Missouri, Oklahoma pass anti-BDS laws during pandemic

A man in a suit waves his hand

Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a bill mandating loyalty to Israel.

Stefani Reynolds CNP

Missouri has become the latest US state to pass a draconian measure to stifle and criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.

On 13 July, Missouri’s Republican governor Mike Parson signed the Anti-Discrimination Against Israel Act into law, after it passed the state’s house of representatives in May.

Encouraged by Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government itself, politicians claim that refusing to purchase Israeli products and criticizing Israel’s human rights violations – or its state ideology Zionism – is tantamount to anti-Jewish bigotry.

Israel lobby groups hailed Parson’s move.

The law requires state contractors to sign an oath certifying that they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel or of Israeli products. It applies to contracts worth more than $100,000, but not to individuals.

Missouri has become the 30th US state to pass an anti-BDS measure, following Oklahoma, which passed a similar bill in May.

Exactly two years ago, a similar bill failed to pass the Missouri state legislature due to sustained pressure by human rights advocates.

At the time, more than a dozen rights groups called the bill “constitutionally indefensible” and “a McCarthyite political litmus test on any company or nonprofit organization that wants to enter into a contract with the state.”

“Missouri tried twice to pass an anti-BDS law, attempts that were shut down by community organizing,” stated St. Louis-based activist Sandra Tamari.

Lawmakers have taken advantage of the current COVID-19 pandemic to rush anti-BDS legislation through state governments without public comment or debate, she explained.

“Shielding Israel from a grassroots human rights movement was their priority,” Tamari added.

Governor Parson’s anti-BDS law contradicts a Missouri state resolution, introduced in 2019, affirming that boycotts are protected political expression.

Last year, Israel’s then-strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, who led 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.

Erdan recently left his position at the strategic affairs ministry to be the new Israeli ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations.

Anti-BDS laws blocked

Civil rights defenders are fighting these anti-BDS laws in federal courts.

Anti-BDS measures in Texas, Arizona and Kansas, have been blocked by federal judges over free speech concerns.

Lawsuits are pending in Maryland and Georgia.

A lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ anti-BDS law on behalf of a newspaper publisher was thrown out by a judge last year.

“We disagree with the district court’s decision, which contradicts two recent federal court decisions and which would radically limit the First Amendment right to boycott,” Holly Dickson, ACLU Arkansas legal director, told the Associated Press at the time.

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

According to a 2019 poll, Americans overwhelmingly reject such laws designed to penalize supporters of BDS, with more than 70 percent of respondents opposing laws that target BDS activism as an infringement on the constitutional right to free speech.

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Time and again Orwell and Kafka are vindicated. Here we have Big Brother imposing the doctrinal system on the people and the truth shoved down the memory hole. On the one hand, the American people are forbidden to oppose the actions of the Israeli State or its ideology, except as individuals ie they can chat at the bar but it mustn't lead to any action which will make a difference; they can choose not to buy Israeli goods as individuals, but to conjoin in a collective effort, the only means of being effective, becomes a crime; on the other hand, they are whipped up into hatred of China for its human rights record, its denial of democracy and, apparently, its wilful virus-spreading. Any halfway well-informed ten-year-old might ask why they should be aggrieved at Chinese tyranny while celebrating that of Israel/Palestine; not to mention the long and disgraceful US record of supporting goons and trampling over people's rights when it serves US "interests". As ever, there is the real world and the doctrinal fantasy. In the gap between them come the media, always on the side of fantasy. No journalist of any profile has yet pointed out that US opposition to BDS has nothing to do with human rights or democracy and is a simple expression of Bush's Gulf War declaration: "What we say goes." The "we" of course means a tiny elite of the US rich and powerful. The US executes black people on the street and denies its people their right to make up their own minds and choose their own course of action over Israel. This looks like fear of democracy and human rights. Exactly what it is. US hegemony has been achieved by conquest through violence. Democracy is its afterthought. Crucially, the doctrinal system keeps the people ignorant. Do Americans understand the history of Israel and what is happening there now? Not if they attend to the media. There is no democracy without freedom of thought and expression and the media make sure that it impossible.

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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).