BEG: Criminalizing boycotting Israel dangerous to free speech


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The BDS group demands Palestinian rights through refraining from business and cultural interactions with Israel.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied Palestinian territories, specifically the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In other words, Israel has taken effective control of certain areas of Palestine. In these areas, Palestinian citizens have been violated of their fundamental human rights by the Israel Defense Forces. Acts of oppression by Israelis have included home demolitions, forced eviction of families, torture of detainees and more.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group was formed in order to retaliate against Israel’s actions and express solidarity with Palestinian citizens. BDS is a movement that aims to withhold business and cultural interactions with Israel as a nonviolent form of pressure to demand Palestinian rights. They have an ongoing list of corporations that support Israel in order to communicate to the public which organizations to boycott.

Recent action in the U.S. federal government has introduced legislation that would make boycotting Israel illegal and criminalize participants of the BDS movement or others similar to it. This has become a top priority for pro-Israel lobbyists and major donors to both political parties.

One of these pieces of legislation is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which proposed prohibiting “boycotts against allies of the United States” and specifically those against Israel. If the Israel Anti-Boycott Act was passed, U.S. citizens would be unable to request any information about companies that conduct business relations with Israel. With this Anti-Boycott Act in place, prosecutors around America would have the ability to target protesters against Israeli occupation.

Although this piece of legislation and others introduced failed, the fact that the chance for them to pass is very dangerous to  free speech rights in this country. Federal action against BDS strengthens and justifies the laws that have been passed at the state level. Already 26 American states have anti-BDS laws with 13 more states having introduced or pending legislation for action against the movement.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from making laws that impede upon free speech. Obviously, America cannot just impose criminal fines for those who have a different perspective than the federal government does.

There cannot be this vehement a violation of the Constitution just because there are differing viewpoints.  This will cause people to easily be targeted for politically unpopular speech. The line will get blurred and more viewpoints on issues could be banned.

Those who support this legislation claim that the BDS movement is a form of anti-Semitism. It extended to the point where now the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act forces the U.S. Department of Education to treat criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic harassment.

This is not the reality of the situation, especially since there are Jewish organizations, like the Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, that are against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Ironically, by claiming that certain individuals or businesses are anti-Semitic, the legislation, if passed, would be anti-Semitic itself.

Instead of truly being advocates for the Jewish religion, this is a political tactic for the United States to have an open relationship and communication with Israel despite them clearly oppressing Palestinians.

These lobbyists are trying to claim certain actions are anti-Semitic when there really are not any anti-Semitic intentions. The BDS is a boycott movement. It is not prejudiced or against the faith of Judaism in any way. There is a difference of point of view on a policy, not a whole religion or ethnicity.

Congress members are unaware of the serious constitutional consequences of this legislation. Palestinian citizens are under illegal occupation and repeatedly oppressed. The rest of the world must come out to support and express solidarity with them. The push toward trying to criminalize boycotting against the horrible Israeli actions stifles free speech and completely disregards a whole group of innocent people.