U.S. Senate Defends Israeli Government From Boycotts

First and Bipartisan Bill in the Midst of the Shutdown


Chuck Schumer speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2018. (Sipa USA via AP)

Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, January 5 2019

When each new Congress is gaveled into session, the chambers attach symbolic importance to the first piece of legislation to be considered. For that reason, it bears the lofty designation of H.R.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate.

In the newly controlled Democratic House, H.R.1 — meant to signal the new majority’s priorities — is an anti-corruption bill that combines election and campaign finance reform, strengthening of voting rights, and matching public funds for small-dollar candidates. In the 2017 Senate, the GOP-controlled S.1 was a bill, called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” that, among other provisions, cut various forms of corporate taxes.

But in the 2019 GOP-controlled Senate, the first bill to be considered — S.1 — is not designed to protect American workers, bolster U.S. companies, or address the various debates over border security and immigration. It’s not a bill to open the government. Instead, according to multiple sources involved in the legislative process, S.1 will be a compendium containing a handful of foreign policy-related measures, the main one of which is a provision — with Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor — to defend the Israeli government. The bill is a top legislative priority for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In the previous Congress, that measure was known as S.170, and it gives state and local governments explicit legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel. As The Intercept reported last month, 26 states now have enacted some version of a law to punish or otherwise sanction entities that participate in or support the boycott of Israel, while similar laws are pending in at least 13 additional states. Rubio’s bill is designed to strengthen the legal basis to defend those Israel-protecting laws from constitutional challenge.

Punishment aimed at companies that choose to boycott Israel can also sweep up individual American citizens in its punitive net because individual contractors often work for state or local governments under the auspices of a sole proprietorship or some other business entity. That was the case with Texas elementary school speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who lost her job working with autistic and speech-impaired children in Austin because she refused to promise not to boycott goods produced in Israel and/or illegal Israeli settlements.

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January 12, 2019
#CastLeadPlus10 Facebook Live

Just World Educational, January 6, 2019

A “FaceBook Live” session on Operation Cast Lead and its legacies, featuring the talented Gaza-Palestinian activist Yousef Al-Jamal, will be held Saturday, January 12, at 11 am Central Time (7 pm Palestine.)

Yousef was in Gaza during Cast Lead. He was a contributor to the Gaza Writes Back short-story collection; editor of The Prisoners’ Diaries; a participant in the 3-week speaking tour three young Gaza writers made of the United States back in 2014; and a key resource in the #GazaChat on Twitter organized in the summer of 2017.

Please be sure to put this January 12 FB-Live appearance on your calendar so you can watch it in real time and take part in the discussion there!

Equally important, if you have questions that you want him to address, send them to us in advance or tweet them to @JustWorldEd using the #CastLeadPlus10 hashtag.

These are the materials that we’ve developed especially for the #CastLeadPlus10 campaign.

Our podcast miniseries:

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CODEPINK: Bank of NY Mellon — Divest from Elbit Systems

CODEPINK, December 31, 2018

Huge News! Last week HSBC Bank in the UK announced it will be divesting from Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company, citing international law and human rights concerns.

The exciting news comes on the heels of several victories for Palestinian rights in just the past couple of month — NYU ending its relationship with Tel Aviv university, Airbnb withdrawing from illegal Israeli settlements, and newly elected Congress members announcing support for BDS and that they will skip the trip to Israel with AIPAC.

Inspired by the UK’s victory and ready for lots more wins in 2019, we are calling on Wall Street-based Bank of NY Mellon to follow HSBC’s lead and divest from Elbit.

Bank of NY Mellon claims to be committed to socially responsible investment and the UN Sustainable Development goals, but holds over $6 million worth of shares in Elbit Systems. Elbit manufactures drones and surveillance technology, cannons for internationally banned cluster munitions, and white phosphorus, used on the people of Gaza in 2008-2009. Elbit also contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last month we visited BNY Mellon’s headquarters in lower Manhattan to hand deliver our letter to Chair of Corporate Social Responsibility Heidi DuBois outlining the many ways that Elbit is responsible for death, repression, and war crimes. Her response was that they take the issues we raise “very seriously” but that investments reflect fiduciary responsibilities to clients.

Help us tell BNY Mellon there is nothing sustainable about war crimes, surveillance, and occupation. Divest from Elbit Systems!

Last week’s victory by UK campaigners shows that persistent organizing works. Let’s put the pressure on BNY Mellon to live up to the corporate social responsibility values they claim to hold. Join us in telling them to divest from Elbit.

