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“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela
“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each others’ welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller
Republicans constantly pontificate about defending “freedom.” But who’s freedom are they defending? What freedoms do they work to protect?
Republicans’ concern for freedom is highly selective. Their actions show little respect for the freedom of others. They rarely take responsibility for their actions and policies that hurt other people.
Clearly they don’t support the freedom for women to control their own bodies. Nor do they support people of color being free from police brutality.
Restricting and suppressing voting rights is another example. Guns are the leading cause of premature death in children but this is merely the “price of freedom” for Republicans. They refuse to allow any sensible actions to reduce gun violence.
In many areas of human rights and public policy, Republicans not only don’t care about the harm done but are actively working to restrict freedom where it fosters the welfare of the majority of people.
This article talks about Republican efforts to restrict the constitutional right to protest using boycotts and divestment actions.
Boycotts are as all American as apple pie. During colonial times boycotts were used against British economic control of the colonies. These trade and taxation policies were the “tyranny” that led to the American Revolution.
But in recent years, Republicans have been pushing many laws to penalize and criminalize constitutionally protected dissent.
Little noticed by most Americans, 34 states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, have laws to penalize peaceful boycotts and divestment campaigns aimed at pressuring Israel on its human rights record. These dangerous bills violate constitutional rights, legal precedent and allow state and local government agencies to condition jobs and government contracts on a person’s political viewpoints.
It is especially repugnant that these laws are intended to protect the egregious human rights violations of a foreign country!
Americans’ right to free speech, freedom of conscience and the basic right to advocate for a political objective are being compromised to defend Israel’s system of violent apartheid toward the Palestinian people.
The Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS) is a strategy to stop Israel’s appalling behavior toward Palestinians by using nonviolent economic pressure. Modeled after the successful international effort to end apartheid in South Africa, BDS asks individuals and businesses to cut economic ties with Israel and companies that support, or do business in Israel. This includes asking pension funds and public investment activities to divest from Israeli government bonds.
But the Israel lobby, and their fundamentalist religious right allies, have been successful in getting Republicans (and some Democrats) to adopted laws that penalize businesses, organizations or individuals that choose to boycott Israel due to its human rights record. The laws require anyone with state contracts or employment to sign statements that they will not support BDS activities.
These outrageous laws are being challenged in court. I recently saw a documentary named Boycott about three court cases. In one a public school speech therapist in Texas refused to sign and was fired. She sued and won in federal court.
A lawyer in Arizona lost his government contract for refusing to agree to the anti-BDS language in the contract. He also won.
A newspaper publisher in Arkansas lost government business because he objected on principle to the anti-boycott language. He lost his case but it is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In all three of these cases the people penalized were not involved with any BDS actions. But they were all penalized for not signing away their rights. These real patriots all felt strongly enough about the blatant violations of basic constitutional rights that they were willing to put their lives on the line (with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union).
Boycott is worth seeing if you get a chance. I didn’t find it available on the Internet, but a synopsis is available at justvision.org/boycott/synopsis#about.
In the past the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that nonviolent protests and boycotts are protected free speech under the the First Amendment. But given the far right political orientation of the current Supreme Court, and their frequent disregard for long-established precedents, these civil liberties could be overturned.
The state laws suppressing the freedom to oppose the bad behavior of Israel set a dangerous precedent for all other protest or social and political actions. If the Supreme Court upholds these laws, people and organizations advocating for other issues could be affected. People supporting minority rights, police reform, reproductive rights, labor unions, gun control or action on climate change could be next.
Republicans already have introduced hundreds of bills aimed at silencing protest and criminalizing dissent to protect the fossil fuel and gun industries.
At the federal level, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act has been introduced in Congress several times by Republicans. This legislation goes further and proposes criminal penalties including jail time for opposing Israel.
Republicans claim action against protests is needed to prevent violence. But the overwhelming majority of protests in the U.S. have been nonviolent. Government already has laws against property destruction and violent conduct. None of these new laws are needed but they do have a chilling effect on people speaking up for justice.
Don’t be fooled by the right wing’s empty, pseudo-patriotic platitudes about “freedom.” They are not working for you or your family’s well being. They are only interested in keeping uppity people in their place.
As Howard Zinn taught us “dissent is the highest from of patriotism.”
Learn more about BDS: Twin Ports Peace Not Walls is a local Duluth group open to all who want to work to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. See nemnsynod.org/twin-ports-peace-not-walls
Learn more about the international BDS Movement at bdsmovement.net.
Palestine Legal is an independent organization opposing the anti-BDS legislation. See legislation.palestinelegal.org.
International Center for Not for Profit Law maps the anti-BDS state laws in the U.S. See icnl.org/our-work/us-program/
MN Break the Bonds promotes divestment from Israeli government bonds and justice for Palestinians. See mn.breakthebonds.org.