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.”

Demand the Release of Khalida Jarrar and Khitam Saafin

A Petition to Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State; the European Union, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Khitam Saafin (left) and Khalida Jarrar (right)


Addameer Prisoner Support & Human Rights Association

Addameer calls for the immediate release of Khalida Jarrar and Khitam Saafin, who were arrested in pre-dawn raids by Israeli occupation forces on 2 July 2017.

On 9 July 2017, Saafin was issued a three-month administrative detention order, without charge or trial. On 12 July 2017, Jarrar was issued a six-month administrative order. Saafin and Jarrar’s trials are both based on secret evidence; therefore, their legal representatives are unable to fully address the prosecution’s argument, which asserts that Jarrar and Saafin pose a security threat.

Jarrar is a Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member and a member of the Board of Directors of Addameer. She has been the head of the Prisoners Commission of the PLC since 2006, and was appointed to the Palestinian National Committee for the follow-up to the International Criminal Court. Jarrar has been targeted by Israeli forces in recent years. She was released from prison in June 2016 after serving over a year, including one-month under administrative detention.

Saafin, president of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, has spoken internationally and participated in many worldwide events, including the World Social Forum, linking women’s struggles internationally with the struggle of Palestinian women for national and social liberation.

This practice of arbitrary detention is a grave violation of international laws and human rights standards, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention. Both women are prominent civil society leaders and additionally, their work meets the United Nations definition of a human rights defender. It is our belief that Jarrar and Saafin are being illegitimately targeted and punished by Israeli military authorities as a result of their significant human rights work.

Addameer reiterates its call for Jarrar and Saafin’s immediate release, as their detention constitutes an attack on Palestinian civil society leaders. Please take action and sign the petition now!

Condemn, don’t celebrate, 50 years of occupation of Palestine

Barbara Olson, The Cap Times, Jun 11, 2017


Palestinian workers wait to cross the Israeli checkpoint of Al-Jalameh, south of the West Bank city of Jenin, on their way to work in Israel May 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

June 2017 marks 50 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In 1967, in open defiance of international law prohibiting acquisition of territory by force, Israel began settling its own Jewish population on occupied Palestinian land, seizing large swathes of the most valuable, fertile and resource-rich areas.

For 50 years this dispossession has been enforced by a violent regime of military occupation, a regime that has expanded and deepened until many argue that it now meets or exceeds the legal definition of apartheid — a system of laws, institutions and practices that treat people differently based on race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.

For the last 70 years, Israel has also denied millions of Palestinian refugees their right under international law to return to the homes and properties from which they were ethnically cleansed from 1947 onward. In contrast, Israel’s “Law of Return” gives automatic citizenship rights to any Jewish person from anywhere in the world.

Those Palestinians who refused to flee after the Israeli state was declared in 1948 spent years living under martial law before gaining Israeli citizenship. Now making up at least 20 percent of Israel’s population, they face dozens of discriminatory laws that privilege Israeli Jews.

A special mention must be made of Gaza. While Israeli soldiers and settlements were withdrawn in 2005, Israel exercises “effective control” over Gaza’s borders, coastal waters and airspace, making it the occupying power under international law. For 10 years it has enforced a suffocating and deadly blockade of Gaza, condemned by the UN as an inhumane act of collective punishment of nearly 2 million civilians, half of them children. Devastating Israeli military assaults in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014 killed thousands of civilians and deliberately destroyed Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

U.S. political, military and financial support makes this possible. Republican and Democratic administrations have given lip service to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, calling the settlements and occupation “obstacles to peace.” In reality, they envision not two equal states side by side, but disconnected, fragmented and nonviable “Bantustans” for Palestinians under permanent Israeli control.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is underwriting Israel’s abuses of Palestinians and the massive expansion of the Jewish-only settlements that long ago killed the possibility for any two-state solution. U.S. taxpayers already give Israel more than $3 billion in weapons like F-16 (and now F-35) fighter jets, Apache helicopter gunships, Caterpillar bulldozers, the Iron Dome, and more each year. This was before President Obama agreed to give Israel another $38 billion in weapons over the next decade. And before the election of Donald Trump, who has enthusiastically aligned himself with Netanyahu and the most racist and militaristic elements of Israeli society.

As Trump recently — at least temporarily — backed off on his campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Senate Democrats, including progressives Tammy Baldwin and Bernie Sanders, joined Republicans to unanimously call for just that.

While such congressional efforts to make the Israel lobby happy go back many decades, no president has yet chosen to inflame tensions in the region by legitimizing Israel’s East Jerusalem occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians in this way.

Sen. Baldwin actually joined Mitch McConnell in co-sponsoring the resolution, which as U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights policy director Josh Ruebner pointed out also “celebrates a half century of Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem while ignoring Israel’s violations of international law there and its separate-and-unequal regime which discriminates against Palestinian Jerusalemites.”

Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace noted that “Jerusalem could not be more divided, physically, economically, socially and politically,” as Palestinians there face home demolitions, property seizures, collective punishment, and discrimination in residency rights and public resources.

