Tag Archives: BDS

US Congress condemns boycotts of Israel

On July 23, 2019, Congress passed H. Res. 246 condemning boycotts of Israel. (398 – 17) [The full text is copied below.]

The resolution was obviously drafted by AIPAC — Israel’s powerful lobbying organization working against all efforts to “delegitimize” [AIPAC’s word, not mine] the State of Israel.

The U.S. Congress opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;

This comes at the same time that the U.N. Special Rapporteur is recommending a global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel because no other actions by the United Nations or the international community have deterred Israel’s occupation and steady march towards ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their land.

As the ACLU has repeatedly informed Congress, political boycotts are fully protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court made that clear when it recognized, in a landmark 1982 decision called NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, that the Constitution protected a 1960s boycott of white-owned businesses in Mississippi.

The 17 NAY votes included Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. Pramila Javapal (D-WA), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).  Their courage to stand up against the Democratic leadership, against AIPAC, and against the tidal wave of their fellow colleagues in the House must be recognized and applauded. 

Deb HaalandUnfortunately, my first term Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D-NM) did not display that courage. She issued no statement to explain her decision to oppose my constitutional right to boycott Israel but my hunch is that she will follow Speaker Pelosi’s wish —- the good inside game in politics —- on these matters. Although Haaland graduated from law school, her understanding or appreciation for the First Amendment is not strong.

On Cesar Chavez Day, Rep. Haaland stood on the stage with Dolores Huerta, but perhaps she wasn’t aware of the importance of that day — to remember a movement that was all about the use of boycotts!

The Senate has an identical resolution (S.Res. 120) which hasn’t been voted on yet. My two U.S. Senators are going to hear why I urge them to oppose it.

116th CONGRESS

1st Session

H. RES. 246

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

March 21, 2019

 (for himself, Mr. ZeldinMr. Nadler, and Mrs. Wagner) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Financial ServicesScience, Space, and Technology, and the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

RESOLUTION

Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel.

Whereas the democratic, Jewish State of Israel is a key ally and strategic partner of the United States;

Whereas since Israel’s founding in 1948, Congress has repeatedly expressed our Nation’s unwavering commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;

Whereas American policy has long sought to bring peace to the Middle East and recognized that both the Israeli and Palestinian people should be able to live in safe and sovereign states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition;

Whereas support for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians has long-standing bipartisan support in Congress;

Whereas it is the long-standing policy of the United States that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should come through direct negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the support of countries in the region and around the world;

Whereas it is a hallmark of American democracy for citizens to petition the United States Government in favor of or against United States foreign policy;

Whereas cooperation between Israel and the United States is of great importance, especially in the context of rising anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and security problems in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa;

Whereas the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel is a campaign that does not favor a two-state solution and that seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world;

Whereas the BDS Movement targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel;

Whereas the BDS Movement does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination;

Whereas a founder of the BDS Movement has denied the right of the Jewish people in their homeland, saying, We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.;

Whereas university-based BDS efforts violate the core goals of the university and global cultural development, which thrive on free and open exchange and debate; and

Whereas the BDS Movement promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace and a two-state solution: Now, therefore, be it

That the House of Representatives—

(1)

opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;

(2)

affirms that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure;

(3)

urges Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

(4)

supports the full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–296; 128 Stat. 4075) and new efforts to enhance government-wide, coordinated United States-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas, such as with respect to energy, water, agriculture, alternative fuel technology, civilian space technology, and security, in order to counter the effects of actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel; and

(5)

reaffirms its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states—a democratic Jewish State of Israel, and a viable, democratic Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

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UN Special Rapporteur urges Israel be held accountable

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

The community of nations should start using some of the legal sticks available in its basket to push the State of Israel into ending the occupation of Palestine.  That’s the bottom line according to the U.N. Special Rapporteur who is calling for global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.

Professor S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, is no newbie to Israel’s occupation. As the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, he asked  — When is enough, enough under international law?  He answered it in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017. I summarized his report here.

In the 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk opened a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He made the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and called on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

The next year, EJIL: Talk! …. the Blog of the European Journal of International Law published Professor Lynk’s commentary where he urged the international legal community to consider whether or not Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine has crossed some legal red line, resulting in an illegal occupation. Professor Lynk posited a 4-part test to determine the answer. His commentary was reprinted on my blog here.

