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Message from Massachusetts: When we fight we win!

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The First Amendment and organizers of a year-long campaign to uphold the right to boycott won an important victory in Massachusetts when, on February 7, the legislative committee considering an “anti-BDS” bill refused to advance it to the floor, ending its chances of being passed this session.

The deceptively named “Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts” had been crafted by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to skirt the kind of constitutional red flags raised by other state anti-BDS bills.  It did not mention either boycotts or Israel, but instead reiterated anti-discrimination protections already on the books in Massachusetts.

A third of the Legislature, which is dominated by the Democratic Party, immediately signed on as co-sponsors: who wouldn’t want to go on record opposing discrimination?  And who wouldn’t want to oblige the JCRC, which has a reputation as working for progressive causes – and has, over the last six years, taken a third of the entire Massachusetts Legislature to Israel on all-expenses-paid “winter study tours”?

A stealth attack on freedom of expression

In lobbying for the bill the JCRC revealed that its real purpose was to label the BDS movement as a form of “national origin discrimination” and prevent the state from contracting with any person or business that supported it.

The paper trail left by the bill’s proponents enabled the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) –formed a year ago by JVP-Boston, Massachusetts Peace Action and The Alliance for Water Justice – to oppose the bill on solid First Amendment grounds and make the case that the right to boycott which has been upheld by the US Supreme Court should be protected at all costs.

Powerful testimony at the July committee hearing on the bill by constitutional scholars and legal organizations drove home the point that however vague it might appear on its face, the bill would, in the words of Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke, “mete out a state sponsored penalty towards citizens who are exercising constitutionally protected rights and would, as a result, chill that protected speech.”

John Roberts, who directed the ACLU of Massachusetts for 33 years, told the committee that “regardless of your position on the BDS movement, the real problem here is that this legislature is willing to compromise long held and protected First Amendment principles, for short term political gains for a foreign government.”

Roberts added: “Spare us all the agony of the litigation that will follow if this bill passes.”  Three months later, JAG members were quick to let legislators know of litigation initiated by the ACLU in cases involving anti BDS laws in Kansas and subsequently in Arizona.  They had another opportunity to focus legislators’ minds on the constitutional issue when, just two weeks before the committee decided the fate of the Massachusetts bill, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the Kansas law on First Amendment grounds.

An opportunity to educate elected officials

In addition to raising constitutional concerns, JAG members seized on the opening offered by the anti-BDS bill to educate legislators in face-to-face meetings about the BDS movement, and the Israeli policies that led to its emergence.  No, it was not about hating Israel and trying to wipe it off the map, as many of them had been led to believe.  No, it did not target people based on “national origin,” as the JCRC insisted.

Legislators learned that BDS is human rights-based, that it rejects all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and targets the discriminatory policies and actions of the Israeli government that violate international law — and that it is supported by many Jews and some Jewish organizations.

Accustomed to near unanimity of opinion where support for Israel is concerned, legislators must have been surprised at the outpouring of opposition to the anti-BDS bill coming from rabbis, teachers, lawyers, ministers, South Africa activists, civil liberties advocates, and even an ex-IDF soldier.  They had their horizons expanded by the varied group of 100 organizations that endorsed a “Freedom to Boycott” letter, by the more than 100 faith leaders signing onto their own letter opposing the legislation, and by the eloquent testimony offered by nearly 50 people at the packed hearing on the bill.

For lawmakers who are unlikely to contemplate a visit to Palestine, being lobbied by compelling eye-witnesses to Israeli abuses with first hand stories to tell is perhaps the next best thing.

Have we reached a turning point?

Hoping that the Massachusetts experience will be useful to other groups fighting anti-BDS legislation, the JAG is producing a manual describing the various steps of its campaign.  The manual will shortly be available on the websites of JVP Boston, Massachusetts Peace Action and The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine.

We realize that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that can be replicated across the country, and that constitutional arguments may resound more loudly in some state legislatures than in others.  But the time might be ripe in many states to build broad grassroots support for the right to boycott and Palestinian rights in general, and to engage in a very direct way with elected officials about Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

Why?  Although state legislators may or may not have thought much about Trump’s moves in the Middle East, there is a growing awareness — at least among Democratic law makers – of the threat his Administration poses at home to constitutional rights and protections.  They should have little incentive to pass state anti-BDS bills that open the door to the suppression of freedom of expression.

