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No, The Israel Boycott Movement Isn’t All About Free Speech


Americans are used to being spun. Heck, we’re also familiar with being straight-up lied to. But at a certain point, we need to start calling out the falsehoods our elected officials use in describing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

For starters, let’s consider Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. It included numerous problematic moments, starting with Tapper asking the Michigan Democrat about her support for BDS.

Tapper explained BDS to his audience as “an anti-Israel movement.” Tlaib corrected Tapper, saying that “it’s criticizing the racist policies of Israel,” which would be fine, but it isn’t quite true.

All About Israel

If you read the words of those who founded or are involved with BDS, it’s clear this is an anti-Israel movement at its core. The anti-BDS resolution the House passed last week directly quoted BDS founder Omar Barghouti, saying, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

This is not a crowd that’s into coexistence, even if Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) labels BDS as among “nonviolent forms of protest,” and menacingly suggests that “being overly punitive” toward BDS “forces people into other channels, and I would hate to be a part of, you know, paving that kind of path.” Indeed.

Tapper also asked Tlaib why she isn’t boycotting other nations, such as Egypt, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. That’s a worthy question. Tlaib replied that if a grassroots movement sprang up to boycott Saudi Arabia, “I’ll be the first to sign up for it.” But as everybody knows, no such movement exists. Tlaib isn’t starting one, either; she’s pouring all of her entrepreneurial energy into BDS.

So, when a Democratic congressional aide insisted via email that the pro-boycott resolution wasn’t about BDS, and New York magazine proclaimed that the resolution is about free speech and not about Israel — we’re just denying reality, people. The only nation on earth with a dedicated worldwide boycott movement in 2019 is Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and our nation’s close ally. This is the nation Tlaib told Tapper “exist[s] in the detriment of inequality for the Palestinian people.” Tlaib conspicuously disregarded the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the lethal violence of Hamas, two groups that contribute directly to detrimental conditions for the Palestinian people.

Squelching Freedom of Speech

Contra Tlaib, no anti-BDS law or congressional resolution exists that has squelched people’s freedom of speech anywhere in the country. Americans who wish to criticize Israel or Israeli government policies remain free to do so 24/7, just as we all criticize our own government. The question at the heart of state-level anti-BDS laws, which 27 states have passed with bipartisan support, as well as HR 336 (a.k.a., the bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has let languish), is whether firms that support the boycott movement are entitled to contracts funded by tax dollars.

And if we’re going to debate free speech restrictions, the more compelling case is on the other side of the ledger. On many college campuses, pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions, lest they be ostracized by fellow leftist students, graded down, or generally mistreated by professors hostile to Israel.

It’s worth noting that in the case of pro-Israel Jewish students, this mistreatment intersects with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism. It includes “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” as a prime example of antisemitism.

Pick a Side

But why should we expect the truth from Tlaib, or Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), for that matter? It was only after winning the Democratic primary that Tlaib switched from endorsing a two-state solution to endorsing one state and ending foreign aid to Israel, putting her leftward of J Street. For her part, Omar pretended to oppose BDS until after winning her election last November.

As for the pro-boycott resolution Reps. Omar, Tlaib, and John Lewis recently introduced, it compares their effort not only to the super patriotic Boston Tea Party, but also to a boycott of Nazi Germany, casting Israelis as modern-day Nazis. Notably, IHRA offers “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as another example of antisemitism.

Among the greatest deceptions in this area, though, has to be the co-sponsors already affiliated with this pro-boycott resolution. Of the 14 co-sponsors, seven voted for the House’s widely popular anti-boycott resolution: Democratic Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Joaquin Castro of Texas, and Mark DeSaulnier of California. Talk about trying to split the baby! But for the record, the logic truly doesn’t work.

You can’t be both in favor of, and opposed to, singling out the world’s only Jewish nation for economic warfare. If you say you are, you’re lying to someone — likely your constituents or donors. Let the voter beware.