DSA votes for BDS. NYT’s Jerusalem bureau chief says they self-censor and Israel practices apartheid.

90% of the delegates to the Democratic Socialists of America 2017 convention voted to adopt Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The text of the resolution read:

1. Democratic Socialists of America declares itself in solidarity with Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent struggle against apartheid, colonialism, military occupation and for equality, human rights, and self-determination.

2. Democratic Socialists of America responds to Palestinian Civil Society’s call by fully supporting BDS.

3. Democratic Socialists of America affirms that any political solution to the ongoing crisis must be premised on the realization of basic human rights, including all rights outlined in the BDS call.

4. Democratic Socialists of America condemns all efforts to deny the right of Palestinian in the United States and their allies to free speech, assembly and academic freedom.

— Twitter

Following the vote, DSA has come in for criticism from various angles. The Jerusalem Post criticized DSA for holding the vote on Saturday. The pro-Likud ‘zine Tablet said the DSA was a “disgrace” that had “descended into anti-Zionism”. The JTA suggested the DSA were allied with the Palestinian-American activist (and co-organizer of the Women’s March) Linda Sarsour and this was a bad thing.

Yet, as this thread expertly demonstrates, much of the criticism of BDS is exactly what was leveled against proponents of boycotting South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Meanwhile, Jodi Rudoren, formerly the New York Time’s editor in Jerusalem admits they censor opinions and reporting due to attacks and pressure from pro-Israel organizations.

The former New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem Jodi ­Rudoren has admitted to “defensive writing” after several “Twitter campaigns” against her. Rudoren says this was “to protect ­myself and keep me focused on the essence of what I’m trying to do instead of these distractions but you could totally get out of hand with this”. She says there is not a healthy debate in the US about Israel because of the power of pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.

The interviews are contained in Balcony Over Jerusalem, in which journalists tell how they come under attack from pro-Israel groups if they ­report what they see in Israel and the West Bank.

The New York Times’ Rudoren says that because the occupation of the Palestinians has gone on for so long — 50 years — it has started to look “a lot like apartheid”. While Rudoren was talking about the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, she also addressed the plight of Palestinians in Israel — the so-called Arab Israelis. She says: “I actually think the issue of apartheid is more relevant to how Arab Israelis are treated within the framework of the country (Israel).” — www.theaustralian.com.au/…

Jonathan Cook writing in Alternet covers the relentless campaign to influence coverage of Israel by pressuring journalists, editors and publishers. His analysis is very thorough, discussing the ways in which individual journalists end up self-censoring, and how editors cave in by developing “guidelines” .  He also examines more subtle influences, for example the NYT’s tacit policy to only appoint Jewish reporters as heads of the Jerusalem division. Rudoren’s predecessor actually had children serving in the IDF. One of the most powerful testimonials is from Clyde Haberman, whose byline should be familiar to all:

Here is another veteran NYT correspondent, Clyde Haberman, telling Lyons that the lobby’s “non-stop assault” on the paper’s Jerusalem correspondents has made the posting a poisoned chalice. Few want it, says Haberman.

We’ve had decades of correspondents that, no matter how talented they are or how many Pulitzer Prizes they have to their name, always end up being accused of being either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews; at some point, this seeps into the DNA of the newspaper. This is what you can expect if you go there—to have your integrity hurled back in your face every single day,” he says.

Pause for a second. Unless I have wildly misunderstood the implication of “seeping into the newspaper’s DNA”, a leading journalist at the U.S. paper of record has just suggested that for decades its reporters and editors have toned down their coverage to avoid run-ins with the Israel lobby. As near as he dare, Haberman has conceded that you won’t learn the full truth about Israel and Palestine from the NYT. 

— www.alternet.org/…

Senate/House bill would make it a felony to support a boycott of Israel.

Senate bill 720 seeks to criminalize speech supporting a boycott of Israel. The bill is meant to target the growing BDS movement. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

This anti-boycott bill is part of a long tradition that seeks to undermine labor, civil rights and liberation movements employing non-violent protest. I’ll explore the history of anti-boycott laws later in the diary.