And if they are in touch with the Democratic base, they may understand that a partisan shift is underway in how Israel is regarded.  According to a January 2018 Pew Research Center poll, support for Israel among Republicans (79%) is three times higher than among Democrats (27%), and younger Americans, including younger Jews, are less likely than older Americans to sympathize with Israel.

The times, it seems, are changing – and we have an opportunity to hurry the process along.

About Jill Charney, Eva Moseley, and Nancy Murray

Jill Charney, Jewish Voice for Peace Boston Eva Moseley, Massachusetts Peace Action Nancy Murray, The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

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17 Responses

  1. Emory Riddle
    Emory Riddle
    February 12, 2018, 3:14 pm

    Ain’t enough. They keep coming back over and over again until they get what they want. If the legislature won’t roll over, put pressure on the governor. If that doesn’t fly, get the “right” people onto the legislature and or governorship.

    There ought to be criminal penalties for those who work to subvert our Constitution.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      February 13, 2018, 6:13 am

      Nobody influential ever pursued Bobby’s Kennedy’s quest to make AIPAC register under FARA as agent of a foreign government. The organization was originally an unincorporated arms of the zionist organization that did fall to FARA–nothing like a new “independent” corporate shell to avoid technical accountability, with the same old folks still in charge.

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    February 13, 2018, 8:20 am

    Seems like the problem is that legislators (who are, after all, very busy with local problems) know nothing about I/P and require education; and (believing Jewish groups are pro-civil rights) cannot imagine that JCRC (et al.) are asking for anti-constitutional measures.

    Good to educate them to both of these, as well as showing them the split in Jewish opinion on Israel.

    • festus
      festus
      February 13, 2018, 10:00 am

      No. If Jewish opinion was 100% pro Zionism does this mean the 98% of we Americans who are not Jews should go along with them? I don’t care if Jewish opinion is truly split or not — we need to do the right thing and that right thing is to stop this assault on our rights as well as the violent assault on the people of the ME by these Zionists.

  3. ritzl
    ritzl
    February 13, 2018, 2:16 pm

    Love that you all used this as an opportunity to flip the discussion to focus on where/how the ACTUAL discrimination is being perpetrated – with remorseless vigor.

    Does the pro-Israel/anti-rights brigade have any more of their feet left to shoot? Every time they try to ram home one of these blatantly unconstitutional legislative tantrums (i.e. do things like they do them in Israel), they invite and/or insist that the real situation be explained in enough depth to show legislators that the pro-Israel types are completely misrepresenting the reality. That doesn’t bode well for them in the next legislative go round.

    Slow process, but as the article says, it IS changing in the right direction.

  4. Jon66
    Jon66
    February 13, 2018, 6:33 pm

    New Orleans City council passes this, “Consistent with its responsibilities to residents,” the resolution reads in part, “the City of New Orleans has social and ethical obligations to take steps to avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society.” and that’s ‘good’. It is then reversed and that’s ‘bad’.
    Massachusetts considers passing this to prohibit doing business with people who, “(2) They do not currently, and will not during the duration of the contract, refuse, fail, or cease to do business with any other person when that action is based upon such other person’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.” It fails to be approved and that’s ‘good’.
    Can someone explain why it’s OK to prohibit business with companies that violate human rights, but not OK to prohibit business with individuals who wish to discriminate based upon race, color, creed, etc?

    • Eva Smagacz
      Eva Smagacz
      February 15, 2018, 4:13 am

      USA prohibits making business with many individuals based on their national origin: Russians, North Koreans, Iranians etc.

      So you see this list:

      “based upon such other person’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin , gender identity or sexual orientation”.

      prevents people (under the punishment of loss of free trading) to disapprove the actions of states that run against their moral compass.

      And we all know that the legislation is designed to prevent the loss of trading opportunities for Israel due to moral compass of ever increasing group of people.98/109

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        February 15, 2018, 8:45 am

        Eva,
        In your first example, those are legally allowed discriminations.
        The US Supreme Court has ruled that you may legally discriminate using a politically motivated economic boycott. In Claiborne, the NAACP boycotted white owned businesses, not because the owners had any political positions, but because by boycotting white owners they thought it would pressure on the politicians.

