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Maryland governor’s order against BDS is sure to backfire, boycott advocates say

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order Monday barring the state from contracting with any companies that support the nonviolent, Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Flanked by pro-Israel lawmakers and lobbyists — including members of the highly influential Baltimore Jewish Council that made anti-BDS legislation its main priority in 2016 — Hogan became the second state governor to issue a directive against the boycott of Israel.

New York Governor Cuomo signed a similar, first-of-its-kind order against the use of boycotts to advocate for an end to Israel’s human rights abuses in June of last year, kowtowing to the pro-Israel lobby and drawing the ire of civil liberties groups, Palestine solidarity activists and free speech advocates.

Hogan characterized the goals of BDS as contrary to the maintenance of economic ties between his state and the foreign government of Israel.

“As long as I am governor of Maryland” he declared, “there is no place in our state for boycotts and threats which seek to undermine sincere dialogue.”

But the language of the executive order is far from “sincere,” in that it transforms the internationally recognized occupied Palestinian territories into “Israel and its territories,” revealing an apparent commitment to Israel’s indefinite occupation of the West Bank.

Even the U.S. State Department refers to the area in question as the Occupied Territories.

Nevertheless, Howard Libit, Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, put the usual spin on BDS, casting it as a discriminatory movement that seeks the destruction of Israel.

“This executive order stands up against companies that seek to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and negate the right of Israel to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” Libit said in a statement.

The move comes just a few months after Maryland State Senator Robert Zirkin and State Delegate Ben Kramer introduced commensurate legislation that would have in addition, prohibited the state from investing pension funds in firms supporting the boycott.

Thanks in large part to opposition from the diverse Freedom2Boycott in Maryland coalition, the measure failed.

Saqib Ali, co-founder of Freedom2Boycott and a former Maryland state legislator, said Monday’s executive order shows the hubris of staunchly pro-Israel voices and their disregard for democratic institutions.

And although disappointed with the development, Ali expects the move to backfire, as it grates on Americans’ sensibilities of First Amendment protected speech.

“You don’t have to be somebody who pays close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be outraged by this,” Ali told Mondoweiss.

As of last month, 21 states had enacted anti-BDS legislation, including the executive orders in New York and Maryland, while Minnesota and Massachusetts currently have anti-BDS measures pending in their respective legislatures.

These measures, while they differ somewhat between states, all rely on a combination of blacklists, prohibition of government contracts and pension fund divestment, according to Palestine Legal.

Three separate bills have been introduced to Congress as part of an effort, in coordination with state directives, to bar BDS on the Federal level.

Both the Combating BDS Act and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act were introduced in the Congress this year with bipartisan support, and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act passed the Senate in 2016 but too late for the House of Representatives to follow up. It is almost certain to be reintroduced in 2017, notes Palestine Legal.

Legal groups have characterized these bills as unconstitutional and McCarthyite in nature.

And before these more blatant measures to defeat BDS, anti-BDS provisions have been slipped into unrelated bills. For example, the Trade Promotions Authority, signed into law in 2015 by President Barack Obama, included among its many free trade provisions, a section “discouraging politically-motivated boycotts of Israel.”

Nathan Feldman of Maryland, a member of Freedom2Boycott and Baltimore Palestine Solidarity, says the categorical passage of anti-BDS measures is ultimately an indicator of the movement’s success.

“I think that the fact that we’re making people in power flinch is very good news,” Feldman told Mondoweiss. Feldman notes that among his elected representatives are Governor Hogan and Senator Ben Cardin, lead sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

The groundswell of support for BDS is a threat, Feldman tells Mondoweiss to their “positions of power and so [lawmakers are] resorting to increasingly Draconian measures.”

Indeed, over the past few weeks the unconstitutionality of anti-BDS attempts has returned to the public eye, with two of the most cartoonish anti-BDS implementations yet.

In Texas last week, the city of Dickinson made Hurricane Harvey relief conditional on residents certifying in writing that they do not and will not support the boycott of Israel. City officials said the measure was due to anti-BDS legislation passed and enacted at the state level, but Dickinson appeared to be the only city to include this stipulation with regard to hurricane relief.