If the bill is enacted, violators would be subject to criminal penalties including imprisonment for up to 20 years. Here’s the letter the ACLU sent to the Senate yesterday:

The bill seeks to expand the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 which, among other things, prohibit U.S. persons from complying with a foreign government’s request to boycott a country friendly to the U.S. The bill would amend those laws to bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union.  It would also broaden the law to include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.  We take no position for or against  the effort  to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.

There is a House version as well. What’s deeply troubling is that many of the Senators and Representatives co-sponsoring this bill do not seem to understand its implications. The Intercept called the offices of several Democratic co-sponsors who were unaware that the bill criminalizes support for a boycott.

THE CRIMINALIZATION OF political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the west. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing t-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

But now, a group of 43 Senators – 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats – want to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: anyone guilty of violating its prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000, and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

— The Intercept

The 14 Democrats who want to make it a felony for Americans to support a boycott of Israel are:

  • Ben Cardin (MD)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Robert Menendez (NJ)
  • Richard Blumenthal (CT)
  • Gary Peters (MI)
  • Maria Cantwell (WA)
  • Chuck Schumer (NY)
  • Maria Cantwell (NH)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
  • Joe Donnelly (IN)
  • Joe Manchin (WV)
  • Ron Wyden (OR)
  • Chris Coons (DE)
  • Michael Bennett (CO)

The bill is part of a concerted campaign by anti-Palestinian groups to criminalize non-violent protest of Israel’s oppressive policies and violation of Palestinian’s human rights. Concerted pressure by left-wing activists is a concern for the Israeli government which has been accustomed to unquestioned support from most European and US administrations. In 2015, the EU instituted labelling requirements which direct Israeli companies to clearly label agricultural products made in the Occupied Territories. It is illegal for occupying powers to exploit the natural resources (including land) in any way. The US went almost as far, by issuing a statement that effectively warned Israeli companies from labelling goods made in the West Bank or East Jerusalem as “Made in Israel”.

The push-back from anti-Palestinian groups has been severe. Those who support, or even fail to oppose, a boycott of Israel modeled on the South African example, have been viciously attacked. Pamela Geller’s outfit called various left-wing Jewish organizations “judenrat” and “kapos” last year when they opposed anti-BDS laws at the state level.

AIPAC has been pushing several versions of anti-BDS legislation through state legislatures for years. They’ve been successful to varying degrees, in Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Illinois. The bill seeks to criminalize speech supporting BDS in the US, in the same way it is in Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court has called the BDS movement “political terrorism” and allowed publishers to be sued for printing statements supporting BDS. The Senate and House bills seek to do something similar here, by criminalizing non-violent protest and political speech. Similar attempts have had some success in Europe. A French court fined activists protesting at a grocery store $14,500 for wearing t-shirts that supported BDS. That is the sort of reality American protestors might face as well.

A note on the history of anti-boycott laws and how they have been used to suppress dissent, unions and liberation movements is below.


The Forward discussed the origins of this bill in their brief note:

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced in March by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would expand 1970s-era laws that bar complying with boycotts of Israel sponsored by governments — laws inspired at the time by the Arab League boycott of Israel — to include boycotts backed by international organizations. Those adhering to boycotts would be the subject of fines.

While the measure is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it also targets efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those manufactured in West Bank settlements.

forward.com/…

It’s worth noting at this point, the long history on anti-boycott laws, which were first employed at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th as a tool against organized labor. In 1901, Deitrich Loewe opened a non-union factory in Danbury, CT. The United Hatters of America (UHU) led a strike and worked with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to promote a national boycott by consumers, wholesalers and retailers. Loewe filed suit contending the boycott was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The case was Loewe v Lawlor, and Loewe won in the Supreme Court. For years, the courts continued to issue injunctions against boycotts and strikes, and supporting employers who forced employees to sign non-unionization contracts (yellow dog contracts).