        Would it be OK for me to organize a boycott against people whose national origin was Poland because I was unhappy with some law in Poland? Can I ethically organize a boycott against the shopkeeper in my neighborhood, the lawyer down the block, or the musician who happen to be of Polish national origin because I am upset with the laws of Poland? If anti-immigration groups want to boycott any Dreamers of Mexican birth and deny them services or jobs until Mexico changed its immigration policy would that be OK?

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        February 15, 2018, 11:37 am

        The person? robot? called John 66 has obviously been taken into the Zio-bubble from before birth and isolated totally from his supposedly fellow US citizens. Nobody told him about the First Amendment. Obviously one can boycott anyone! Duh. Freaks like that are not restricted to Zionism only –but pretty close.

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        February 15, 2018, 4:29 pm

        Echi,
        “Obviously one can boycott anyone! Duh. “
        Do you can refuse service service at your lunch counter to African-Americans, or refuse to let ethnic Chinese stay at your hotel, or not hire women as a boycott for some political purpose? When does a boycott become unlawful discrimination? I’m not a lawyer. I don’t have the answers. But it seems to me that it’s not that clear cut.

      • Eva Smagacz
        Eva Smagacz
        February 16, 2018, 11:51 am

        Jon66,

        You are conflating discrimination, which is odious and illegal, and boycotting which is legal and enshrined in the First Amendment of Constitution of US.

        I want to believe that you are genuinely unable to grasp the difference, but suspect you are deliberately trying to confuse the two as part of your hasbara outreach.

        100/111

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 15, 2018, 4:33 pm

      “Jon 66”, please re-read your comment. You said the exact opposite of what you meant to say, and your examples also support the other side.

  5. Dan From Away
    Dan From Away
    February 15, 2018, 2:07 am

    Kudos! Now Zionism is being beaten in state houses just as it is being beaten in the courts.

    Recent US/UK Judicial Decisions on/about Zionism/Antisemitism

    1) US – Jerusalem Passport Case – 2012 (Settled – Zionism lost)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zivotofsky_v._Clinton

    2) UK – UCU/Ronnie Fraser – 2015 (Settled – Zionism lost)

    https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/ronnie-fraser-settles-anti-semitism-case-costs-row/2018049.article

    3) UK – Tomlinson Queen’s Council Opinion – 2017 (Settled – Zionism lost)

    http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ihra-opinion/#sthash.2sF7LcUk.9FGUnTlW.dpbs

    4) US – Israel Anti-Boycott Act – Law – Koontz vs. Watson – 2017 (Round One – Zionism Lost)

    https://www.aclu.org/news/first-judge-blocks-kansas-law-aimed-boycotts-israel

    My point: Zionism usually wins in the corporate/media/political spheres. It can mobilize/intimidate/intice/blackmail/whatever to get a favorable decision in those arenas where influence can be brought to bear. The examples of this type of Zionist activism are too numerous to list here…just visit Mondoweiss any time any day.

    But…but…when Zionism enters the courts something happens: it has to check its privilege(s). Its arguments must be made on empirical grounds which by definition do not abide by bias and which do not take into considerations the feelings and preferences of Zionists. No subjectivity allowed. The results? They lose.

    The four cases above demonstrate this. One was an actual legal case that made it to the SCOTUS, one was a UK national teacher’s union tribunal and one is the public legal opinion of a UK Queen’s Counsel. The last one, the ACLU/Koontz case, appears to be rocketing towards an appointment with the US Supreme Court.

    I am suggesting that Koontz vs. Watson will be a nail-biter for Organized Zionism. Why? Because it will be an enormous loss and the political result may very well be a hemorraging of poitical capital in Congress, the media and among Americans who support Israel.

    As of today 27 states have anti-BDS laws…all were passed knowing that the right to boycott is sacrosanct, a matter of settled law and deeply cherished by Americans. Hell, the country’s initial revolutionary act was a boycott – The Intolerable Acts, remember them?

    If SCOTUS takes the case (or even refuses it allowing Kansas/Koontz to stand) and decides against the Anti-BDS laws, which is at least a likelihood, all 27 states, and Zionism’s praetorian guard in Congress will have embarrassed themselves mightily. They will have to annul the laws, maybe pay damages, limp home and have nothing to show for the effort but bruises. Yay!