The Great MarchIn the Spring of 2018, when Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great Return March and protested at the fence line between Israel and Gaza, Israel responded with lethal force. Lynk said the killings reflected a “blatant excessive use of force by Israel” and likened them to “an eye for an eyelash.” The protesters appeared to pose no credible threat to Israeli military forces on the Israeli side. Under humanitarian law, he said, the killing of unarmed demonstrators could amount to a war crime, and he added that “impunity for these actions is not an option.” (I wrote about that here.)

Although Professor Ilan Pappe wants the world to jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonization” in the context of Israel – Palestine, Professor Lynk has taken a different tack. He recommends that the U.N. declare the occupation illegal. See more about that here.

In March 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry issued its findings and recommendations on the deadly protests in Gaza. Professor Lynk agreed and warned that —

As the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” on 30 March 2019 draws closer, and in view of the ever-deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over possible rising levels of violence if no firm action was taken to pursue accountability and justice. “Continuing to suffocate Gaza is a blot on the world’s conscience and a recipe for more bloodshed,” Lynk said. “Restoring Gaza and ensuring justice and accountability would give the region hope that a better Middle East is possible.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

For many years, Palestinians and human rights activists have been beating the accountability drum urging the world to hold Israel accountable for its responsibilities as an occupier and its flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Beyond the many non-binding resolutions at the U.N. over the years, there has been no credible and sustained effort to hold Israel accountable. (The U.S. is a very big reason why the U.N. has failed — but that’s for another blog post.)

2013-05-05-21-01-541On his most recent tour to the Middle East, Professor Lynk held meetings in Jordan because Israel refuses to allow him to visit Palestine. He believes that unless Israel is pressured to do the right thing, it will continue to deepen and further entrench the occupation.

Professor Lynk recommends that the UN members should consider everything from cutting cultural ties with Israel to suspending its membership in the world body.

He emphasized the role of the EU, which accounts for some 40 percent of Israel’s external trade and could make the flow of Israeli goods and services to the 28-nation bloc contingent on policy shifts that help Palestinians.

Furthermore, Lynk urges the speedy publication of a long-awaited blacklist of Israeli and international companies that profit from operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. He also wants prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to hasten its preliminary investigation of allegations of rights abuses by Israel and Hamas on Palestinian territory, which began in 2015.

Although Professor Lynk’s role as UN Special Rapporteur carries no enforcement power or authority, he’s certainly using his responsibility to examine and report on the occupation to the fullest extent possible. Now civil society and solidarity activists must amplify his call for accountability. 

 

Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

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Meeting with Representative Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

On Monday I’m meeting with my Congresswoman from New Mexico, Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM). This is quite an honor, and I’m especially thankful to be meeting her now because of her very busy schedule campaigning for Governor.

In April 2014, just a few months before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza, Representative Lujan-Grisham met with friends of mine from Gaza who were on a book tour in the US at the time.  Israel killed Refaat’s brother in its military assault soon after our meeting.

RefaatandRawan

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

Representative Lujan-Grisham and her staff have always been accessible, and I appreciate that because I’ve heard that some other members of Congress are not so easy to connect with, especially on the issue that is important to me: Israel-Palestine.

I have three simple “asks” when I meet with her on Monday.

#1    Please cosponsor Rep. Betty McCollum’s H.R. 4391 (Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act).

#2    Please support UNRWA and pushback against H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act).

#3    Please do not support any future Anti-BDS legislation if it comes to her desk as Governor.

McCollum’s H.R. 4391 addresses a serious human rights problem. 

An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch have documented that these children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15.

In addition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods without access to either their parents or attorneys. The United States Department of State and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have also raised serious concerns about the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military custody.

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

In December 2017, Rep. McCollum wrote in The Nation:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades, including 50 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. To help sustain the occupation, Israel’s military and police forces have arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned thousands of Palestinian children, mostly for throwing stones. Israel’s military court and detention system is unique in the world in its systematic incarceration of children, in this case Palestinian children. It is a system that denies basic due-process rights and is cruel, inhumane, and degrading.

It should not require tremendous moral courage to stand up for the human rights of children. Sadly, the exception appears to be when those children are Palestinian. I firmly believe that Palestinian children deserve to be treated with the same humanity, dignity, and human rights as any child anywhere, including children in the United States or Israel.

