Should It Be Illegal for American Companies to Boycott Israel?

USCPR Policy Director Josh Ruebner appears on Al Jazeera’s The Stream to discuss state-level efforts to quash the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

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MALIKA BILAL: So Josh, these laws that are attempting to suppress boycotts: freedom of speech issue?

JOSH RUEBNER: Absolutely because, as was noted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Brian in that video, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that economic actions to affect social change are protected forms of first amendment political speech. So when we hear advocates of this BDS legislation say “Oh, well we only want to go after business activities, not political speech”, business actions are a form of political speech, and what we’re seeing in Congress today is some of the most draconian legislation on any issue ever introduced in Congress because the federal Israel Anti-Boycott Act will actually imprison individuals for up to 20 years if they are furnishing information to or advancing the objectives of an international organization’s boycott of Israel.

What this legislation is in response to is that the UN next month in December will be putting out a list of Israeli companies based in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and global corporations that are complicit in and support those settlements. So what this legislation is trying to do is trying to punish anyone who supports the aim of this UN list and basically attempt to legitimize Israeli settlements, and take away all right, as civil society actors, to use every non-violent means at our disposal to try to end Israel’s human rights abuses…

It’s called the First Amendment. It is our right to boycott Israel. And legislators cannot take it away from us without stripping away our freedom of expression…

Well, first of all, the professor from Northwestern is actually an Israeli settler who has written a lot of these anti-BDS bills that are fundamentally unconstitutional. So I would take what he says with a huge grain of salt. But this is not about discrimination. This is about taking moral action in support of human rights. The fact that there are Jewish people who live in Israel is immaterial to the discussion. It’s not about the religion of the people who live there, it’s about what the policies of that government are towards the Palestinian people. And for 70 years, Israel has engaged in a separate and unequal regime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. BDS is nothing more than a moral response on behalf of globally concerned citizens, led by Palestinian civil society, to redress that injustice and to try to ensure that Palestinians finally achieve their long-denied rights. And what these anti-BDS bills are designed to do is to try to quash the movement. To try to take the heavy and hand of government and to tell American civil society that you can boycott this but you cannot boycott that. That is fundamentally antithetical to our Constitutional rights.