Wednesday, December 2, 2020

US curbs on Israel boycotts ‘an attack’ on dissent, advocates say

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The Trump administration’s newest try and equate boycotts of Israel with anti-Semitism is a part of a years-long push to criminalise criticism of Israel within the United States and overseas, authorized and political consultants say.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced US plans to label the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) motion for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” and curtail funding for teams that assist it.
Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal, a US-based authorized advocacy group that helps Palestinian rights, mentioned the measure goals to stifle advocacy for Palestinian rights.
“This is one more step in a much larger and broader assault on a human rights movement globally, but also in the US – and that started long before [US President Donald] Trump,” Khalidi informed Al Jazeera in a cellphone interview. Palestine Legal has documented greater than 200 proposed payments that aimed to limit Palestine advocacy in dozens of states throughout the US alone. Only 25 p.c of these motions have been profitable, however the group says 30 US states at the moment have legal guidelines on the books.
Khalidi mentioned the measures to curtail pro-Palestinian organising within the US have developed over time, with the latest wave being an try “to distort and politicise anti-Semitism to include any and all criticism of the State of Israel”.
The intent has been the identical, nonetheless, she mentioned: to forestall Palestinians from talking out about rights abuses and holding Israel accountable for its insurance policies.
“The fact is that all of these efforts are fundamentally an attack on our ability to dissent, on our right to engage in protest,” Khalidi mentioned.
Netanyahu happy
In a press release on Thursday, Pompeo described the BDS motion as “a manifestation of anti-Semitism” and mentioned he had instructed the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to establish teams that assist it.
Launched by Palestinian civil society teams in 2005, the BDS motion seeks to make use of non-violent means to stress Israel to finish its unlawful occupation of Palestinian territories, guarantee equal rights for Palestinian residents and respect the correct of return of Palestinian refugees.
BDS advocates have expressly disavowed anti-Semitism and all types of racism, however the motion has been a goal of the Israeli authorities and its allies lately.
“I know this sounds simple to you, Mr Prime Minister,” Pompeo informed Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu throughout a information convention, concerning the new BDS decree.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday [Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via Reuters]“It seems like a statement of fact, but I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct, and withdraw US government support for such groups. The time is right,” Pompeo mentioned.
“It sounds simply wonderful to me,” Netanyahu replied, in keeping with a State Department readout.
It was not instantly clear what teams the State Department may label as BDS backers.
‘Extremely significant’
Pompeo additionally introduced that the US would enable merchandise originating in Area C of the occupied West Bank – an space that accounts for 60 p.c of the territory and contains Jewish-only settlements – to be labelled as ”Israel”, ”Product of Israel”, or “Made in Israel” when exported.
Israel for years has advocated for items originating in Jewish-only settlements to be labelled this option to keep away from international boycott efforts.
Josh Ruebner, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, mentioned the nation of origin directive might seem bureaucratic, however it’s “extremely significant” as a result of it “designates illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being part of Israel”. It additionally treats the West Bank and Gaza Strip as separate entities, a move Ruebner mentioned “further segments the Palestinian people politically and geographically”.
Then, by recognising Area C as beneath a distinct administrative association than different components of the West Bank, it additionally “further reinforces and strengthens the US case for enabling Israel to annex as much West Bank territory as it wants between now and January 20”, he mentioned.
That is US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration date.
‘Blatantly unconstitutional’
Most of the Trump administration’s pro-Israel coverage modifications – together with shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem and slicing funding to Palestinian refugees – have been enacted by govt motion, which signifies that Biden can overturn them.
During his presidential marketing campaign, Biden mentioned that whereas he opposes BDS, he would “protect the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech”. He additionally mentioned he doesn’t assist efforts to criminalise free speech and expression.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) mentioned on Thursday that criticism of Israel is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which ensures the correct to free speech.
“Threatening to block government funds to groups that criticize Israel is blatantly unconstitutional,” the group tweeted, in response to Pompeo’s directive. Criticism of Israel, or any authorities, is absolutely protected by the First Amendment.
Threatening to dam authorities funds to teams that criticize Israel is blatantly unconstitutional.
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 19, 2020 Biden’s ‘real test’
But Biden is unlikely to overturn Trump administration measures aimed toward limiting Israel boycotts, Ruebner informed Al Jazeera, since doing so comes at a steep political price within the US, the place most Democrats and Republican lawmakers are staunch defenders of Israel.
“(Pompeo is) throwing down a marker saying (to Biden), you have to now say that Israeli settlements are illegal in order to reverse what I did. He’s also saying that you have to affirmatively say that BDS is not anti-Semitic in order to reverse what I did,” Ruebner mentioned.
“I honestly don’t think Biden is going to take up those challenges.”
For her half, Khalidi mentioned Biden has a “real test” in entrance of him to reveal “his willingness to stand up for human rights and for freedom, and to really reject what is, in essence, a Trumpian smear”.
US President-elect Joe Biden has beforehand condemned the BDS motion [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP]“We know that Biden has been no friend to Palestinians. He has stated very clearly that he intends to back Israel and its continued occupation and to preserve the unconditional support for Israel that has been the US’s position,” she mentioned.
“But it’s imperative that we expose what is really at stake here … and to reject this effort to conflate what is a movement for freedom with an ideology of hate.”

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