USA Misguided in Israel Anti-Boycott Act

On March 23, 2017, Senator Ben Cardin introduced Senate Bill S720 to oppose the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution “which urges countries to pressure their own companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel, and calls for the creation of a ‘blacklist’ of companies that either operate, or have business relations with, entities that operate beyond Israel’s 1949 armistice lines, including east Jerusalem.”

While it was introduced almost five months ago, human rights advocates are concerned that not only does the bill criminalise the support of Palestinian human rights, but it also suppresses the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

Author and President of the Arab-American Institute, James Zogby, stated that support of the bill is grossly misguided. He maintains that the UNHRC’s approach is not ‘anti-Israeli’ as supporters would suggest; it only targets businesses involved in projects in Israeli-occupied territories since 1967.

Efforts made by organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have prevented the bill from passing through Congress and to the President for signature, even though it was co-sponsored by 35 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The bill has also gained support from the AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.

Given the power of the ACLU, Democratic senators have felt impelled to either justify their support of, or demonstrate their opposition to, S720. Senators Ben Cardin and Ron Wyden argued that the bill does not violate an individual’s right to freedom of expression, as it is only aimed at individuals or businesses who boycott Israel because of international bodies (such as the UN).

Other Democrats in support of S720 also discuss their support for a ‘two-state solution’. Though, it begs the question; is such a solution even possible if S720 protects Israel’s settlement enterprise (“entities organised under the laws of Israel”)? Given the location, chronic expansion, and size of these illegal settlements, it is easy to render such a solution impossible.

In order to garner further support for the bill; Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) has been portrayed as malicious and anti-Semitic by advocates for Israel. However, James Zogby states that “this has been done to obfuscate the reality that BDS is nothing more than a strategic Palestinian-led form of non-violent resistance to the occupation and denial of human rights.”

The UN approach is Palestine’s call for an end to Israeli occupation; a call not unlike that of African Americans in the 1950s and Nelson Mandela in 1980s South Africa. Those truly serious about justice and peace should strive to prohibit the occupation making the accomplishment of such objectives unattainable.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.