Wisconsin should reject boycott bill;
it is not anti-Semitic

MJS-Leah-VukmirState Sen. Leah Vukmir (Megan Papachristou Photography)

Sandy Pasch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 6, 2018

Legislation working its way through the state Legislature would prohibit Wisconsin businesses who sign on to the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement from receiving some state contracts.

And, unfortunately, Assembly Bill 553 and Senate Bill 450 are attracting bipartisan support because of a false conflation of BDS with anti-Semitism and discrimination.

But these bills are a mistake for Wisconsin at every level.

The bills would institute a level of bureaucracy in monitoring business negotiations in the state, constituting a dangerous erosion of democratic social control. If a company responded to a citizens’ BDS campaign to divest its interests, for example, that company would no longer be eligible for certain state contracts. And the several church synods that have elected to divest their pension funds would become ineligible to contract with the state to provide social services. These bills make the moral decisions of citizens and parishioners a barrier to free enterprise.

Historically, boycotts have been an important, nonviolent tool of dissent. A global boycott of South Africa, often compared in moral scope to the BDS movement, was decisive in ending the apartheid regime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled decisively in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware in 1982 that boycotts constitute protected speech, assembly, petition and association. Just last month, in the first federal test of anti-boycott laws at the state level, a federal judge ruled that Kansas’ anti-boycott law was an unconstitutional denial of free speech.

Why is the State of Wisconsin trying to pass a bill that has already been judged unconstitutional and whose true purpose is to shield Israel from criticism about legitimate human rights issues?

Introduced by state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), the bills are a product of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Their bills are strikingly similar to many anti-BDS bills introduced or passed in more than half the states in the U.S. at the behest of ALEC. It makes sense, then, that politicians such as Vukmir and Kooyenga, deeply allied with ALEC and the billionaire Koch brothers, support this undemocratic legislation.

Continue reading

Kansas Doesn’t Even Try to Defend Its Israel Anti-Boycott Law

Brian Hauss, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, November 30, 2017

 

Graffiti on the Israeli separation wall dividing the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis reads, Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

Kansas officials are scheduled to appear in court tomorrow to defend a state law designed to suppress boycotts of Israel. There’s just one problem: The state quite literally has no defense for the law’s First Amendment violations.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in October against a law requiring anyone contracting with the state to sign a statement affirming that they don’t boycott Israel or its settlements. We represent Esther Koontz, a math teacher who was hired by the state to train other teachers. Together with members of her Mennonite church, Esther boycotts Israel to protest its treatment of Palestinians. After she explained that she could not in good conscience sign the statement, the state refused to let her participate in the training program.

The law violates the First Amendment, which protects the right to participate in political boycotts. That right was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1982, when it ruled that an NAACP boycott of white-owned businesses in Mississippi during the civil rights movement was a protected form of free expression and free association. But despite long-held consensus around the right to boycott, we were still pretty surprised when Kansas didn’t even try to argue the law is constitutional.

We asked for a preliminary injunction, which would immediately halt enforcement of the law and allow Esther to do the job she was hired for. In its response brief, Kansas doesn’t mention the First Amendment even once, even though the entire case turns on the myriad ways the law violates First Amendment rights. Instead, the government relies on a couple half-baked procedural arguments in an attempt to convince the court to leave the law in place for now.

First, Kansas argues that a preliminary injunction isn’t necessary because Esther could always receive monetary damages at the end of the lawsuit, should she win. But courts have long recognized that the government can’t use money damages to buy off the loss of First Amendment rights.

The government’s other argument is that the Kansas secretary of administration would have given Esther a waiver, had she sought one, exempting her from the requirement to refrain from boycotting Israel. But the government can’t neutralize legal challenges to blatantly unconstitutional laws by making one-off exceptions for the people who happen to file lawsuits. Even if Esther could have gotten a waiver, that wouldn’t help other Kansans affected by the law.

Continue reading

Federal Court Strikes Down Kansas Anti-BDS Law


Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters confront each other in Jerusalem’s Old City on Dec. 15, 2017.

