The right to boycott is heading to the Supreme Court

I’m writing with breaking news. Today the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU has confirmed they will take the case to the Supreme Court, with huge implications for free speech and the right to boycott in the US. Our team has been following this case closely as one of the key stories chronicled in our latest film, Boycott.

The case centers around an Arkansas law that requires public contractors to sign a pledge promising that they do not boycott Israel. Versions of this law have been passed in 33 states since 2016. In recent years, several Americans have challenged these laws, suing their respective states for violating their First Amendment rights. In almost every case — from Texas to Arizona to Kansas to Georgia — the plaintiffs won, with courts finding the anti-boycott laws unconstitutional.

The only exception has been Arkansas, where Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, is the plaintiff. Alan originally lost in District Court but when he appealed to a three-judge panel at the Eighth Circuit, he won. The State of Arkansas was then granted a re-hearing. Today, the final ruling came out against Alan with the court deciding that boycotts, even when politically motivated, are strictly economic activity and not a form of expression. Brian Hauss, the ACLU’s chief litigator in the case has said that the decision “misreads Supreme Court precedent and departs from this nation’s long standing traditions.” He expressed hope that the Supreme Court “will set things right and reaffirm the nation’s historic commitment to providing robust protection to political boycotts.”

Alan believes that as a news publisher, he has a special duty to stand up for free speech rights. As he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed: “We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”

When we started filming Boycott, we understood there was a risk that the anti-boycott legislation vis-a-vis Israel could be used as a template. By the time we finished the film, this was already becoming a reality. There are now copycat bills targeting boycotts of fossil fuels, firearms, and other industries. As Alan’s case heads to the Supreme Court, it is not only advocacy for Palestinian rights, the environment or gun safety that stands on the line — but our very right to protest, and to band together for collective political action.

With the stakes increasingly high, we remain committed to sounding the alarm on this story, and you can help us. Share the news on social media, ask your go-to news outlet to cover this story, and get in touch to organize a screening of Boycott in your community. These laws have been able to pass with such ease in large part due to the lack of public scrutiny around its origins and implications. The time to change that is now.

Onwards,
Julia Bacha
Creative Director, Just Vision
Director, Boycott

How a pro-Israel lobby spent millions to sway Democratic primaries

Dark money groups like AIPAC have spent millions of dollars on misinformation ads to take down progressive Democratic candidates. Democratic leadership has yet to condemn this anti-democratic meddling in our primaries.

After AIPAC spent nearly $2 million in dark-money attacks on progressive congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros in TX-28, she came up 289 votes short last night against Henry Cuellar — the only anti-choice Democrat in the House.

Sign our coalition petition to Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders: Take a stand and make clear that anyone who is part of corporate dark-money misinformation ads are persona non grata with Democrats in Congress and the DCCC.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes is calling out AIPAC and other corporate-funded groups spending millions on misinformation campaigns against progressive candidates like Summer Lee and Jessica Cisneros.


These groups don’t run ads on the issues they purport to care about — such as Israel, low corporate taxes, and slashing business regulations. Instead, they falsely accuse popular progressive candidates of being bad Democrats. This is a rich accusation from corporate-funded groups like AIPAC that “went Full Trump” and endorsed over 30 pro-insurrection Republican members of Congress.

Here’s Chris Hayes in his segment this week:

“But there’s also something else I find insidious about this particular use of big money. The issue they care about is whether the US is strong and unflinching in its support of Israel. But here’s the thing, crucially: that is not the issue that this PAC is engaging in when it gets involved in these races. They recognize Israel is not the top issue for the voters and Pennsylvania’s 12th district. So what they did instead was launch an almost comically disingenuous attack, claiming Lee is not a real Democrat.

So here’s this group you’ve never heard of, and they’re saying, like, ‘Summer Lee is bad because she’s not a real Democrat. We want authentic Democrats.’ But they don’t care who a real Democrat is. Their spokesperson was exceedingly clear about their motivations in a recent statement to the Washington Post, saying “Our goal is to build the biggest bipartisan coalition in Congress for the US Israel relationship.” Again, that’s their stated goal. That’s what they care about. They care about that, over everything else, to the point where they have endorsed over 100 Republican candidates who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the insurrection.”

