Activism and BDS Beat 8 January 2016
A law being proposed in New York would create an official blacklist of supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Legal experts and activists say the measure is reminiscent of the McCarthy era and could have drastic consequences for individuals, organizations or firms who engage with the campaign to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights.
Anti-BDS legislation was also introduced this week in California.
Two New York bills — one introduced in the state senate and another in the assembly — would require the state government to “develop, using credible information available to the public, a list of persons it determines boycotts [sic] Israel.”
Individuals or entities included on the state’s blacklist would be barred from partnering with state agencies unless they can demonstrate in a written statement that they are “not engaged in boycotting Israel.”
State pension funds would also be prohibited from investing in institutions that have divested from Israel.
Activists with the Palestine Solidarity Collective in New York are collecting signatures for a petition to lawmakers against the bill.
Nearly two dozen North America-based activist organizations are opposing the legislation.
The New York bills are “the most egregious, most McCarthyite, most obvious violations of people’s First Amendment rights,” Josh Ruebner, policy director for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told The Electronic Intifada.
If passed into law, the measure could hit local organizations that provide essential community services. Church groups, for example, that may belong to denominations which have passed boycott or divestment resolutions, often receive state funds to provide social programs such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
“Does that mean that all these churches will become ineligible to feed the hungry?” Ruebner asked.
A resolution pending in the US Congress, HR-567, would condemn the European Union’s decision to accurately label goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
Last year, Illinois adopted a first in the nation anti-boycott law that established a screening mechanism to compel the state’s pension board to exclude foreign corporations that have adopted BDS guidelines.
Ruebner said that the Illinois law is now a nationwide model for anti-BDS legislation.
Boycotting the boycotters
In California, financial planner turned ultra-conservative Republican legislator Travis Allen introduced legislation on Monday that seeks to punish businesses that engage with the boycott of Israel.
One bill, AB-1551, explicitly targets the BDS movement and would in effect impose a state boycott of businesses or financial institutions in retaliation for any boycott of Israel.
State pension funds would also be required to pull investments from companies that divest because of human rights concerns.
The second bill, AB-1552, does not mention Israel by name but would prohibit any public entity from entering into a contract unless the contractor agrees not to boycott a member state of the World Trade Organization.
Allen’s anti-BDS bill labels boycotts as “discriminatory business practices,” echoing claims used by the Israeli government that the BDS movement singles out Israel.
In fact, boycott has been used as a tactic against many countries as well as within the United States. The US Supreme Court found in a landmark 1982 ruling on a case dating from the Civil Rights era that the right to use economic boycotts to pursue political ends is free speech protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In a press release announcing the introduction of his bills, Allen praises the “unique bond” between the US and Israel.
He also notes that “California is home to an estimated 2,000,000 Jewish residents,” in effect conflating Jews with Israel.
Allen made Israel advocacy a major part of his campaign for a California state assembly seat in 2012.
He traveled to present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank where he affirmed his Christian Zionist belief that Israel has “a divine right to the whole land, which includes Judea and Samaria” — the term Israel uses for the West Bank.
On a return visit in April 2015, Allen drank wine with leaders in the Israeli settlement of Har Bracha near Nablus.
Allen also boasts of his support for a number of Israel lobby groups including AIPAC, StandWithUs and organizations that fundraise for the Israeli army.
As one of his first acts as a state lawmaker, Allen co-authored HR-35, a resolution conflating criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses.
Claims of anti-Semitism
In addition to Illinois, several states have passed anti-BDS laws or condemnatory resolutions in the last year, including South Carolina and Tennessee.
An anti-BDS resolution that was filed in Florida last month — which was backed by a major Christian Zionist organization — claims that the BDS movement “is one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitic perspectives and advocating the elimination of the Jewish State.”
A similar resolution passed in Indiana last year claimed that BDS promotes a climate of “hatred, intimidation, intolerance and violence against Jews.”
As of September 2015, more than two dozen anti-BDS bills and resolutions had been introduced at the local, state and federal level, according to Palestine Legal.
“Stigmatizing and suppressing”
Israel has made it no secret that it views BDS as a major strategic threat, and the scale of the pushback by its allies in the US is one indicator of panic about the growing momentum of this grassroots movement.
But activists from California to New York are already organizing to oppose this kind of legislation.
“Essentially, these bills are more in a series of measures of all sorts — by legislatures, on campuses, elsewhere — to try to undermine meaningful opposition to Israeli policies and US support for them by stigmatizing and suppressing speech and nonviolent action in support of Palestinians’ rights,” David Mandel, a member of the National Lawyers Guild and activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Electronic Intifada.
