Their lies about BDS can’t go unanswered

July 23, 2018

An Ohio resolution condemning Palestine solidarity activists is part of a wider assault on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, writes Ethan Ackelsberg.

THE OHIO state legislature is resorting to lies and slander to attack Palestine solidarity activists and smear the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid as anti-Semitic.

House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 10 — which passed the state House in a lopsided 92-2 vote on December 5 of last year — states as its purpose: “To condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and increasing incidents of anti-Semitism.” It is now before the state Senate, where it passed out of committee on June 27 by a vote of 10-1 in spite of well-researched opposition testimony from a number of activists across the state.

After the one dissenting senator in the committee vote, Charleta B. Tavares from Columbus, proposed an amendment to scrap the anti-BDS language and change the resolution into a broad condemnation of anti-Semitic activities in Ohio, the committee chair, Frank LaRose, added a single sentence as a “compromise”: that “members of the General Assembly condemn all groups, including white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and national socialist groups, that promote hatred, religious persecution, or violence towards others.”

Student activists lead a rally against Israeli apartheid
Student activists lead a rally against Israeli apartheid (Christy Losey | Students for Justice in Palestine at The Ohio State University)

But as Jewish Voice for Peace member Eric Resnick explained in his testimony, the motivation behind the resolution is not to stop anti-Semitism, but to express full support for the Israeli occupation, while cracking down on dissident voices demanding its end:

The 51 years of brutal military occupation and blockade, apartheid and ethnic cleansing committed by Israel cannot be defended, so proponents of this measure and others like it seek to change the frame through which it is viewed. That requires quashing the speech of those who say something they don’t like or cannot defend, especially when it involves the BDS campaign, which is supported by a growing lawyer of activists, including Jews.

Adding a line to condemn fascists does not make the resolution better. It only deepens the slander against activists by equating demands for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians with the genocidal fantasies of far-right groups.

Only the BDS movement is named explicitly in the resolution, despite numerous documented instances of neo-Nazi groups flyering on our campuses and in our neighborhoods in central Ohio and elsewhere. The lumping together of right-wing anti-Semites with BDS activists is even more absurd in light of the recent revelation that Israel has been arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine.

THIS RESOLUTION in Ohio is part of a national and international attempt to silence critics of Israel. It is not the most severe attack to date.

The state of Kansas, for example, passed legislation requiring state contractors to sign a statement swearing they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

A federal judge issued an injunction against the law in January after a public school teacher active in the Mennonite Church USA — which passed a divestment resolution in 2013 and renewed its commitment with a new resolution last year — challenged the law with the help of the ACLU.

The state legislature amended the bill in April to only target corporations doing at least $100,000 of business with Kansas, and the ACLU agreed to drop its case on June 29, since the plaintiff is no longer impacted by the law.

Other states have passed similar legislation. Palestine Legal keeps an updated list of anti-BDS laws in the U.S., which shows that 25 states, including Ohio, have laws on the books threatening free speech around BDS, and another 12 have similar legislation pending before lawmakers.

At the federal level, an amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act threatens to punish businesses nationally for engaging in boycotts of Israel. Beyond the strictly legislative framework, Palestine Legal also published an extensive report, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech,” documenting the widespread censorship of activists and academics who are critical of Israel.

In comparison to all of this, the Ohio resolution condemning BDS, which has no direct legal bearing, may seem relatively unimportant. Ignoring this initiative, however, would be a serious mistake for those fighting for justice in Palestine.

FOR ONE thing, the resolution, if passed, would be sent to university administrators as a seal of approval for their continued suppression of BDS campaigns.

A ballot initiative at Ohio State University was blocked in spring 2015 on the basis of rarely invoked technicalities. When a divestment resolution was brought before the Undergraduate Student Government the following year, numerous Ohio politicians wrote letters to student representatives imploring them to vote against the resolution.

Nationally, as a recent report from the Intercept revealed, the FBI has surveiled and intimidated campus BDS activists based on unverified blacklists operated by right-wing groups.

Speaking about the revelations exposed by the Intercept, Resnick stated later in his testimony, “HCR Number 10 is nothing more than a signal to universities that the general assembly approves of these measures to disfavor and criminalize speech critical of Israel, and universities will hear you.”

Moreover, nearly identical resolutions have been introduced and passed in other states across the country, including SJR 170 in Tennessee, SJR 81 in New Jersey, HR 1037 in Oklahoma, and HJM 4009 in Washington. All three states where the resolution has passed — Tennessee, New Jersey and Oklahoma — introduced anti-BDS laws afterward.

In addition to intimidating Palestine solidarity activists in an attempt to silence us, HCR 10 legitimizes the most reactionary elements of Zionism by fabricating anti-BDS claims and promoting Israel’s illegal settlement program.

Interested readers can take a look at a line-by-line breakdown of (some of) the lies and distortions in the resolution submitted in this author’s testimony to the state Senate committee against HCR 10.

To highlight a few of its most outrageous claims: At one point in the text, the authors claim that the BDS movement’s “theme slogan” is “Palestine forever, Israel Never Ever.” A simple Google search reveals that this “theme slogan” has not been adopted by any BDS-affiliated groups, but was invented by the authors of HCR 10.

Later in the same section of the resolution, the authors bolster the Israeli claim to the entirety of the “land of Israel,” which they define as extending beyond the Green Line to include “Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.”

This is an overt endorsement of the ethnic cleansing and colonization of the West Bank, where the settlements have repeatedly been declared in violation of international law and identified as a paramount obstacle to peace in Palestine/Israel.

THIS ANTI-BDS resolution — and others like it — reveals how low apologists for the Israeli occupation are willing to go to protect their interests.

There is little pretension of being accurate. Several individuals pointed out the lies through witness testimony when HCR 10 was still in the House, and again in front of the Senate committee, but it has passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support, in every vote so far.

The flagrant disregard for facts isn’t just a vindication for the justness of our side. It is also indicative of the potential that BDS has to overturn decades of U.S. foreign policy and bring about a more peaceful world.

The Ohio legislature and its corporate donors who profit from the occupation are operating out of fear that our side will win, as we did using a similar strategy against apartheid in South Africa.

We should strive to make their nightmares come true by organizing mass campaigns — like the successful campaign in Durham, N.C., to end “deadly exchanges” and the victorious divestment resolution at Barnard College in New York — to force the U.S. government and corporations out of Palestine/Israel as a crucial step towards ending the occupation and Israel’s exceptional status as a settler-colonial apartheid state.

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