But disingenuous as they are, their misinformation campaigns have a devastating impact. Summer Lee had a 25-point lead just weeks before the primary this past Tuesday. Then, a dark-money campaign spent millions spreading misinformation and turned the race into a nail-biter. Two progressives in North Carolina lost races after corporate dark money groups spent $7 million on misinformation campaigns against them.

Many Democratic leaders, consultants, and agencies have cozy relationships with the groups spending these millions of dollars of dark money trying to stop progressive candidates.

Ask Speaker Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders to take a stand.

AIPAC’s new tactic to unseat Rashida Tlaib

A new Super PAC aligned with AIPAC looks to undercut the only Palestinian Democrat ever elected to Congress, and diminish the growing support between Palestinians and African-Americans.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (PHOTO: TLAIB.HOUSE.GOV)

MITCHELL PLITNICK, Mondoweiss, MAY 31, 2022

A new Super PAC has reared its head and it’s made no secret of its first target: Rashida Tlaib. 

It comes as no surprise that Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American woman and the only Palestinian Democrat ever in Congress, is coming under severe attack ahead of her primary two months from now. But the nature of that attack is a particularly dangerous and pernicious one, and its nature is one that constitutes a unique and serious threat to not only advocates of Palestinian rights and freedom, but to progressives across the board.

The Urban Empowerment Action PAC (UEA) says its “supporters include a broad coalition of African American business, political and civic leaders, working alongside peers in the Jewish community.” Its stated mission is to “narrow the wealth gap between Black and white Americans.”

They explicitly stated that ousting Tlaib was their focus, and they planned to spend over $1 million to support Janice Winfrey, a centrist African-American and the Detroit City Clerk since 2005, against Tlaib. 

UEA squares its thin anti-racist rhetoric with targeting one of the most progressive members of Congress by implicitly accusing Tlaib of ignoring the needs of the Black community. To carry that case, UEA is employing activist and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers, who has long been one of the leading spokespeople for AIPAC in the Black community. 

In 2016, Sellers was a key figure in the fight between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders camps over how to address Israel and the Palestinians in the Democratic Party platform. Sanders’ camp led an effort to draft wording that called for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements,” which clearly aligned with stated U.S. policy in 2016. 

Sellers wrote a letter opposing the mention of occupation or settlements and got dozens of other African-American leaders to sign on. A compromise was eventually reached where the Democratic platform expressed some sympathy for the Palestinians for the first time, but there was no mention of occupation or settlements. There is little doubt that Sellers’ efforts were an important factor in staving off what was a popular proposal during the 2016 race. 

A photo posted to Twitter by Bakaki Sellers of him meeting Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

Sellers was hardly subtle in his attacks on Tlaib. “Congresswoman Tlaib, I’m sure, serves admirably,” he told POLITICO. “However, we were hoping that we can have a candidate that doesn’t have varying distractions…we want someone, particularly in these Black communities, that does not get distracted by shiny things or media opportunities but is focused on the uplift of our communities and does right by them.

“I don’t have a beef with her directly,” Sellers continued. “I just think that there are individuals who will have the interest of their district, first and foremost, and not their brand. And will do things in the interest of uplift of that community. It’s not as much of a knock on her as it is that somebody else can do the job better because they’re focused on these particular issues.”

Sellers characterizes Tlaib as being self-centered, an odd charge considering that her politics are not well-suited to upward mobility and she has remained closely connected to the grassroots in her district. He makes no secret of what he means by “distractions,” noting that her criticisms of Israel are “high on the list” of his concerns about Tlaib.

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San Francisco Library Censors Palestine

Demand the Reinstatement of the Wall + Response Exhibit Now!

After four months of planning, the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) decided to cancel a mural exhibition because of its inclusion of the local Clarion Alley Arab Liberation Mural.

SF Public Library informed the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) that it would not allow the exhibition Wall + Response to open without censoring an image of the project’s Arab Liberation Mural. In partnership with the Arab Resource & Organizing Center’s (AROC) Arab Youth Organizing, the mural was created by a diverse team of community organizations, artists and allies to honor Arab, Muslim and migrant histories and struggles against racism and xenophobia, as well as the experiences of resilience and resistance in the Bay Area. This Mural has been a landmark for the community for over four years.

