Posted by Guest on May 09, 2017 in Blog

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By Basseem Maleki

During a panel discussion last week that was part of AAI’s “Arab American Leadership Days” programming, Dima Khalidi – the founder and Director of Palestine Legal – discussed the ways in which advocates for Palestine have been subjected to intimidation, harassment, and various forms of legal pushback in the United States. Khalidi explained that between 2014 and 2016, Palestine Legal “responded to 650 instances of repression of Palestine advocacy.” Some of these included professors who were fired and denied tenure for speaking out on Palestine, and student advocates who were targeted by smear campaigns. Khalidi argued these efforts of repression are a result of “a multi-million-dollar effort by Israel advocacy groups, as well as the Israeli government, to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.” 

Another form of Palestinian advocacy that has faced intense pushback is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Deemed a strategic threat by the Israeli government, it is a peaceful initiative aimed at placing economic and political pressure on Israel until it complies with international law. The BDS movement has faced intense bi-partisan resistance in the U.S. On March 23, 2017, Senator Ben Cardin introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720), which aims to punish companies that follow the recent U.N. Human Rights Commission recommendation to boycott Israeli settlement companies’ products. If the bill is passed, companies will be fined if they deliberately avoid engaging in business with Israel with the intent to inflict economic harm on Israel. 17 states have passed anti-BDS legislation that prohibit states from entering contracts with companies and non-profits that engage in BDS. These efforts are a direct infringement on First Amendment rights; the Supreme Court has ruled that political protests in the form of boycotts are a protected expression of those rights.

294A1976.JPGAnother way in which legislators have attempted to silence Palestinian advocacy is by equating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. For example, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which was introduced in the Senate last year, sought to impose a new definition of anti-Semitism on the Department of Education. This bill uses the State Department's working definition of anti-Semitism and applies it in domestic settings of schools and college campuses. According to Khalidi, this definition “could encompass any and all criticism of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.” While this legislation was defeated in the House, versions of this bill have been introduced on campuses nationwide and in states, such as South Carolina and Tennessee.  

It is important to note that anti-Semitism is a legitimate issue and more needs to be done to combat it. Legislation like the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, however, is not the way to do it. It delegitimizes a serious matter by making anti-Semitism an Israel-Palestine issue rather than a human rights issue.

For more detailed information and ways to combat the repression of Palestinian advocacy, check out the Arab American Institute’s Palestine Issue Brief. Watch the full #ArabAmericansLead briefing by clicking here.


Basseem Maleki is a Spring 2017 intern with the Arab American Institute