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On the 39th Friday

The Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege
Israeli Forces Kill 3 and Wound 115 Other Civilians

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Ref: 138/2018, 21 December 2018

On Friday evening, 21 December 2018, Israeli forces Killed 3 Palestinian civilians, including a child and a person with a mobility impairment, and wounded 115 other civilians, including 21 children, 2 women, 2 journalists and 3 paramedics, in the peaceful demonstrations in the eastern Gaza Strip despite the decreasing intensity of the demonstrations there for the eighth week consecutively and absence of most means usually used during the demonstrations since the beginning of the Return and Breaking the Siege March 8 months ago.

According to observations by PCHR’s fieldworkers, for the eighth week since the beginning of the Return March on 30 March 2018, burning tires and stone-throwing decreased while the attempts to cross the border fence and throw incendiary balloons were completely absent.

Though the demonstrators were around tens of meters away from the border fence, the Israeli forces who stationed in prone positions and in military jeeps along the fence continued to use excessive force against the demonstrators by opening fire and firing teargas canisters at them, without the later posing any imminent threat or danger to the life of soldiers.

On 21 December 2018, the incidents were as follows:

At approximately 14:30, thousands of civilians, including women, children and entire families, started swarming to the five encampments established by the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege adjacent to the border fence with Israel in eastern Gaza Strip cities. Hundreds, including children and women, approached the border fence with Israel in front of each encampment and gathered tens of meters away from the main border fence, attempting to throw stones at the Israeli forces. Although the demonstrators gathered in areas open to the Israeli snipers stationed on the top of the sand berms and military watchtowers and inside and behind the military jeeps, the Israeli forces fired live and rubber bullets in addition to a barrage of teargas canisters. The Israeli shooting, which continued at around 17:00, resulted in the killing of 3 civilians, including a child and a person with a mobility impairment.

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Israeli military edited video of fatal strike

‘Warning strike’ killed two Palestinian teenagers

B’Tselem, 19 December 2018

The case

On 14 July 2018, around 6 P.M., the partially constructed al-Katibah Building in Gaza City was the target of an Israeli airstrike, consisting of four initial missiles, followed by four larger strikes. The first missile killed two Palestinian teenagers, Amir a-Nimrah and Luai Kahil, as they sat on the roof of the building. Twenty-three others were injured in the following strikes, which also damaged two neighboring buildings—a cultural center and a mosque.

The four initial missiles launched were part of what the Israeli military calls ‘roof knocking’, a policy by which ‘low-explosive munitions’ are used, supposedly to warn civilians of a larger impending strike and to allow time for them to evacuate the area. Israel claims that these warnings are legal and are meant to protect civilians. However, quite to the contrary, missiles launched as ‘roof knocking’ form part of an attack, for all intents and purposes. As such, they must follow the relevant rules under International Law. In this case a-Nimrah and Kahil were killed as a result of an attack that disregarded these rules completely.

The investigation

Following the attack, the Israeli military published footage of the strikes via its Twitter account, @idfspokesperson, supposedly showing four different strikes.

The attack was documented by a number of different sources. In addition to the Israeli military’s aerial footage, the attack was captured by nearby CCTV cameras. B’Tselem’s field researchers gathered further video material on the ground, as well as from social media and other open sources.

Forensic Architecture (FA) used this material to establish a definitive timeline of the sequence of strikes.

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A Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath

So She Lost Her Texas Elementary School Job

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Map: Palestine Legal

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, December 17 2018

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.

But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:

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Lawmakers Consider Adding Measure Protecting Israel

Senator Richard C. Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has objected to unrelated bills clinging to his panel’s work. (Erin Schaff for The New York Times)

Emily Cochrane, New York Times, December 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — Just days away from a partial government shutdown, lawmakers are weighing adding a contentious measure to a stymied spending package that would keep American companies from participating in boycotts — primarily against Israel — that are being carried out by international organizations.

Critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Palestinian rights organizations, say the bill infringes on First Amendment rights and is part of a broader effort on the state and federal levels to suppress support for efforts to boycott, divest investments from and place sanctions on Israel, a movement known as B.D.S.

“The crux of it is silencing one side of the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Manar Waheed, the senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the A.C.L.U. “Anything that creates a penalty for any First Amendment-related activities is an infringement of the First Amendment.”

The bill, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is one of several pieces of pet legislation that lawmakers are advocating in the final days of the session, hoping to add to a package of seven spending bills that need to pass to keep the government fully funded past Friday. President Trump has said repeatedly that he will not sign any spending bills unless they contain at least $5 billion to begin building a wall on the border with Mexico.

As the package languishes, lawmakers see an opportunity to give their bills life before the current Congress ends this month. Other pieces of legislation that could be added include the so-called Blue Water Bill, which would allow Vietnam-era sailors who say they were exposed to Agent Orange as they served offshore to receive the same health benefits as those who were exposed on land. Other lawmakers are seeking to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended with a brief stopgap spending bill two weeks ago.

But so far, neither the White House nor congressional Democrats have signaled that they are willing to negotiate on wall funding, so none of the bills have a moving vehicle to latch onto.

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