+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

America's BDS law is an attack on far more than free speech

The world long ago made clear to the Palestinians that violence is not a legitimate path for seeking independence. Now Congress is trying to criminalize one of the few nonviolent tools left.

Supporters of academic boycott during the annual business meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 21, 2015. (photo: Alex Shams)

Supporters of academic boycott during the annual business meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 21, 2015. (photo: Alex Shams)

A pair of laws currently making their way through the United States Congress would impose criminal sanctions on Americans who support an economic boycott of Israel or its illegal West Bank settlements. The bill follows in the footsteps of, and in some was surpasses the dozens of American states that have passed their own anti-boycott laws in recent years.

The Senate bill, S. 720, known as the “Anti-Israel Boycott Act,” also goes far beyond what even the Israeli government is willing to do to counter the grassroots movement to end the occupation and achieve certain basic rights for Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has its own anti-boycott law on the books but it not criminal, and it does not directly limit the right to call for such boycotts. Even in Israel calling to boycott the country, its institutions, its citizens, and its settlements are still considered protected speech. The punishment for violating the proposed American law, on the other hand, would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and/or up to a year in prison.

“This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to U.S. Senators this week, adding that such punishments would be “a direct violation of the first amendment.” Even requesting information about companies that are boycotts would become illegal, the ACLU noted.

But the efforts to stymie boycott efforts in the United States and elsewhere — similar legislation has popped up in Europe — are far more sinister than just restricting the free speech and political expression of American and other supporters of Palestinians. Its true purpose is to block one of the few remaining legitimate, nonviolent tactics Palestinians have for achieving national self-determination and individual rights.

Palestinians burn Israeli products confiscated from a truck belonging to the Israeli company Strauss Group Ltd, Nablus, West Bank, March 11, 2015. Activists in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced plans to boycott Israeli products last month after Israel halted transfer of vital tax revenues to Abbas's cash-strapped Palestinian Authority. Israel took that step after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court to seek war crimes charges against Israel. (photo: Activestills.org)

Palestinians burn Israeli products confiscated from a truck belonging to the Israeli company Strauss Group Ltd, Nablus, West Bank, March 11, 2015. (photo: Activestills.org)

When the Israeli government and its supporters (the Senate bill is being promoted by AIPAC) attempt to delegitimize the Palestinian-led boycott — a political and economic pressure tactic well within the normative democratic toolbox — they are actually saying that Palestinians do not have the same political rights as others with regards to individual political expression, but more importantly, the right to national self-determination.

The latter is particularly sinister when you consider that one of the more common Israeli talking points against the BDS Movement these days is to accuse boycotters of denying the Jewish people the right to national self-determination. Denying that right to the Jewish people alone, the argument goes, means the boycott movement is anti-Semitic. Yet if denying the right to national determination to one specific group means crossing such a thick red line that it wades into anti-Semitic territory, then denying another group a set of legitimate tools for achieving that same aim should be just as unconscionable.

Protesters hold signs calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) during a Washington, D.C., protest against Israel's offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Protesters hold signs calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) during a Washington, D.C., protest against Israel’s offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The Palestinian territories have been under Israeli military occupation for over 50 years now. An Israeli military commander is the acting sovereign in the West Bank. That military commander is not accountable to those over whom he rules but rather to the democratically elected government of another country, Israel. There is nothing democratic about it, and Palestinians have no legal avenue to hold their rulers (Israel) accountable or to shape the future of their lives or their country. (The Palestinian Authority has the sovereign powers of an overzealous municipality on a good day.)

So how is a people without any democratic recourse supposed to seek and achieve independence and national self-determination — or even plain-old equality and basic rights? The world long ago made clear to the Palestinians that violence is not a legitimate path for them. That leaves civil disobedience, international solidarity, and economic influence as the primary means of leverage available.

