ACLU slams Israel lobby group’s backing for anti-BDS bill

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 11 August 2017

The Anti-Defamation League, a major Israel lobby group, has given its backing to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, a bill that could impose large fines and long prison sentences on those who boycott Israel.

The legislation, already a key priority for the Israel lobby group AIPAC, has faced stiffer than usual resistance in Congress after the American Civil Liberties Union denounced it as an unconstitutional attack on free speech rights.

Violating First Amendment

Justifying the legislation, the Anti-Defamation League is claiming that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act “is not intended to limit the First Amendment rights of US individuals and companies who want to criticize Israel or penalize those who want to refuse to do business with Israel based on their own personal convictions.”

But the ACLU was quick to reject this assertion, tweeting, “ ‘Not intended’ to violate the First Amendment is not good enough. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act does just that.”

In the face of growing opposition, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has withdrawn her sponsorship of the bill, while her Massachusetts colleague, the prominent progressive Elizabeth Warren, has said she won’t back it either.

“He’s better than this”

But despite the pushback, the unconstitutional measure is still garnering support. Jewish Voice for Peace, which has been campaigning against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, sent out an action alert this week noting that Illinois congressman Bobby Rush has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill.

Rush, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party during the civil rights movement, “has supported Palestinian human rights in the past, most recently signing on to a congressional letter in support of Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro,” the JVP alert states. “He’s better than this.”

The bill currently has 252 House sponsors and 48 in the Senate.

Ignoring own warning

The Anti-Defamation League was, notably, the co-author of a secret report leaked to The Electronic Intifada earlier this year that concedes the failure of Israel lobby groups to counter the Palestine solidarity movement, despite vastly increasing their spending.

The report outlines Israel’s inability to stem the “impressive growth” and “significant successes” of the BDS movement.

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Alison Weir: Israel’s New Travel Ban

I want to go to Palestine – a country recognized by 136 countries around the world. But your law, astoundingly, prevents me from visiting that country. You control entry and exit to the places I want to visit, even though they’re not part of your territory, or included in your exclusive democracy.

Palestinian women, overseen by Israeli guards, crowd around the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank as they try to enter Jerusalem to attend Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque. (BBC News Image 8 of 10, Sept 22, 2009.)

Alison Weir, Dissident Voice, March 20, 2017

Dear Israeli Government:

You’ve recently banned foreigners who support boycotts against Israel or Israeli settlements from being allowed to enter Israel – even Jewish foreigners, a first for the self-proclaimed Jewish state. After all, your “Law of Return” has allowed (and encouraged) Jewish foreigners to freely immigrate to Israel, even as multitudes of Palestinians have been banned from returning to their homes.

People throughout the Western world have objected in outrage to your new law, particularly Jewish Westerners who have family and connections in Israel from whom they’ll be cut off in retaliation for their political positions.

Critics, even some who oppose boycotting Israel and who have had no problem with excluding Palestinians, have called out the law for diverse reasons: its quashing of free debate and political expression, its anti-democratic nature, how it will affect them and others personally.

I support these objections.

But I’m not trying to visit Israel.

I want to go to Bethlehem and Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. I hope to return to Khan Yunis, Rafah, Gaza City, and numerous other towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza.

In other words, I want to go to Palestine – a country recognized by 136 countries around the world. But your law, astoundingly, prevents me from visiting that country. You control entry and exit to the places I want to visit, even though they’re not part of your territory, or included in your exclusive democracy.

When I was born, Palestine referred to the whole of the land that your founders then ethnically cleansed and renamed. Now, it officially refers to a few segments of land, surrounded and trapped.

Unlike the residents of every other country on earth, Palestinians are not free to travel to and from their own country unless a foreign country gives them permission – a normally universal right that you routinely deny: to young and old, Muslims and Christians, professors and paupers, men and women.

Visitors are similarly obstructed. You decide whether they can get in, and whether they can get out.

