How Trump and Netanyahu Undermine Freedom of Speech

August 20, 2019

Dima Khalidi discusses Trump’s support for banning entry to Occupied West Bank on the basis of political opinion, such as Ilhan Omar's and Rashida Tlaib's support for the boycott movement against Israel. In the process, Trump also implicitly supports Israeli sovereignty over the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Dima Khalidi discusses Trump’s support for banning entry to Occupied West Bank on the basis of political opinion, such as Ilhan Omar's and Rashida Tlaib's support for the boycott movement against Israel. In the process, Trump also implicitly supports Israeli sovereignty over the Occupied Palestinian Territory


How Trump and Netanyahu Undermine Freedom of Speech

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

The outrage over Israel banning two US Congresswomen from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory continues. The role played by President Trump in this story was not limited only to him pressuring Netanyahu to ban Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, but also with a tweet in which Trump mocked Tlaib saying, “The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now.” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftia Tlaib, responded as follows.

MUFTIA TLAIB: May God ruin him. I was happy that she was coming. I was excited that she was coming for her grandmother to see her.

GREG WILPERT:  To discuss some of the legal and political aspects of this story, we are joined now from Chicago by Dima Khalidi. She’s the founder and Director of Palestine Legal. Thanks for joining us today, Dima.

DIMA KHALIDI: Good to be with you.

GREG WILPERT: So, many news channels pointed out that Trump’s calling on Netanyahu to ban the entry of two Muslim Congresswomen is similar to his own attempt to ban Muslims from entering the United States. However, the Israeli law that was used to justify Netanyahu’s ban is a law that is directed not only against Muslims but at anyone who supports the boycott or BDS movement against Israel. So how does this Israeli law compare to US law where freedom of speech is actually supposed to be protected under the Constitution? Or would you say that there’s an effort now to limit freedom of speech in the US just as it happened with the Israeli law that bans BDS supporters?

DIMA KHALIDI: There’s no question that there are widespread efforts to undermine our rights to join collectively and work towards social change. The Trump administration in particular and the right wing in this country is operating on many levels to undermine our ability to organize and dissent against the government’s policies. So we’re seeing that certainly in the case of those who advocate for Palestinian rights who are facing innumerable obstacles to doing so, and this includes 27 states that have enacted laws that punish people who support boycotts for Palestinian rights. We’re seeing this in legislation that is punishing, criminalizing Indigenous activists and environmental activists protesting pipelines, what is called Critical Infrastructure Legislation.

We’re seeing that in so-called campus free speech legislation that purports to protect free speech, but is really trying to punish protests, in particular against white nationalist and far-right unpopular speakers on campuses. So this is very indicative of a trend that we’re seeing. Trump, in particular, wants to punish his ideological, his political opponents, and he asked for Netanyahu’s help in doing so in this case. But we’re seeing that happen across the board, where dissent is being undermined and our right to dissent is being undermined.

GREG WILPERT: I just want to follow up on what you’re saying about the efforts in the United States to block this kind of freedom of speech, especially among people who are opposed to various policies of the Trump administration. Is this something that is being challenged on a court level? And if so, how do you see the chances of these kinds of law surviving a Supreme Court challenge at the moment, given the way the Supreme Court is composed at the moment?

DIMA KHALIDI: Well, we’re seeing in particular with the anti-boycott laws, several challenges to the laws based on First Amendment grounds. Three federal courts so far have [inaudible] these laws from being implemented saying that boycotts for Palestinian rights are protected First Amendment speech activities, just like the Supreme Court decided boycotts against white businesses in Mississippi were protected First Amendment activities. So it’s a really important legal battle that is playing out.

There was a case in the Eighth Circuit, so it will be appealed and it is very possible that it will go to the Supreme Court. These issues are central to the debate around free speech in this country. And if we allow this roll back on our rights to engage collectively in social change movements, we’re going to be in trouble. It’s Palestinian rights today, but what will be next? And we’re seeing a similar situation with Critical Infrastructure bills, where protecting companies is more important than protecting our right to stop environmental degradation, and the further degradation of Native lands.

GREG WILPERT: Now I wanted to turn to the issue, more of the international issue. That is, an important aspect of this story is that Tlaib and Omar never intended to visit Israel itself. They made it very clear that they wanted to visit the occupied West Bank. Now, the reality is that today the access to the West Bank is under complete Israeli control, but the official position of the United States is that Israel may not annex this territory or assert its sovereignty over it. However, by urging Israel to ban the Congresswomen, isn’t Trump effectively signaling that it is all right for Israel to annex or exert sovereignty over the West bank?

DIMA KHALIDI: Well, we can see from what the Trump administration has already done, that is operating in lockstep with the far-right and one of the most extremist Israeli governments in history. It has not only moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which is internationally recognized as occupied territory, it has also cut funding to UNRWA, the UN Refugee Agency for Palestinians. It has recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and numerous other policy moves that really show the Trump administration’s willingness to do what Israel wants here. And certainly, we see ideological proponents of Israel in the administration— from Trump’s son-in-law to the US Ambassador of Israel—taking these extremist positions that are contrary to decades of US foreign policy and obviously contrary to international law. So it’s very possible that we will see a continuation of this trend.

And what’s really important to see happen here is that this moment and these questions really expose what’s happening in Palestine. And what decades of activists have been trying to do to raise awareness is finally coming to the fore, and it’s beginning to effect the discourse around us in the United States. And we have to protect that movement and the ability of people to influence policy on this issue.

GREG WILPERT: That’s actually a very interesting point that – and actually I just want to elaborate a little more on that. Not all Palestinians in the world or in the US are as famous as Representative Rashida Tlaib, but what about the millions of Palestinians who are banned from visiting their homeland— let alone returning to it in accordance to UN Resolution 194? What can you tell us about the legal right of Palestinians to visit Palestine at the moment?

DIMA KHALIDI: For us, we represent people in the United States who are advocating for Palestinian freedom and are facing all kinds of suppression for doing so. And so, for us, it’s not unusual to see Israel’s discriminatory policies effecting people’s ability to see their families in Palestine. So, really, it’s a matter of talking about Israel’s existence relying on these much broader bans. For seven decades, it has not allowed Palestinians who fled their homes or were kicked out of their homes in 1948 and since then to return. And it has not only prevented Palestinians and Palestinian Americans, but their allies as well from entering Palestine. And the reason is that they don’t want people to witness what’s happening. And they recognize that seeing the facts on the ground, seeing what’s happening with their own eyes, really exposes what’s wrong with the US-Israeli relationship, and will work to undermine that.

So this is very clearly an attempt by Israel and by Trump really to stop these Congresswomen from witnessing and from coming back and exposing what’s happening. Unfortunately, for them, I think it has backfired in the sense that it has opened up this wide conversation and exposed the realities of Israel’s discriminatory policies. For us, it has real consequences when we see students who are speaking out and who all of a sudden find their faces on anonymous McCarthyist websites and are denied entry into Israel because of their outspoken support for Palestinian rights. This is effecting our right to engage on this issue here. It’s chilling our speech here, our ability to criticize Israel here, when Israel practices these discriminatory and arbitrary policies denying people entry. Of course, when it comes to Congresspeople, there’s a bigger reaction. But we have to be appalled everyday by the kind of suppression happening of our advocacy for Palestinian rights.

GREG WILPERT: Okay, well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Dima Khalidi, founder and Director of Palestine Legal. Thanks again, Dima, for having joined us today.

DIMA KHALIDI: Thank you. Great to be with you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.