“It’s not saying that you can’t speak freely, or that you can’t boycott — it’s saying that if you do, then you’re going to be penalized by not getting the benefits of economic relationships with the state or its pension funds or other affiliated institutions,” Mandel said.
This legislation is an attempt to “burden free speech,” Mandel added, which is something that activists and constitutional rights attorneys will challenge.
The laws being passed or proposed cannot directly prevent people from taking action or exercising speech on Palestinian rights issues, Mandel stressed.
“The First Amendment is fortunately still pretty strong, and none of this can or should deter individuals from speaking out and organizing or being active on a policy level or promoting boycotts or divestment,” he said.
Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation sees the alarm shown by Israel lobby groups and their legislative supporters as “recognition of just how much of an impact this movement is having.”
“I take it as a sign that the BDS movement is on the right track and is gaining traction — and is being taken seriously by policy elites in this country,” Ruebner added. “Clearly the authors of these resolutions are fearful of the boycott movement because they understand the writing on the wall.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly noted that HR-567 was a resolution introduced in the New York legislature, instead of the US Congress. Additionally, the anti-BDS bill in Florida was not passed, as was stated, but rather introduced and filed. Both have been corrected.
- anti-BDS laws
- Israel Lobby
- New York
- Josh Ruebner
- David Mandel
- free speech
- First Amendment
- US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
- settlement products
- Christian Zionism
Permalink Vicki Scott replied on
Who controls our country? I think the constitution guarantees that Americans are in control. The actions by Israeli controlled groups should be considered traitorous! This squelching is not freedom, it is repression. This will, ultimately, backfire with ill will toward the people and groups who are intent on taking our freedoms away.
Legislation to whitewash Israel's horrific human rights abuses
Permalink Fern Sanders replied on
The US State Dept and Congress have been whitewashing and supporting Israel's human rights abuses against indigenous Palestinian population for too long now.
- Netanyahu is a mass murderer and deserves to be brought before the ICC.
- Ambassador Power and the US have been vetoing any criticism of Israel at the UN and has now isolated the US and American view over morality and justice.
- As an American, we will NEVER forget Israel's murderous attack on American Rachel Corrie, and the USS Liberty.
- America will NEVER forget that Israel paid for the worst criminal in US history, Jonathon Pollard, to spy on the United States and sell those secrets to Israel. And now Pollard is free because of President Obama and Senator Cruz, and Pollard is considered a national hero in Israel.
- It is cowardice for US government leadership to support Israel any further. Last year Israel attacked two vessels in international waters that were attempting to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.
- Israel has turned Gaza into a concentration camp for Palestinians.
- The US gifts Israel $$$Billions a year in weapons and financial support, while Israel uses that same money to build illegal settlements and carry on its brutal apartheid.
- The US government has been supporting the call for Jerusalem to be the new capital of Israel, thus forcing all non-Jews living there to become 2nd class citizens.
- Untold numbers of US Congressmen and women have all authored letters of allegiance to Israel. Representative Ted Lieu authored his own oath of allegiance to Israel and kept it on his website for over a year. He how chairs influence positions in the Capitol.
- Israeli influence in DC has become epidemic in its influence in the US and around the world, forcing all Americans to shoulder financial support to Israel amounting to almost a $Trillion dollars in total support so far.
- Dozens of Israeli companies are giving special and protected status in the US.
suppression of BDS
Permalink wendy love replied on
The censorship of BDS is un-American because if violates our freedom of speech. The BDS movement is not anti-Semitic and bases its principles and activism on basic human rights that applies to everyone regardless of race or religion or country of origin. If those rights are being violated by the Israeli government regarding the Palestinian people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, then let the voices of Palestine and the international community be heard. Boycotting companies that do business with the illegal settlements in Israel is supporting International law and the rights of Palestinians live as free and equal citizens, whether that is two states or one state. No legislation in our state's congress should censor any voice whether that is in support of BDS or not. If you live in New York or California, contact your representatives and tell them to say no to this proposed legislation.
Permalink Rose Marsh replied on
Stay strong people, the fact Israel is pressuring America to do this shows the strength of BDS.
Permalink Foolscause replied on
So you tell me, a contractor, if I go for a state contract and tell them I support BDS resulting in refusal to bid I can sue the State for losses and damage? Sue them with full knowledge I will be paid? Supported by rulings of the SCOTUS!!!
Wow! Easy money.
I better start laying the ground work. I will never have to do contracts again, just go straight for the profit, don't even have to bid the contract, just be refused opportunity to bid.
USA, get rid of sionist rule.
Permalink Martia Jesus replied on
¿Land of the free?