Anti-BDS laws undermine US claim of freedom

Anti-BDS laws undermine US claim of freedom

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The BDS movement has urged businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel. (AFP)

Americans proudly proclaim their support for the US Constitution, which guarantees the right of every citizen to express themselves without fear of retribution for their views.
Speech that incites violence or includes slanderous accusations of criminal behavior or sexual activity is not protected and can be prosecuted.
However, pro-Israel activists have managed to undermine the American Constitution by pushing for laws in at least 28 US states that will punish Americans who take part in a boycott of Israel.
Similarly, the US Congress has adopted a law that punishes Americans simply for declaring that they support a boycott of Israel.
It is the only law of its kind.
The legislation is aimed partly at blocking the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which targets Israel’s illegal settlement activity. The movement also criticizes the Israeli government’s embrace of apartheid-like policies that discriminate against Christians and Muslim Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories.
Israel has implemented 67 laws and policies that discriminate against Christian and Muslim Palestinians because of their religion and race.
In the US, the battle is being fought in Congress and on university campuses, where debate on foreign policy is considered a treasured and protected tradition.
Abby Martin, a US journalist, recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia, which passed an anti-boycott law in 2016.
Organizers of a conference at state-run Georgia Southern University blocked Martin from delivering a keynote speech at a forum after she refused to sign a declaration not to boycott Israel. Martin’s documentary, “Gaza Fights for Freedom,” was to be showcased at the conference, which collapsed as a result of the demand.
Calling the demand an illegal “loyalty pledge,” Martin filed a lawsuit against the university and the state on Feb. 10, 2020.
In a statement on Twitter, she said: “After I was scheduled to give keynote speech at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern conference, organizers said I must comply with Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me.”
Martin’s legal challenge follows a successful lawsuit in 2018 against a similar anti-BDS law in Texas.
Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist, was fired from her state job after refusing to sign a document saying she would not oppose Israel’s government in any manner.
Amawi was described as an exemplary employee who helped autistic students for nine years. As a result of the lawsuit, courts overturned the Texas law and Amawi was allowed to return to her job.
The campaign to justify the anti-boycott laws is based on a distortion of facts, and claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish.
Pro-Israel activists want to avoid addressing the real issues of Israeli civil rights violations and theft of Palestinian lands to build the settlements, and instead distort the boycott goals as being anti-Semitic.
Examples include statements from the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris, who said recently that anti-Israel boycotts would undermine efforts to confront the fast-spreading and deadly coronavirus and threaten other medical breakthroughs. But that is not true.
Other activists making these pernicious and false claims include Pamela Geller, whose anti-Palestinian and racist hatred of Muslims is embraced as “acceptable” by those seeking to punish Americans who support a boycott of Israel’s illegal actions.
Geller recently described a student rally criticizing Israel’s illegal denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories in this way: “University of Illinois student government passes resolution to boycott Jews (BDS). The resolution was sponsored by an Islamic terror-tied group. US college campuses have become cesspools for left-wing Jew hatred and totalitarianism.”
The resolution she references does not mention “Jews,” but does criticize Israel’s violations of international laws, which apparently Geller supports.
The resolution, introduced on Feb. 5, 2020 and passed on Feb. 18, urges the University of Illinois to withdraw investments from companies that “profit from human rights violations in Palestine.” It named three military arms companies, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Company and Elbit Systems Ltd., denounced US immigration crackdowns on refugees, and compared Israel’s settlements and discriminatory laws to laws approved under South Africa’s apartheid system.
The resolution was approved by the student senate by 20 votes to nine with 11 abstentions following a six-hour public debate. It was vetoed two hours later privately by the student senate’s president.
Boycott advocates insist the focus is on the illegality of the Israeli settlements and support for those settlements. Their goal, they say, is to make Israel abide by international law.
One Palestinian rights activist, Sarah Wilkinson, summed support for the boycott, saying: “I support #BDS and I boycott Israel, just as I did South Africa, for mostly the same reasons, to end apartheid and convince Israel to obey international laws.”
The pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has said that Illinois is one of the most active in supporting anti-Israel boycott resolutions and activism, in part because of the state’s large Palestinian population.
The fight against the anti-BDS censorship of American free speech is being championed in courtrooms across the country by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Last year, ACLU attorney Brian Hauss wrote: “The ACLU takes no position on boycotts of Israel or any foreign country, but we have long defended the right to boycott, which is protected under the First Amendment. That’s why we challenged anti-boycott laws in Kansas, Arizona, Arkansas and Texas, and strongly opposed the Combating BDS Act in Congress.

Israel has implemented 67 laws and policies that discriminate against Christian and Muslim Palestinians because of their religion and race.

Ray Hanania

“To be clear: Anti-BDS laws are not designed to prevent discrimination. In fact, they’re designed to discriminate against disfavored political expression, which is why two federal courts and several prominent First Amendment scholars have agreed that these laws violate the First Amendment,” he said.
Israel’s government has been rallying the anti-BDS fight, spending more than $15 million since 2005 to oppose the boycott movement, which has been embraced by many celebrities and entertainers, including Rihanna, Jon Stewart, J.K. Rowling, Selena Gomez, Penelope Cruz, Russell Brand, Whoopi Goldberg, Emma Thompson, Danny Glover, and Roger Waters of the band Pink Floyd who will address a pro-Arab, anti-Israel conference in May.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania
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