Over the summer, a Kansas teacher was denied a job training math teachers after refusing to sign a pledge to not engage in the boycott of Israel. A curriculum coach, Esther Koontz had chosen to boycott Israeli goods that profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights, and said she could not in good conscience sign or act upon such a pledge.

The ACLU recently filed a federal lawsuit targeting the Kansas state law, which is quite similar to others across the U.S., both in implementation and in its violation of the right to boycott as First Amendment protected free speech.

In light of these recent events, Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called Governor Hogan’s move “remarkably tone deaf.” Munayyer noted, however, that the anti-BDS fervor indicates Israel and its supporters’ acknowledgement that it is losing the battle for U.S. public opinion.

“When the state of Israel responds and their supporters respond with repression, either through the form of these kinds of anti-BDS laws or other forms of repression aimed at Palestinian rights activists, what people see there is not an engagement with the argument but rather a silencing of discussion,” Munayyer told Mondoweiss.

As Israel is a regional military powerhouse, it knows how to respond to militarized challenges, he said. “But because of its position of power it is really in a very weak position to respond to nonviolent challenges. If it confronts those challenges with power-plays like this, it loses the argument in the court of public opinion.”

Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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7 Responses

  1. just on October 25, 2017, 4:37 pm

    Jesse~ thanks for the report on yet another Constitutional moron and numbskull/shill for Israel. Thanks for the detailed report.

    Wonder if you saw this:

    “Israel Secretly Using U.S. Law Firm to Fight BDS Activists in Europe, North America …

    … The government has been secretly using a U.S. law firm to help it fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Europe, North America and elsewhere, according to documents obtained by Haaretz.

    The government has hired the Chicago-based firm Sidley Austin to prepare legal opinions and handle court proceedings. The Justice Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry have declined to reveal the nature of these activities, for which the state has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years. The ministries call the activities “diplomatically extremely sensitive.”

    About two years ago, the security cabinet made the Strategic Affairs Ministry responsible for coordinating the fight against “delegitimization” and earmarked major resources for these efforts. The Strategic Affairs Ministry transfers some of the money to the Foreign Ministry in various places worldwide and some money has been given to Jewish organizations overseas for public relations work on campuses and elsewhere.

    But the Strategic Affairs Ministry is also operating on these matters in ways that have not been made public. In the past, the ministry’s director general, Sima Vaknin, told the Knesset that it is involved in “gathering intelligence and attacking.”

    Over the past year, attorney Eitay Mack has asked government ministries in the name of human rights activists to receive information on all the contracts signed with bodies overseas involving anti-BDS activities. The Foreign Ministry said it had no such contractual obligations, but the Justice Ministry provided censored documents.

    The documents show that the special-tasks department in the State Prosecutor’s Office, which is responsible for dealing with matters of national security – in cooperation with the Strategic Affairs Ministry – called for bids in early 2016 from international law firms.

    This was for “preparing documents and legal opinions, handling legal proceedings (suits or representation) to the extent needed battling the BDS phenomenon in particular concerning calls and initiatives to impose boycotts and sanctions against Israeli companies and businesses, as well as against foreign companies that have business operations in Israel.”

    The detailed description of the services was censored from the document. The Justice Ministry said the details were redacted because their publication could lead to “damage to the country’s foreign relations and damage to the ability of these bodies to provide the requested service.”

    In February 2016, the Justice Ministry contracted with a law firm, but in May the ministry asked to switch firms after the original outfit was found to have a possible conflict of interest.
    A contract with a different law firm for 290,000 euros was then approved, with the option of increasing the amount by another 200,000 euros for additional work. Another expansion of the original contract was later approved, this time for another 437,000 euros, making a total contract value of 925,000 euros, or 4 million shekels ($1.1 million).

    The tenders committee decided not to publicize the contracts in the government’s Manof information system because of the sensitivity of the matter to Israel’s foreign relations.

