The Electronic Intifada / July 24, 2019
A nonbinding resolution passed by the US House of Representatives on 23 July foreshadows even more brazenly unconstitutional legislation to penalize and criminalize boycotts of Israel.
The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday evening condemning people for exercising their constitutional right to engage in boycotts in support of Palestinian rights.
The resolution puts the House of Representatives on record as opposing “the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
The resolution also claims that BDS “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favour of international pressure.”
The measure “urges Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
All but one of the representatives who voted against the resolution are Democrats.
They included a mix of long-time proponents of Palestinian rights such as Minnesota’s Betty McCollum, Indiana’s André Carson and Barbara Lee of California.
First-term representatives such as Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American Congress member from Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Chuy Garcia of Illinois and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all voted against the motion as well.
Resolution renounces peaceful dissent
McCollum released a statement strongly opposing the resolution.
“Peaceful dissent and the protesting of injustice are the right of all Americans guaranteed by the Constitution. It is called freedom of speech,” McCollum said.
She added that the resolution passed by the House “renounces the peaceful promotion of human rights, self-determination and justice on behalf of Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation.”
McCollum noted that the measure “completely ignores the Netanyahu government’s brutality, dehumanization and subjugation of Palestinian people at the root of this peaceful movement.”
Tlaib took to the House floor to invoke the oppression her grandmother faces under Israeli military occupation as her justification for opposing the resolution and for the “right to boycott the racist policies of the government of Israel.”
Libertarian Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the resolution.
Michigan’s Justin Amash, the other Palestinian American to currently serve in Congress and who recently left the Republican Party, abstained.
The resolution was introduced by Illinois Democrat Bradley Schneider in March and garnered the support of 351 cosponsors.
The resolution received as much support as it did because it was viewed by many as being a more palatable statement against BDS than previously proposed bills that unconstitutionally sought to penalize and, in some cases, even criminalize BDS activism, including through $1 million fines and 20-year prison terms.
The resolution does include a clause recognizing that it is “a hallmark of American democracy for citizens to petition the United States Government in favour of or against United States foreign policy.”
And according to McCollum, a last-minute addition to the resolution was made affirming the constitutional “right to protest or criticize the policies of the United States or a foreign government.”
Legislation “with teeth”
However, even if the resolution only violated the spirit of the Constitution and not necessarily its letter, its proponents left no doubt that its passage would serve as a stepping stone to harsher and more brazenly unconstitutional legislation to penalize and criminalize BDS.
New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made clear that he would tolerate only individual, and not collective, efforts to boycott for Palestinian rights.
“Do you want to criticize a government? That is your right. Do you want to stop buying products from a certain country? That is also your right,” Engel said.
However, Engel warned that “participating in an international commercial effort that undermines Israel’s legitimacy and scuttles the chances of a two-state solution isn’t the same as an individual exercising First Amendment rights.”
Presumably he will continue advocating for legislation that seeks to punish people for doing so.
New York Republican Lee Zeldin, who managed the debate for the minority party, stated that the resolution was a good start, but not sufficient.
“Congress needs to make a very strong, bipartisan statement against BDS, and this resolution does just that,” Zeldin said. “In addition, we should also enact legislation with teeth.”
Zeldin urged the House to pass S.1, which includes the Combating BDS Act, a bill which encourages states to pass unconstitutional laws denying government contracts to individuals, organizations and companies that support boycotts for Palestinian rights.
Federal judges in Kansas, Arizona and Texas have already declared these types of laws to be unconstitutional.
And New Jersey Republican Chris Smith attempted to resurrect a discredited definition of anti-Semitism as any language that engages in “demonization, double standard and delegitimization” of Israel.
Such vague terms encompass potentially any political critique of Israeli policies and mirror language currently being employed by the Trump administration to police campus speech for Palestinian rights through the Department of Education.
While Members of Congress opposed to activism for Palestinian rights will continue their years-long legislative efforts to penalize and criminalize BDS, others have finally started to push back against these efforts through legislation of their own.
H.Res.496, introduced last week by Ilhan Omar, asserts “that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Omar’s measure, which also opposes anti-boycott legislation, currently enjoys the cosponsorship of nine representatives.
Josh Ruebner is senior principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.