It was before sunup on May 10, 2016, when five members of Sonoma County’s, North Coast Coalition for Palestine went to Sacramento to join over sixty other human rights activists in trying to stop free speech stifling, state Assembly Bill 2844. This bill would require the state of California to boycott companies who participate in the international, nonviolent Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement. It would create a blacklist of companies who support human rights for Palestinians. Similar bills are under discussion in states all across the United States.
BDS uses the tool of the boycott against companies doing business in the illegally occupied territories of Palestine until: overseas Palestinians can enjoy the right of return as guaranteed for all under UN Resolution 194; Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy full equality under the law within Israel; and Israel ends its illegal occupation and colonization of all Arab lands in accordance with UN Resolution 242 and the 4th Geneva Convention. This is not a boycott of a country, but off companies making profits off the occupation. The nonviolent tool of the boycott is as American as baseball. Americans used it in the 1774 boycott of the East India Tea Company, in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 and in California’s grape boycott of the 1960’s. It is a tool. It is not about destroying Israel.
Stop AB 2844 organizers had made appointments with many members of the state assembly prior to our day of lobbying. On lobbying day, we were given talking points and assigned to ever shifting teams. From 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., May 10th, we met with various Assembly members to try to sway their vote against this bill. We were not the only ones there that day. JPAC (Jewish Political Action Committee) also met with assembly members. They were there to promote AB 2844 and spoke as if the Jewish community was of one mind, when, like any other group, they hold a variety of opinions. After all, Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) had helped organize our lobbying.
When you lobby, you usually meet with staffers, and not the legislators themselves. These staffers were usually attentive and polite. Most were ill- informed. In some cases they were hostile. When many of these young staffers heard for the first time that Palestinians living overseas were not permitted to return home while Jews from anywhere in the world could claim Israel as their homeland, even if they and their family had never been there before, they were stunned. Some wanted to know more.
At 4:00 p.m., the Jewish Caucus of Stop AB 2844 met with JPAC. JPAC’s position seemed to be that they don’t care for Netanyahu, but BDS is not the way. They didn’t suggest an alternative tool for justice. Some spoke of dialogue, kind of like Reagan’s “constructive engagement “with South Africa during their apartheid period.
AB 2844 was recommended for approval by the Judiciary Committee and the Accountability & Administrative Review Committee, despite its unconstitutional stifling of First Amendment protected free speech. It is currently in suspense, which is known of as the place bills go to die. This bill is expected to cost $1.2 million annually just to maintain the blacklist. As a state mandated local program, local governments would also have to spend funds to maintain the blacklist. The proposed blacklist brings to mind the blacklists of the 1940’s and 1950’s. It chills free speech, for people self-censor out of fear of what might happen to them. If a company is on this list, the state would have to find other, possibly more expensive, companies to contract with. Veolia, a French multi-national, transportation and municipal water company along with the private security company, G4S, have pulled out of the illegally occupied territories recently. Would the state, under this bill, punish them for this decision by revoking contracts with them? CalSTRS, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System estimates an initial cost exceeding $1 million and annual costs exceeding $200,000 for “benchmark/index modification costs, transaction costs for terminating contracts, external research services and staff resources”. It is the costs that will most likely kill this bill.
After a day of lobbying, we were invited to the home of one of the local organizers for supper and a debriefing before leaving for home. It was after dark when we got home. It was a day well spent.
For further information about BDS visit bdsmovement.net, jvp.org. or fosna.org