Recently, the SF Library decided to censor the Wall + Response exhibition because the Mural included the phrase “Zionism is Racism”. Zionism is the official ideology of Israeli apartheid. This phrase captures the experiences of Palestinians and others struggling against apartheid and Israel’s settler-colonial violence. Human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Yesh Din, and B’Tselem, as well as the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and Harvard Law School have all determined Israel is an apartheid state. It is the height of irony that an art project designed to highlight and resist repression being faced by racial justice movements would be the subject of racist censorship. All the artists, poets, and community-based organizations who were part of the planned Wall + Response exhibition responded with a letter expressing their concerns of structural racism and asking the library to reinstate the exhibition in its entirety.

We are calling on communities to email the SFPL Commission and administration using our one-click tool to demand that the Wall + Response exhibition moves forward, free of censorship.

Take action now!

AIPAC is buying primary elections

Here we go again! Super PACs are trying to buy Democratic elections and taint the process with misinformation.

In particular, AIPAC and its affiliates are spending millions of dollars to defeat progressives in blue districts. They are trying to buy primaries, targeting the candidates voters are most excited about — primarily women of color — and attempting to undermine and discredit them with blatant lies.

All because these candidates don’t waiver on human rights for all, including ensuring that Palestinians live with human dignity.

For example, Summer Lee, who we endorsed for Congress, had a 25-point lead just weeks before Election Day, before AIPAC’s dark money campaign spent millions of dollars on attack ads, spreading misinformation, to confuse voters. By Election Day, the race was close, but Summer did end up winning thanks to incredible grassroots people-centered organizing. However, it was still painful to see the attacks on Summer.

The aggressive attacks by AIPAC and its affiliates are just increasing. They have already spent an unprecedented $18+ million in Democratic primaries.

In response to this flood of dark money in at least 7 Democratic primaries across the country, Senator Bernie Sanders called on the DNC to make it clear that super PAC money is not welcome in Democratic primaries.

As he said: “This is a war for the future of the Democratic Party.” It’s also a fight for our very democracy itself.

Please sign the petition to Speaker Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders: Take a stand on corporate dark-money misinformation ads, including from AIPAC and its affiliated PACs. Denounce this onslaught of spending that’s targeting progressive women of color.

AIPAC claims to care about the safety of the Jewish people—but they endorsed over 100 Republicans who voted to undermine our democracy and overturn 2020’s election results.

These same anti-democratic right-wingers spew antisemitic and white supremacist hate. They support the January 6th insurrectionists, many of whom wore and flew Nazi symbols. These ideologies endanger all of us, particularly marginalized people such as Jewish Americans.

AIPAC’s support for right-wing extremists is out of step with the majority of Jewish Americans, most of whom are concerned about antisemitism from the right-wing.

As Summer Lee’s campaign said, voters deserve leaders “who know that our struggles and our safety are interwoven.” We are safest in solidarity with one another.

Because of AIPAC’s anti-democratic stances, the Young Democrats of Michigan have called on Democratic candidates to stop taking money or endorsements from AIPAC.

We’ve got to defend our democracy, including the multiracial pluralism upon which our democracy rests. And we’ve got to support bold progressives who are connected to their communities and willing to fight.

The Democratic Party is going to lose in 2022 and beyond if corporate interests keep throttling popular, progressive young leaders by dumping millions into Democratic races—while propping up candidates who oppose our popular agenda.

Please sign the petition now to call on House Democratic leadership to denounce AIPAC’s dark money misinformation campaigns.

Why Did Israel Execute Shireen Abu-Akleh?

They attacked the mourners because they weren’t in the casket

Steve Salaita, May 13, 2022

Immediately after Israeli soldiers executed Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu-Akleh and fired at a group of her colleagues, observers began asking how such a horrible thing could happen. Why would Israel murder a journalist well-known throughout the Arab World? A noncombatant wearing appropriate press gear? A high-profile Palestinian with U.S. citizenship? At best, it seemed like a terrible PR move. It didn’t make any sense.

Except it did make sense. In fact, from a certain point of view killing Abu-Akleh was painfully sensible.

It’s natural to seek rational explanations for what appear to be mindless acts of violence. Explanation is contingent on material conditions, though, and so we have to understand the situation in context of Zionist settler colonization. Using the humanistic logic prevalent in most civil societies, Israel’s conduct was baffling. Its soldiers murdered a civilian in full view of people whose job is to report news. Those soldiers had to know that they couldn’t keep their act a secret, that targeting journalists would result in worldwide outrage. And yet they did it anyway.

Why?