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, January 31 2018

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that a Kansas law designed to punish people who boycott Israel is an unconstitutional denial of free speech. The ruling is a significant victory for free speech rights because the global campaign to criminalize, or otherwise legally outlaw, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has been spreading rapidly in numerous political and academic centers in the U.S. This judicial decision definitively declares those efforts — when they manifest in the U.S. — to be a direct infringement of basic First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The enjoined law, enacted last year by the Kansas legislature, requires all state contractors — as a prerequisite to receiving any paid work from the state — “to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel.” The month before the law was implemented, Esther Koontz, a Mennonite who works as a curriculum teacher for the Kansas public school system, decided that she would boycott goods made in Israel, motivated in part by a film she had seen detailing the abuse of Palestinians by the occupying Israeli government, and in part by a resolution enacted by the national Mennonite Church. The resolution acknowledged “the cry for justice of Palestinians, especially those living under oppressive military occupation for fifty years”; vowed to “oppose military occupation and seek a just peace in Israel and Palestine”; and urged “individuals and congregations to avoid the purchase of products associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation, including items produced in [Israeli] settlements.”

A month after this law became effective, Koontz, having just completed a training program to teach new courses, was offered a position at a new Kansas school. But, as the court recounts, “the program director asked Ms. Koontz to sign a certification confirming that she was not participating in a boycott of Israel, as the Kansas Law requires.” Koontz ultimately replied that she was unable and unwilling to sign such an oath because she is, in fact, participating in a boycott of Israel. As a result, she was told that no contract could be signed with her.

In response to being denied this job due to her political views, Koontz retained the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the commissioner of education, asking a federal court to enjoin enforcement of the law on the grounds that denying Koontz a job due to her boycotting of Israel violates her First Amendment rights. The court on Tuesday agreed and preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the law.

The ruling is significant for two independent reasons. The first is the definitive and emphatic nature of the ruling. The court dispensed with an oft-repeated but mythical belief about free speech rights: namely, that they only bar the government from imprisoning or otherwise actively punishing someone for their views, but do not bar them from withholding optional benefits (such as an employment contract) as retaliation for those views. Very little effort is required to see why such a proposition is wrong: Just imagine a law which provided that only people who believe in liberalism (or conservatism) will be eligible for unemployment benefits or college loans. Few would have trouble understanding the direct assault on free speech guarantees posed by such a law; the same is true of a law that denies any other benefits (including employment contracts) based on the state’s disapproval of one’s political views, as the court explained in its ruling (emphasis added):

Even more important is the court’s categorical decree that participating in boycotts is absolutely protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and petition rights. Citing the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case that invoked free speech rights to protect members of the NAACP from punishment by the state of Mississippi for boycotting white-owned stores, the court in the Kansas case pointedly ruled that “the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott.” In doing so, it explained that the core purpose of the Kansas law is to punish those who are critical of Israeli occupation and are working to end it: “The Kansas Law’s legislative history reveals that its goal is to undermine the message of those participating in a boycott of Israel. This is either viewpoint discrimination against the opinion that Israel mistreats Palestinians or subject matter discrimination on the topic of Israel.”

Continue reading

Open Letter to Women’s March L.A. from Women for Palestine

Open Letter to Women’s March L.A.:
Women for Palestine Calls for Genuine Intersectionality

Women 4 Palestine L.A., January 17, 2018

We embrace and applaud the intersectional analysis that marks today’s social movements, and decry the absence of this perspective in outreach for the Women’s March Los Angeles.

In a shocking move, you announced that a “Special Guest” speaker at WMLA 2018 is Scarlett Johansson, who is unabashedly a supporter of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. She served as a spokesperson, and indeed, was the face of the advertising campaign of SodaStream, whose factory was in a settlement built illegally on land stolen from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. As a result, she was forced to step down from her role as an ambassador for the humanitarian group Oxfam after working with the charity for eight years.

