Posted on July 10, 2019 in Action Alerts
From the tea boycott of the American revolution to the Montgomery bus boycott of the civil rights movement, political boycotts have been a fundamental part of our country’s progress, and the right to engage in these boycotts is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In recent years, however, there have been many unconstitutional efforts to punish U.S. citizens who protest Israel’s human rights violations by boycotting Israel or its illegal settlements. For example, a town in Texas once required those seeking Hurricane assistance to certify that they don’t boycott Israel to qualify for such assistance. Elsewhere in Texas, a speech pathologist was fired from her job when she refused to sign a pledge to not boycott Israel.
In a victory for free speech and the First Amendment, these transparently unconstitutional laws have been blocked by federal courts on three occasions; in Texas, Kansas, and Arizona.
But those who want to suppress the right to boycott Israel or its illegal settlements are not giving up. New anti-boycott laws have been revised to avoid legal challenges while chilling free expression. Similarly, this anti-BDS resolution, H.Res.246, uses false accusations and misinformation to attack and demonize the BDS campaign that supports Palestinian human rights through a boycott of Israel. To get around the obvious violation of the First Amendment that was apparent in previous bills, this resolution is not binding, and does not prescribe specific punishments for those who boycott Israel or its illegal settlements. But make no mistake about this: The aim of this resolution is to suppress advocacy for Palestinian human rights through boycotts.
HOW H.Res.246 MISREPRESENTS BDS:
The resolution implies that the BDS campaign is opposed to the two-state solution by saying it is a “campaign that does not favor a two-state solution.” Aside from not creating a litmus test for free speech, the BDS campaign simply refrains from specifying any particular political outcome, with its official website saying: “The BDS movement does not advocate for a particular solution to the conflict and does not call for either a ‘one state solution’ or a ‘two state solution’. Instead, BDS focuses on the realization of basic rights and the implementation of international law.”
- The resolution claims that “the BDS Movement targets... individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel.” This is a mischaracterization that is explicitly debunked on the official BDS campaign’s website, which reads: “BDS campaigns target the Israeli state because of its responsibility for serious violations of international law and the companies and institutions that participate in and are complicit in these Israeli violations. The BDS movement does not boycott or campaign against any individual or group simply because they are Israeli.” Furthermore, the BDS movement says explicitly that it “categorically opposes” anti-Semitism.
- By omitting a portion of a quote by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, the resolution misrepresents his call for equality and portrays it as a call for anti-Semitic discrimination. In the resolution, Barghouti is quoted saying: “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” But the full quote actually includes: “just as we would oppose a Muslim state or a Christian state…,” meaning his opposition to a religious state wasn’t aimed at a particular community. The full quote also goes on to specify an inclusive vision for the future, “accepting modern day Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new, shared society.”
- The resolution claims that the BDS campaign “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations.” This is completely tone-deaf and out of step with reality: Negotiations died many years ago with Israel’s refusal to end the occupation and insistence on building more and more settlements throughout the Palestinian territories. Today, the Palestinian leadership continues to call for a two-state solution while the Israeli government, with the support of the Trump administration, is talking about “Greater Israel” where Palestinians have no sovereignty or independence. The idea that Palestinian intransigence is what is preventing a two-state solution is simply delusional.
THE REAL AIM OF H.Res.246
Some have portrayed H.Res.246 as a workable “middle ground” where members of Congress can posture about their support for Israel without undermining the First Amendment, but this is a very wrong reading of the resolution. H.Res.246 is a transparent ploy to drag members of Congress into supporting measures that suppress human rights advocacy for Palestinians.
Senator Marco Rubio, who supports unconstitutional measures to punish boycotters of Israel or its illegal settlements, is already exploiting his opponents’ support for H.Res.246, portraying them as hypocritical for acknowledging the supposed dangers of BDS but their refusal to suppress it more aggressively.
Beyond baiting legislators to suppress the First Amendment, this resolution also puts the movement advocating for Palestinian human rights at risk. Following the failure of peace negotiations in persuading Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinians, the peace and justice movement has largely shifted towards boycott pressures to achieve that goal. So by misrepresenting the boycott campaign targeting Israeli human rights violations as hateful, discriminatory, and anti-peace, the passing of H.Res.246 would isolate advocates for Palestinian human rights, making any contact or engagement with them seem morally wrong and politically toxic. We must stand up to this dangerous attempt at chilling expression in support of Palestinian human rights and marginalizing supporters of non-violent boycotts.