New momentum in the struggle for freedom, justice and equal rights in Palestine

Palestine Update 213
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New momentum in the struggle for freedom, justice and equal rights in Palestine
Palestine Updates brings you an interview confirming an encouraging fact- that ‘Palestinian Rights has become an incredibly mainstream issue. The interview is between a well respected voices at FAIR and an equally distinguished one at US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Janine Jackson is the program director of FAIR, the national media watch group which has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. She is the co-host and co-producer of FAIR’s syndicated radio show CounterSpin -a weekly program of media criticism airing on more than 150 stations around the country. In this issue of CounterSpin she interviews Josh Ruebner on BDS bans. Josh Ruebner is an author, political analyst, and activist. He is the author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Josh Ruebner is currently Policy Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a national coalition of more than 400 organizations working to change US policy.

This interview offers insights into the transformation currently underway in US politics on the Question of Palestine. Indeed, while it can be deemed that the end of the occupation is not in sight, the struggle to achieve freedom, justice and equal rights is gaining momentum.

We also share with you Expert Quotes on US Senate passing S.1, Threatening Free Speech which includes the Combating BDS Act of 2019.


‘Palestinian Rights has become an incredibly mainstream issue’

JJ:  Like so much coverage, that New York Times piece really takes as its topic political maneuvering. And in that context, the comeback, if you will, to what the story calls Republican efforts to paint some Democrats “as extremist, and even anti-Semitic”— the comeback is to have a quote from Sen. Chris Murphy telling Rubio, “You know it isn’t true” that a significant number “of Senate Dems support BDS”—which, again, as text, tells us that not supporting BDS means not being anti-Semitic.
So it’s partly down to the political football approach, but the effect is the same: There is no positive explication or defense of the BDS movement to be found in a news account ostensibly about that movement.

So with that off my chest, we spoke with you two years ago July about an Israel Anti-Boycott Act.  Is this that again? What should we know about this Senate iteration?

JR: No, this is a different bill that was also introduced in the previous Congress and the one before that and it’s called the “Combating BDS Act.” And the reason why Marco Rubio has been unsuccessful for the past four years in trying to enact this bill into law is because it’s patently unconstitutional. It’s a bill that encourages states to penalize individuals for their political and moral and religious beliefs on boycotting for Palestinian rights, by denying those people governmental contracts.

And we’ve had two federal district judges already overturn these laws, in Kansas and Arizona, thanks to lawsuits brought by the ACLU, and there are three pending lawsuits challenging similar laws in Texas and Maryland as well. And the reason why Senator Rubio is attaching this very controversial bill to this broader bill is because he knows he can’t pass it as a standalone bill, because of its unconstitutionality. So he’s trying to hide it within a broader bill.

JJ: So who is this aimed at? Is it governments? Is it businesses? Who would be affected by this?

JR: This is a bill that attempts to encourage states to coerce individuals and companies to toe a particular line regarding Israel and the Palestinians, and to punish individuals and companies that support Palestinian rights through nonviolent efforts to engage in campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions. And it’s a patently unconstitutional call, because what it’s doing is it’s trying to leverage the power of government to punish people for having a certain political viewpoint.

And it should be noted that the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld that engaging in political boycotts, whether the government agrees with them or not, is a constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment.

JJ: It sounds as though, legislatively, this may have no legs, but it’s clearly about something more than that. I have to return to this troubling sentence, also from the New York Times:
With Britain’s Labour Party embracing anti-Israel policies, and other left-wing parties in Europe courting Muslim immigrant voters, Jews in the United States have eyed the toehold that Palestinian rights activists have secured in the Democratic Party with trepidation.
There’s a lot happening there. You could engage what strikes you, but what bums me out is the crude zero-sum presentation of Muslims against Jews against Palestinians. It seems like politics without people.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s presumptuous of the New York Times to assume a certain political viewpoint because of someone’s religious affiliation. And I would go even further to say that that’s even bigoted, to consider that a particular group would hold a political ideology just based on their identity.

It’s very clear that the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States is comprised of people of all faiths, including people of the Jewish religion, who support boycott, divestment and sanctions to achieve Palestinian rights. So it’s not at all an accurate statement by the New York Times.

But what is accurate is the fact that there is more and more support within the Democratic Party, both at the base of the Democratic Party, and now we’re starting to see in Congress itself, for a new approach to the issue of Israel and the Palestinians.

We now have elected members of Congress who not only defend our constitutional right to engage in boycotts for Palestinian rights, but in the case of some freshmen members of Congress, like Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, they actually support boycotts for Palestinian rights. And they’re introducing a whole new paradigm for thinking about this issue in the halls of Congress. And this is clearly worrying those who are protecting the status quo of Israeli military occupation, and separate and unequal policies toward the Palestinians.

JJ: Yes, just to further that: Reporting does kind of suggest that we see these anti-BDS moves as responsive to the fact that, while there is still an ongoing acknowledgement that anti-Semitism, of course, itself is very real and indeed rising, that “there seems to be increased understanding that criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Semitic”—those last being the words of New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander, in her recent piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine.”
Having worked around these concerns for years now, do you feel something changing, not only in Congress but just culturally, if you would, around these issues?

JR: Yeah. Absolutely! I think there’s never been a more yawning divide between the parties on this issue, with the Republican Party and its members portraying itself as the party of Israel.

