Earlier this year, “Combating BDS Act of 2016” (S.2531 and H.R.4515) bills were introduced to Congress in order to undermine the right of people to participate in non-violent advocacy for Palestinian rights. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is a direct product of the Palestinian civil society as a means to call on the global community to push Israel to take accountability for their vast violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.
The “Combating BDS Act of 2016” would authorize state and local governments to unconstitutionally penalize entities, such as non-profits and corporations, for supporting the Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS. This development in our American democracy is a troubling one. In the 1982 decision of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that boycotts, and other related non-violent activities aimed at bringing about political, social, and economic change, are considered political speech and, therefore, should be protected by the First Amendment. These bills directly go against that ruling.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is one of at least 29 Senators who has co-sponsored this legislation. On August 2nd, Massachusetts Peace Action sent a letter to Sen. Markey expressing our disappointment in his support for this outlandish and unconstitutional bill. In the same letter, we noted that he also added his name to the Kirk-Gillibrand letter that advocates for increased military aid to Israel, a notion we strongly disagree with. We urged him to reconsider any increase in aid to Israel, and to commit to pressuring Israel to take serious steps towards ending illegal settlements, abiding by international law, and launching negotiations towards a just peace for the Palestinian people.
A copy of the letter below:
August 2, 2016
Senator Ed Markey
Washington Senate Office
255 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Markey,
As you know, Massachusetts Peace Action has long applauded your work on nuclear weapons, the environment and civil liberties. We’re grateful for your introduction of the SANE Act and your support for the Iran nuclear agreement. However, we have been disappointed recently on positions you have taken on two issues related to Israel and Palestine.
Your co-sponsorship of S. 2531, the “Combating BDS Act of 2016,” strikes us as unhelpful in bringing about a just peace to the Palestine-Israel conflict, while raising serious questions about free speech and the right to non-violent civic activism. Civil liberties organizations and legal scholars have questioned the constitutionality of this measure, which appears to target legitimate and peaceful efforts to pressure Israel to live up to its commitments to human rights and its obligations under international law.
Moreover, the language of S. 2531 opposing BDS “in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories” appears to conflate Israel proper with its settlements in the West Bank or in occupied Syrian territory that are universally – including according to long-standing US policy – regarded as illegal under international law and certainly are obstacles to peace.
You may personally disagree with BDS as a way to pressure Israel, but targeting a peaceful expression of civic advocacy for punishment amounts to an attack on free speech rights under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. We hope that you will withdraw your sponsorship of S. 2531.
On another matter, we note that you added your name to the Kirk-Gillibrand letter advocating increased military aid to Israel. We believe this sends precisely the wrong message, given Israel’s on-going settlement expansion, which was condemned in a State Department press statement July 27th as “systematically undermining the prospects for a two- state solution.” At the same time, Israel has been demolishing Palestinian houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at a record pace.
Even if this were not the case, what is the justification for increasing the already large $3.1 billion in annual aid to Israel when we have budget constraints and so many unmet needs at home? We ask you to reconsider any increase in Israel aid – and to support conditioning existing aid on a demonstrated commitment by Israel to end settlement expansion, abide by international law and launch serious negotiations to achieve a sovereign Palestinian state that is long overdue.
Massachusetts Peace Action
Massachusetts Peace Action Board
Massachusetts Peace Action Board