To arrive at an answer, we have to discern the colonizer’s psyche. We’re not dealing with normal civil society standards, first of all. The relevant context is military occupation. In such a context, gratuitous state violence is normal. Obviously, killing Abu-Akleh has the immediate benefit of silencing a prominent voice of Palestinian resistance, one that had long exposed Israeli crimes of aggression.

There is more to the story, however.

We also have to explore the assumptions underlying a desire for simple explanations. By asking for reasons over and over again, observers seek answers to incongruous questions. In so doing they’re apt to tacitly implicate the victims in their own suffering. The journalists must have done something. There had to be a provocation. Israeli soldiers don’t just shoot innocent people for the hell of it.

But that’s exactly what Israeli soldiers do. Israel has murdered around fifty journalists over the past two decades. One or two might be an aberration. Fifty is a policy.

We needn’t turn to the victim’s behavior for answers to the colonizer’s violence. He is violent because of colonization.

So there’s no need to seek legible reasons for Abu-Akleh’s murder according the rationale of civic decency. The settler doesn’t need a “reason” to kill the native. The settler kills because deracinating the native is a precondition of his social identity. It is a function of his legal status and class position. Israeli forces viciously attacked a crowd carrying Abu-Akleh’s coffin—abusing our beloved martyr even in death—which only affirms the fact that the settler kills precisely when confronted by the native’s vulnerability. There is a higher purpose to his violence. The settler doesn’t kill simply to produce death; he kills to negate the native’s existence.

Israeli forces attacked Abu-Akleh’s corpse because killing her wasn’t enough. They needed to expunge her from a land they claim by divine mandate. Her body impedes a mythological birthright underlying the settler’s entire sense of self. She has to be rendered nonexistent in order for the settler to survive. Such is the logic of desecrating ancient Muslim cemeteries and planting flora over the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.

The same forces attacked hundreds of mourners not because they were unruly, but because they weren’t also in the casket.

The settler’s violence, in short, is endless. It is the only way he knows how to be a good citizen. And it is the only way, in the end, he can imagine a meaningful existence.

Steve Salaita is a scholar, author and public speaker born in Bluefield, West Virginia.

US Rabbis Call for End to Jewish Funding of Israeli Extremism


Extremist Jewish settlers, escorted by Israeli police, march in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem. (File Photo: via ActiveStills.org)

The Palestine Chronicle, April 8, 2022

19 influential rabbis in New York City have signed a letter accusing a major American Jewish charity of indirectly funding right-wing extremists in Israel, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Thursday.

The rabbis called on the $2.4 billion Jewish Communal Fund (JCF) to cease funding to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), part of a network that funnels donations to Lehava and other violent Israeli groups.

The JCF receives thousands of donations a year and distributes funding according to donor recommendations – including $23 million in “general support donations” to CFI.

During Ramadan in 2021, the extremist group Lehava organized a march through occupied Jerusalem where hundreds chanted “Death to Arabs”, “their villages will burn”, and wounded more than 100 Palestinians without intervention from the Israeli police.

“Lehava, which bases itself in the genocidal philosophy of Meir Kahane, is known for violence against both Palestinians and Israeli Jewish progressive activists,” said the letter from the rabbis, most of whom come from largely progressive Jewish denominations, according to the JTA.

Lehava – a Hebrew acronym that stands for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land – was founded by followers of the banned Kach movement, a racist group designated as a terrorist organization in Israel, the US and the EU.

The letter was published in response to an escalation in violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, and fears that Ramadan may bring a repeat of Israel’s assault on the besieged Gaza Strip last year, in which more than 250 Palestinians were killed.

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April 18, 2022
“Who Speaks for the Jews?” Series

    6 pm Central

Join IfNotNow and the Jewish Liberation Fund for this speaker series addressing the question of who holds the power to shape Jewish communal narratives, how they exercise it, and what we can do.

The Jewish Liberation Fund (JLF) mobilizes resources to sustain and grow a progressive Jewish movement and fund a Jewish future we can believe in. We pursue this mission by cultivating the seeds of the Jewish progressive movement as a grantmaker whose decisions are made by Black and Indigenous Jews, Jews of Color, Sephardim and Mizrahim; designing resources and courses for large funders to critically consider the role of philanthropy in dismantling unjust social systems; and organizing Jewish funders to take collective action to usher in new practices in the Jewish philanthropic space.