These practices continued till the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act, which, among other things exempted labor unions from antitrust laws. The US Supreme Court applied Norris-LaGuardia in the New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co. case in 1938, supporting the right of workers to organize a boycott. In this case it was black workers protesting discriminatory hiring practices. Since then, there’s been a long history of labor organized boycotts in the US, including the salad bowl strike organized by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Boycotts have a long history in liberation struggles and anti-colonial movements. In particular, Gandhi (building on the thoughts of an earlier generation of leaders including Naoroji) led a successful boycott of British goods during the Indian independence struggle. The Indian Swadeshi movement lasted for almost half a century, and intentionally targeted the economic underpinnings of colonial exploitation.

A more recent example is the South African boycott movement, which applied sustained pressure on the apartheid-era government to end the practice of apartheid. Israel was a close ally of the South-African government. The Israeli government has such a concerted focus on BDS because it’s aware of how the South African apartheid regime was forced to end its discriminatory practices under pressure from an international boycott.

Anti-boycott laws were employed in the US against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1955 in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

White officials in Alabama conducted two concerted efforts to defeat Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement legally, by indicting King for violating an anti-boycotting law during the Montgomery bus boycott and for income tax fraud, in 1956 and 1960, respectively.

On 21 February 1956 King was indicted by the Montgomery County Grand Jury for his boycott of the Montgomery City Lines, Inc. According to the State of Alabama, King and 89 others violated a 1921 statute that outlawed boycotts against businesses. — kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/…

Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters” discussed in extensive detail how Alabama attempted to use this law to shut down the activities of the MIA and the SCLC.

Attempts by states to criminalize civil rights related boycotts continued up until the 1980s:

The case, N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware, arose out of a 16-year effort by black civil rights leaders to achieve some modicum of racial equality in Claiborne County in Mississippi. In 1966, black citizens of the county, under the leadership of Charles Evers, field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, presented white elected officials with a petition for constitutional equality. Included were such fundamental demands as desegregation of public schools, selection of blacks for jury duty, integration of the public toilets in the county courthouse, and insistence that ”Negroes are not to be addressed by terms as ‘boy,’ ‘girl,’ ‘shine,’ ‘uncle,’ or any other offensive term, but as ‘Mr.,’ ‘Mrs.,’ or ‘Miss,’ as is the case with other citizens.”

These demands were ignored, and, in response the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter organized a boycott of white merchants in the area. The boycott proved singularly effective, so effective that Mississippi officials reacted with a legal attack.

After years of litigation, a Mississippi trial court found that the boycotters had unlawfully and maliciously interfered with the white merchants’ businesses, engaged in a secondary boycott in violation of state law and violated the Mississippi antitrust statute. Damages, penalties and attorney’s fees of $1.25 million plus interest were assessed against the N.A.A.C.P. and 130 individuals. The Mississippi Supreme Court reduced the damages and rejected some of the trial court’s legal theories – including a ruling that retroactively applied a state statute enacted two years after the boycott had begun – but it nonetheless found the boycott to be a violation of state law.

— www.nytimes.com/…

In July 1982, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the NAACP, and said that calls for violence by some could not be used to criminalize non-violent protest by others. In Justice Stevens’ decision he wrote:

”One of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

“[Legal] liability may not be imposed merely because an individual belonged to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.”

‘A massive and prolonged effort to change the social and political and economic structure of a local environment cannot be characterized as a violent conspiracy simply by reference to the ephemeral consequences of relatively few violent acts.’

PS. I am deeply indebted to a fellow Kossack who, years ago, shared their substantive knowledge of the history of anti-boycott laws with me.

Israel Supreme Court: Boycott/Divest is “Political Terrorism”. Publishers can be sued for speech.

In 2011, the Knesset passed a law banning calls for boycotts of Israel. The law read in part:

In this bill, “a boycott against the State of Israel” is defined as: deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or body solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

During the debate:

MK Nitzan Horowitz from Meretz blasted the law, calling it outrageous and shameful. “We are dealing with a legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here,” he said. Ilan Gilon, another Meretz MK, said the law would further delegitimize Israel.

Before the vote, the Knesset’s legal adviser, attorney Eyal Yanon, published a legal assessment saying parts of the law edge towards “illegality and perhaps beyond.” He went on to warn that the law “damages the core of freedom of expression in Israel.” Yanon’s assessment contradicts that of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who said the bill is legal.