Johansson’s unapologetic support for Israel’s abuses of Palestinians confirms that she fully deserves the praise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaped on her in his speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC in Washington, several years ago. Netanyahu said Johansson should be “applauded” for opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights. Regardless of her claims to not be “political,” Johansson is now seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a defender of apartheid Israel.

While there are a host of OTHER examples that can be cited, here we want to focus on the impact on those of us who actively support the indigenous rights of the Palestinian people, especially in light of the recent international attention on women and child political prisoners, including 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, the young Palestinian Rosa Parks.

Once again, grassroot feminists who promote Palestinian human rights are concerned that a hostile environment is promoted by the organizers of WMLA — whether inadvertently, or not — by the choice of featured speakers, major donors, and major partners.

The organizers of the Women’s March LA are well aware of the issues the “Women 4 Palestine” contingent faced at last year’s “Women’s March LA.” We were verbally abused with racist remarks, and bullied, to the point that some of us are reticent to return out of concern for our personal safety. Our concerns were brushed off by your organizers, in fact one of you accused one of our members as being anti-semitic when she posted an announcement for our Women’s Rally to Free Ahed and All Palestinian Child Prisoners.

We also object to tone set as a result of the key role played by The National Council of Jewish Women LA, especially as a major organizer and donor to the local Women’s March. When Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that “we didn’t want it to become an Israel-bashing fest…We got assurances that the march is not anti-Trump and not anti-Israel,” it was clear that they were determined to silence the voices of critics of Israel and supporters of Palestinian rights.

“We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” – Mission Women’s March Mission. Apparently that does not include Palestinian Human Rights.

Continue reading

Israel Publishes BDS Blacklist:
20 Groups Will Be Denied Entry

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry had for months refused to divulge the list

    Blacklisted American organizations:
    ■ American Friends Service Committee
    ■ American Muslims for Palestine
    ■ CodePINK
    ■ Jewish Voice for Peace
    ■ National Students for Justice in Palestine
    ■ US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) Executive Director Yousef Munayyer said, “We wear this designation as a badge of honor. When Israel, which aims to portray itself to the world as liberal and democratic, blacklists activists dedicated to nonviolent organizing and dissent, it only further exposes itself as a fraud.

Join CodePINK in calling on Senators Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin to denounce this outrageous ban and tell Israel to lift it immediately. These senators should stand up for the right of US citizens to criticize repressive Israeli policies, especially since Israel gets over $3 billion of our tax dollars every year.

A pro-Palestinian BDS protest in Paris, France August 13, 2015A pro-Palestinian BDS protest in Paris, France August 13, 2015 (AFP)

Noa Landau, Haaretz, Jan 07, 2018

November 21, 2017
In Service of State Violence

“Palestine and the Restrictions on Academic Freedom”

Listen live online here
Tuesday, November 21
11:30 am – 1:00 pm CENTRAL TIME

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi
The Palestine Center, Washington, DC
The presentation will also be posted on line after the talk.

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies & the Senior Scholar of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative, San Francisco State University.

Dr. Abdulhadi will speak about her own experiences of being the target of long standing and systemic attempts to silence Palestine activism in the United States. Her talk will underscore the consequences of limiting academic freedom on issues of state violence, namely, allowing it to go unchallenged. Finally, Dr. Abdulhadi will address the role of preserving academic freedom as paramount to sustaining vibrant institutions of learning and discuss her own experiences challenging the many attempts to silence dissent that she has encountered, including a harassing court case that was just dismissed.

For more info see: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/events/upcoming/service-state-violence-palestine-restrictions-academic-freedom

Walker Order and GOP Bills on BDS Serve Big Donor

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, November 14, 2017

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has prohibited the state from doing business with anyone who participates in a boycott against Israel, a move guaranteed to please a Las Vegas casino billionaire who has contributed more than $900,000 to Walker and the state GOP.

On Oct. 27, Walker issue Executive Order 261, calling the boycott “discriminatory” and saying it “serves to inflame conflict.”

In addition to the governor’s executive order, two legislative proposals, Senate Bill 450 and Assembly Bill 553, would also prohibit state and local governments from adopting rules to boycott doing business with Israel. The measures also prohibit state and local governments from doing business with anyone involved in the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has surfaced in recent years on some college campuses.  The movement is designed to pressure Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinian people.

