On Wednesday, May 3 supporters of Palestine from across the state testified before the Ohio House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee in opposition to House Bill 476, bipartisan legislation that would prohibit state agencies from contracting with a companies or individuals who are boycotting Israel or divesting from Israel.
“We are opposed to HB 476 because it violates our free speech,” said Don Bryant from the Cleveland area, one of the 14 who testified. “To outlaw BDS is to outlaw a non-violent form of resistance against the oppression of the Palestinians.”
BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) is an economic strategy for pressuring Israel to end its occupation and colonization of Arab lands in Palestine, dismantle the Gaza Wall, and recognize full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“BDS is the only hope for Palestinians,” said Maysoon Otaibi, a member of the Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo. “There is no other peaceful, nonviolent option. It’s a call from the Palestinians themselves. BDS will help to prevent more bloodshed.”
“Many Jewish people support Palestinian human and civil rights,” said Eileen Hamilton from Cleveland. “This anti-BDS legislation would force Ohioans to sponsor and finance government policies and behaviors which are clear and documented transgressions of American and international civil rights standards, the separation of church and state, and Judeo-Christian moral principles.” Hamilton is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.
HB 476 would require any new or renewed state contracts to include language declaring that the company or individual is not boycotting or divesting from Israel.
“It suppresses freedom of speech and democratic discussion,” said OSU professor Pranav Jani. “We’ve seen that at Ohio State.” Rep. Tim W. Brown (R), one of the co-sponsors of HB 476, recently wrote a letter to the OSU undergraduate student government, urging them to vote against a resolution for divestment from Israel that is on the table.
“I find it surprising and chilling that a government official would step in on an undergraduate debate about a resolution that doesn’t even have binding power until the Board of Trustees ratifies it,” Jani said. “It shows that they want to intervene and stifle the debate. They don’t want people to ask questions about Israeli policies. They want to use economic force to prevent institutions, businesses, and citizens from taking a position.”
“I came to make sure that Ohio legislation is in coordination with international law and human rights,” said Kandice Abdul Kader, regional director of the American Support Network for Palestine.
The impact of HB 476 “would be a very slippery slope toward greater restrictions on our First Amendment rights,” Abdul Kader said. “It starts with Israel, but with what countries do we stop? Are we going to be restricted from boycotting Chinese products? Products made in Mexico? How does this affect labor unions? We need to look at the big picture, and see how it would play in the future.”
During the hearing, OSU emeritus law professor John Quigley said the law would make Ohio complicit with war crimes.
Citizens who did not get to testify on Wednesday will be on the agenda to speak at the next hearing on May 10.