Editorial | Illinois’ anti-BDS legislation in 2015; now U.S. House rejects BDS

S.A. Shepler (c) 2019 Community WordSupport for universal basic human rights should be an easy position to defend and promote. Support for Palestinian basic human rights apparently is not.

Palestinian human rights cannot honestly be conflated with anti-Semitism, but that’s precisely what’s happening.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is economic activism that aims to force justice when appeals to conscience do not. It is a nonviolent form of protest against oppression.

Illinois was the first state in the country in 2015 to pass legislation to prohibit state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel in protest over its policies that violate the basic human rights of Palestinians.

Let’s affirm right here, Israel not only has a right to exist, America should defend that right. America should stand against discrimination and oppression. But let’s affirm right here, Palestinians also have a right to exist and America should defend that right.

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement is a tool to pressure Israel to change oppressive military, economic and humanitarian abuses used against Palestinians. Gaza is essentially a prison camp with two million prisoners and inadequate food, shelter, medical care and opportunity. And Palestinians in the West Bank live under oppressive Israeli military control.

Positions against BDS are counter to America’s cherished right to peaceful protest and free speech in order to force change. Yet the U.S. House of Representative overwhelmingly passed a resolution July 22 condemning this cherished American right to protest by a margin of 398-17.

Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said, “BDS’s mission is to delegitimize Israel regardless of its policies and to undercut and deny Jewish people the opportunity for self-determination.”

Voting with Nadler were our Illinois representatives Cheri Bustos, Jan Schakowski, Sean Casten, Adam Kinzinger, Raja Krishnamoorthi, John Shimkus, Robin Kelly and Darin LaHood. In all, 15 Illinois representatives voted for the resolution.

Illinois representatives voting against this resolution and in support of the legitimacy of BDS: Bobby Rush and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Voting present was Rep. Danny Davis.

Here is how the bill is summarized:

This resolution opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and other efforts targeting Israel, and states that BDS undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution urges both sides to return to direct negotiations and expresses support for a solution resulting in the state of Israel existing alongside a democratic Palestinian state.

Here is what Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said when she cast her vote against the resolution:

“Peaceful dissent and the protesting of injustice are the right of all Americans guaranteed by the Constitution.” This resolution “renounces the peaceful promotion of human rights, self-determination, and justice on behalf of Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation. At the same time, this resolution completely ignores the Netanyahu government’s brutality, dehumanization, and subjugation of Palestinian people at the root of this peaceful movement.”

This is not an issue that should be tied up in linguistics and pressure tactics. We recognize the horrible legacy of discrimination against Jewish people and we need to vigilantly fight anti-Semitism. But we have to recognize discrimination against Palestinians and fight that just as vigilantly.

So for those who vote against BDS, give us a better way to further a two-state solution and demand an immediate end to the current brutality. Affirm the right of an Israeli homeland to exist but also affirm justice for Palestinians.

The text of the resolution opposing BDS was originally proposed by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee whose mission is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Ominously, supporters of this legislation have warned they may return to the topic and impose punitive and criminal measures against those who support BDS.

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