Ilhan Omar introduces resolution upholding right to boycott

Ilhan Omar smiles in front of a microphone.

Ilhan Omar (Leopaltik1242)

In the face of sustained attacks by US authorities on the right to engage in boycotts against Israel, Congress member Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution on Tuesday that seeks to protect that right.

She also explicitly offered her support for BDS, the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that aims to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights the way similar global grassroots pressure helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Palestinian boycott campaigners welcomed Omar’s resolution.

“It affirms the right of all activists and people of conscience to advocate for human rights through boycotts against systems of oppression,” Hind Awwad, spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee said.

The resolution was introduced at the same time that the Democratic leadership in Congress is advancing a nonbinding resolution to condemn BDS, the latest in a series of measures – in both state and federal legislatures – to criminalize or ostracize BDS activity.

The anti-BDS measure, which has more than 330 cosponsors, was coauthored by Republican representative Lee Zeldin, who has attacked Omar and smeared her as an anti-Semite over her criticism of Israel’s policies.

Though Omar’s resolution does not mention Israel or the BDS campaign by name, the text of HR 496 references attacks on activists “by governmental and nongovernmental organizations alike to criminalize, stigmatize and delegitimize the use of boycotts in an attempt to stifle constitutionally protected political expression.”

It notes that in 1982, the US Supreme Court upheld that engaging in a “nonviolent, politically motivated boycott” is free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Omar’s decision to introduce the measure shows she is unbowed by President Donald Trump’s recent racist attacks on her and other women of color lawmakers, including his accusations that they are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

Speaking to Al-Monitor this week, Omar said she was introducing the resolution “to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights in regard to boycotting.”

Omar added that “it is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”

The lawmaker’s resolution “reassures us that progressives, including in Congress, are defending freedom of expression and the right of oppressed communities, including Palestinians, to peacefully fight for their rights,” the Palestinian BDS National Committee’s Awwad added.

“The defense of those rights is even more vital in light of the rise of far-right racism and white supremacy, including Israel’s decades-old apartheid regime.”

Since her election to Congress in 2018 from Minnesota, where she was previously a state lawmaker, Omar has been regularly castigated by other lawmakers – including those from her own Democratic Party – over her sharp criticism of Israel’s influence on US politics.

On Wednesday, during a debate on the bipartisan anti-BDS resolution, Omar challenged the measure, saying lawmakers “cannot condemn nonviolent means,” adding that Israel’s occupation must end.

Historic precedent

Omar’s pro-boycott measure was introduced with two cosponsors, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and John Lewis of Georgia.

Lewis’ support for the measure comes as a surprise.

A civil rights hero, Lewis has been historically silent on Israel’s violence and entrenched segregationist policies against Palestinians.

Last month, Lewis signed on as a leading member – joining Zeldin – of a bipartisan Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus formed by the American Jewish Committee, a hard-right Israel lobby group.

But it is significant that Lewis has sponsored Omar’s measure which identifies historical political boycotts – including during the Civil Rights era – as constitutionally protected forms of expression to advance civil and 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.

Human Rights Watch has noted that more than 250 million people live in US states that have passed these measures.

Recently, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister who leads his country’s efforts to crush BDS activism around the world, took credit for the passage of anti-BDS laws in the US.

“Our efforts are producing results. 27 US states now have counter-BDS legislation. Let’s give a hand to all the governors and state legislators who supported this law. They deserve it,” Erdan said at a Jerusalem Post conference in New York in June.

New Jersey looks to ban criticism of Israel

Meanwhile, New Jersey has become the latest state to consider a sweeping pro-censorship law under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism.

Thirteen civil rights organizations, including Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace, sent a letter to state lawmakers this week warning that the legislation would be used “as a tool to silence students, faculty and staff who advocate for Palestinian rights” and would censor constitutionally protected criticism of Israel’s policies at public institutions.

Similar to Florida’s recently passed measure, New Jersey’s law “would direct public schools and universities to use a widely contested redefinition of anti-Semitism” that includes “focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel” and “denying Israel the right to exist” in assessing alleged violations of the state’s anti-discrimination law, according to Palestine Legal.