    Moreover, BDS will realize an enormous boost in legitimacy, press, funding and other forms of support. Yay!

    An American historian, Shelby Foote, once said: The Confederacy tried to use war, the most revolutionary and destabilizing act imaginable, to maintain stability.

    His point was that the Confederacy, on fire with zeal, failed to understand the forces they were engaging. They lost.

    Same-Same for Zionism: they are attempting to game the political system to abolish Constitutional freedoms already settled by a unanimous Supreme Court decision (8 – 0 Marshall recused himself)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_v._Claiborne_Hardware_Co.

    I am not saying that the Supremes cannot/will not devise some devilshly clever exception…who knows? But absent that I cannot see a clear path to victory for Zionism and I am all a-tingle over the possibilities.

    Its funny cuz Zionists use to love boycotts: there was the “Buy Hebrew” and “Hebrew Labor” campaigns in Palestine in the 1930’s; the Zionist-driven US trade boycotts of the USSR in the 1980’s; Jackson-Vanik and others. More recently we have Israel boycotting UNESCO and even some of its own settlements! I guess Zionists do love boycotts except when they don’t?

    View 300 Palestine/Zionist posters on the subject of boycotts:

    http://www.palestineposterproject.org/special-collection/bdsboycotts

  6. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    February 15, 2018, 9:00 pm

    Oh Israelis love boycotts. They call for them all the time against their enemies. The only time boycotts are immoral when they are the targets.

    The real eternal victim whinerslike hophmi insist boycotts are a form of violence. Such a drama queen all the time.

    But what if he is right?

    How does he support a state in which a gov official calls for a boycott of some of the people he represents. In order to make them feel not welcome here (ie in Israel).

    http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Liberman-calls-for-boycott-of-Umm-el-Fahm-after-Jerusalem-protests-517574

    Boycotts are a time honoured tradition in western society. Zionist attempts to outlaw them merely weaken hard fought for liberties. Zionists are literally a threat to democratic countries.

  7. niass2
    niass2
    February 16, 2018, 5:45 pm

    See, Jerry Garcia is wrong. He said you can’t win for trying,but that’s not true! Congrats from Medford, and why did I hear NADA about this when it was hapening. I have representatives here too.

  8. amigo
    amigo
    February 22, 2018, 3:24 pm

    Good news from “Israel”.

    Motorcycle race cancelled , first in illegal settlement and then in so called Israel proper.

    “Palestinians are welcoming the cancellation of a racing event sponsored by Honda in Israel.

    The event, due to feature rising US motorcycle racing star Joe Roberts, had been condemned by human rights groups.

    “Honda Israel announced on its Facebook page Thursday that the meet-up scheduled to be held in the city of Arad on 23-24 February was canceled “due to the lack of a track suitable for riding.”

    However, Israeli media are attributing the difficulties in going through with the event to the pressure Honda faced from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights, with one headline declaring, “BDS – now also against motorsports.”

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/honda-event-israel-joe-roberts-canceled

  9. amigo
    amigo
    February 22, 2018, 3:34 pm

    Another win for BDS in France.

    Israel propaganda festival canceled at French university.

    “Ostensibly run by students in the university’s business program, the festival was also part of the Saison France-Israël 2018, a series of propaganda events supported by the Institut Français, the international cultural arm of the French government, in collaboration with Israel.

    The Saison France-Israël – or France-Israel Season – aims to celebrate 70 years since the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine to create a “Jewish state” on the ruins of the lives, villages and cities of Palestinians.

    The local chapter of Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) wrote to the president of the university calling for the cancelation of the Escale en Israel festival.

    The group said that “while claiming to take place on cultural grounds,” the festival would “obscure the crimes committed regularly by this colonial state in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza or in Israel itself.”

    Two professors also wrote to the president, urging the university to cancel a festival aimed at “whitewashing Israel’s policies of apartheid and colonization.”

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-propaganda-festival-canceled-french-university

    I am very disturbed about these BDS successes.Our usual zio suspects and their King , assured us that BDS had been dealt with .

    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/netanyahu-tells-knesset-panel-we-have-defeated-the-bds-movement-1.5415364

    Just can,t trust a zionist.

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