For Israel, this means honoring its international commitments and ending the widespread and systematic cruel and inhumane treatment of Palestinian children. For the United States, it means prohibiting American funds from being used to support Israel’s abusive military detention of children and requiring the State Department to certify Israel’s compliance.

Rep. McCollum’s entire op-ed is here.  And she’s not alone in recognizing the damaging impacts that Israel’s military detention has on Palestinian children.

Representative McCollum provided a short explanation of H.R. 4391 in July 2018 on the Floor of the House.  See here.  As of September 2018, there are 29 cosponsors to H.R. 4391. I hope Rep. Lujan-Grisham will be #30.

UNRWA must be supported!

Trump’s assault on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is despicable and short-sighted. I wrote earlier about Trump’s decision to stop funding UNRWA here.  The New York Times’ Editorial Board agrees, noting that the “Trump administration’s decision to eliminate funding for the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees is shortsighted.”

The Guardian noted that the impact [of Trump’s decision] will potentially be serious – and rapid – for the millions who rely on the agency. “Such a decision aims at closing schools, clinics, hospitals and starving people,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator.

He said any vacuum in services could be exploited by extremists, and said the Palestinian Authority has been helping UNRWA fund camps in Syria and Lebanon for several years.

That spending, he said, was “in order not to allow terrorist organisations such as Isis to recruit our people there because of their needs. Now, with this cut, what does this mean? … Those elements that want to achieve peace based on a peaceful, two state solution, are being destroyed”.

I hope Representative Lujan-Grisham will voice her support for UNRWA by joining with her colleagues in the House who are pushing back against the Administration’s decision, and also oppose H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act) which, like many bills in Congress, is cynically misnamed. H.R. 6451 purports to change the internationally-recognized definition of Palestinian refugee in order to magically erase millions of people who are refugees under international law and entitled to return to their homes and villages from which they were forcibly removed in 1948.

I’m also going to ask her to support my #Gaza5K campaign to raise funds for UNRWA to provide critical mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza.  Tax deductible donations can be made online here.

Anti-BDS Legislation in the States is Bad News!

Twenty-five states have passed some form of anti-BDS legislation. New Mexico has not and I’m going to ask Rep. Lujan-Grisham to pledge that she will oppose any attempts to pass similar legislation when she is Governor.

These bills don’t directly prevent Americans from boycotting Israel, but they are just as sinister because they usually include one of the following three components:

1)      Blacklists. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws require the creation of blacklists of activists, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that are engaged in boycotts of Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”). It’s 21st century McCarthyism.

2)      Prohibition on government contracts. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws aim to punish individuals, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that support BDS by prohibiting the state or local government from entering into contracts with them. So, for example, under some anti-BDS bills, the United Church of Christ or the Presbyterian Church (USA) could be prohibited from contracting with the state to run social services like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or youth programs because of actions they have taken in support of BDS.

3)      Pension fund divestment. Many of the anti-BDS bills/laws require state pension funds to divest from companies that boycott Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”).

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

These anti-BDS bills/laws are unconstitutional. The ACLU is challenging the Kansas anti-BDS law in federal court on behalf of a teacher who was denied employment when she refused to certify that she would not boycott Israel. I wrote about it here.

I hope Lujan-Grisham agrees that New Mexico must not pass one of these anti-BDS bills.

 

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Final exam #GreatReturnMarch

The final exam in my International Human Rights Law course included an essay on the issue of extraterritorial human rights. I’ve copied my answer below.

#10 — Consistent with the development agenda that accompanied the establishment of the post-war Bretton Woods order, article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights referred to the need to move towards an international order that enables countries’ efforts to implement economic, social and cultural rights at home, stating that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”. Is the emergence of extraterritorial human rights obligations, which have been increasingly recognized in recent years, sufficient to ensure that this promise is fulfilled?

“Sufficient” is the operative term in this question, and the answer must be NO.

The Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted in 2011) are a very important milestone in building the “international order” envisioned in article 28, but as current events clearly demonstrate, the nations of the world have not effectively acknowledged or fulfilled their extraterritorial human rights obligations.

The Great Return March initiated by the Palestinian civil society in Gaza on March 30, 2018 illustrates the failure of Israel and other nations to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights guaranteed to everyone, including Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the fact that the State of Israel doesn’t acknowledge that it is a belligerent occupying force maintaining effective control over the Palestinians in Gaza (for the purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting the focus to Gaza and not the West Bank), the facts clearly demonstrate the contrary. The State of Israel strictly controls:

1) the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza,

2) the territorial air space, waters and land borders,

3) the electromagnetic sphere,

4) the population registry, and

5) life and death.

