As the end of Maryland’s legislative session approaches, a battle is raging over language in the budget that harshly criticizes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
A Maryland delegate has inserted language into the state budget that implies the academic boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic. The budget as it stands also condemns the American Studies Association’s (ASA) vote to implement a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In response, Palestine solidarity and civil liberties groups are waging a campaign to erase the language from the budget. And they have an influential figure on their side: South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In a statement released by the Keep Free Speech in the Free State Coalition, Tutu said that Maryland politicians’ drive to deride BDS is aimed at “punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people.”
Tutu was a leading activist against South African apartheid, and is one of the most prominent supporters of the BDS movement targeting Israel. The South African archbishop said that past “boycotts resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation to the oppressors.”
Tutu’s statement was published days after Maryland Delegate Benjamin Kramer took to the floor of the Maryland house to denounce critics of Israel. Kramer said that “the ASA is welcome to its discriminatory boycott. It is welcome to be as racist as they choose…They are free to be members in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan if they so choose.”
Kramer is the author of a previous bill–one in a series of similar legislative initiatives–that sought to bar public funds from being used to pay dues to the ASA or travel to their conventions. But over the past few months, Keep Free Speech in the Free State Coalition members have beaten back the punitive anti-boycott bill. So Kramer is trying to pass a less punitive measure that ties the BDS movement to anti-Semitism. He did so by inserting his amendment into the state budget.
Now, the House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate are negotiating over the final version of the budget before both houses vote on it. Members of the coalition of Palestine solidarity and civil liberties groups working against Kramer’s effort are pressing for the anti-boycott language to be taken out before April 7, when the legislative session closes.
“This issue has nothing to do with our state budget and our legislators have no business slipping in such pejorative statements into a budget bill at the last minute,” Karen Ackerman, a board member with Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, as the fight in Maryland continues, activists have defeated a similar effort in Illinois. An Illinois state Senate resolution that would have condemned boycotting Israel was defeated in committee. A separate Illinois bill that would cut funds to public colleges that subsidize pro-BDS academic groups remains on the table.