When I try to visit Bethlehem, for example, I must face your armed soldiers manning the Kafkaesque, towering concrete wall you have erected on Palestinian land. These gun-toting youngsters will decree whether or not I and others – including Palestinian descendants of Bethlehem’s ancient shepherds – can pass through.

In other words, Israel is essentially imprisoning over 4 million men, women, and children (with some help from Egypt, its proxy to the south). Israeli jailers, euphemistically “border guards,” determine who may even visit this incarcerated population, and what supplies may reach them.

Over the years I’ve seen you prevent numerous individuals and groups, many bringing medicines and life-saving supplies, from visiting this captive population. You’ve blocked sons from visiting dying mothers, suffering children from receiving critical medical care, malnourished toddlers from receiving help.

It is a profound shame upon the world that this cruel and unconscionable condition has been permitted to persist year after year. There should have been massive and irresistible objections long before your recent legislation.

I remember when the United States opposed the Iron Curtain. Today, the U.S. gives the perpetrator of this current captivity $10 million per day.

Israel already denied me entry once 15 years ago, locking me up for 28 hours in a detention cell in Ben Gurion Airport before expelling me. I remember Israeli officials telling me I was not “allowed into Israel.” They didn’t even supply a reason.

Next time, they may say it’s because I endorse BDS, which I wholeheartedly do.

But I’m not trying to go to Israel. I want to go to Palestine.

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Senator Gillibrand pulls support for Israel Anti-Boycott Act

Josh Ruebner, The Electronic Intifada, 3 August 2017

Activists at a 26 July rally in Baltimore protest the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which was introduced by Maryland’s Senator Ben Cardin. New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pulled her support for the bill on 1 August. (Elizabeth Woodson/via Facebook)

In an act unprecedented in recent history, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took a stand this week in support of the right of Americans to boycott Israel by formally withdrawing her sponsorship of S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

The New York Democrat’s withdrawal of her sponsorship comes after constituents repeatedly pressed her on her support of the bill at town hall meetings in New York City.

On 22 July in the Bronx, Gillibrand affirmed that “we are all allowed to boycott” in response to a constituent who laid out his concerns that the bill would criminalize those supporting boycotts of Israel.

At another town hall in Queens on 31 July, Gillibrand stated in response to similar concerns that she would not support the bill in its current form. She made good on her promise by notifying the Senate on 1 August that she wished to withdraw her sponsorship of the bill.

It is exceedingly rare for members of Congress to withdraw their sponsorship from bills. One veteran congressional staffer could recall only one instance of it happening in recent memory when a representative took his name off a bill regulating minor league baseball.

Activists mobilize

This dramatic reversal in Gillibrand’s stance is due to a combination of factors. On 17 July, the American Civil Liberties Union released a strongly worded letter it had sent to members of Congress urging them to oppose the bill, which it termed a “direct violation of the First Amendment.”

The ACLU’s letter ignited a firestorm over the bill and galvanized activists to oppose it.

Local organizations such as WESPAC, Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester and Peace Action NY successfully mobilized to make this bill a central issue at the senator’s town halls. And in conjunction with this grassroots effort, national organizations such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights sent action alerts to New Yorkers deluging Gillibrand’s office with phone calls and emails.

Criminalizing speech

As first reported by The Electronic Intifada in April, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a chilling manifestation of attempts to criminalize Palestine solidarity work and the most draconian of the dozens of anti-BDS bill introduced in recent years.

The powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC has made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.

It would impose fines of up to $1 million and criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison against any US person, including individuals, whose actions further a boycott of Israel or of Israeli settlement products called for by an international governmental organization. The bill would even criminalize the requesting or furnishing of information about such a boycott.

The bill would also deny government loans through the Export-Import Bank to firms that refuse to do business with corporations based in or operating out of Israeli settlements in occupied territory, which are illegal under international law.

Not only does the bill infringe on the First Amendment right to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions, but it also seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

For decades, the US has refused to recognize the legitimacy of these settlements as part of Israel’s territory.