One of the bills’ authors, Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir, of Wauwatosa, penned a column last year that called BDS “economic terrorism” against the Jewish State. Vukmir, who is on the board and a former chair of a bill-mill called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2018. Vukmir wrote her column for ALEC’s website.

The campaign contributor, Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, has been a generous benefactor for conservative and GOP candidates in federal and state races across the country. Adelson has also been involved in recent years in efforts against BDS. He and his wife, Miriam, directly contributed $270,000 to Walker’s 2012 recall and 2014 reelection campaigns. In addition, Adelson contributed another $650,000 in 2014 to the state Republican Party, which turned around days later and contributed $600,000 to Walker’s campaign.

ALEC, which was created in the 1970s, unites powerful business interests with conservative state legislators around the country. They meet to come up with “model legislation” that state policymakers can tweak and introduce in their home states. The legislation developed by ALEC hits a range of issues, like privatizing government services and programs, environmental deregulation, voter ID, and the Castle Doctrine.

About four dozen legislators from Wisconsin have been involved in ALEC during the past several years, and ALEC-generated legislation has shown up in Wisconsin, especially since 2010 when Republicans took control of the governor’s office and the legislature.

Continue reading

Protect the right to boycott Israel in Wisconsin

Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr, Wisconsin State Journal, November 11, 2017

Barbara OlsonTsela Barr
Gov. Scott Walker just issued an executive order prohibiting current or future state contracts with any “business entity” that engages in the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israel for its human rights violations.

Republicans are pushing two similar bills in the state Legislature that would compel individuals as well as companies to support Israel if they want to do business with local or state government agencies. The provisions against boycotts, divestment and sanctions (often referred to as BDS) are to be written into contracts, and long-standing low-bidder requirements are to be superseded.

Our state politicians are not alone in singling out Israel — including the Palestinian territories it illegally occupies by military force — for this special status. In Congress, the proposed “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” would make it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its illegal settlements. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Such laws, resolutions and executive orders have been sprouting like mushrooms after the rain. Twenty-four U.S. states now have them on the books. Nationally, Republicans and some Democrats have gotten on board thanks to well-funded efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bipartisanship may be dead when it comes to things the American people really need, but not when it comes to government overreach on behalf of the foreign state of Israel.

The absurd and dangerous consequences are becoming increasingly clear. Last month, people in a Houston suburb were required to sign an anti-BDS pledge to receive hurricane relief. (Individuals, but not companies, were eventually freed from this requirement after protests.)

And a Kansas math teacher who refused to sign an anti-BDS pledge was de-selected from a position in a state-funded teacher training program. A Mennonite, she follows her church policy to avoid purchasing goods and services from Israeli companies and those doing business with Israeli settlements. (Apparently, religious freedom exempts you from the law to provide women’s reproductive health services, but not from the duty to support Israel.) She is now suing the state of Kansas.

Continue reading

Protect Free Speech

Twelve leading faith organizations pen an open letter opposing anti-BDS legislation

Friends of Sabeel North America, November 7, 2017

Today, 12 leading faith groups, including the Alliance of Baptists, Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ, ran a letter in The Kansas City Star calling anti-BDS legislation in the United States what it is: a blatant infringement on First Amendment rights.

The letter, signed by an additional nine faith organizations and endorsed by more than 28 activist organizations, states:

    “We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress…As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace.”

There are several things you can do to oppose anti-BDS legislation to protect your First Amendment right to boycott!

  • Call or e-mail your national elected representatives (202-224-3121) to oppose proposed anti-BDS legislation as a serious attack on the right of free speech.
  • Help us spread the ad on social media by visiting us on Facebook and Twitter and sharing our posts.
  • Donate to help fund our work against anti-BDS legislation!
  • Help us show legislators that we will not tolerate attacks on free speech!

    In solidarity,
    Rochelle Watson
    National Organizer
    Friends of Sabeel, North America