The Maastricht Principles (#18) spell out that a “State in belligerent occupation or that otherwise exercises effective control over territory outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of persons within that territory. A State exercising effective control over persons outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights of those persons.”

For more than 10 years, the State of Israel has imposed an economic, social and cultural blockade on the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. As a result of the blockade, and three military operations which have directly targeted the civilian population and infrastructure in Gaza (2008-09, 2012 and 2014), the United Nations has reported that the Gaza Strip is expected to be unlivable by 2020. (Some would argue that the Gaza Strip is unlivable today.)

Few objective observers would argue that the Palestinians’ human rights are not being violated on a daily basis, but no one has been able to hold the State of Israel accountable under international law. No one has found any effective remedies for the Palestinians. In fact, when the United Nations General Assembly speaks with a nearly unified voice condemning Israel’s violations of international norms and laws, the United States steps in to condemn the United Nations.

In light of this history and current events, what does the principle that “All States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, both within their territories and extraterritorially” mean in practice?

What are Israel’s obligations? What obligations does the United States have as a primary financial sponsor (providing more than $3 billion to Israel every year) and supporter of Israel’s blockade and military operations? What obligations do other nations have to step in and take affirmative action to protect and fulfill the Palestinians’ human rights? Each of the three entails extraterritorial obligations. Perhaps, the answer is different for each.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Maastricht Principles, human rights treaties and international common law provide important and laudable goals but they can’t function in a vacuum. They represent the collective desires of the human community, and reflect U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s famous quote: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Human rights treaties are promises that States have made regarding the interests of individuals, as opposed to interests of the States themselves, and therefore holding States accountable for fulfilling those promises is challenging. Even more challenging is holding states accountable for protecting the human rights of people outside of their borders.

When and how can States intervene within the borders of another sovereign State to protect the human rights of individuals? Refraining from acts that may cause harm to individuals (#13 of the Maastricht Principles) in another country may be easier than taking affirmative actions, but there are serious hurdles nevertheless. For example, in the case of the U.S.’s responsibility to protect the human rights of the Palestinians in Gaza, withholding political support for Israel at the United Nations and reducing military aid to Israel might be actions that the U.S. could take unilaterally without infringing on Israel’s sovereignty, but domestic politics in the U.S. render those ideas very unlikely.

Ultimately, extraterritorial human rights obligations will gain traction when the actions of the human community leads or shames their States to do the right thing. The people must lead and the governments will follow. In the case of the Palestinians in Gaza:

1) Education – There are complex reasons for the human rights violations perpetrated by the State of Israel against the Palestinians, but it may stem from a fear that one side gains human rights at the expense of the other. Us vs. Them. Israeli society must learn that human rights are not a zero-sum game. In fact, their security is greatly enhanced when every man, woman and child within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have secured their basic human rights. Maintaining the belligerent occupation is not only contrary to international law but impedes the security and fulfillment of many human rights that Israelis seek for themselves.

2) Communication with decision-makers – Americans have a responsibility to communicate with our leaders about the long-standing human rights violations occurring in Gaza with our government’s complicity. International human rights are strongest when they are understood viscerally at the local level. The link between the Palestinians in Gaza, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, the climate justice movement, and others, must be made clear to all because everyone’s actions to enforce human rights norms reinforces the human rights of others.

3) Changing the narrative – Israel’s hasbara has controlled public opinion in Israel and around the world for many years. Although it’s increasingly being met with skepticism, especially among the younger generation, Israel’s power and influence in controlling the narrative of the human rights violations in Gaza can even be traced back to the New York Times which refuses to denote Gaza as “occupied” since Israel removed its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005.  Palestinian voices must be given greater attention by the mainstream media if the world is going to understand the human rights issues involved in the occupation. Until the mainstream media fulfills that role, social media activists and others must elevate the Palestinian voices.

4) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Palestinian civil society launched the BDS movement about 10 years ago, very similar to the BDS movement which toppled Apartheid South Africa. There’s little doubt that the BDS movement has gained traction in the past few years, and has had a significant impact. Israeli leaders recently passed a law to prevent BDS activists from traveling to Israel and Palestine. In December 2017, Israel’s government approved a plan setting aside $72 million to fighting the campaign to boycott Israel. Tying human rights to the State’s treasury and bottom line is helping move Israel towards recognizing and fulfilling Palestinian human rights by ending the occupation.

