BDS activists defy US moves to curb Palestine advocacy

In the United States, far away from Israel, there is a related storm a-brewing. In recent months, state legislatures have been passing bills that target supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that seeks to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories, and to grant its own Palestinian citizens full rights.

At least 26 such bills have been introduced nationwide in 2017, according to Palestine Legal, a group that provides legal advice to US-based pro-Palestine civil rights activists. The bills would financially punish organisations and companies that boycott Israel, for example by limiting their possibilities to get public contracts.  “We’re seeing an increase in efforts to stifle Palestine advocacy work,” said Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal. “One of the more recent trends is a shift towards state lawmakers to introduce and pass bills that aim to suppress or punish activism.”

Over the years, as hopes for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict diminished, support for BDS rose among artists, companies, even churches. Israel has slammed those who boycott or divest from it as anti-Semites, and said BDS’ real aims are to undermine its right to exist. BDS supporters here are pushing back. Using legal means and grassroots activism, they are educating lawmakers about the movement, and challenging anti-BDS bills by invoking First Amendment rights. “We are focusing on fighting these new bills, to tell the public and lawmakers that BDS is a constitutionally-protected right,” Saksena said. “It’s important for lawmakers to know that, especially in this climate in the Trump era, where our right to dissent is increasingly necessary and valuable.”
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