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Desmond Tutu: Maryland legislature’s anti-boycott effort designed to ‘punish and intimidate’

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Desmond Tutu speaking at the German Evangelical Church in 2007. (Photo: Elke Wetzig/Wikimedia Commons)

Desmond Tutu speaking at the German Evangelical Church in 2007. (Photo: Elke Wetzig/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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13 Responses

  1. DaveS on April 3, 2014, 3:50 pm

    Tutu, shmutu! As JeffB already has informed us, Tutu has a history of hundreds of anti-Semitic pronouncements, including a prayer service for Nazis(!), and he would have kicked all the Jews out of South Africa if only he could have. Jeff will no doubt explain why Tutu would have forced his Jewish countrymen to move to Israel, thereby strengthening the Jewish State in its efforts to oppress Palestinians. Why would anyone give any credence to Tutu after JeffB has set us all straight?

    • seafoid on April 3, 2014, 4:32 pm

      Tutu was a camp guard at Belzec, according to Jeff.

      • Pixel on April 4, 2014, 8:51 am

        LOL

    • Real Jew on April 3, 2014, 8:01 pm

      David, your bromance with Jeffb is touching. Your attempt to discredit Tutu becuase hes critical of israel is quite pathetic. Hes a champion of human rights and the single most important person in the fight against South African apartheid. In addition to that he has campaigned to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, homophobia and transphobia. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986; the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987; the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999; the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007;[1] and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

      The entire world agrees hes a hero but according to you, israel and other zionists hes an evil antisemite. Hahaha ridiculous

      • DaveS on April 4, 2014, 1:21 am

        Jeez RJ maybe you should activate your sarcasm detector. Sorry but it was really obvious. Your fault not mine. Incidentally I did not exaggerate JeffB’s ridiculous claims re Tutu. He really did make them

      • amigo on April 4, 2014, 1:55 pm

        “Jeez RJ maybe you should activate your sarcasm detector. Sorry but it was really obvious.” David Samel.

        Now look what youv,e done David.Gone and chased off one of the good ones.RJ is embarrassed at his /her lack of perception.

        Come home RJ.All is forgiven.

      • Real Jew on April 4, 2014, 5:47 pm

        David, sorry dude. After reading your comment the second time the sarcasm was screaming off the page lol. I had just finished responding to jeff quite thoroughly so I guess that kind of screwed with me a bit when I read your comment lol

    • Kay24 on April 3, 2014, 11:24 pm

      Rev. Tutu, more than anyone else knows apartheid policies when he sees it.
      If he had turned a blind eye to the crimes and inhumane policies meted out by Israel to the occupied people, like some leaders do,there would be some apologists singing his praises here.
      Obviously his remarks hit a sore spot, and his criticism, sounds harsh to the guilty.
      Apologists can dish out, even be racists, but they simply have no courage and honesty to take any criticism of Israel, so the dear devoted resort to name calling, insults, and disrespectful attacks, on a man revered by the rest of the world.
      Let’s be honest here, Bibi is not respected, not trusted, and is a world known warmonger, and the world respects, trusts, and sees Rev. Tutu as a peacemaker.
      It must be hard trying to convince the world otherwise.

  2. biorabbi on April 3, 2014, 6:27 pm

    Shouldn’t the good Bishop spend his precious energies on the epidemic of rape in South Africa, HIV AIDS, violent crime and murder? I guess Bishop Tutu is a multi-tasker kind of guy.

    • Sumud on April 3, 2014, 9:05 pm

      You’re American, why are you focused on Israel instead of problems in the US? Why would you be advocating for the release of a convicted spy like Pollard???

      Oh yeah, it’s that small thing called freedom, you condescending schmuck.

      BTW Tutu is active in lots of areas, within SA and internationally – at a glance (link below):

      4 Role since apartheid
      4.1 Role in South Africa
      4.1.1 Continued economic stratification and political corruption
      4.1.2 Complications accompanying initiation rituals
      4.1.3 Criticism of Tutu
      4.2 Chair of The Elders
      4.3 Role in the developing world
      4.3.1 Zimbabwe
      4.3.2 Solomon Islands
      4.4 Israel and Palestine
      4.4.1 Global March to Jerusalem
      4.4.2 Palestinian Christians
      4.4.3 Gaza
      4.4.4 Protests against Tutu in the United States
      4.5 China
      4.6 Tibet
      4.7 United Nations role
      4.7.1 Against poverty
      4.7.2 Against unilateralism
      4.7.3 HIV, AIDS and TB
      4.7.4 Church reform
      4.7.5 Bible
      4.7.6 Gay rights
      4.7.7 Women’s rights
      4.7.8 Family planning
      4.7.9 Climate change
      4.7.10 US immigration laws
      4.8 Iraq War
      4.9 Imprisonment of Chelsea Manning
      4.10 Other humanitarian initiatives
      4.11 Academic role
      4.11.1 Genome
      4.12 Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa

      Wikipedia / Desmond Tutu / Role Since Apartheid

    • on April 4, 2014, 8:14 am

      Ah. The classic “look over there” defense of Israel.

  3. biorabbi on April 3, 2014, 9:44 pm

    Yes, I am in favor of releasing Jonathan Pollard. I think he is a scumbag, motivated by money, tried to sell secrets to Pakistan, did sell some to South Africa, and spied for Israel(for dollars). I also think he should be treated as any other spy with similar crimes(profile). Not better, or worse because of his religion. If he moves back to Israel for the rest of his life, fine with me. Answer your question?

    • on April 4, 2014, 8:16 am

      Shouldn’t Israel be required to tell the US exactly what they got from Pollard and what they did with it so we can assess just how much damage he did to us before letting this traitor walk?

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