Human rights groups filed lawsuits against the law almost immediately and in December 2012, Israel’s High Courty granted a stay. Earlier today, it issued it’s final ruling striking down some portions of the law unanimously and letting others stand in 8-1 and 5-4 split decisions. This is a very significant ruling with long-range impact on free-speech in Israel. I’m going to do a round-up of coverage from a variety of news sources.+972mag: High Court upholds controversial ‘boycott law’

The High Court rejected a petition by human rights organizations, upholding the controversial “boycott law” on Wednesday. The law give grounds for individuals to sue anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel, or areas under its control.The court struck down only one section of the law, which establishes that one may seek punitive damages for a deliberate call to boycott without needing to prove actual damages. It appears that one will now need to show actual damages in order to win a lawsuit.

Justice Hanan Meltzer, who wrote the majority opinion, ruled that a call to boycott is not consistent with the true purpose of freedom of expression, and therefore is not protected speech. He went on to describe boycott calls as “political terrorism,” adding that the state has a right to defend itself from them.
[…]
Nearly four years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed the Law to Prevent Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott, which rights groups challenged in court almost immediately. (Read a translation of the law itself here.)

The law was a direct response to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. It enables anyone who feels they were (or might be) harmed by a boycott, “solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control (read: settlements in occupied territory, MSO), in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage,” to sue for both punitive and compensatory damages.

The Jewish Press (a US-based weekly with an orthodox readership) has a story: Supreme Court Judge Calls Anti-Israeli Boycotts ‘Political Terrorism’

NGOs opposing the bill were quoted by the website as having commented on the court’s unanimous ruling, “The boycott law is a law to silence legitimate criticism. The High Court ruling is a serious blow to freedom of expression and basic rights for political participation on a disputed topic.”“Freedom of expression” is very a popular concept among those who exploit it to demonize Israel and try to turn it into an Arab country.

Haaretz also has coverage: High Court largely upholds controversial ‘Anti-Boycott Law’

“Boycotts and encouraging divestment are recognized throughout the world as legitimate, nonviolent tools,” said the Women’s Coalition for Peace, which is one of the petitioners and had previously promoted boycotts and divestment. “In its decision today, the High Court is approving the silencing and restriction of legitimate protest aimed at criticizing and working to change Israeli policy.”

Melcer, Grunis and his successor, current Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, voted to uphold the Anti-Boycott Law, along with fellow justices Elyakim Rubinstein and Issac Amit. Justices Salim Joubran, Yoram Danziger, Uzi Vogelman and Neal Hendel made up the minority.In his minority opinion, Danziger wrote that the law undermines free expression to an unreasonable extent.

“I believe that the call for a boycott is consistent with the purposes of free expression,” he wrote. “A boycott expresses disgust with the boycotted behavior. It displays a lack of desire to support and finance behaviors that the boycotter feels are unworthy… and in the Israeli political reality, calls for boycotts of the State of Israel are heard from only one side of the political map. … The law thus creates discrimination based on one’s position.”

Yedioth Ahronoth: Court tempers Boycott Law, rules out unlimited compensationIsrael Hayom (owned by Adelson): High Court: State may punish anti-Israel boycotters

Some four years after state passes anti-boycott law, justices rule that protecting the well-being of the state trumps the right to boycott and does not infringe on free speech.  Law makes the call for the boycott of Israel a civil offense.
[…]
During the court hearings, the state said the bill would help safeguard Israel’s stature on the world stage and protect its foreign relations.

The Jerusalem Post has a great in-depth article (more excerpts below fold): High Court upholds part of Anti-Boycott Law, strikes part and splits on ‘1967 Israel’

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel also slammed the ruling, while Gush Shalom’s lawyer Gabi Lasky said, “It cannot be that it is permitted to boycott cottage cheese within the Green Line because of its price, but according to the High Court it is prohibited to call for boycotting cottage cheese… in the settlements for political ideals.”

On the other side, Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said the verdict is “a clear proof that attempts to harm the State of Israel via boycotts are unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself not only from harm to its security, but also from economic harm.”

MK Danny Danon (Likud) said following the verdict that “the extreme Left is trying unsuccessfully to instill its post-Zionist values.

