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.
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.