Palestinians have tried to leverage their economic power against Israel in the past. The First Intifada included mass strikes and consumer boycotts. But the Israeli economy was never dependent on Palestinian labor, and in the wake of the First Intifada, Israel sought to immunize itself from further such actions by bringing in hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to replace the Palestinian laborers. As a result, the Israeli economy is relatively unsusceptible to direct Palestinian economic leverage today. (There are some more exotic possibilities, like aggressively selling off the shekels in circulation in the Palestinian territories, which could in theory flood the Israeli currency market and lead to temporary retaliatory inflation, but the impact would be limited.)

Which brings us back to international pressure — political and economic. The Senate, AIPAC, and countless others may not be comfortable with the type of leverage a consumer or corporate boycott movement could bring. And such pressure may ultimately prove to be not enough. But to weld that door shut would be to tell the Palestinians that they do not have any agency in determining their own lives and national future, which leaves the ball squarely in Israel’s court. The past 50 years have made clear that as long the stability and relative comfort of the status quo continue to outweigh the risks of change for Israel, ending the occupation will not even appear on the agenda.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      It’s an outrageous, blatant violation of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment. Israel, get your hands off the United States government and its democracy. All of this shows that Israel indeed gets a pass, and gets allowed intrusive access and influence, that no one else gets, to the point that it is now bidding to warp the very fabric of American democracy:
      https://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      So much for the myth that Jews are smart. This is going to cause a huge political firestorm, campaigns with names like “Get Israel Out of Congress!”, and people who never heard of the Occupation are about to be educated. Why is AIPAC hiring morons?

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        Only the utterly un/misinformed or morons support Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    3. duh

      This is a grand gesture of hubris. Next thing you know AIPAC will be demanding a bill to prosecute people who point out Zionism started off committing racist segregation in the kibbutzim/training farms and lobbying imperialist powers to be part of an eventual occupation of Palestine. If we’re gonna turn into North Korea, we might as well make someone, anyone, the “Eternal President” just to do away with the pretense of democracy.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jan

      I am an American and I am a Jew and I support BDS. I support non-violence and that is why I support BDS.
      It has been more than obvious for over 50 years that Israel will tolerate no resistance whatsoever to their draconian occupation no matter what form that resistance takes.
      In 1983, sixteen years into the occupation, Mubarak Awad, a Jerusalem born Palestinian-American, came to the West Bank where he founded the Palestine Centre for the Teaching of Non-Violence. Anyone who harbored even the slightest notion that Israel preferred non-violence to violence would have been crazy.
      In spite of protests from the very pro-Israel Reagan State Department, Awad was deported back to America and his center closed.
      Four years later Hamas was founded.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Very good news. Several countries consider the BDS as an antisemitic crime, among them: France, Switzerland and 2 Spanish provinces. According to our sage rabbis and to our Jewish tradition, Arabs are not allowed to live in Eretz Israel when the Jewish people is back. Why don’t you study our holy books for more objectivity and the truth..?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Yes, the ANTI-BDS legislation is rather excellent news for Israel. As Macron said Antizionism = Antisemitism. The Jordanian population can stay as permanent foreign residents in Yesha OR they can f-k off back to Jordan.

        I suspect many Jordanians will not accept this argument, which means mass repatriation a few years down the line. But similar long term solutions are also apparent for France, Belgium and Germany.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          With Judeofascists like Halevy and the knuckledragger from Afula, at least you know where you stand. No euphemisms. No pretending they really seek peace and justice. No pretending they want good faith negotiations. No pretending that it is about “security.” They bear out the truth of what Jan wrote yesterday: “Anyone who harbored even the slightest notion that Israel preferred non-violence to violence would have been crazy.”

          Reply to Comment
      • john

        lol @: “Why don’t you study our holy books for more objectivity and the truth..?” of course we should: israel is a theocratic state.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Lawrence A Dickerson

      This proposed bill is an example of how sad our legislators truly are. AIPAC wrote this piece of anticipated law which is clearly an effort to criminalize the entire expression of anything perceived as antisemitic. These elected officials stamped their approval on this work not out of anything that would affect the US but on fear of losing support and campaign monies. Once again money overrides the rights of all US citizens. Keep in mind that we voters are in charge in the end if we only exercise our vote in an informed action.

      Reply to Comment