The “Deal of the Century,” the mythical agreement floated for most of Donald Trump’s first term in office, is on the table again. Earlier this month, Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s new envoy to the equally mythical “Middle East peace process,” made his first official trip to Israel, setting off another round of speculation that the plan might soon be unveiled.
Although National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien denied that Israel’s upcoming elections — the third in a year — had any bearing on Washington’s plans, no one was convinced. Now, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, have been invited to Washington for what is expected to be a discussion of the plan’s details.
No one believes the plan will yield peace or an agreement of any kind. But that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. In the short term, it has already created a political shock wave in Israel as elections loom in March. In the longer term, it has the potential to deal a devastating blow to hopes for stability and, more importantly, for Palestinian rights. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
As President Trump made waves with an executive order meant to stifle speech, action, and education that highlights Palestinian rights, a case that might have been affected by that very order was resolved in Massachusetts. The suit, brought by several anonymous students against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, attempted to censure the university for hosting a panel that supported the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to establish that such events were inherently discriminatory and must be forbidden on campus.
The panel, which took place as scheduled on May 4, 2019, featured some of the country’s most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and progressive causes, including former Women’s March Co-Chair Linda Sarsour, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, musician Roger Waters, and Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine, Dave Zirin. All these people are fierce critics of Israeli policies from a progressive viewpoint.
The event, entitled, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” was specifically designed to discuss efforts to stifle criticism of Israel, on campus and beyond. The suit itself, and the effort preceding it to force the cancellation of the event, couldn’t have demonstrated the need for that panel more clearly. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
This has not been a good week for Democrats, especially those who wish to cast their party as the progressive alternative to the Trump-McConnell regime. As the feckless party leadership continued to avoid taking any action against Donald Trump for his numerous crimes—which go well beyond the Russia questions—they managed to find time to pass a bill opposing the right of U.S. citizens to use economic leverage to press for change in Israel-Palestine.
H. Res. 246, a nameless bill which declares the House of Representatives’ opposition to the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, passed with 398 in favor and only 17 (16 Democrats and one Republican) representatives voting against it. The bill was considerably weaker than the sort of legislation the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had hoped to pass to criminalize BDS at the federal level. Those efforts ran afoul of free speech concerns among a wide variety of Congress members.
In the end, H. Res. 246 addressed those concerns sufficiently to attract the support of comparatively moderate Jewish groups such as J Street, Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Reconstructing Judaism. But fundamental issues remained, and if we were having a rational discussion about BDS and U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine in general, those issues would have been more of an obstacle. Read more at LobeLog
On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.
Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.
Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading →
Bowing to a new law in Germany, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf rescinded its invitation to Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli. In May 2019, the German government passed a law stating that the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) until it met the basic national demands of the Palestinian people was anti-Semitic. As a result, Kweli, who is a long-time advocate for the Palestinian cause, could not perform at a music festival using public funds, as this one does.
When it comes to BDS, Germany won’t tolerate “don’t ask, don’t tell” either. I have no idea whether Kweli would have said a word about the Palestinians at his show, and neither do the show’s organizers. Some of Kweli’s songs mention his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies, but it’s hardly a primary theme of his. It’s just one piece among many of his stances for social justice. He did not start this; the festival producers asked him as a litmus test for his entry.
That’s how far anti-BDS legislation goes in its quest to stifle speech that might illuminate the Palestinian case. Read more at LobeLog