Congress member Tulsi Gabbard is feeling the heat over her vote last week in favor of a resolution that misrepresents and harshly condemns the nonviolent BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights.
The Hawaii Democrat, a candidate for her party’s presidential nomination, posted a video on Twitter on Saturday trying to spin her vote for HR 246 as a defense of free speech:
She acknowledges receiving messages via social media “asking for more information about why I voted the way I did.”
She asserts that the resolution “does not in any way limit or hinder our First Amendment rights.”
Gabbard also pledges to continue opposing any legislation to “restrict freedom of speech by imposing legal penalties against those who participate in the BDS movement.”
She notes that she is cosponsoring Representative Ilhan Omar’s resolution HR 496, which backs the right to engage in political boycotts.
Those are laudable positions, but they are undermined by Gabbard’s vote for a resolution that is a stepping stone towards more state and federal anti-BDS laws.
Israel and its lobby warmly welcomed HR 246, undoubtedly seeing it as a clear victory in their ongoing effort to pass laws criminalizing BDS activism.
“Based on lies”
Gabbard’s reasoning falls apart further when she explains why she backed the resolution in the first place.
“I voted for HR 246 because I support a two-state solution that provides for the rights of both Israel and Palestine to exist and for their people to live in peace with security,” Gabbard says.
“I don’t believe BDS is the way to accomplish that.”
(Note: In a written version of her statement, she is more nuanced, stating, “I don’t believe the BDS movement is the only or best way to accomplish that.”)
But Gabbard does not explain why a nonviolent movement, modeled on the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa, is harmful, or what her approach is to ending decades of Israeli military occupation and settler-colonization of Palestinian land.
Does she propose to continue the decades-old US and international policy of doing nothing, and even rewarding Israel, as it commits these crimes?
Platitudes about a two-state solution that equate the military occupier with an occupied people can’t hide the lack of a principled position.
In a message to supporters Monday, Omar Barghouti, the BDS movement cofounder singled out for criticism in HR 246, hit back at the House of Representatives for passing “a McCarthyite, anti-Palestinian resolution.”
“The resolution, based on lies, passed while Israeli military bulldozers were busy demolishing tens of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem,” Barghouti added.
Just 17 members of Congress voted against the resolution, while 398 backed it.
The resolution is a litany of standard Israel lobby talking points.
It claims, for instance, that the BDS movement “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution” and demands “concessions of one party alone” – namely Israel.
But the BDS movement does not demand any “concessions” from Israelis of any legitimate rights.
Rather, it seeks to end Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights by ending Israeli military occupation and colonization of the lands conquered in 1967; ending all Israeli laws and policies that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees, including the right to return to their lands and homes in accordance with international law.
The resolution makes no mention of these rights, and instead claims that it is Palestinians dispossessed by Israel who seek to deny “the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination.”
Israel and its lobby routinely demand that Palestinians and others explicitly recognize Israel’s purported “right to exist as a Jewish state.”
This demand means in practice that Palestinians would have to grant Israel a right to be racist against them in order to maintain Israel’s desired and violently gerrymandered domination of Jews over indigenous non-Jewish Palestinians.
Israel bars Palestinian refugees from returning to their homeland solely because they are not Jews.
By contrast, the BDS movement is explicitly anti-racist and based on universal principles of human rights.
By centering Palestinian rights, the BDS movement has succeeded in exposing Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, for what it is: raw racism against Palestinians.
The resolution backed by Gabbard and the vast majority of lawmakers aims to reverse this progress and demonize Palestinians merely for seeking basic rights and freedoms.
Gabbard is not the only one feeling heat over her vote.
“What I heard resounding in community was that voting yes on this resolution affirmed to my constituents raised in the Jewish faith Israel’s right to exist, a view I share as a supporter of a two-state solution,” Pressley said.
Like Gabbard, Pressley used the moribund two-state solution as an alibi, and compounded the offense by equating opposition to the Palestinians’ struggle for their basic rights with affirming the feelings of Jewish Americans – many of whom actually oppose Zionism and support equality for Palestinians.
And also like Gabbard, Pressley has taken the seemingly contradictory step of backing Omar’s resolution.
Tulsi Gabbard is not part of the progressive squad, but she has attracted curiousity, attention and support from many on the left because of her outspoken opposition to disastrous US “regime change wars” and interventions, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Yet she undermines her own anti-war stance in her video.
“Nothing is more fundamental to the identity of our country than the rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our Constitution,” she asserts. “I’ve fought to defend these freedoms both as a soldier and a congresswoman.”
Is Gabbard now really claiming that the Iraq invasion she has excoriated as a human catastrophe launched “based on false intelligence and lies from our leaders” was indeed a justified fight for American freedom and the Constitution?
Gabbard has previously sent mixed signals about her views on Israel’s violent oppression of Palestinians.
She was one of the very few members of Congress to openly criticize Israel’s massacres of unarmed Palestinians during Great March of Return protests in Gaza.
HR 246 was an opportunity for Gabbard to demonstrate clearly that she stands against Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and in solidarity with people struggling for liberation.
Instead, she and far too many other Democrats opted to side unambiguously with the oppressor.
Still, the fact that Gabbard and Pressley felt they had to try to justify their votes shows that the mood is shifting and progressives can no longer adopt reflexive anti-Palestinian positions without strong grassroots pushback.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the state represented by Ayanna Pressley.