Andrew Sullivan has long been a singular critical voice on the Israel question among U.S. mainstream columnists and he plays that role again at New York Magazine in a column blasting Chuck Schumer for leading the charge on “creeping authoritarianism” with the new “Israel Anti-Boycott Act”. Sullivan ascribes the bill to the “complete… grip of AIPAC” in Washington. Crossing the lobby leaves writers smeared as “anti-Semites” and politicians’ careers “suddenly stalled.” Here’s the whole bit:
One of the features you most associate with creeping authoritarianism is the criminalization of certain political positions. Is anything more anathema to a liberal democracy? If Trump were to suggest it, can you imagine the reaction?
And yet it’s apparently fine with a hefty plurality of the Senate and House. I’m referring to the remarkable bill introduced into the Congress earlier this year — with 237 sponsors and co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate — which the ACLU and the Intercept have just brought to light. It’s a remarkably bipartisan effort, backed by Chuck Schumer and Ted Cruz, among many solid Trump-resisting Democrats and hard-line Republicans. And it would actually impose civil and criminal penalties on American citizens for backing or joining any international boycott of Israel because of its settlement activities. There are even penalties for simply inquiring about such a boycott. And they’re not messing around. The minimum civil penalty would be $250,000 and the maximum criminal penalty $1 million and 20 years in prison. Up to 20 years in prison for opposing the policies of a foreign government and doing something about it! And, yes, the Senate Minority Leader is leading the charge.
Look: I’m not in favor of boycotting Israel when we don’t boycott, say, Saudi Arabia. But seriously: making it illegal? Every now and again, you just have to sit back and admire the extraordinary skills of the Greater Israel lobby. You’ve never heard of this bill, and I hadn’t either. But that is partly the point. AIPAC doesn’t want the attention — writers who notice this attempted assault on a free society will be tarred as anti-Semites (go ahead, it wouldn’t be the first time) and politicians who resist it will see their careers suddenly stalled. I doubt a single sponsor of this bill will go on the record to oppose it (so far, none has). That’s how complete the grip of AIPAC is. And pointing out this special interest’s distortion of democracy is not the equivalent of bigotry. It’s simply a defense of our democratic way of life.
A couple of comments. Sullivan long ago asked, Why are there no anti-Zionist columnists in any U.S. journal of any clout? This remains the most telling symptom of the stranglehold of the Israel lobby over our discourse, the complete absence of dissent (and it’s not just the Greater Israel lobby; it’s the Zionist ideology). Here he says that this power extends to stalling politcians careers and destroying writers’ reputations. When will this argument be picked up on Chris Hayes’s show, or Chris Matthews’s? Before long, I believe; because the cat is out of the bag inside the Democratic base, and the Chrises are feelin the heat.
Next, let’s answer Sullivan on why boycotting Israel is of greater moment than boycotting Saudi Arabia.
–In the Saudi case, we already have 47 Democrats and Republicans, including Schumer and Connecticut’s righteous senator Chris Murphy, opposing U.S. policy and citing such issues as women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. In the Israeli case, the dissenters are a mere handful; Schumer is Israel’s guardian; and Murphy does a jeckyll-and-hyde on human rights. This underlines the origins of the boycott: Governments have utterly failed to apply pressure on Israel– in the U.S. case, because of that Israel lobby, which has no likeness in the Saudi case.
–In the Israel case, the boycott call arose 12 years ago from Palestinians living under occupation and under second-class citizenship and in exile. Their call followed the failures of Oslo and Partition to deliver international promises of sovereignty and decades of American governmental failures to enforce policies against Jim Crow colonization and apartheid (and policies for the return of refugees). The moral urgency of a people asking for help to be liberated after governments have failed them is not to be trivialized.
–As Yousef Munayyer and other Palestinians and solidarity activists have made clear: If there is a Saudi boycott call, they’ll join up.
P.S. The bill was first exposed 3 months ago by Josh Ruebner at Electronic Intifada. Credit where it’s due.
Thanks to Scott McConnell.