5) Freedom Flotillas and the Great Return March – Some people believe physical action is necessary to force States to recognize and fulfill their basic human rights. People from many different countries have joined together in several Freedom Flotillas to try to break Israel’s maritime siege, costing a number of them to lose their lives when the Israeli military boarded their boat and fired on them. On March 30, 2018, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza launched a peaceful march towards the border with Israel to highlight their determination to obtain their right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1947-48 when the State of Israel was created. On the first day of the Great Return March, 16 or 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli sharpshooters at the border.

Physical actions such as these, when combined with all of the actions described above, move world opinion and action closer to fulfilling the human rights obligations set forth in the UDHR, treaties and other formal legal mechanisms.  States will move in the right direction when individuals create the parade for them to lead.

 

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AIPAC’s agenda

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

AIPAC — America’s Pro-Israel lobby — is as powerful (if not more powerful) in the halls of Congress as the NRA.  A 2016 article in the Foreign Policy Journal noted:

The AIPAC-led pro-Israel lobby is probably the strongest, best organized and most effective lobby network in Washington DC. For the 2015-2016 election cycle, the pro-Israel network has already dispensed $4,255,136 in contributions. The largest single amount ($259,688) went to Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Among interest groups that lobby on behalf of a foreign government, none ranks higher in contributions to members of Congress than the pro-Israel lobby.

So it should come to no one’s surprise that most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle carry water for AIPAC. We can find AIPAC’s fingerprints on many pieces of legislation.

  • Opposition to Iran – Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R. 5132)—authored by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).
  • The Taylor Force Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 1164) cuts funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a result of the PA’s practice of paying families of Palestinian fighters who have died or been imprisoned.
  • The United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497)—authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL). Includes $3.3 billion in military assistance to Israel and an additional $500 million in missile defense funding.
  • The House of Representatives and Senate both introduced bipartisan resolutions — H. Res. 11 and S. Res. 6, respectively — reaffirming this principle and opposing efforts at the United Nations to impose a solution on the conflict. The House overwhelmingly adopted H. Res. 11 on Jan. 5.
  • The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S.170 and H.R. 2856).
  • The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R. 3329)—that would impose additional sanctions on the terrorist organization and those that support it.

U.S. politicians are proud of confirming their support for Israel and boasting that there’s no daylight between Israel’s interests and America’s interests.

I’d feel a whole lot more confident of our “special relationship” with Israel if I knew that my elected officials were putting U.S. interests ahead of their allegiance to Israel.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of the tail (Israel) wagging the dog (U.S.) — with AIPAC establishing U.S. foreign policy by very clever messaging and lobbying tactics that sometimes borders on bullying.

If Congress was not tied to AIPAC at the hip, the 6 legislative priorities above might be recast as follows:

  • Iran is a growing power in the region with which diplomacy and negotiation is in our (the U.S.) best interest. Preventing a new nuclear power in the region is good for the community of nations and the U.S. There needs to be transparency and honesty in addressing Israel’s nuclear weapons too.
  • Payment to the families of soldiers in uniform is standard practice in the U.S. and Israel, there’s no reason why payment to Palestinian fighters should be treated any differently. Consistent treatment in our foreign policy enhances U.S. credibility.
  • Is it in the best interests of the U.S. to pay $3.3 billion+ annually to Israel? This represents by far the largest contribution to a foreign government at a time when the U.S. is running the largest deficit in its history and Congress is considering cut backs to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  At a minimum, there should be a public discussion about the pros and cons of U.S. financial support to Israel.
  • Resolutions are non-binding and some may think these resolutions condemning the United Nations are unimportant. However, Americans need to know that the U.S. (and particularly the U.S. Congress) stands apart from the vast majority of nations vis-à-vis criticism of Israel and its violations of international law. To rectify this criticism, the U.S. should be using carrots and sticks to convince Israel to comply with international law, not throwing its weight around with AIPAC-written resolutions.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to criminalize political speech that targets Israel. I’ve written about it here and here. While the NRA focuses on the Second Amendment, it appears AIPAC has set its target on the First Amendment. It will be interesting to see how members of Congress on both sides of the aisle justify this blatant attempt to undermine Americans’ right to express their political beliefs peacefully and nonviolently.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to sanction Hizballah in Lebanon. Yes, Hizballah may be a military mini-threat to Israel (“mini” — considering the disparity in the weapons between Israel and Hizballah) but the real threat to peace in the Middle East is the precarious situation Lebanon finds itself today.  “The problem for Lebanon, the world’s third most-indebted country, is that it’s starting to look more like Greece financially. And if Greece’s survival as part of the euro was crucial to the European project, Lebanon is key to keeping what’s left of peace in the Middle East.” So the U.S. Congress should be discussing ways to support Lebanon, not jumping on AIPAC’s wagon which will likely destablize Lebanon even further.

