The right to boycott

Despite plenty of evidence Donald Trump has a thing for Russian mobsters and Kremlin operatives, we still don’t know if he actually conspired with Russia to throw the 2016 presidential election.

But last week I wrote about some indisputable foreign meddling — AIPAC’s attempts to take away political rights of Americans to protest Israel’s domestic policies with economic boycotts.

And Israel is trying the same thing right here in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts House bill H.1685 and Senate bill S.1689 sound harmless enough (“An Act prohibiting discrimination in State Contracts”). No one would ever admit liking discrimination. And one would hope that any legislator co-sponsoring bills like these would have only the best of intentions.

But these two bills do much more harm than good.

Like cookie-cutter legislation crafted by ALEC, these were pushed by a pro-Israel organization, the JCRC, which regards them as tools to block the BDS Movement. Lobbyists for Israel have introduced similar legislation in 35 states and they have been enacted in 19.

Seekonk Rep. Steven Howitt was crystal clear about the bill’s intent: “This bill clarifies to businesses that either support BDS or who boycott Israeli-owned businesses and products that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not engage in commerce with them.”

In short, this is an attack on the exercise of the Constitutionally-protected right to boycott a foreign nation on political grounds. Not surprisingly, the Massachusetts ACLU opposes H.1685.

The bills’ supporters claim that any criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlements is tantamount to anti-semitism. But the international BDS Movement has specific political goals. And Israel’s domestic policies as well as American foreign policy toward it are political issues. Both bills are opposed by a number of Jewish organizations, including the Boston Workmen’s Circle, Jewish Voice for Peace, over 100 progressive organizations, and also the National Council of Churches.

In 1982 the Supreme Court affirmed the right of Americans to use boycotts for political purposes. After fifty years of occupation and creeping settlements Israel just might need a little economic incentive to stop. But no matter how you feel about Middle Eastern politics, Israel’s problems can not be solved by violating the civil liberties of Americans.

Contact House and Senate sponsors from your district and ask them to kill these bills and withdraw their sponsorship.

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