Gillibrand’s bold decision to withdraw her sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act could signal its death knell, at least in its current form. However, with 46 senators and 249 representatives still supporting this unconstitutional bill, its passage remains a threat.

Josh Ruebner is Policy Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. His forthcoming book is tentatively entitled Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.

Congress’s Anti-Boycott Act Threatens More Than Free Speech

Churches for Middle East Peace, July 28, 2017

In The News

Democratic Senators Rethink Bill Criminalizing Support for Israel Boycott [Roll Call]
Roll Call reports, “Democratic senators are thinking twice about the proposed Israel Anti-Boycott Act after an outcry by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which considers it a ‘serious threat to free speech.’ While Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the bill’s lead author, said that the ACLU had misinterpreted the piece of legislation, he expressed his intention to ‘make it clearer.’ The act targets the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, an international effort to boycott businesses in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories in order to pressure Israel to comply with international law and stop the further construction of settlements.”

This Piece of Pro-Israel Legislation Is a Serious Threat to Free Speech [The Washington Post]
“The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is designed to stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. … Whether one approves or disapproves of the BDS movement itself, people should have a right to make up their own minds about it. … By using their power in the marketplace, consumers can act collectively to express their political points of view. There is nothing illegal about such collective action; indeed, it is constitutionally protected,” write the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Legal Director David Cole and National Political Director Faiz Shakir.

Read The Small Print. How Nearly 200 Congressmen Could’ve Signed on a Bill Criminalizing Free Speech And Legitimizing Israel’s Occupation Of Palestine [Huffpost]
Political consultant Marilyn Katz writes, “Hidden behind the benign language of the [Israel Anti-Boycott Act] legislation … are laws that would criminalize even speaking out about a boycott while legitimizing Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank ― an occupation considered illegal by the world, and condemned even by the United States.”


J Street, a Reliable Foe Of BDS, Urges Congress to Oppose Israel Anti-Boycott Act For Now [The Intercept]
“J Street, founded in late 2007 to promote a two-state solution, opposes the Israeli occupation and general treatment of the Palestinians, but also has refused to endorse the Palestinian-led nonviolent boycott movement. Its activists regularly find themselves at odds with left-wing groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine who view BDS as the best way to end the occupation of the Palestinians. Thus J Street often lobbies in favor of anti-BDS legislation. However, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a step too far for even these reliable opponents of BDS,” reports The Intercept.

Israel Anti-Boycott Bill Does Not Violate Free Speech [The Washington Post]
Northwestern University School of Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich writes, “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a minor updating of a venerable statute that has been at the center of the U.S. consensus on Israel policy — the laws designed to counteract Arab states’ boycott of Israel by barring Americans from joining such boycotts. … Current law prohibits U.S. entities from participating in or cooperating with international boycotts organized by foreign countries. These measures, first adopted in 1977, were explicitly aimed at the Arab states’ boycott of Israel, but its language is far broader, not mentioning any particular countries.”

Jewish, Muslim & Christian Leaders Denied Entry to Israel for Supporting Palestinian Human Rights [Presbyterian News Service]
“Five leaders on an interfaith delegation to Israel/Palestine were refused permission to board their plane in the United States, in what appears to be an implementation of Israel’s travel ban on supporters of Palestinian rights and Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS). … ‘I am part of a Jewish, Muslim and Christian delegation of committed, nonviolent peacemakers whose plan is to meet with those in both Israel and Palestine who are working every day for a Just Peace in the Holy Lands,’ [stated] Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly, PC(USA) and member of the Activist Council of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. ‘At this time when tension and violence are rising once again, the work we are doing to build trust and work for a viable peace is more important than ever, and I stand ready to go the moment the State of Israel gives us permission to fly,’” reported Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in a statement released Monday.


