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In the face of growing opposition, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has withdrawn her sponsorship of the bill, while her Massachusetts colleague, the prominent progressive Elizabeth Warren, has said she won’t back it either.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

US Campaign & ACLU on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act


 
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

Hot off the press: The ACLU is raising red flags about the unconstitutionality of the latest, most draconian attempt to date to deny activists the right to boycott. For Congress to heed its call to oppose this bill, they need to hear from BDS supporters like you!

On March 23, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA), introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697).

This bill seeks to impose fines and criminal penalties and deny government loans to corporations refusing to do business with corporations in illegal Israeli settlements. It infringes on our First Amendment right to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions and seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlements.

Click here to learn if your Members of Congress support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and then contact them by phone and email to state your opposition to penalizing boycotting Israel and its illegal settlements.

When confronted by a reporter inquiring why he is seeking to penalize BDS supporters, the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Ben Cardin, claimed: “We are very sensitive to freedom of speech.”

The ACLU, and we at the US Campaign, beg to differ. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would punish business owners that boycott Israel or Israeli settlement products with “a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison,” according to a letter by the ACLU. It even goes so far as to penalize people for just requesting information about a boycott.

The ACLU explained its opposition to the bill:

    “The bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

An expose out yesterday from The Intercept called foul on Members of Congress who have claimed to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, but cosponsored this bill denying our right to boycott for justice:

    “Among the co-sponsors of the bill are several of the politicians who have become political celebrities by positioning themselves as media leaders of the anti-Trump #Resistance… These politicians, who have built a wide public following by posturing as opponents of authoritarianism, are sponsoring one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills that has pended before Congress in quite some time.”

Please contact your Members of Congress right now to let them know you support BDS and oppose unconstitutional attempts to restrict our First Amendment right to advocate for it.

The LA Times recently called BDS a “classic tool of peaceful political expression,” and Members of Congress may soon start singing the same tune if they keep hearing from their BDS-supporting constituents.

We need you to take action against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act now!

Sincerely,
LEAH MUSKIN-PIERRET
Government Affairs Associate
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

ADC Stands with Linda Sarsour

Washington, DC | www.adc.org | July 13, 2017 – ADC, the nation’s largest grassroots Arab-American organization, unequivocally stands with Arab-American activist Linda Sarsour in the face of bigoted attacks against one of our community’s most prominent leaders.

As co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, Sarsour become the object of hate for Islamophobes. Immediately after her widely-praised speech last January, where she called herself “unapologetically Palestinian-American,” Sarsour’s visible persona was the source of resentment for those who seek to marginalize our community and preclude us from exercising our rights and responsibilities in American public life.

Palestinian Americans and Americans involved in Palestine-related activism must live with the ubiquitous threat of a character smear if they speak out against the Israeli government or the oppression of the Palestinians.

Attacks against Sarsour became more unhinged after the City University of New York invited her to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class. Demonstrating that Sarsour’s very identity was the source of the bigoted assault, the New York Times reported, “A Muslim-American Activist’s Speech Raises Ire Even Before It’s Delivered.” Rallied up by New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind – a former supporter of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) – numerous far-right agitators hurled death threats at Sarsour including, “A good Arab is a dead Arab.”

For decades, anti-Arab forces have sought to push our community aside. In the past, these forces have even used violence to silence community leaders, such as ADC’s West Coast Director Alex Odeh who was assassinated by the JDL in 1985. In 2001, JDL partisans were apprehended trying to blow up the offices of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa. And in March, JDL thugs violently attacked an elderly Palestinian man at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington D.C.

Now, once again, Sarsour is coming under attack after delivering a public address to the Islamic Society of North America where she related the Hadith that “A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad” and encouraged her audience to undertake the “jihad” of standing up for our rights against the Trump administration. To any fair minded individual, Sarsour’s use of the term “jihad” was obvious and innocuous. Naturally, far-right websites and media organizations ignored the very context and scripted false headlines accusing Sarsour of waging Jihad against President Trump. The willfully dishonest defamation of Sarsour has become a popular cause on the far-right. However, regardless of their efforts, they will not be able to silence an “unapologetic Palestinian-American.”

ADC condemns the bigoted attacks against Sarsour. These attacks go beyond any honest exception to Sarsour’s advocacy and seek to deny the inalienable rights enjoined by all Americans to free speech simply because of her ethnic and religious background and identity.

We will not stand silent in the face of such un-American attacks from the most disreputable of sources. This is why ADC exists: To defend our rights as Arab-Americans, to defend our heritage, and to uphold our standing in the American public square. Today, and every day, we stand with Linda Sarsour and all Arab-Americans fighting for a more tolerant, inclusive and just America.

To the people propagating these false accusations about Sarsour: Your hatred, your bigotry, and your envy does not threaten our excellence.

#IMarchWithLinda