One would think that true progressives would condemn rather than celebrate 50 years of military occupation, mass imprisonment, violent repression, property theft, and expulsions, and call for a just solution based on respect for international law, equality, justice and human rights. Clearly, both Baldwin and Sanders failed that test.

Barbara Olson is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

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Israel’s Everlasting Occupation

Palestinians were never presented with what Israel offered every neighboring country: full withdrawal from occupied territory

NATHAN THRALL, The New York Times, June 2, 2017

An Israeli soldier praying at the Western Wall during the Six-Day War, in June 1967 (Micha Bar Am/Magnum Photos)

JERUSALEM — Three months after the 1967 war, Israel’s ruling Mapai Party held a discussion on the future of the newly conquered territories. Golda Meir, who would become Israel’s leader a year and a half later, asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol what he planned to do with the more than one million Arabs now living under Israeli rule.

“I get it,” Mr. Eshkol jokingly replied. “You want the dowry, but you don’t like the bride!” Mrs. Meir responded, “My soul yearns for the dowry, and to let someone else take the bride.”

On this 50th anniversary of the war, it is clear that over the half-century that followed, Israel managed to fulfill Mrs. Meir’s wish, keeping control of the land indefinitely without wedding itself to the inhabitants. This resilient and eminently sustainable arrangement, so often mischaracterized as a state of limbo assumed to be temporary, has stood on three main pillars: American backing, Palestinian weakness and Israeli indifference. Together, the three ensure that for the Israeli government, continuing its occupation is far less costly than the concessions required to end it.

Each pillar, in turn, draws support from a core myth promoted by leaders in American, Palestinian or Israeli society. For Americans, the myth that the occupation is unsustainable is a crucial element in maintaining and excusing the United States’ financial and diplomatic abetting of it. From the halls of the State Department to editorials in major newspapers and the pronouncements of pro-peace organizations like J Street, Americans are told that Israel will have to choose, and very soon, to give Palestinians either citizenship or independence, and choose to either remain a democracy or become an apartheid state.

Yet none of these groups calls on the United States to force this supposedly imminent choice, no matter how many times Israel demonstrates that it prefers a different, far easier option — continued occupation — with no real consequences. The only real fallout from continued occupation are major increases in American financing of it, with Israel now receiving more military assistance from the United States than the rest of the world does combined. Mistaking finger-wagging for pressure, these groups spend far too much time on phrasing their criticism of settlements and occupation, and far too little asking what can be done about it.

What supports the fiction that Israel cannot continue subjugating the Palestinians — and therefore that the United States will not be complicit in several more decades of subjugation — is a seemingly endless parade of coming perils, each of which, it is claimed or hoped, will cause Israel to end its occupation in the near future.

Initially, the threat was of an attack by the Arab states. But that soon crumbled: Israel made a separate peace with the strongest one, Egypt; the Arabs proved incapable of defending even sovereign Lebanon from Israeli invasion; and in recent years, many Arab states have failed to uphold even their longstanding boycott of Israel.

Then there was the demographic threat of a Palestinian majority arising between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. But official Israeli and Palestinian population statistics indicate that Jews have been a minority in the territory Israel controls for several years now, and with no repercussions: A majority of the world’s nations still speak of undemocratic rule by a Jewish minority as a hypothetical future, not an unacceptable present.


A standoff as Palestinians and Israeli soldiers await the arrival of Palestinian police officers in Gaza in 1994 (Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos)

Later came the threat of renewed Palestinian violence. But Israel, with the strongest army in the region, has repeatedly demonstrated that it can endure and outlast whatever bursts of resistance the divided and exhausted Palestinians can muster.

The next threats, too, came up empty. The rise of nominally pro-Palestinian powers like India and China has, to date, had no negative effect on Israel, which has strengthened ties with both countries. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, though noisy on some American campuses, has yet to make a dent in Israel’s economy or its citizens’ self-reported level of life satisfaction, among the highest in the world.

Advocacy among some Palestinian intellectuals and their allies for enfranchisement in a single state, the so-called one-state solution, has not been endorsed by a single Palestinian faction and is a long way from drawing majority support in the West Bank and Gaza. If the proposal ever gathered momentum, Israel could easily counter it by withdrawing from the West Bank, as it did from Gaza in 2005.

The latest, though surely not the last, in this list of threats is the prospect of political changes within America and its Jewish community. Israel has become a more partisan issue, and polls show a majority of Democrats in favor of some economic sanctions or other action against Israeli settlements. Among American Jews, a growing rate of intermarriage with gentiles is lessening attachment to Israel, and Jewish organizations are increasingly divided over support for the country. Despite such vexation, mainly among liberal Jews, surveys over nearly four decades have shown overall American backing for Israel over the Palestinians only increasing, and none of the hand-wringing has translated into changes in American policy.

