Defending the Right to Boycott Israel

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Voting on MLA Resolutions: April 19-June 1.

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In a 2014 op ed for the New York Times, Omar Barghouti, one of the Palestinian leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, noted that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic threat. Calling it the ‘delegitimization’ movement, he assigned the overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.” Since 2014, the boycott Israel movement has continued to grow and so has Israel’s and its US allies’ efforts to crush international solidarity with Palestinians. As reported in Haaretz, Israel’s assaults on the boycott movement range from the imposition of a 2016 travel ban on Barghouti (and more recently his arrest in 2017) to the passage of a 2017 law “barring those who support boycotts against Israel or West Bank settlements from entering the country” (see report).

Within the United States, many state legislatures are doing the work for Israel by adopting legislation that punishes those who support boycott. For example, “the deceptively named ‘Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts’ (S.1689/H.1685) may soon be debated in the Massachusetts State House” (see “Why 100 Massachusetts Groups Are Defending Right to Boycott”).  One hundred Massachusetts groups have formed the Freedom to Boycott Coalition in response to Massachusetts’ legislative repression of boycott advocates.  The “ACLU of Massachusetts expressed its concern that because it is being promoted as anti-BDS legislation, it could ‘frighten people, make them unsure of the scope of the law, and deter them from exercising their First Amendment rights’– producing the sort of ‘chilling effect’ that ‘does serious harm to freedom of expression.’ Furthermore, the ACLU states, ‘an anti-boycott motivation calls into question the constitutionality of the legislation, even if it is neutral on its face.’

MLA Resolution 2017-1 was conceived and put forward at the 2017 Delegate Assembly with a similar goal of silencing boycott advocates, and will in effect undermine freedom expression within the association. The MLA does not endorse the academic boycott of Israel, so why is it necessary to put forward a resolution that calls on the association to “refrain from the boycott”? This resolution has only one objective: strike a blow against the growing academic boycott movement. The ratification of the anti-boycott resolution, like the passage of the anti-boycott laws in Israel and the US, will not stop the academic boycott movement; rather these repressive measures, which operate by punishing Palestinian human rights advocates, reveal the success of BDS as a popular movement that legitimately exposes Israeli state violence. As with other attempts to silence BDS proponents, the laws and resolutions against the boycott of Israel are catalyzing new forms of coalition building in opposition to Israel’s apartheid policies.