I’m The First Jew Banned From Israel For Supporting BDS [The Forward]
Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbi Alissa Wise was one of five members of an interfaith delegation refused permission to board a flight to Israel at the Israeli government’s request. Wise writes that she “became a rabbi for one core reason: to build toward justice and liberation for all people by organizing with Jews in deep partnership with directly impacted communities across borders and faiths. Our delegation planned to spend 12 days in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, meeting with Palestinian and Israeli grassroots activists and faith leaders and visiting our respective holy sites.”

CMEP is organized to educate and give witness to principles of peace and justice in the Middle East on behalf of its religious constituencies by advocating public policy positions approved by the CMEP board. CMEP’s policy position seven states: “In order to defend free speech and religious liberty,  uphold the right of churches and organizations to find appropriate and various ways to end unjust practices and policies that violate international laws and conventions, including exerting economic leverage on commercial and government actors.”

BDS Ban: Interfaith Leaders Denied Entry to Israel

American Muslims for Palestine, July 24, 2017

Interfaith delegation, including AMP board member Shakeel Syed, (second from right).Four members of the group of interfaith delegates banned from entering Israel pose. AMP national board member Shakeel Syed is second from right.

Airline employee tells group it received orders from “Israeli immigration authorities” to refuse boarding to the five interfaith travelers.

(WASHINGTON DC — July 24, 2017) – Five members of an interfaith delegation were prevented from boarding their flight to Israel because of their public criticism of the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians. The group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders were apparently singled out for their public support of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. Upon arrival at the Lufthansa check-in counter at Dulles International Airport, an airline employee informed the group that the Israeli government had told the airline not to let them board.

The five people prohibited from flying are Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) deputy director, Philadelphia, PA; Alana Krivo-Kaufman, Brooklyn, NY and Noah Habeeb, Virginia, both also of JVP; Rick Ufford Chase, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rockland County, NY; and Shakeel Syed, a national board member with American Muslims for Palestine, Los Angeles, CA.

“As a person of faith, Israel’s denial of my right to visit the Holy Land doesn’t dampen, but rather, emboldens my pursuit of justice and peace for Palestinians and long overdue freedom for Palestine,” Syed said. “Despite that I had my boarding pass to Tel Aviv in hand, the Lufthansa representative informed me that they had a direct order from ‘Israeli immigration authorities’ to not allow us to board the plane. Furthermore, they refused to even show us the Israeli order.”

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a bill in March banning entry to those who support boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel until Palestinians have full equal rights. Israel’s BDS ban includes those who have endorsed boycotts of products from Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and longstanding official U.S. policy. It is believed that this is the first time that the policy has been enforced before people even board their flight. It is also the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their political positions. This new political litmus test for entry into the country is an extension of the longstanding practices of racial, religious and ethnic profiling of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim visitors to Israel.

“Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise. ”I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”

The BDS travel ban is part of a broader crackdown on support for these nonviolent tactics to hold Israel accountable to international law. The United States Congress is currently considering the draconian Israel Anti-Boycott Bill that would penalize people and companies that boycott business with Israel or Israeli settlements with penalties of up to 20 years in jail and $1 million in fines.

That Israel barred members of an interfaith delegation at a time when it is also threatening the internationally recognized status quo of Al Aqsa mosque compound proves Israel is not a democratic state and is intolerant of other faith traditions.

“I am part of a Jewish, Muslim and Christian delegation of committed, nonviolent peacemakers whose plan is to meet with those in both Israel and Palestine who are working every day for a Just Peace in the Holy Lands,” Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly, PC(USA) and member of the Activist Council of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. The other 18 participants on the Interfaith Network for Justice in Palestine (INJIP)* delegation arrived in Israel this morning, and were allowed to enter after several hours of detention and questioning that particularly focused on Muslim members of the delegation. The delegation plans to meet with dozens of faith-based organizations, grassroots activists and human rights groups in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Now the remaining delegates will continue this work, without five of their members, with the intention to learn, witness and co-resist Israeli occupation, displacement and siege with Palestinian and Israeli partners on the ground.