The Israeli Law on BDS and Foreigners
The Israeli government has passed a law banning visas for any foreigner who calls for boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS) against Israel, any Israeli institution or any area under Israeli control (like the West Bank). They’ve already deported prominent British activist Hugh Lanning (March 13).
Most in danger from the law are Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. If they belong to one of the scores of Palestinian organizations that call for BDS they can lose any hope of working in Israel.
BDS is a peaceful way of putting pressure on Israel to observe international law, but the government of Israel assisted by U.S. presidents have moved to criminalize the simple of act of using free speech to call on people to refuse to buy something.
U.S. Senate Bill #170, if Passed by Congress
Harm Free Speech Right to Call for Boycott
Imagine if your business or group supported Cesar Chavez’ grape boycott, your state government puts you on a blacklist, and you’re forbidden all state contracts and any pension fund investment. Or maybe state authorities punish you because you refused to buy Nestle products in the ’70’s when it was dressing up saleswomen as nurses and pushing baby formula on women in the poorest countries in defiance of all good health sense. Imagine if when Macy’s and Woolworths boycotted Nazi German goods in the ’30’s they would be sanctioned. What if the states did something similar to groups demanding action against Sudan because of what its government did in Darfur?
Senate bill #170 proposes just that in regard to one boycott, the BDS effort to reign in Israel’s abuses of Palestinians. It was proposed by Florida Senator Rubio and has 28 co-sponsors including CT Senator Blumenthal. It goes beyond boycotts. It punishes an “entity” that advocates “sanctions” so it could be triggered if a group called for a cut off of cluster bombs to Israel. If passed SB #170 would be an outrageous violation of free speech and a very bad precedent for trade unions who use the weapon of boycott to support striking workers. An effort is being made to persuade CT Senator Chris Murphy to oppose the bill. Labor lawyer John Fussell wrote a terrific letter to Murphy about #170 and 194 CT residents signed on to a similar letter opposing #170 that was hand delivered to him at his town meeting in West Hartford. Email him through his website or better call his office in DC at (202) 224-4041
For Fussell’s letter click here.
Far from punishing people for advocating BDS state governments should support it. A few years ago Connecticut’s Treasurer reported that the state had $32 million invested in State of Israel Bonds or stocks in Israeli companies. The CT BDS Coalition has called for their divestment.
You are encouraged to call your Senator and insist they oppose S.B. #170.
Arrested on Rumors of Passing Out BDS Material
To show how Israel is criminalizing free speech look at a recent incident.
On March 13, 2017 Jeff Halper, an Israeli originally from Minnesota and founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was “detained” by Israeli police, put in a van and taken to a police station in a settlement. He had just finished leading a tour of foreigners and was taking a bus to Jerusalem. The bus was stopped and he was taken. The police said very little, but mentioned BDS. Halper was not handing out flyers or holding signs (which he does on other occasions), but evidently someone recognized him, called the cops and said “BDS” and “incitement”.
The police inspected materials he was carrying including a map upon which he had written “BDS for BDS” which means BDS for a Bi-National Democratic State. After a while the police let him go.
Though the climate in Israel against BDS is getting more and more hateful, it is not illegal for Israelis or even non-citizen Palestinians to call for it. However, if calling for BDS becomes “incitement” then in fact the free speech right to call for boycotts is totally compromised.