For American politicians, electoral and campaign finance incentives still dictate a baseline of unconditional support for Israel. The United States has given more than $120 billion to the country since the occupation began, spent tens of billions of dollars backing pro-Israel regimes ruling over anti-Israel populations in Egypt and Jordan, and provided billions more to the Palestinian Authority on condition that it continue preventing attacks and protests against Israeli settlements. And those expenditures do not reckon the cost to American security interests of Arab and Muslim resentment toward the United States for enabling and bankrolling the oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

For the most part, the Palestinians themselves have done much to support the status quo. The myth upheld by leaders of the Palestinian government is that cooperating with Israel’s occupation — which, in fact, makes the occupation less costly, more invisible to Israelis and easier to sustain — will somehow bring it to an end. This will happen, the theory goes, either because Palestinian good behavior will generate pressure from the contented Israeli public or because Israel, once deprived of excuses, will be forced by the United States and the international community to grant Palestinians their independence.

This is the myth underlying the continued support of the Oslo arrangements long after they were set to expire in 1999. It was also the basis for the two-year plan of former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to build the institutions of a Palestinian state, and for the 12 years of quiescence and close security cooperation with Israel under President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

A counterpart to this myth, propounded by Israeli officials and regurgitated by American policy makers, is that Israel will not make concessions if pressured but will do so if it is warmly embraced. The historical record demonstrates the opposite.

Severe pressure from the United States, including the threat of economic sanctions, forced Israel to evacuate Sinai and Gaza after the 1956 Suez crisis. It also compelled Israel to commit to a partial Sinai pullout in 1975. It made Israel acquiesce to the principle of its withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war, including the West Bank, in the 1978 Camp David accords. And it obliged Israel to reverse its incursions into southern Lebanon in 1977 and 1978.

By the same token, it was Palestinian pressure, including mass demonstrations and violence, that precipitated every Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who agreed to the first Israeli pullouts from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, made his initial proposals for Palestinian self-government in 1989, when he was the defense minister attempting to quash the first intifada. Even Yitzhak Shamir, then the prime minister and a vehement opponent of ceding territory to the Arabs, put forward an autonomy plan for Palestinians later that year.

As the intifada developed into an increasingly militarized conflict in 1993, and Israel sealed off the occupied territories in March that year, Israeli negotiators held secret meetings with Palestinians near Oslo. There, they asked for an end to the intifada and soon agreed to evacuate the military government and establish Palestinian self-rule. In 1996, the clashes and riots known as the tunnel uprising led directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to negotiate a withdrawal from most of Hebron, which Israel formally committed to do several months later.

During the second intifada, rocket attacks from Gaza increased sevenfold in the year before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Israel would evacuate. (According to Israel’s talking point, the army pulled out and got rockets; in fact, it was already getting rockets before it pulled out.) Shortly after the Gaza disengagement and the close of the intifada, a plurality of Israelis voted for the Kadima Party, led by the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who ran on a platform of withdrawing from the roughly 91 percent of the West Bank that lies east of the separation barrier.

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Israeli police kill 16-year old Palestinian girl in Jerusalem

International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) News, May 8, 2017

Updated: On Sunday afternoon, Israeli police shot and killed a 16-year old Palestinian girl near the Damascus gate in Jerusalem.

Although the Israeli police spokesperson claimed that the teen attempted to stab a security officer, that account has been disputed.

The child has been identified as Fatima Afeef Abdul-Rahman Hajiji, 16, from Qarawat Bani Zeid village, northwest of Ramallah, in the central part of the West Bank.

Eyewitnesses said Fatima was standing near the entrance of Bab al-‘Amoud (Damascus Gate), and was at least ten meters away from the near soldier or officer, and that one of the soldiers started shouting “knife, knife,” before five soldiers fired a barrage of bullets at the child.

Fatima killed (Ma'an image)They added that the Fatima was first shot with several live rounds in the chest, and the soldiers continued to fire at her after she fell onto the ground.

Many live rounds also struck a Palestinian Taxi, parked nearby, causing damage and puncturing one of its tires.

Photos of the deceased show that she was shot and killed at quite a distance from the guard post, so even if she had been holding a knife (which is disputed), no security officers were in danger at the time when she was killed.

Following the fatal shooting of the child, the soldiers used pepper-spray against dozens of Palestinians who gathered in the area, especially close to Fatima.

In addition, the soldiers assaulted many Palestinians, including children, in Sultan Suleiman Street, causing a child, identified as Mahmoud Abu Sbeih, 9, to fall from a high altitude after mounted officer chased him and many other Palestinians.

Hundreds of soldiers and mounted police officers were deployed in the area, closed many roads and alleys, and forced the Palestinians away.

Seven children and 13 adult Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of 2017. Although Israeli officials claim that most of these cases involved Palestinians attempting to attack Israelis, there have been multiple occasions, documented on camera, in which Israeli soldiers planted knives on or near the bodies of Palestinians they had killed.

Since October 2015, Israeli soldiers, settlers and police have killed 262 Palestinian civilians. 41 Israelis have been killed in the same time period.