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AIPAC’s Terrible Idea

The inclination to minimize divestment efforts is understandable. Supporting censorship isn’t.

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While it’s true that the anti-Israel “divestment” movement practices some of the most contemptible activism in the US and Europe today, there is simply no excuse for censorship. So if shriveling Christian sub-denominations, moral twits masquerading as college professors, Jew haters and other corrupt souls want to target financial institutions, portfolios and retail chains that do business with the Jewish State (but not those who support Hamas), it’s their choice. But one expects that pro-Israel groups would do everything in their power to avoid helping to legitimatize their cause.

So this is perplexing.

According to Buzzfeed:

The most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, AIPAC, is working on drafting legislation that would aim to counter the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, two sources familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News.

The legislation, which has not yet been introduced and has been in the process of being drafted for months, would aim to prevent U.S. companies from participating in the campaign without infringing on Americans’ First Amendment rights to political speech. It would also try to make the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the U.S. and E.U. conditional on whether the E.U. takes action to stop BDS.

Well, let’s walk through this.

The first problem should be obvious to Sen. Mark Kirk, or anyone else working on a boycott-the-divesters bill: If the primary obstacle your legislation faces is figuring out how to avoid encroaching on freedom of expression, perhaps it’s time to rethink your strategy.

Punishing countries for failing to censor citizens who boycott Israel is not, despite arguments offered by groups like AIPAC, analogous to sanctioning countries that break international treaties or threaten war against neighbors. Free speech is one of those ideas we’re purportedly interested in exporting. And if bigotry among a citizenry is reason to sink trade deals, why not start with countries that have actual bigoted governments? The United States does plenty of business with anti-Semitic parties in Qatar and Turkey. Actually, if we expand our concerns to misogyny, homophobia or anti-Christian policies, we’d soon have to figure out a new way to import eight percent of our oil.

All of this, of course, is useless in tempering support for divestment anyway. It may even energize the movement.

Numerous European countries already ban anti-Semitic flags and banners and deem Holocaust-denying a criminal act. Obviously, Europe has a more treacherous and complicated history with Jews. Do speech codes alter anyone’s thinking? Are they even enforceable in any meaningful way? You don’t have to go further than the explosion of hatred we’ve seen in major European cities recently to understand how ineffective they are in practice.

This isn’t the first time US legislators have approached the idea of trying to weaken the BDS movement. Earlier this year, two congressmen were trying to find support for a bill that would have barred any America university that receive federal funding from joining any academic boycott of Israel. One can imagine the precedent that would set even if it could withstand a challenge on Constitutional grounds – which seems unlikely. Having the Israel lobby aligning itself with the speech police is certain to do wonders for newly martyr-able anti-Israel activists on campus.

Divestment has had very little economic effect on Israel so far. What Israelis fear is facing the same blowback apartheid-era South African government –a government that has far more in common with Arab world than Likud – faced in the 1980s and early 90s. It seems to be working to some extent. Because when the USA Presbyterian Church divest from three companies which had traded with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu went out of his way to comment.

The inclination to minimize BDS efforts is understandable, but even if bills like these weren’t completely inappropriate attacks on free expression, they would surely fuel the conspiracies theories about the United States colluding with foreign agents and make AIPAC look too nervous and too influential at the same time. What is the upside?

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.