This has not been a good week for Democrats, especially those who wish to cast their party as the progressive alternative to the Trump-McConnell regime. As the feckless party leadership continued to avoid taking any action against Donald Trump for his numerous crimes—which go well beyond the Russia questions—they managed to find time to pass a bill opposing the right of U.S. citizens to use economic leverage to press for change in Israel-Palestine.
H. Res. 246, a nameless bill which declares the House of Representatives’ opposition to the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, passed with 398 in favor and only 17 (16 Democrats and one Republican) representatives voting against it. The bill was considerably weaker than the sort of legislation the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had hoped to pass to criminalize BDS at the federal level. Those efforts ran afoul of free speech concerns among a wide variety of Congress members.
In the end, H. Res. 246 addressed those concerns sufficiently to attract the support of comparatively moderate Jewish groups such as J Street, Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Reconstructing Judaism. But fundamental issues remained, and if we were having a rational discussion about BDS and U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine in general, those issues would have been more of an obstacle. Read more at LobeLog
On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.
Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.
Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading
Bowing to a new law in Germany, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf rescinded its invitation to Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli. In May 2019, the German government passed a law stating that the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) until it met the basic national demands of the Palestinian people was anti-Semitic. As a result, Kweli, who is a long-time advocate for the Palestinian cause, could not perform at a music festival using public funds, as this one does.
When it comes to BDS, Germany won’t tolerate “don’t ask, don’t tell” either. I have no idea whether Kweli would have said a word about the Palestinians at his show, and neither do the show’s organizers. Some of Kweli’s songs mention his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies, but it’s hardly a primary theme of his. It’s just one piece among many of his stances for social justice. He did not start this; the festival producers asked him as a litmus test for his entry.
That’s how far anti-BDS legislation goes in its quest to stifle speech that might illuminate the Palestinian case. Read more at LobeLog
“Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Dail which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.” That was the statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the lower house of the Irish parliament advanced a bill in late January that would make it illegal for anyone in Ireland to buy goods or services from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
No one should underestimate Israel’s genuine anger at this bill and at the widespread support it has in Ireland. Any hint of economic pressure to end its 51-year old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip provokes a strong, visceral reaction from the Likud premier. At the same time, the Israeli government carefully orchestrates its reaction to the threat of economic action to ensure that it never has to face it.
Netanyahu understands the Irish bill will fail. The government opposes it, if for no other reason than the fact that it contravenes European Union laws requiring all member states to uphold the unitary nature of the single market. But he also understands the real meaning behind the bill and its success: the people of Ireland want to see Israel face the consequences of its disregard of international humanitarian law, and its abandonment of even the pretence of negotiating a two-state solution, in the hope that those consequences will make Israel change course. Read more at The Battleground
Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
Alexander became the latest in a growing list—including Angela Davis, Rashida Tlaib, Marc Lamont Hill, Ilhan Omar, and Linda Sarsour—targeted by Israel advocates in the United States. All of them are people of color, and all have faced new or renewed attacks over their defense of Palestinian rights since the since the horrific shooting incident at a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by a white, anti-immigrant fanatic in late October. Read more at LobeLog
Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American, Muslim, progressive activist and co-leader of The Women’s March, is a lightning rod of controversy.
Her critics will say it is because she fails to live up to her progressive values when it comes to matters of anti-Semitism, and some say she is anti-Semitic herself.
Her supporters will say it is because she is a strong, left-wing woman who wears a hijab, proudly supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and is firmly anti-Zionist.
Either way, the mere mention of her name is usually enough to provoke a passionate response.
And when she called for support for Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar, who Sarsour said she was being attacked by pseudo-liberals
who check their values at the door where Israel is concerned, she was quickly assailed for having invoked the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.
But is that really what she did? Read more at The Forward
The Irish Senate passed a bill last week that would criminalize doing any business, in goods or services, with Israeli settlements. As with most legislation that concerns Israeli settlement activity, the
Irish Senator Frances Black, who first proposed the anti-settlements bill
bill is already highly controversial. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement have hailed it as a great victory while the usual suspects in and outside of Israel have leveled baseless accusations of anti-Semitism at Ireland and made disingenuous arguments to oppose any action against Israel’s blatantly illegal settlement program. Read more at LobeLog