DEEP RIVER, CT, August 16, 2017 – Supporters of Palestinian rights and the First Amendment took the microphone Monday night at the Second Congressional District Town Hall Meeting hosted by Representative Joe Courtney (D) at Valley Regional High School, dominating a discussion that ranged from healthcare to immigration to the environment and infrastructure.
In their comments, met by applause from the 75-person audience, constituents challenged Rep. Courtney on his cosponsorship of H.R. 1697, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. The bill, which seeks to impose criminal penalties on individuals supporting or even requesting information about boycotts against Israel and its illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), has been called by the ACLU a “direct violation of the First Amendment” that “would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs.”
As one constituent told Rep. Courtney to a rousing round of applause, “We, as Americans have a right to boycott…this is a flagrant example of government overreach. We should…not put citizens behind bars for acting on their beliefs.”
Referencing Rep. Courtney’s support for Connecticut’s divestment from Apartheid South Africa during his tenure in the state legislature from 1980-82, John Fussell of the Tree of Life Educational Fund (TOLEF), a US Campaign for Palestinian Rights member group based in the Second District, asked the Congressman to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. Fussell noted that Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel until its compliance with international law would be criminalized under the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and reminded Rep. Courtney that South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated that BDS is a necessary and effective nonviolent tool “developed in South Africa in the 1980s, to persuade the government of the necessity of altering its policies.”
In response, Rep. Courtney acknowledged that the situation for Palestinians in Gaza is “appalling,” and that “conditions have to change.” He also expressed discontent with the bill’s ambiguity as drafted, and the definition of Israel that includes “territories under its control,” i.e. settlements in the OPT that are illegal under international law. He asserted his support for First Amendment rights and assured constituents that “people should have the right to speak up in favor of boycott.”
If Rep. Courtney drops sponsorship of the bill, he will be the third Member of Congress to do so, preceded by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) who pledged to do so on August 15, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who withdrew sponsorship on August 2.
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) is a national coalition of hundreds of groups working together for freedom, justice and equality. Founded in 2001 as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, USCPR has been a leading player in the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States. The coalition is bound by commonly shared principles on Palestine solidarity as well as anti-racism principles.
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