When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Apply

Suppressing Americans’ First Amendment rights in service of a foreign country
Heri Rakotomalala

by Rebel Fagin

Heri Rakotomalala

AIPAC and 500 pro-Israel organizations spent $3,604,905 during the 2016 U.S. election, while pro-Arab organizations spent $17,750. Despite the money, not all the pro-Israel-backed candidates won. But with the backing of wealthy pro-Israel people such as Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, and yes, Donald Trump, they have turned their attention to suppressing Americans’ First Amendment rights in service of a foreign country.

First, they went after college students. In 2016, Vassar’s SJP launched a campus-based boycott of Sabra and Tribe Hummus due to their support of the illegal occupation of Palestine. They got slammed by the administration. Later that year, UC Irvine students protested the screening of Beneath the Helmet, a pro–Israeli Defense Forces film. Their chapter of SJP was recommended for banishment and their protest was referred to the district attorney for criminal investigation. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documented 152 incidents of similar free speech suppressions on US campuses in 2014 alone. Teachers who support students’ freedom of speech on this issue face harassment, and some even lose their jobs. The pattern begins when activists are maligned as uncivil, anti-Semitic, or supportive of terrorism. Then pro-Israel students, like those in Hillel, claim that they feel threatened and administration bans any discussion of Israeli repression. Palestine Legal responded to 308 suppression incidents in 2017 and nearly 1,000 during the last four years. In Houston, following Hurricane Harvey, aid was initially denied to anyone who supported the boycott of Israel. This was challenged and the practice was stopped.

This year, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, S.2940, was introduced in the Senate by Tim Scott of South Carolina. It threatens to withhold federal Department of Education funds from universities and colleges who don’t curtail the on-campus activism of SJPs and similar organizations. This bill uses the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which claims that any and all criticism of Israel’s Zionist policies is a criticism of Judaism. The dictionary definition, however, is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religion, ethnic or racial group.” Let’s get this straight. Judaism is an honorable religion. Zionism is an imperialist colonial ideology designed to steal land from indigenous Palestinians. Every Jew I know is insulted by the pairing of the two. Also, one in five Israelis is not Jewish. Zionism does not reflect the values of at least 20% of the population of Israel.

As well as trying, and failing, to stop SJP, pro-Israeli groups have poured millions into silencing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement in the United States. The Israeli government hired U.S. law firm Sidley Austin to prepare legal challenges to BDS. The Israel lobbies implemented state-by-state and federal efforts to ban BDS, claiming that it “delegitimized Israel.” In New York State, Governor Mario Cuomo issued an executive order directing all agencies “to terminate any and all business with companies or organizations that support a boycott of Israel.” Draconian laws were proposed and funded by Zionaires, then a remarkable thing happened. The harder they tried, the more their repression showed. For instance, New Orleans passed a resolution supporting BDS. This January, a federal judge in Kansas struck down a law requiring government workers to sign certificates stating they wouldn’t participate in BDS as an unconstitutional denial of free speech. In 1919’s Sohneck v. The United States and 1929’s United States vs. Schwimmer, boycott was established as protected free speech. In the first case, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that freedom of speech can only be curtailed when there is a “clear and present danger” to the United States. BDS does not present such a danger. Palestine Legal reports that since 2014, over 100 anti-boycott measures have been introduced in the United States; at least 24 of them have been enacted. Their legality is still being determined by the courts. On February 2, Bjornar Moxnes, a Norwegian Parliamentarian, nominated the BDS Movement for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2017 the Israel Anti-boycott Act, S720/HR1697 was proposed. Violators could face a $1,000,000 fine and 20 years in jail for promoting BDS. That was too much for California, so state delegates agreed to oppose this bill and withdrew support for it from the Democratic State Platform. It seems that state Democrats support citizen’s First Amendment rights over a foreign nation’s desire to suppress these rights. There is a bill pending now, HR 4391, which will prevent the use of U.S. tax dollars for the ongoing military detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children that often results in torture. As with the California Values Act, California is seeking its own road to justice, separate from the whims of Trump’s America.


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