And it makes a lot of sense when you think about it, because the policies that are being enacted by the government of Israel mirror the exact ethno-nationalism white supremacy that the Republican Party is pushing out. And that is clearly the ideology and policy of the Trump administration. Whereas the Democratic Party, which is becoming more diverse, more responsive to social justice concerns and campaigns, is naturally gravitating toward Palestinian rights as part and parcel of a broader progressive agenda.

So there are huge changes underfoot. I think we’re going to see this play out, not only in the current Congress, but especially in the upcoming presidential campaign for 2020, where the issue of Israel and the Palestinians dividing Democrats from Republicans has already become a theme in the media.

JJ: I guess, finally, I have some concern that the way that corporate media tend to map issues onto Beltway politics can sometimes muddy an issue rather than clarifying it, by not separating the ideas from their vessels, if you will.

And if BDS is simply tracked onto new Democrats in Congress that will not necessarily increase one’s understanding of the role that it’s playing on university campuses and on political organizations outside of two-party politics, and that broader conversation about Israel/Palestine. So I wonder what journalism you think would be helpful in this regard, in terms of not just tracking legislation, but tracking the issues themselves.

JR: Yeah, lost in all of this discussion oftentimes is how the movement for Palestinian rights gets reduced to this acronym of BDS: boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions are a set of tactics that have been used by numerous social justice movements throughout the history of this country, and throughout the world, to advance social justice.
So to get caught up in the acronym, and especially the Republican demonization of BDS as a set of tactics to advance Palestinian rights, is really to prevent people from having this broader understanding of just how widespread this movement has become.

You’ve had dozens of college campuses pass resolutions calling for Palestinian rights, you’ve had more than 10 mainstream church denominations, representing tens of millions of Americans, calling for boycotting Israeli settlement products, divesting their assets from companies that are complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses, and calling for an end to US weapons transfers to Israel, which are, of course, given at taxpayer expense.

So this reduction of the movement for Palestinian rights to this BDS acronym is really helping to obfuscate the tremendous amount of support within civil society that’s growing for Palestinian rights, and how it’s become an incredibly mainstream issue.
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Expert Quotes on Senate passing S.1, Threatening Free Speech
Sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), S.1 includes the Combating BDS Act of 2019, which is intended to provide cover for state laws that target individuals and companies who endorse boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in support of Palestinian rights. Last year, judges in Kansas and Arizona ruled that the anti-BDS laws in those states are unconstitutional. S.1 goes to the House for consideration next.
Source: Institute for Middle East Understanding

Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
“It’s unfortunate that one of the first things the Senate has done following the government shutdown is pass a law that threatens the Constitutionally-protected right of Americans to engage in boycotts in support of human rights causes. However, we are encouraged by the number of Senators who opposed this unjust law. “A growing number of churches and other faith groups, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), have endorsed time-honored tools like boycotts to avoid profiting from Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights. In passing the CBA, the Senate is condoning attempts by politicians at the state level to suppress our efforts to be true to our faith and avoid being complicit in the suffering of others.

“Although the bill it is included in claims in the title that it will ‘Strengthen America’s Security,’ the CBA will do no such thing. What it likely will do, however, is prompt resistance, including civil disobedience, from the faith community, as well as numerous lawsuits.  “Instead of undermining the Constitutional rights of Americans, members of Congress should support Palestinians struggling peacefully for their freedom and rights. We urge members of the House to reject the CBA when it comes before them.”

Zoha Khalili, Staff Attorney at Palestine Legal:
“At a time when our government can barely put together a three-week solution to the ongoing budget crisis, it is deeply troubling that senators are abusing their authority and wasting government resources to repress the movement for Palestinian rights. This bill does nothing to address the problems underlying the anti-Palestinian anti-boycott laws that have been enacted in 26 states. It would take much more than a congressional seal of approval to override the First Amendment, which protects our right to boycott.”

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace:
“It’s disappointing that the Senate has voted to undermine the free speech rights of advocates for Palestinian freedom. However, it’s encouraging to see that a growing number of elected officials understand that anyone hoping to have minimal credibility as a progressive in 2019 must stand up for our freedom to boycott and to work for Palestinian human rights.”

Hind Awwad, Steering Committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):
“If this anti-democratic U.S. Senate bill becomes law, it will have a chilling effect on free speech, but it won’t hide Israel’s crimes against the indigenous Palestinian people, or slow down the growth of the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality. “McCarthyite laws can’t whitewash Israel’s apartheid laws, its gradual ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in Jerusalem and Negev, or its incarceration of millions of Palestinians in racially segregated ghettos surrounded by walls and checkpoints. “BDS is inspiring Palestinian and U.S. activists, academics, artists, feminists, students, church organizers, racial and social justice movements, LGBTQ advocates, and others to act in the pursuit of our respective inalienable rights. United, we shall overcome.”

Josh Ruebner, Policy Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights:
“Today’s overwhelming vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to trample on the First Amendment by passing a bill that encourages states to punish people who boycott for Palestinian freedom, justice, and equality, is a travesty. Hopefully, this bill will die in the Democratic-controlled House. Not only does the base of the Democratic Party support the constitutional right to boycott, but according to opinion polls, a majority of Democrats support sanctioning Israel to end its colonization of Palestinian land. A vote in the House to punish people for boycotting for Palestinian rights would be deeply problematic to the base of the Democratic Party.”

Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.

 لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.

Mahmoud Darwish.