Bills are part of a broader trend to silence U.S. supporters of Palestinian rights
Today, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent copies of their report, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US,” to one hundred lawmakers in five states currently considering legislation aimed at punishing, suppressing, and chilling Palestinian human rights advocacy, including through the creation of McCarthyist blacklists of companies, organizations, and in some cases, individuals, who advocate for Palestinian rights. The report, which documents a pattern of suppression that targets protected speech in favor of Palestinian rights, is available online here.
Palestine Legal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of people in the U.S. who speak out for Palestinian freedom, responded to 240 incidents of censorship, punishment, and other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights in 2015. While the vast majority of those incidents occurred on college and university campuses, lawmakers in Congress and at least 21 states have introduced – often at the behest of Israel advocacy organizations – more than two dozen bills aimed at curbing Palestinian rights advocacy.
“Our federal and state lawmakers should be in the business of protecting and expanding our constitutional rights, not undermining them” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Rahul Saksena. “The wave of anti-boycott bills being introduced - and in some cases enacted - in states across the country are misguided and unconstitutional attempts to punish a growing human rights movement.”
These legislative efforts come as the global grassroots movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights gains momentum in the U.S., as more and more Americans are questioning unconditional support for Israel and its violations of international law. Boycotts to bring about political, economic, and social change – including BDS – are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and efforts to suppress such boycotts violate constitutional principles.
“That some elected officials are willing to violate the First Amendment rights of their own citizens to shield a foreign country from criticism for human rights violations is deplorable, and frankly desperate,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “But you cannot legislate away Israel’s violations, or the growing movement to stop them.”
Palestine Legal and CCR sent copies of their report to legislative leaders in the following states:
- New York, where the state legislature is currently considering two sets of anti-boycott bills, including the blacklisting of individuals, non-profit organizations, and companies that advocate for BDS (one of four pending bills was recently amended to no longer blacklist individuals).
- California, where an anti-boycott bill recently passed through a legislative committee despite a legal analysis drafted by the committee’s counsel which warned that the bill “raises very serious and possibly insurmountable First Amendment concerns.”
- Pennsylvania, where the state legislature is considering three anti-boycott bills, one of which would defund colleges and universities that support BDS.
- New Jersey, where the state legislature is currently considering two anti-boycott bills, including one aimed at punishing academic associations that endorse BDS.
- And Ohio, where a bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel is currently being considered in committee.
For more information about these bills, including a list of states where they have been introduced, visit: http://palestinelegal.org/righttoboycott