    The secrecy surrounding the contracts raises the suspicion that the work involves not only writing legal opinions but also preparing lawsuits against BDS supporters, as Israel does not want to be revealed as supporting such actions, to avoid the perception that it is interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

    The money is disbursed as budgetary allocations for international contracts. The Justice Ministry’s report on such contracts shows that the government contracted with Sidley Austin in March 2016 for consulting services, without issuing a tender for competitive bidding. In the first half of 2017, the firm received $219,000 in payments. No other law firms were paid under the same budgetary section.

    Sidley Austin did not reply to questions on whether it was working for the Israeli government.

    Sidley Austin is one of the largest American law firms and employs 1,900 lawyers. It is the firm where a young lawyer, Michelle Robinson, met a summer intern named Barack Obama. The firm has four offices in Europe: in Brussels, London, Munich and Geneva.”

    ead more:


    • amigo on October 25, 2017, 7:18 pm

      Someone ought to tell the GOI they are wasting all this money.

      Perhaps our usual suspects here, might share their view , that BDS is having no effect whatsoever.

      Come on Mayhem/Boris/Jack Daw–kins/ et al–you owe it to your beloved Yisrael to save them wasting their money.Show us proof of your loyalty.

    • Brewer on October 29, 2017, 12:42 am

      Boycott Sidley Austin.

  2. JWalters on October 25, 2017, 6:43 pm

    One day Maryland Governor Larry Hogan will try to excuse his blatant assault on the US Constitution by saying he was “just following orders.”

  3. JosephA on October 26, 2017, 1:25 am

    Anti boycott legislation needs to head straight to the judiciary. Challenged in a court of law, Israel will always lose. Sunlight is the best disinfectant!

  4. Elizabeth Block on October 26, 2017, 10:34 am

    BDS is having no economic effect. True. It’s not an economic action, it’s a political one.
    And it’s scaring the hell out of Israel and the Zionists. They say it’s an existential threat to Israel, and perhaps it is. An Israel that was a state of all its citizens – one of BDS’s demands – would be quite a different place from the Israel we all know. But it would be a normal state.

    Imagine the USA if it were not a state of all its citizens…..

  5. Misterioso on October 26, 2017, 10:40 am

    I urge everyone to read this article.

    “How Israel wins the media war”

    By Rod Such, The Electronic Intifada 25 October 2017

    A review of “Balcony Over Jerusalem: A Middle East Memoir” by John Lyons with Sylvie Le Clezio, Harper Collins (2017)


    “Of all the pillars that help hold up Israel’s special type of settler-colonialism and apartheid, one of the strongest remains the role of Western media in amplifying Israeli hasbara (propaganda). That pillar, however, is beginning to crack.

    “Nowhere is this more apparent than in the reflections of prominent Australian journalist John Lyons in his book Balcony Over Jerusalem, an account of his and his filmmaker wife Sylvie Le Clezio’s six-year stint in the city, from 2009 to 2015. There, Lyons was based as the Middle East correspondent of The Australian, one of the country’s leading newspapers.”

    “But what ultimately stands out in Balcony Over Jerusalem is the author’s examination of how the media portray Israel and how the government and the lobby groups that shield it from accountability attempt to intimidate reporters and distort their coverage.”

    “Lyons acknowledges that he had long sought an assignment as Middle East correspondent, ever since covering the signing of the Oslo accords by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s. Israel lobby groups singled him out as a rising star in Australia’s media, and he was invited to a junket in Israel, much like the way apartheid South Africa courted Western reporters in that era.

    “He accepted one such ‘study trip’ but came away feeling he had not seen both sides. Although he admired much about Israel, he was determined to do his job as a journalist and provide balanced and accurate reporting.

    “Lyons was wined and dined by leaders of Australia’s Israel lobby before leaving his home country for Jerusalem. But, as he notes, the ‘honeymoon was soon over.’

    “For one thing, there was that balcony: from there he could not help but notice the house of a nearby Palestinian family whose three children walked to school each morning.

    “One day the Israeli army demolished the house, leaving only a stairway. Lyons visited the family and found the owner sweeping the steps. ‘It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen,’ he writes. A broken man sweeping his stairway to nowhere.’

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