Beyond free speech

People marched to New York Gov. Cuomo house to tell him they demand the Right to Boycott for Palestinian human rights. (photo: Jake Ratner / Jul 6, 2016 )
Concerns about restricting free speech may have shut down current anti-BDS legislation, but important not to lose sight of BDS goals: the human rights of the Palestinian people.

By Nadia Elia | Mondoweiss | Jan 14, 2019

We must now use the national platform we have, as the Senate debates anti-BDS legislation, to make the case that solidarity with Palestine, and heeding the call for a global campaign to boycott, divest from, and impose sanctions on Israel, are the moral thing to do, regardless of whether they are a form of free speech or not.

When a delegation of pro-justice activists and community leaders met with Washington state governor Jay Inslee in 2017, to urge him not to endorse the “Governors United against BDS” letter (which, sadly, he signed onto, like every single US state governor, as well as the mayor of Washington, DC), he spoke of it as a foreign policy matter. I strategically “corrected” him, pointing out that the right to boycott was not a foreign policy issue, but one of American free speech. As a member of Washington Freedom to Boycott (which we have since renamed Washington Advocates for Palestinian Rights), I helped circulate the following call to action to thousands, asking them to tell Inslee that “whatever your views on Israel, Palestine, or the BDS movement, anti-BDS legislation is anti-freedom of speech…”

Organizers in other states (Maryland, Virginia) had done the same; indeed, we had named our own coalition after Maryland’s and Virginia’s “Freedom2Boycott” groups, with whom we had consulted before our own state-wide call to action. During one of their meetings with legislators in 2015, Maryland’s Matthew Nephew of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition had warned:

“The point is simply that once Maryland is in the business of ruling thumbs up or down on one kind of political boycott or divestment campaign, it opens the floodgates for trying the same with others. Environmental, immigration, LGBTQ and labor movements (to name a few) have all turned to boycotts and divestment as nonviolent means of making their points — and making America, and the world, a better place. Unless you prevent it, efforts to stigmatize or penalize BDS will serve as an instruction manual for well-heeled or well-connected lobbyists to do the same again and again with other peaceful exercises of free speech.”

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