(July 24, 2019 / JNS) Anti-Semitism in America has no greater asset today than Rep. Ilhan Omar, who recently led the filing of H.R. 496, a resolution promoting boycotts against Israel and that likens the Jewish state to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
For those who stand with Israel, opposing this resolution is about survival versus destruction, right versus wrong. We need to show the broader American public why 27 states have passed anti-BDS laws, what compelling societal interests these laws defend, why these laws were ruled constitutional and why legislators sprung to action to defend these statutes from attack.
BDS is rooted in hate, connected to terrorism
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is the formal name given to an economic and political warfare campaign being waged against Israel. It is part of a coordinated effort to attack virtually every aspect of Israel’s legal, historic, political, economic and cultural life. BDS promotes discrimination and bigotry against Jews by spreading falsehoods and anti-Semitic tropes such as the suggestion of Jewish subversion, conspiracy, dual loyalty, greed and economic control.
These tactics lead to discrimination and negative opinions of the Jewish community, and ultimately to persecution. It is no coincidence that statistics indisputably show Jews are the most likely of all religious groups to be victimized in hate crimes.
The BDS movement has material links to terrorist organizations. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—which the United States, United Nations and European Union have designated as terrorist entities that target civilians—played a key role in the formation of BDS and its ongoing orchestration.
One of the movement’s founders, Omar Barghouti, has called for the destruction of Israel—a sovereign democratic state. He said, “No Palestinian—rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian—will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Barghouti was even barred entry into the United States last April due to his activities.
Another major driver of BDS in America—the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)—has been named by the U.S. Justice Department as a co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, a terrorism finance trial with guilty verdicts on 108 counts. CAIR has been a major champion of Rep. Omar, donating funds to her campaign.
States fight BDS because trade with Israel is a compelling state interest
Individual state exports to Israel have grown in recent decades to hundreds of millions, and in some instances billions, of dollars per year. Tolerating the “boycott” part of BDS would devastate billions of dollars of U.S. exports to Israel and the many thousands of American workers whose jobs depend on them.
Israel is also one of the world’s leading research centers for water desalination, agriculture, disaster relief, artificial intelligence and all aspects of the health sciences. The boycotts would halt collaboration that is necessary for combating environmental threats and medical advances that save lives. This exchange improves quality of life around the world.
It’s why South Carolina became the first U.S. state to adopt anti-BDS legislation in May 2015. Since then, 26 states have followed suit. All of these bills drew strong bipartisan support, and many passed unanimously. These laws protect citizens by ensuring that state investment funds and private sector contracts are shielded from the instability caused by discriminatory boycotts, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not party to contracts and investments that undermine anti-discrimination statues.
A broad, diverse coalition of groups oppose BDS
As a general concept, the BDS commercial boycotts that these state laws address are a form of national-origin discrimination motivated by bigotry and hate. BDS directly contradicts the values of our nation, where discrimination and bigotry are rejected. That is why Americans of many backgrounds have worked to oppose BDS.
State and local anti-BDS laws have passed across the country with the support of African Americans, Latinos, Asian American and immigrant communities. These groups have gathered around the common belief that America should not tolerate discriminatory boycotts based on nationality, ethnicity or religious background. Anti-BDS laws enjoy wide support because they prevent citizens and governments from becoming party to hateful and discriminatory business practices.
This has nothing to do with free speech—courts have upheld anti-BDS laws
The anti-BDS coalition fully supports the First Amendment and these laws only regulate government engagement in commercial activity. Anti-BDS laws allow private citizens and businesses to make their own decisions and share their own opinions regarding BDS boycotts and Israel. It is an outright lie to suggest that the law punishes individuals for refusing to do business with Israel or compels them to do business with Israel.
Pro-BDS groups intentionally sow confusion around legal terminology to misrepresent injunctions granted to their plaintiffs in Kansas, Texas and Arizona as decisive judgments. But a court’s rationale in issuing an injunction is not a constitutional, merit-based ruling.
The U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas has provided the only merit-based anti-BDS laws ruling. It concluded that anti-BDS laws do not regulate the private conduct of free speech—they permissibly regulate commercial activity. The ruling noted that these laws carefully regulate a state’s own government processes, not private speech. Anti-BDS laws are anti-discrimination laws, similar to laws that protect women, racial minorities and LGBTQ individuals.
Legal challenges are anti-Israel, not pro-First Amendment
In total, six cases in five states have been filed challenging anti-BDS laws. Many of the plaintiffs groomed by opponents operate as sole proprietorships and small businesses, and have postured in ways intended to blur the distinction between personal and commercial activity. Accordingly, legislatures have updated these laws in good faith to protect them from challenges regarding free speech, no matter how false or insincere.
This has resolved any questions about anti-BDS laws and First Amendment interests. Those legislators who have nevertheless chosen to clarify their state statutes—despite the favorable ruling from the federal court in Arkansas—are the true champions of the First Amendment.
The dissatisfied and dishonest response from Rep. Omar’s camp reveals the truth of their anti-Israel motivation in the matter.
Joseph Sabag is executive director of IAC for Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the Israeli-American Council.
Alan Clemmons a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.