“Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, strikes at the heart of First Amendment-protected free speech, will be challenged in the courts and is likely to be struck down.”
Defenders of BDS do not often see eye to eye with Abraham Foxman, who wrote these lines shortly before stepping down last year as the national director of the Anti Defamation League.
But this is the message that the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition will be taking to the halls of the State House on March 15 when they hand deliver to each legislative office a copy of a statement opposing anti-BDS legislation that has been signed by 61 organizations from across the Commonwealth.
The Coalition rapidly came together in response to a report that a new ‘anti BDS’ bill was being drafted with the assistance of the JCRC.
Religious organizations, solidarity, peace and justice groups, academics and advocates for human rights, housing, criminal justice reform, corporate accountability, environmental issues, anti-racism, LGBTQ rights and civil liberties all signed on in the space of a week.
They see this effort to proscribe the kind of non-violent boycott movement that played such a fundamental role in the US Civil Rights Movement and the struggle against the South African Apartheid system as not just potentially unconstitutional, but inherently undemocratic.
Massachusetts legislators would do well to heed their constituents – and the former ADL head – and tell the JCRC they intend to keep their focus on the Commonwealth’s more pressing business.
An Open Letter to the Massachusetts State House
From the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition
“Non violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding…It is a sword that heals.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Why We Can’t Wait,’ 1963
The Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition asks the Massachusetts legislature to heed Dr. King’s words as they consider upcoming anti-boycott legislation. While the bill’s text is not yet available, its intention is similar to that of dozens of other anti-boycott bills introduced into state legislatures across the country: to curb Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a peaceful and legitimate strategy for leveraging consumer and constituent power to persuade Israel to comply with international law and to respect Palestinian human rights.
The US Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. that boycotts intended to effect political, social or economic change are protected by the First Amendment. Such boycotts have been essential tools in US movements for civil rights, labor, the environment, and the struggle against South African Apartheid. As grassroots groups building stronger Massachusetts communities, we are concerned that anti-boycott legislation is not only an unconstitutional violation of free speech, but a threat to our right to organize.
We urge Massachusetts lawmakers to respect constituents who – like growing numbers of Americans across the country – recognize the capacity of boycotts to bring about positive change in Palestine/Israel and the rest of the world as it is forged into Dr. King’s healing sword.
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia
American Friends Service Committee – Cambridge
Arlington Street Church – Social Action Committee
Better Future Project
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Black and Pink
Boston Alliance for Water Justice
Boston Climate Action Network
Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights
Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine
Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine
Cambridge to Bethlehem People to People Project
Cambridge United for Justice with Peace
City Life/Vida Urbana
Code Pink – Greater Boston
Code Pink – Western Massachusetts
Corporate Accountability International
Defending Dissent Foundation
Dorchester People for Peace
Executive Board & Members of United Steelworkers of America Local 8751
Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine at UMass Boston
Families for Justice as Healing
First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain
Friends of Sabeel – New England
Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine
Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee
Islamic Society of Northeastern University
Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston
Jewish Voice for Peace – Western Massachusetts
Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine
Justice for Palestine at Harvard Law School
Kairos/Franklin County Justice for Palestine
Make Shift Boston
Massachusetts Global Action/Encuentro 5
Massachusetts Peace Action
Muslim Justice League
National Lawyers Guild – Massachusetts Chapter
No More Guantanamos
North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice
Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine
Palestine Advocacy Project
Palestine Israel Task Team of First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, UCC
Peace & Justice Committee of First Church in Bedford, MA Unitarian-Universalist
Project Voice, American Friends Service Committee, Massachusetts
Showing Up for Racial Justice
St. Francis and St. Theresa Catholic Worker of Worcester
Tree of Life Educational Fund
Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace
Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine
UMass Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine
United American Indians of New England
United for Justice with Peace
UUs for Justice in the Mid-East MA
Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment
Wellesley College Students for Justice in Palestine
Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine
Western Massachusetts Labor for Palestine
Youth Against Mass Incarceration