Of all the lame-brained, lumpen-brained, hare-brained schemes emanating from Aipac’s lobby shop, this is one of the truly lamest. As Israel forms the most dangerous, aggressive, racist government in its history, Aipac thought this was a good time to remind the American people of that by conniving to amend an already contentious fast-track trade bill with a new amendment that would criminalize BDS in the U.S. The specific language seeks:
“To discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and seek the elimination of politically motivated non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel…
[This] means actions by states, non-member states of the United Nations, international organizations, or affiliated agencies of international organizations that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or…in Israeli-controlled territories.”
What interesting about this language is that it outlaws both BDS and BDS-lite. Even liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart and Peace Now support a boycott of products from settlements, though they do not support boycotting products from within the Green Line. The Lobby-written bill would even criminalize the much softer version of BDS.
The amendment is designed to pressure the EU, which is negotiating a U.S.-Transatlantic trade deal, to drop consideration of its own planned version of BDS, which would sanction commerce with Israeli settlements.
This amendment is similar to a law already passed by the Israeli Knesset, a body not known for cherishing free speech rights or democratic values. It too outlawed support for BDS inside Israel in such a way that long-time supporters of BDS like Prof. Neve Gordon feel their hands are shackled and lips sealed shut by such legislation. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Aipac wants to do it to ya here in the U.S.
The fast track legislation sought by Pres. Obama and supported by most Republicans is already fraught with conflict over the usual issues confronting Democrats when they approach foreign trade pacts: how to protect American jobs and grant protections to foreign workers who will be making the products imported to this country.
To add even more contention to the process seems, well spiteful. It’s almost as if the Lobby was taking revenge on Obama for championing a different matter it detests: the Iran nuclear deal. Aipac knows the fast-track legislation is a hallmark of the President’s last term. He wants it bad. The Lobby figures if it can tank this bill, it may gain some leverage or clout in torpedoing the Iran deal as well.
Let’s get to another small matter of the legal status of BDS. Boycotts are hallowed practices in Anglo-American democracy. The Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked the civil rights movement. In the 1980s and 90s, the South African divestment movement pressured that country to end apartheid.
There have been legal rulings on the issue as well. Here in Seattle, the Israeli government and StandWithUs brought suit against the Olympia Food Coop for eliminating nine Israeli products from its shelves. That case ended in defeat for the plaintiffs. The Lobby appealed it all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court and lost there as well.
Despite what Lobby legal “scholars” will tell you, there is no jurisprudence supporting their point of view. BDS is a free speech issue as it relates directly to political speech, a protected category under the Constitution. It has nothing to do with commercial disputes or boycotts related to such matters.
Americans: write, call or e-mail your Congressional representatives. This is a hare-brained scheme. Tell them not to embarrass themselves and Congress as an institution by proposing legislation that is fundamentally unsound, prejudicial and in violation of the Bill of Rights.