Groups slam US states’ crack­down on Is­rael boy­cotts

The Miracle - - National & Int - Source: Al-Jazeera

Rights groups and Pales­tine ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tions have blasted a Mary­land ex­ec­u­tive or­der that bars state con­tracts for firms that boy­cott Is­rael as part of a “leg­isla­tive as­sault” that tar­gets the Pales­tinian-led Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment. On Mon­day, Mary­land Gov­er­nor Larry Ho­gan signed the ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which ac­cuses firms that boy­cott Is­rael of pos­ing “un­due risks as con­tract­ing part­ners”. Sur­rounded by lead­ers of pro-Is­rael groups and Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions, Ho­gan ad­dressed a press con­fer­ence af­ter sign­ing the or­der. “There is no place in our state for boy­cotts and threats,” he said, as re­ported by the Bal­ti­more Sun. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, Ho­gan’s of­fice had not replied to Al Jazeera’s re­quest for com­ment. Brian Hauss, a staff at­tor­ney at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU), de­scribed the gov­er­nor’s or­der as “part of a leg­isla­tive as­sault we’ve seen over the past few years on the right to boy­cott”, cit­ing a string of le­gal mea­sures in states across the US. Speak­ing to Al Jazeera by tele­phone, he de­scribed the mea­sure as “bla­tantly un­con­sti­tu­tional”, re­fer­ring to the US Con­sti­tu­tion’s First Amend­ment, which guar­an­tees the free­dom of expression. BDS is a global cam­paign that was launched in 2005 with the in­tent of hold­ing Is­rael ac­count­able for vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law and Pales­tinian hu­man rights. Draw­ing from the anti-Apartheid strug­gle in South Africa, the move­ment calls for boy­cotting, di­vest­ing from and sanc­tion­ing Is­rael un­til it ends its decades-long oc­cu­pa­tion of Arab land, pro­vides Pales­tinian ci­ti­zens of Is­rael with full equal­ity and al­lows Pales­tinian refugees to re­turn to their homes. In re­cent years, the move­ment has grown in the US, par­tic­u­larly on univer­sity and col­lege cam­puses. In re­sponse, pro-Is­rael or­gan­i­sa­tions have lob­bied for mea­sures that tar­get stu­dents and state bills alike. Through­out the last two years, at least 22 states have passed laws or im­ple­mented ex­ec­u­tive or­ders that tar­get BDS ac­tivism. “Th­ese laws are ex­am­ples of the state lever­ag­ing fi­nan­cial re­sources to co­erce peo­ple to move away from po­lit­i­cal move­ments the state does not favour,” Hauss said. “What­ever you think about the BDS move­ment, there is clear ev­i­dence of govern­ment viewpoint dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he added. “That’s some­thing that the First Amend­ment clearly pro­hibits.” Last week, Dickinson, a city in Texas, posted an ap­pli­ca­tion for hur­ri­cane relief funds that man­dated ap­pli­cants to sign an agree­ment promis­ing they will not boy­cott Is­rael. The city cited a Texas law that pro­hibits state agen­cies from con­tract­ing com­pa­nies that boy­cott Is­rael. The move prompted wide­spread con­dem­na­tion from rights groups, in­clud­ing the ACLU. In July, North Carolina Gov­er­nor Roy Cooper signed a law that pro­hibits state agen­cies from do­ing busi­ness with com­pa­nies that en­gage in BDS. A month ear­lier, Kansas Gov­er­nor Sam Brown­back signed HB 2409, a sim­i­lar law which re­quires both state-con­tracted in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies to pro­vide a writ­ten cer­tifi­cate pro­claim­ing that they are not par­tic­i­pat­ing in a boy­cott of Is­rael. Ear­lier this month, the ACLU filed a fed­eral law­suit chal­leng­ing the Kansas law on be­half of Es­ther Koontz, a pub­lic high school teacher who ad­vo­cates a con­sumer boy­cott of Is­raeli prod­ucts and in­ter­na­tional goods pro­duced in il­le­gal Is­raeli set­tle­ments in oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory. Jack Saltzberg, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Is­rael Group, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that lob­bies against BDS, ar­gued that anti-BDS leg­is­la­tion has “noth­ing to do with curb­ing free speech”. “It is gen­er­ally leg­is­la­tion that con­stricts govern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions and ben­e­fi­cia­ries from di­vest­ing from Is­rael, or at least fol­low­ing cer­tain guide­lines,” he told Al Jazeera. “There­fore, when passed by a state, stu­dents in that state’s univer­si­ties can freely say any­thing they want about Is­rael, or even vote to di­vest from Is­rael.” Rahul Sak­sena, a staff at­tor­ney at the US-based Pales­tine Le­gal, said that the wave of anti-BDS laws is de­signed to in­tim­i­date Pales­tine sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivists by cre­at­ing a “chill­ing ef­fect”. Speak­ing to Al Jazeera by tele­phone, Sak­sena ex­plained that the host of laws and bills fol­low in the tra­di­tion of anti-Pales­tinian mea­sures that have tar­geted stu­dent ac­tivists in re­cent years. Those mea­sures in­clude ban­ning ad­vo­cacy groups like Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine and sup­press­ing pro-Pales­tinian protests and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. In May 2015, Ca­nary Mis­sion, a pro-Is­rael web­site, was cre­ated to track Pales­tine sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivists and dash their fu­ture em­ploy­ment prospects. Since 2015, how­ever, pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tions have in­creas­ingly fo­cused their ef­forts on sup­port­ing anti-BDS leg­is­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to Sak­sena. Most of the leg­is­la­tion, he said, has en­joyed the sup­port of both the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties. Sak­sena said ef­forts to sti­fle Pales­tine sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivism are ev­i­dence that pro-Is­rael or­gan­i­sa­tions are un­able to make their case on moral grounds. “What’s be­hind [this] is an un­will­ing­ness to con­front the is­sue of Pales­tinian rights on its mer­its,” he said. “In­stead, they want to si­lence the con­ver­sa­tion.” He added: “Rather than en­gag­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion and hav­ing a de­bate about hu­man rights abuses and vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law, they pour re­sources into pres­sur­ing univer­si­ties and law­mak­ers to shut down the con­ver­sa­tion.” Ear­lier this year, the fed­eral Is­rael Anti-Boy­cott Act - a bill that seeks to crim­i­nalise boy­cotting Is­rael - was in­tro­duced in both the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Se­nate. Signed by at least 100 civil so­ci­ety groups and hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions, a joint state­ment pub­lished in Au­gust called on Con­gres­sional leg­is­la­tors to op­pose the Is­rael An­tiBoy­cott Act. Sak­sena said: “The prob­lem is that boy­cotts for Pales­tinian rights, like all boy­cotts, are pro­tected by con­sti­tu­tional rights.”

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