“Yesterday the High Court decided that terrorists can’t study in prison, and today it rejected the petition against the Boycott Law. Not only did the public speak out clearly against the Left’s petitions, the High Court Justices did, too,” he said.

At one point, new Justice Yitzhak Amit noted that “some say that BDS is anti-Semitism.”

And finally from Haaretz again:

Gaby Lasky, a lawyer who represented petitioner Gush Shalom in the case, also said the court was silencing the left.“This is a regrettable decision with far-reaching ramifications; the High Court justices are changing Israeli constitutional law as we have known it to date and put the interests of perpetuating the settlement enterprise over all the state’s citizens’ basic right to freedom of expression,” said Lasky.

More from The Jerusalem Post’s great in-depth article: High Court upholds part of Anti-Boycott Law, strikes part and splits on ‘1967 Israel’

The rulings that preserved core parts of the law came in a 9-0 vote on the authority of the finance minister to impose fines or withhold funding from Israeli NGOs calling for boycotts of businesses in all or parts of Israel, and a 8-1 ruling on the ability to file lawsuits against those NGOs.

One justice declared all lawsuits against boycotts unconstitutional.American-born Justice Neal Hendel called free speech the “lifeblood” of democracy and reviewed American law, noting that it has no provision for lawsuits against boycotters.

At the same time, the court voted 9-0 to strike down as unconstitutional a core part of the law that would have allowed punitive damages in such lawsuits.

Finally, in a 5-4 vote, the majority of justices said that the above lawsuits could go forward even if they were against groups that called only for boycotts of post-1967 Israel, meaning of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, whereas the minority said that such boycotts should be protected free speech.

Explaining the court’s decision to uphold two of the law’s three main parts, Justice Hanan Melcer wrote that the finance minister should be able to remove tax breaks, on the principle that the state need not feed those who try to undermine it.Likewise, with the lawsuits, Melcer said that boycotting was not regular free speech, and was playing a level of political hardball that, if it caused damage to others who were specifically targeted, should expose those practicing it to retaliation and allow those harmed compensation.

Melcer clarified that those lawsuits which were allowed would face a very high standard of proof in terms of showing direct causation between a specific boycott and economic losses, and that general proof or the mere announcement of a boycott would not suffice.

During Wednesday’s session, the justices hammered the state repeatedly to speak to whether it believed the law violated fundamental free speech rights, with the state relenting and admitting that it did after around 10 minutes of trying to evade the question.The justices zoned in on pressing the NGOs to defend their attack on the law penalizing boycotts of “1948 Israel,” claiming that otherwise the NGOs were treating free speech as an “absolute right” – a position the court implied was indefensible.

And from Haaretz: High Court largely upholds controversial ‘Anti-Boycott Law’

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday upheld the so-called Anti-Boycott Law, which allows for damage suits to be filed against any person or entity that calls for an economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel or “areas under its control,” a reference to the West Bank settlements.By a vote of 5-4, the court rejected petitions arguing that the law, which is aimed at facilitating civil suits against anyone calling for a boycott of products produced in the settlements or for an end to economic ties with Israel, unreasonably limits freedom of political expression by establishing a tort liability for encouraging a boycott.

But the court did unanimously strike down a section of the law that permits courts to impose unlimited compensation payments on those calling for a boycott even if no damages are proven. This section was liable to have “a chilling effect on political expression and lively social debate,” the court ruled.

Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood

The House of Commons debate on recognizing Palestinian statehood is striking in both quality and content. I would recommend reading it in full. Perhaps we should send some members of our House of representatives across the pond to see how it’s done.

Most of the US coverage centered on Sir Richard Ottaway’s speech, he’s the one who said:

Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the west bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent….

I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.

But there were so many other excellent comments that I wanted to collect them here. Some excerpts follow (all emphasis is mine).The question before the house was whether the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

There was a lot of discussion about the impact such a resolution would have, and whether it would further a just peace.  Most of the contributions were from Labor MPs and their supporters (including the Welsh/Scottish Independence parties). Almost all Conservative MPs abstained from the vote and few of their back-benchers spoke.

Continue reading “Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood”