By Justine McCabe,Â CTÂ Viewpoints
An alarming paradox has taken shape in legislation before [the United States’] Congress: Â Our representatives would violate Americansâ First Amendment rights in order to protect the State of Israel.
This draconian legislation isÂ H.R. 1697/S. 720, the âIsrael Anti-Boycott Act,â is a proposed law that could harshly penalize the free speech of Americans who support the internationalÂ Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movementÂ against Israel.
By amending existing laws (Export Administration act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945), this bill would prohibit Americans from supporting BDS against Israel, as an ally of the U.S. Â This would include barring an American from promoting boycotts of Israelâs illegal settlements and their products, as well as even requesting information about BDS.Â Beyond muzzling our constitutional right to speak freely, express political opinions, the punishments themselves are extreme: minimal civil penalty of $250,000 and maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
Taking no position on BDS, the American Civil Liberties UnionÂ (ACLU) has severely denounced the billÂ in a letter urging Senators âto refrain from cosponsoring this legislation because it would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs.â
The progressive group MoveOn.org opposes the legislation as it would criminalize free speech,Â as does the organizationÂ J Street (which opposes boycotts of Israel)Â because the bills threaten free speech.
The scary part? There are now 291 cosponsors for what amounts to violating our rights: 46 in the Senate (14 Democrats; 32 Republicans), and 245 in the House (182 Republicans; 63 Democrats).
Particularly distressing to this Connecticut voter is that one of my senators, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, is among those cosponsors as are two Connecticut Congressmen, Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) and John B. Larson (D-1st District).
What could motivate our representatives to violate their oath of office to âsupport the Constitution of the United States,â historically the Senateâs very first act, the âOath Actâ of May 5, 1789?
We know that this legislation is a priority for the Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).Â According to The Jewish Telegraphic Agency,Â AIPAC helped draft the billsÂ which are also supported by the group Christians United for Israel.
Should we assume that the promise of AIPAC campaign money and/or AIPACâs historically effective threats to incumbentsâ reelection or other corporate interests would âtrumpâ our representativesâ obligation to uphold the rights of their constituents?Â Or that historic devotion to Israel as our âcop on the beatâ or as tester/recipient of our weapon systems are more important to our ânational interestsâ than Americansâ rights?
The irony is that the BDS movement against Israel is an effort to non-violently defend the human rights of Palestinians, which Israel has egregiously violated for decades.Â This is despite scores of UN Security Council resolutions and continuous Palestinian resistance to their dispossession since 1948 when over 80 percent of the majority (Christian and Muslim) population was expelled from historic Palestine by Zionist forces.
Recognizing that world governments and their quisling Palestinian Authority (PA) would not liberate them, Palestinians looked to the grassroots and the successful example of the South African anti-apartheid movement.Â TheÂ BDS movement was founded in 2005Â by Palestinian civil society organizations to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law, specifically through three demands:
A likely reason for this Congressional move to âprotect Israelâ may be that the U.S., like Israel, recognizes that BDS is a successful, growing movement withÂ Israel increasingly viewed as a pariahÂ by the international community.
For examples,Â a UN report notes that in 2014Â foreign investment in Israel dropped by 50 percent Â âprimarily caused by the fallout from the Israelâs . . . Operation Protective Edge [Gaza] and international boycotts against the country for alleged violations of international law.âÂ SeveralÂ U.S. churches have voted to divest from Israel, as well as in companies targeted by BDS movement such as Veolia, SodaStream, G4S security services; cities like Portland OR, Berkeley, Durham NC, and Sacramento followed by divesting from some ofÂ these companies too;Â Israeli products like Sabra hummus and Ahava are being removedÂ from store shelves, pension funds have divested from companies like Caterpillar which bulldozes Palestinian homes.
For example on the cultural level, there has been a clear rejection of all-expenses-paid trips to Israel offered to prominent actors: âIsrael Invited 26 Oscar stars to visit. So far none has.â
TheÂ Green Party of the U.S. is the only AmericanÂ political party to endorse BDS.
U.S. support for Israel, despite growing international condemnation of its practices, is reminiscent of the Reagan Administrationâs response to the South African anti-apartheid divestment movement.Â As an ally of South Africaâs white minority government (purportedly in fighting communism), Reagan sought âconstructive engagementâ instead of economic sanctions. Eventually Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, and even overrode Reaganâs veto of it.
Given this progressive history, now could be the moment for the U.S. to make a genuine about face toward ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Rather than harming our own citizens with undemocratic measures like the Anti-Boycott Act, our Congress must reject it and uphold the U.S. value of equality before the law.Â We must stop shielding Israel at the UN; stop giving Israel over $3 billion of our tax dollars annually until Israel complies with international lawâa first step being ending its military occupation/settlement of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.
Letâs not follow the ultimately self-defeating behavior of the Israeli government which has already outlawed any support for BDS, exemplified in Israelâs refusing entry to American BDS supporterÂ Rabbi Alyssa Wise of Jewish Voices for PeaceÂ and her interfaith delegation.Â Their crime: intending to meet with peace activists and faith leaders and visit their respective holy sites.
What has Israel got to lose?Â Its ability to perpetuate injustice and flout international law.
What has the U.S. got to lose? Our constitutional rights to free speech and organized political opposition.