Is AIPAC’s agenda consistent with our best interests at home and abroad? I don’t think so, but at least Americans deserve an open and transparent discussion on the floor of the House and Senate before our elected members of Congress vote on these AIPAC-sponsored bills. They need to hear from intelligent, opposing viewpoints instead of marching lockstep down AIPAC’s misbegotten path.

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BDS Movement shines

The global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, is receiving a lot of attention these days.

The stated goals of BDS are: the end of Israel’s occupation and settler colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Netanyahu and Israel’s government want to kill the BDS Movement

On January 7, 2018 Israel published its list of NGOs that support BDS — with the intention of preventing leaders of those organizations from entering Israeli territory — and thus Palestinian territory.  A U.S. Quaker group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 is on the list. Even Jews who support BDS are targets for Israel’s ire.

Israel, the homeland for the Jews, only wants Zionists apparently, not just any Jew.

A joint team from the Strategic Affairs and Interior ministries has already determined the parameters that will serve as a basis for barring activists from coming into the country. Those who hold senior or important positions in blacklisted organizations will be denied entry, as well as key activists, even if they hold no official position.

Mayors and establishment figures who actively and continually promote boycotts will also be prevented from entering, as will activists who arrive to Israel on behalf of or as part of a delegation initiated by one of blacklisted groups.  See the full article here.

The “Anti-BDS Law”, passed by the Knesset in March 2017, has already been used against Americans (including American Jews) traveling to Israel and against elected representatives of the French republic (MPs, MEPs, and mayors of major French cities) who wished to visit Israel and occupied Palestine, with a particular aim to meet their Palestinian counterparts. In response, the Israeli government invented a new offence: that of applying for permission to visit! (Check out this article in the Middle East Eye).

The list of organizations now banned by Israel includes:

AFPS (The Association France Palestine Solidarité)
BDS France
BDS Italy
ECCP (The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine
FOA (Friends of Al-Aqsa)
IPSC (Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
Norge (The Palestine Committee of Norway)
Palestinakomitee
PGS (Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden)
Palestinagrupperna i Sverige
PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
War on Want
BDS Kampagne
AFSC (American Friends Service Committee)
AMP (American Muslims for Palestine)
Code Pink
JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace)
NSJP (National Students for Justice in Palestine)
USCPR (US Campaign for Palestinian Rights)
BDS Chile
BDS South Africa
BNC (BDS National Committee)

I was questioned for five hours by three different Israeli security officials in March 2016 when I was crossing into the West Bank from Jordan. And what did they want to know? Their chief concern was whether or not I supported BDS. One security official found photos I had posted on Facebook from my visit to Paris a few months earlier, including pictures of a BDS rally. She accused me of being the organizer of this BDS rally. I told her I support BDS because it’s a peaceful, nonviolent form of protest against the occupation but I was not the organizer of this BDS rally in Paris. She responded: “You’re a liar!”

King Hussein bridge

I’m allowed into the West Bank after 5 hours of questioning 

I was eventually allowed to enter, thanks (I believe) to the support I received from my Jewish Israeli friend who invited me to visit her kibbutz. The Israeli security officials had called her twice that afternoon — her responses must have been my ticket in.

But what is the government of Israel afraid of when it appears to be waging a global war against the BDS movement? Most undergraduate Psych majors would interpret Israel’s public relations campaign against BDS as a sign of Israel’s fear of the movement’s growing success.

If the BDS movement achieves its goal, Israel as a Jewish-majority homeland for the Jews will cease to exist, and the occupation will also end. It worked in South Africa; it realistically has every chance of working in Israel-Palestine.  THAT’S what Israel is afraid of — the end of the status quo.

