Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa released a statement, Wednesday, expressing concern about legislation pending in the state of Maryland to punish and blacklist supporters of the academic boycott against Israel.The legislation was defeated earlier this year, but was later added to the state budget bill – a bill which must be passed in order for the state government to continue its work.

“This issue has nothing to do with our state budget and our legislators have no business slipping in such pejorative statements into a budget bill at the last minute,” said Karen Ackerman, a local organizer who also serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace. Tarek Abuata, coordinator for the Christian Peacemaker Teams based in Hebron agrees. “Supporters of the boycott come from all faiths and ethnic
backgrounds. They care deeply about using this time-honored non-violent tactic to effect positive change after decades of military occupation.”

Desmond Tutu is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end apartheid in South Africa, and has long been a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which uses nonviolent means to challenge the Israeli occupation of Palestine and is the initiative being attacked by these bills.

Tutu notes that these legislative initiatives are aimed “at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the
Palestinian people.”

In Maryland, the General Assembly recently considered legislation (HB998/SB647) intended to cut funding to any Maryland university with ties to any academic association, most specifically the American Studies Association (ASA), which has expressed support for the BDS movement. Marylanders representing a diverse group of civil rights and community organizations testified against the proposed legislation in Annapolis.

Although the bills both stalled in committee, their chief proponent, Delegate Ben Kramer of Montgomery County, introduced the bills’ language as an amendment to the state budget bill.

In his testimony on the amendment, Kramer made inciting comparisons, describing the boycott movement as “having taken a page from the history books” of Nazi Germany. Activists opposed to the legislation continue to press the General Assembly conference committee to strike the inflammatory language related to the boycott before it reaches the Maryland Governor’s desk.

In addition to the Maryland Assembly, similar bills have been introduced in Illinois, Florida, and New York. Archbishop Tutu notes that, while boycotts confront oppression, they also serve to inspire.

“Whether used in South Africa, the US South, or India,” he states that “these boycotts resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation to the oppressors. And I remain forever hopeful that, like the nonviolent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation for all our brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli, in the Holy Land.”

The Maryland General Assembly’s Conference Committee meets this week to discuss the budget bill, in anticipation of the close of session on April 7, 2014, and could decide as early as Wednesday on the fate of the proposed amendment.

For more info or to read the full statement, click the link below.