I attended Senator Ron Wyden’s town hall on August 9 in Tualatin, Oregon. I was concerned about his co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S.720 which, as the ACLU stated, could expose someone to criminal prosecution for speaking at a rally, or on twitter, in favor of a U.N. boycott proposal against Israel.
Wyden began the town hall by giving a flag to Les and Eva Aigner, two Holocaust survivors who reside in Oregon, whom Wyden lately honored in a speech in the Senate.
Everyone who wanted to ask a question was given a lottery ticket.
Maria Barahona was called on and her question to Wyden was:
Senator Wyden, I want to thank you for your position on many issues of civil liberties and holding the constitution which has been badly trampled by the Trump administration. But i’m concerned about your co-sponsorship of the Israel anti-Boycott act.
I feel, Senator Wyden, that you are two different Senators. There is Senator Wyden who stands up for my civil liberties and defends my right to privacy, stands for healthcare and other issues. But there’s the other Senator Wyden who seems to to want to defend the human rights violations of a foreign country, Israel from opposition to its illegal policies. And you seem willing to do so by supporting a bill which would punish your own constituents who care about human rights.. and illustrate the all too familiar bi-partisan Palestine exception when it comes to free speech from pro-Palestine activists. I want my senator, at the very least, to withdraw his support from this awful bill, S. 720 and stand up for my right to free speech and the right to boycott.
At this point approximately 10 people held up “I agree” signs. No one, that I could see, held up “I disagree” signs.
Let’s talk about what this bill does and doesn’t do. And I imagine not everyone in the audience has been keeping track so let’s take a minute to give people a sense of what’s going on.
Here’s what the bill does. If an American business wants to get a contract with a foreign government, that foreign government or any international organization can’t require that the American company, for example, won’t sell corn, to Israel. So in effect, the foreign government is not allowed to strong arm the American company from doing business with an ally. Now I want to talk.. I want to clear the fog on what the bill doesn’t do because I can tell you, I’ve devoted my whole life to the first Amendment and civil liberties and I just want people to know what the bill does not do.
This sounds exactly like the anti-boycott provisions of Export Administration Regulations (EAR) act which, if Senator Wyden is characterizing the bill correctly, makes S. 720 redundant.
He said the same thing on August 7th at the town hall meeting in Portland Oregon:
We’ve had a law on the books for 40 years that prevents American commercial activity from participating in concerted boycotts led by foreign governments and I guess it could involve the U.N. But we cannot find one instance of anybody being put in jail.
On August 9 in Tualatin, Wyden continued:
The bill does not stop any individual from boycotting Israel. The basic first Amendment right, this bill protects it. The bill doesn’t stop any individual American from urging others to boycott Israel. That’s a basic first Amendment right. This bill protects it. The bill doesn’t stop you from organizing a boycott of Israel, a basic first Amendment right, this bill protects it. The bill doesn’t stop you from tweeting that you’re in favor of boycott, divestment.. inaudible.. that’s a basic first Amendment right. The bill doesn’t stop you from, um, putting your support for all this on your Facebook page and everywhere else, and the bill doesn’t stop you from writing op-ed pieces and doesn’t stop you from just going into the street with a megaphone to say that you support BDS, you’re against Israel. Those are basic first Amendment rights.
And I’ll just tell you, this is a matter of public record. In other words, people know what senators do with their time. The bills, the hearings, tell you when someone is taking a stand for the first Amendment. I have lead the fight in the United States Congress to keep the internet free and open. Free and open for everyone, I fight for net neutrality. And folks, there have been a lot of 14-1 votes in the Senate intelligence committee and you can kind of guess who the “1” is. It was me standing up for the first Amendment. I’ll won’t take the back seat to anybody in terms of protecting the first Amendment. And we’ve can disagree on bills and the like, but I’m really glad everybody agrees on the importance of the first Amendment.
The ACLU says that Wyden is wrong about this. At least Wyden had shifted somewhat. The last time Wyden listed all the things an individual can do to exercise First Amendment rights, he also mentioned picnics.
You can post any criticism of Israel on your Facebook page, write an op-ed about your views for a newspaper, walk up and down your street with a megaphone, organize a big picnic in your back yard.
So it seems to be a case of Ron Wyden vs the ACLU. And we can have our picnic without any Israeli foods and the wool over our eyes about our first Amendment rights.
P.S. My question was not called, but what I would have asked, if given the opportunity was:
Senator Wyden, there’s a district in the Palestinian city of Hebron called Tel Rumeida. In Tel Rumeida, Palestinian residents are not allowed to drive cars of any kind. This includes busses, taxis, and ambulances. If a Palestinian resident of Tel Rumeida gets sick, he or she must be carried out on a donkey, wheelbarrow or in the arms of other people. Palestinians are regularly subjected to detentions at the many checkpoints in Tel Rumeida. Israeli residents of Tel Rumeida are subjected to none of these indignities. A black South African woman I met while in Hebron stated that the situation was “worse than apartheid.” My question for you, Senator Wyden is, did you support black South African’s call for the boycott of the apartheid government in the 1980’s, and if so, why don’t you support the Palestinian call for boycott of Israeli products until Israel lifts its apartheid policies against Palestinians?