Banner reading Stand Against Oppression Stand for Justice in Palestine

I’m a member of the Central Ohio chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP was founded in 1996 to further the cause of peace in the middle-east. I’ve been asked to write about the ongoing Boycott-Divest-and-Sanction, or more simply, BDS movement, that has been in the news for quite a while, and how it affects your 1st Amendment rights.

So, I’d like to ask: Were aware of BDS before today?

BDS didn't really appear on most folk's radar until about 2 years ago, however, it's origins are found in the controversial behavior of the State of Israel regarding the Palestinian people that live under Israeli control. BDS is the peaceful response of the Palestinian population of Israel/Palestine to the abuse they have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of the Israeli government. BDS is non-violence and free speech in a single package that is designed to regain basic human rights, legal standing, freedom, and respect, for the Palestinian people living in Israel/Palestine.

A UN report titled, “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” [the report] was written by Richard Falk, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University. Their report specifies the evidence that justifies referring to Israel as an apartheid regime and spells-out the evidence of this on the ground in Israel/Palestine.

The illegal actions taken by Israel on an ongoing basis include, but are not limited to:

  • Settlement of land taken in war in violation of the Geneva accords
  • Demolition of Palestinian homes and ancient, irreplaceable olive groves
  • Forcible separation of Palestinians from the lands they have cultivated since before the creation of the State of Israel
  • Fragmentation of Palestinian communities by walling them off from one another
  • Rationing water to Palestinians at levels below published and mandated UN minimums
  • Requiring Palestinians to pass-through myriad checkpoints, on a daily basis, where people are treated in a manner like that used to move cattle bound for slaughter
  • Killing of Palestinians on false pretexts or simply at will
  • Imprisonment and torture of Palestinian men, women, and children without charge or on false pretexts.

It should be noted that a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners of Israel was brought to a successful conclusion. Please see April 16, 2017, NY Times Op-Ed by Marwan Barghouti, "Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel's Prisons" for details of the hunger strike.

So, what does BDS really encompass and why is it so important?

Boycott-Divest-and-Sanction or BDS is a worldwide movement to convince the State of Israel that its policies against the Palestinian people under their control are not acceptable in the eyes of the rest of the world. It is succeeding, globally, and it is this success that has garnered the reaction from Israel that is so prominent in the news. The Israeli’s categorically deny ANY wrongdoing in any of this and insist that they are the victims, which is patently untrue.

Please understand that it is impossible to cover the history of what has transpired over the last century in the Middle-east in a brief article. What I can cover is the simple fact that Israel is founded on land stolen from its native inhabitants. The inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people, were forcibly dispossessed of their own land on April 19, 1948, by a UN decree based on the British Balfour Declaration of 1917, which is described in Wikipedia, as follows:

“TheBalfour Declaration was a single paragraph in a letter dated 2 November 1917 from the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfourto Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. It read:

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

So, noting that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, we see the actual mechanism that created the catastrophe or Nakbah for the Palestinian people in 1948.

The creation of the State of Israel, as accomplished on April 19, 1948, is in violation of the wording of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and in violation of international law. After the Six-Day-War in June of 1967, Israel categorically refused to return the lands it conquered and embarked on the path that has led us to the present situation.

What does all of this have to do with your 1st Amendment rights?

Well, the Israeli response to BDS, which was created by Palestinians as a peaceful protest, has taken the form of outright lies and a river of invective which has been spewed-out at anyone that dares to criticize the State of Israel. The U.S. government is complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and they are being lobbied by AIPAC and others to draft and pass legislation that chills free speech across the U.S.

Ohio is one of 20 states that have legislated against the State doing business with persons that actively engage in BDS related activities or that merely supports BDS. Ohio HB 476 was passed by the Ohio Legislature and signed by Governor Kasich making it illegal to have a negative opinion about Israel or its policies if you want to be eligible for State contracts of any kind. The bill also, in a sneaky last minute addition, gave the State of Ohio the authority to put up to 2% of the State Treasury into Israel bonds. It should be noted that Israel bonds do not trade on world financial markets and are therefore non-liquid assets which, once purchased, must be held until redeemed. I want to wish Ohio Treasurer, Josh Mandel a lot of luck with that one.

In addition to these bills at the state level, there are similar bills trying to advance at the Federal level.

In 2017, the following bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress:

The Combating BDS Act of 2017. This bill is an attempt to "authorize" state and local governments to pass laws prohibiting the state from contracting with or divesting from entities that boycott Israel. The bill says that such state and local laws are not preempted by federal law. Importantly, Congress cannot authorize state and local governments to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Then there is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act of 2017 (S.720/HR.1697). This bill expands the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit U.S. companies from boycotting Israeli settlements in response to calls by the UN or the EU. The bill would also direct the Export-Import Bank to deny loans to companies engaged in politically-motivated boycotts of Israel.

Last, and perhaps most ridiculous of all is theThe Antisemitism Awareness Act. This bill directs the U.S. Department of Education to use the "State Department Definition" of antisemitism when investigating complaints of anti-Antisemitism on college campuses. The "State Department definition" is so broad it classifies virtually all criticism of Israel and Israeli government policies as anti-Semitic. If enacted, this bill would likely be used to justify federal investigations into Palestine activism on campuses while adding no new legal protections for Jewish students. In 2016, this bill passed the U.S. Senate but failed to pass the U.S. House of Representatives. It is expected to be reintroduced in 2018.

What all of this amounts to is a U.S. government attack on your civil rights to benefit a foreign power. The Israeli’s are calling anyone that criticizes Israel, regardless of religious affiliation or skin color, an anti-Semite. If they could read these words, I would be labeled an anti-Semite, despite my family lineage and Jewish upbringing.

And why would they do this? Simply to cover-up the ongoing genocide that Israel is committing against the Palestinian people each and every day.

And it’s worse than that. Simply put, if you are not a white Jew of European ancestry you are automatically a 2nd class citizen or worse if you live in Israel. That means that Mizrahi (brown) and Ethiopian (black) Jews are treated as second class citizens as well. Clearly, the Israeli attitude about non-Israeli Jews is that we are somehow inferior or simply do not exist. I have news for them. We are not going anywhere and we are not going to stay quiet and rubber-stamp their genocide against the Palestinian people.

This article was written with the simple idea of informing you about how little your rights mean to your own government and, if successful, to bring out how you feel about being used and your rights abused. If you have been made aware of BDS, and helped to understand what the stakes are in terms of your liberty, perhaps you will go forward with awareness and compassion for the rights and liberties of those you might not have known are suffering.