As you have surely heard, Congressional leaders from both parties are preparing to slip the Israel Anti-Boycott Act into the spending bill aimed at averting a government shutdown later this week, in an effort to use the lame-duck Republican House to push through legislation that would impose criminal penalties on some criticisms of Israel.
Congress is acting in haste and secrecy because the next Congress won’t stomach the bill, especially with the addition of vocal supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) who are joining the Democratic caucus.
The Israel issue is openly “roiling” Democrats, with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi keeping their heads down, and numerous human rights and civil liberties groups warning of the damage the bill will create to American traditions of open debate. Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein have urged the Senate not to pass the bill as a “threat to free speech.” The brave Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul tweets:
Congressional leaders are working to slip language into a must-pass spending bill that criminalizes politically motivated boycotts against Israel. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act violates our right to free speech.
@ACLU is fighting to protect it.
Of course the action is being undertaken under the pressure of AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, and the ADL, whose own staff has warned that the anti-free-speech bill will end up hurting Jews.
While Manar Waheed of the ACLU warns The Hill of the totalitarian consequences: “This is a step on a road to the erosion of First Amendment rights in a way that will impact movements and viewpoints for the future.”
The attack on our civil rights by the Israel lobby is a theme of two developments today: First, a lawsuit in Texas against a similar law in which a reporter for an NPR station says he was forced to sign a clause in his contract stating that he would not endorse boycott of Israel — what Glenn Greenwald characterizes as a pro-Israel “loyalty oath.” Second, a landmark editorial in the New York Times warns that the federal Israel Anti-Boycott bill, pushed by AIPAC and the ADL, goes against “bedrock” American principles of political dissent as part of an aggressive Israeli push against BDS.
The ACLU of Texas filed a lawsuit against state officials and university systems saying that a law ordering all government contractors to state that they do not participate in boycott of Israel– one similar to laws passed in at least 16 other states– is a violation of their free speech.
The suit has four plaintiffs, including George Hale, a reporter for KETR, a member station of the NPR network, “who was forced to sign the certification against his conscience in order to keep his job,” the ACLU says.
The other plaintiffs are a freelance writer who lost contracts with the University of Texas, a Texas State student who was barred from judging high school debates, and a Rice University graduate student who had to give up a fee for debate-judging.
KETR calls itself “Public Radio for Northeast Texas” and says that Hale is
an independent journalist who has worked on a contract basis for KETR since 2016. KETR’s broadcast license is held by Texas A&M University-Commerce, a member institution of the Texas A&M University System, which abides by laws for state government entities. Hale, who signed the certification in order to renew his contractor status, remains under contract.
Texas’s governor is standing firm for a foreign country:
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 17, 2018
Today’s New York Times editorial deplores the state laws against BDS as part of an “ominous trend in which the political space for opposing Israel is shrinking.”
The Times says that the efforts to “cripple” BDS by attacking American free speech rights are “counterproductive,” and reflect the Israeli government’s own imperatives.
The aim is to cripple the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as B.D.S., which has gathered steam in recent years despite bitter opposition from the Israeli government and its supporters around the world…
In yet another sign of Israel’s tanking brand, the Times says that the Israeli government is fueling BDS.
The hard-line policies of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, including expanding settlements and an obvious unwillingness to seriously pursue a peace solution that would allow Palestinians their own state, have provoked a backlash and are fueling the boycott movement.
The Times quotes an ACLU letter to lawmakers saying that “the bill’s intended purpose… is to suppress voluntary participation in disfavored political boycotts.”
Our friend Dan Walsh notes the many ways that the anti-BDS legislation could prove to be an own-goal for the Israel lobby. “If it passes, the bill will: open up an endless stream of embarrassing-bad-for-the-brand lawsuits; raise the visibility of BDS big time; demonstrate to new demographics that Zionism is willing to combat BDS to the very last Constitutional right of Americans; force Congresspeople to defend the indefensible; open the doors to vast public sympathy actions such as celebrities and others volunteering to be in violation and then challenging states/Feds to prosecute; create new opportunities for Palestinians/solidarity groups to show that they support/defend Free Speech; set up critics to openly question/challenge candidates for office in 2020 elections as to where they stand.”
Thanks to Allison Deger and Adam Horowitz and Donald Johnson.