So what are the Palestinians if not Semites also . The Antisemitic label used by the Israeli supporters is a canard.


That is not a good argument against Zionism or anti-Semitism. It is using a C19, western imperialist, non-scientific, racist category and does not advance the cause of the Palestinian people one iota.


Maybe not a good argument in your estimation but it needs to be said and loudly so that the antisemitic card is relegated to the dustbin where it belongs .It is only used to change the subject , render the discussion off balance for those that are not up to speed on ethnicity , blood line if you will.
BDS is the issue , of this there is no doubt .The instrument of it's use is non violent ,more that what we can say about how the Palestinians are treated on their own land.


What is a "blood line"? Using such a category sounds even worse than proffering the argument that "jews and arabs are all semites".


Before criticizing, let alone condemning, BDS, one should remember several facts:
1. BDS is a non-violent method of resistance.
2. BDS does not aim to eliminate the state of Israel.
3. Israel is practicing apartheid, having separate laws which privilege Jewish citizens over Arab-Israelis.
4. US financial and political support of Israel makes Americans complicit in breaking international law.
5. Any law condemning US citizens' right to protest nonviolently is denying our Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

I sincerely object to any such curbing of our freedoms, and I heartily endorse Congresswoman Omar's Bill #496.


Am I allowed to have an extremely negative view with respect to a group of people who wantonly murder members of another group. Am I allowed to support nonviolent means to express my disgust and revulsion with respect to the aforesaid people who also attempt to ... no, who succeed in controlling my money and resources which I prefer be directed to help the victims of those murderous policies and perfidy?


I wish we all the right to criticize unlawful, bullying behavior; also wish the US (my country) would not undertake either "regime change" in other countries or the financial or military support of "allies" who engage in such behavior towards people under their control.
Remember how the world rallied to our support on 9/11? Since then we have plunged downwards from the high moral ground.


The efforts to prohibit boycotts (the BDS movement) are an infringement of our right to free speech; it has been determined by the Supreme Court (during the Civil Rights Movement, and also earlier, and consider the American Revolution!). The right wing in Israel (see the Israeli above bragging about having succeeded in 27 states to make BDS illegal) and in the US seeks to shut down any criticism of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank which continues to take the land of Palestinians and to militarily occupy their space, increasingly making life impossible.


Land of the free, home of the brave, but don't you dare speak in defense of the Human Rights violations towards the Palestinian People.


so the isreali ambassador is responsible for having anti-freedom-of-speech laws passed here? wtf is that?


I can’t believe 27 US states passed laws to criminalize BDS, a nonviolent movement. So let me understand this business. They favor a regime that discriminates against a people that lived in the land for centuries. They support all their policies of dispossession, illegally occupying territories and building state of the art apartments to sell at a premium side by side with the settlements with the IDF in charge to shoot and kill any peaceful protestor. So much for Justice, so much for Freedom. What a democracy!


Noam Chomsky has said that he has been vilified over Vietnam, race etc but Israel-Palestine is unique. Remember the historic role the US has played in promoting Israel. The motivations have been confused. Roosevelt generously offered sanctuary to 500,000 survivors of the Holocaust in 1946 but was scuppered by the Zionists who wanted Jews sent to Palestine or nowhere. They were able to change his mind because he feared the Zionist lobby in the US and the potential electoral disruption. On the other hand, in 1922, Congressman Albert Rossdale spoke of "the truth of the words of the prophets of the return of Israel, the assurance of whose restoration gleams through the whole vista of prophecy". Christian fundamentalists in the US find an echo in the messianism of Zionism. Then there is the simple matter of economic interests and the force to follow them up. Hence the panic over BDS and the more general and growing opposition to Israeli occupation and domination of Palestine. American democracy has been subverted by the "revolt of the elites". The voice of the common folk doesn't get heard. In place of debate comes interrogation of politicians, many full signed-up members of the elite which is cut off from the common people. Money buys access, without it, no one listens to you. The slogan of the campaign in support of the Squad should be: When money talks, poverty answers back. Free debate and argument amongst the common folk, that is the real meaning of the first amendment.


Bless Ms. Omar, apparently one of the few American politicians actually fighting to preserve their First Amendment rights, and for human rights across the globe <3

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).