” warned the civil rights group Palestine Legal.

In March, Florida lawmakers advanced the bill with bipartisan support.

The bill claims that its examples of alleged anti-Semitism related to criticizing Israel do not “diminish or infringe upon any right” to free speech and “shall not be construed to conflict with state or federal laws.”

But FIRE, a free speech advocacy organization, called this caveat “an inadequate attempt to salvage the constitutionality of the bill.”

FIRE has pointed out that the law contradicts a recently-passed resolution that aims to uphold free speech on Florida’s university campuses.

“The new Florida law will invite punishment of students and faculty who wish to speak out for Palestinian freedom and human rights,” Meera Shah, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal, told The Electronic Intifada.

The law’s specific targeting of human rights investigations into Israel’s record “will chill speech, reporting, research and advocacy around Palestinian human rights and will lead to a culture of intimidation on US campuses,” Shah added.

Palestine Legal and allied civil rights organizations are “looking closely” at a legal challenge, Shah explained, “not only because the law demands that schools violate Floridians’ free speech rights, but also because it undermines the right to advocate for justice and universal human rights.”

At least 27 states have passed anti-BDS measures. Laws in Texas, Arizona and Kansas have been blocked by federal judges over free speech concerns.

Increasing alliance with apartheid

While in Israel, DeSantis signed academic partnership agreements between Haifa University and Florida Atlantic University, Miami Dade College, Florida A&M and the University of North Florida. He also signed an agreement between the Israeli tourism ministry and Florida’s tourism department.

The governor announced that Florida would lift its official restrictions against the vacation rental company Airbnb following the company’s reversal of its decision last year to delist properties inside Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians are prohibited from accessing.

Airbnb faced heavy pressure by Israeli and US officials, including DeSantis, who claimed that the move was “discriminatory” against Israeli settlers.

The governments of Florida and Texas had directed all state contractors to cease doing business with Airbnb in retaliation for its November 2018 decision to respect international law and delist the properties.

During his Israel trip, DeSantis said that Airbnb’s reversal in April was a “victory in the battle” against the BDS campaign, according to the Miami Herald.

DeSantis held a meeting of his cabinet in Israel. Prior to the trip, Palestine Legal and other organizations warned the governor that holding his cabinet meeting there would violate state law.

The groups argued that “conducting any state decision-making in a place that most Floridians cannot attend” was a “violation of the Florida constitution.”

Cory Booker supports restrictions on free speech

Meanwhile, Cory Booker, a New Jersey senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, stated last week that he supports federal legislation that encourages states to punish supporters of the BDS movement.

Booker’s move is a complete reversal of his decision to vote against the legislation in February.

The bill was introduced by four US Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. It would uphold the rights of states and local governments to pass anti-boycott measures and urges them to pass such laws.

In an interview with HuffPost, Booker says he “does not support BDS” and claims that the law will “protect American companies from being forced by foreign international organizations from complying with things that they shouldn’t have to comply with.”

Those “things” are international laws and human rights protections.

The website Mondoweiss has published a transcript of Booker’s comments.

Booker has been a top recipient of Israel lobby donations.

The senator has also insisted he wants to establish “a unified voice from Congress” in opposition to BDS, according to leaked recordings from a meeting he had with the leading pro-Israel group AIPAC.

Tags

Comments

picture

How sick. Is this still America? Is anyone going to defend our 2nd Amendment. If anyone deserves criticism, it's Israel & it's criminal prime minister. Netanyahu is a disgrace to the world.

picture

I just looked at the language of the bill in question. The application to Israel is contained in repeated references to "religion" with the word underscored in the text. Criticism of Israel is thus defined as discrimination of the basis of religion. Of course, the demand that Israel abide by international law and human rights conventions has nothing to do with the Jewish religion. There is, however, another belief system in play here- namely, Zionism. And it's Zionism which has obtained the contentious status of a religion in this and other laws currently challenging the First Amendment. The fact that most American Zionists are Christian evangelicals seems not to have been acknowledged in this process. Nor does the Florida law reckon with the fact that many Zionists are atheists. Clearly, the issue here is not a religious one, but a secular, political doctrine which must be protected from public criticism and constitutionally protected forms of protest.

Zionism and Judaism are not coterminous, identical faiths. These laws redefine Zionism as a religion, which can even be construed as an attack on Judaism or an attempt to supplant it. And Judaism itself can be labelled antisemitic if its adherents try to emulate the example of the prophets who denounced misrule, corruption of their faith, and systemic injustice.

We must oppose these laws both in and out of court for as long as it takes to consign them to the dustbin of history- along with apartheid itself.

picture

"These laws redefine Zionism as a religion, which can even be construed as an attack on Judaism or an attempt to supplant it". Excellent point Tom! Unfortunately the US Right, which you may not hope to influence, have so conflated Christianity and Americanism (capitalist imperialism) that they could only construe your reason as treason on the one hand and blasphemy on the other. Of course you're right. But a lot of good it'll do us in this budding Age of Irrationality.

picture

I look forward to what will happen when Jewish Florida members of Jewish Voice for Peace get prosecuted. And there's a slew of other, predominantly Jewish, organisations which this law also bans.
It should be an interesting few months ...

picture

So Florida has now officially declared itself a fascist sub state of Israel. Probably the same people that criticise human rights and free speech in China !!! What has happened to the USA?

Add new comment

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).