We call hypocrisy on PUMA

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), April 6, 2022

PUMA enacted swift measures to hold Russia accountable for its illegal weeks-long military invasion of Ukraine. Yet PUMA has been hiding behind the flimsy excuse of not getting involved in politics for years now to justify its ongoing support for Israel’s decades-long apartheid regime. Take action now to call out PUMA’s hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy.

That’s the only way to describe PUMA’s actions.

PUMA enacted swift measures to hold Russia accountable for its illegal weeks-long military invasion of Ukraine. PUMA first ended a sponsorship contract with the Russian Basketball Federation and subsequently suspended its operations in Russia.

Yet PUMA has been hiding behind the flimsy excuse of not getting involved in politics for years now to justify its ongoing support for Israel’s decades-long apartheid regime.

Never has PUMA’s “we don’t do politics” excuse fallen flatter. Never has its hypocrisy been more exposed.

Tell PUMA: No more hypocrisy. End support for Israeli apartheid now. 
    

Puma continues to maintain its sponsorship contract with the Israel Football Association, which governs and advocates on behalf of teams in illegal settlements forcing Indigenous Palestinians off their land in the occupied Palestinian territory.

More than 200 Palestinian sports teams have called on PUMA to end its support for Israel’s military occupation. According to a leaked PUMA memo, an increasing number of PUMA’s own business partners and ambassadors are raising ethical concerns.

Take action now to call out PUMA’s hypocrisy.

Hey PUMA, now that you “do politics,” stop supporting illegal Israeli settlements
  

PUMA should take action now to end its complicity in oppression and suffering everywhere. Selective action is just another stain on its tarnished image.

In solidarity,
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

ps: We’re planning actions ahead of the PUMA shareholders meeting in early May. Mark your calendars and please get in touch if your group would like to join.

The nonviolent BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality is supported by the absolute majority in Palestinian society. BDS rejects all forms of racism and racial discrimination.

Chicago synagogue officially designates itself ‘anti-Zionist’

Protestors In Chicago Rally Against Trump's Jerusalem Decision
Protestors In Chicago Rally Against Trump’s Jerusalem Decision (Getty Images)

Arno Rosenfeld, The Forward, March 31, 2022

Tzedek Chicago was founded seven years ago, in part, to create a Jewish community free from a strong attachment to Israel. The congregation went beyond its original “non-Zionism” this week to become what is likely the first synagogue in the country to be affirmatively “anti-Zionist.”

“I’m so proud of the thoughtful way we engaged with each other in this process,” Scout Bratt, the shul’s president, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the decision. “While we knew individual members would have their own personal opinions, we ultimately treated this as a communal decision, not an ideological litmus test.”

The decision to add a statement decrying the creation of Israel as an “injustice against the Palestinian people – an injustice that continues to this day” was taken by a vote of the congregation’s 200 member families after the board unanimously endorsed it in December. Seventy-three percent of households voted in favor of the motion.

    Even most progressive Jewish congregations are careful
    to avoid staking an explicit anti-Zionist position

There is little data on how many American Jews identify as Zionists, or support Zionism, but many establishment organizations point to proxy questions to argue that the vast majority of the community is sympathetic to the tenets of Jewish nationalism. For example, the Pew Research Center found in May that 82% of Jews said “caring about Israel” was essential or important to being Jewish, and 81% told the American Jewish Committee that it was antisemitic to say that “Israel has no right to exist.”

Some pro-Israel activists assailed Tzedek Chicago’s announcement on social media.

“I don’t think they know what Judaism even is,” Daniel Koren, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, wrote on Twitter.

Establishment groups have long shunned Tzedek Chicago, with JTA reporting in 2019 that the congregation was not listed in the local Jewish federation’s directory of synagogues.

Others noted that it was an incremental move for a congregation that was established with an explicit eye toward attracting Jews who felt alienated from synagogues and other Jewish institutions that celebrate close ties to Israel. Rabbi Brant Rosen, who founded Tzedek Chicago, has long described it as a community for Jews skeptical of, or opposed to, Zionism.

“There are increasing numbers of Jews out there, particularly young Jews, who don’t identify as Zionist and resent the implication that somehow to be Jewish today one must be Zionist,” Rosen told Religion News Service in 2015. Rosen, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, had previously helped found the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is itself anti-Zionist.

But while Rosen told RNS that he believed Tzedek Chicago was the first congregation to intentionally eschew positive attachment to Israel, the synagogue is in fact one of at least half a dozen congregations to take similar positions, according to a Forward analysis.