Now it’s incumbent on BDS activists to share a narrative of what life in Israel-Palestine will look like for both Israelis and Palestinians after the occupation ends. Even though Israel is by far stronger than Palestine today, it is far weaker in spirit and imagination.  And fear among Israelis obscures their vision of a world beyond occupation.  Palestinians and international supporters of BDS must provide this alternative vision to replace their fear.

Norwegian lawmaker wants to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize on BDS

A few days ago, a Norwegian lawmaker nominated the BDS Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He said:

“This nomination reflects the growing international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice, dignity and freedom from the Israeli occupation.”

“If the international community commits to supporting BDS to end the occupation of Palestinian territory and the oppression of the Palestinian people, new hope will be lit for a just peace for Palestinians, Israelis and all people across the Middle East.”

“My hope is that this nomination can be one humble but necessary step towards bringing forth a more dignified and beautiful future for all peoples of the region.”

Nobel_Prize

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Filed under Israel, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, Uncategorized

District Court slaps anti-boycott state law

A big day for Americans who believe in peaceful, non-violent protest such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

A teacher from Kansas is standing up for her right to boycott Israeli products, and taking the State of Kansas to federal court.

The following excerpts are from the district court’s opinion.

First, STATE OF KANSAS PASSES ANTI-BOYCOTT LAW:

In June 2017, Kansas enacted House Bill 2409 (“the Kansas Law”). This law requires all state contractors to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 75-3740f(a).

The Kansas Law defines a “boycott” as:  [E]ngaging in a refusal to deal, terminating business activities or performing other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with persons or entities doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel, if those actions are taken either: (1) In compliance with or adherence to calls for a boycott of Israel other than those boycotts to which 50 U.S.C. § 4607(c)1  applies; or (2) in a manner that discriminates on the basis of nationality, national origin or religion, and that is not based on a valid business reason . . . .

Second, KANSAS TEACHER DECIDES TO BOYCOTT ISRAEL:

In May 2017, plaintiff Esther Koontz began boycotting Israeli businesses. She first became motivated to boycott Israel in 2016 when she saw a presentation about conditions in Israel and Palestine. And on July 6, 2017, Mennonite Church USA passed a resolution calling on Mennonites to take steps to redress the injustice and violence that both Palestinians and Israelis have experienced. Ms. Koontz is a member of a Mennonite Church organization. Specifically, this organization’s resolution called on Mennonites to boycott products associated with Israel’s occupation of Palestine. As a consequence, plaintiff decided she would not buy any products or services from Israeli companies or from any company who operates in Israeli occupied Palestine.

Esther Koontz Kansas teacherEsther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

Ms. Koontz was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.

Twenty-two states—Maryland, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, California, Michigan, Texas, Nevada, Kansas, and North Carolina—have so far passed some form of legislation against boycotts of Israel.  Wisconsin makes it twenty-three.

The Intercept noted that the attempts to punish and repress speech and activism aimed at ending the Israeli occupation are so widespread that the Center for Constitutional Rights has dubbed this movement “the Palestine Exception” to free speech rights in the U.S.  Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md) wanted to send violators of his anti-boycott legislation to prison.

Ms. Koontz — with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union — decided to sue Kansas claiming its anti-boycott law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  Along with her complaint, she asked the Federal District Court to enjoin the State of Kansas from enforcing its anti-boycott law while the case is pending.

The attorneys for Kansas argued her request for an injunction shouldn’t be granted because Ms. Koontz had never requested a waiver from the anti-boycott law. If she had, the state says it would have granted her a waiver.

The Court ruled January 30, 2018 that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties.  And Judge Crabtree decided that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case!

The conduct the Kansas Law aims to regulate is inherently expressive. It is easy enough to associate plaintiff’s conduct with the message that the boycotters believe Israel should improve its treatment of Palestinians. And boycotts—like parades—have an expressive quality. Forcing plaintiff to disown her boycott is akin to forcing plaintiff to accommodate Kansas’s message of support for Israel.

I wonder if any of the other anti-boycott state laws have been challenged in court. Maybe this challenge from Kansas will send a sobering message to states that may be considering adopting such laws.  “Think twice before you get on AIPAC’s and Israel’s bandwagon. Don’t tread on Americans’ First Amendment rights!” 

Read the court’s opinion in full. This is a case to watch closely. Thank you Ms. Koontz!

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Filed under People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy