New Law Would Track International Movement to Boycott Israel
Josh Ruebner says fears over the impact of the new law are overblown but many more anti-BDS measures are being considered nationwide
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Wednesday President Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which includes a provision that bars the U.S. government from cooperating with entities that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, known as the BDS campaign, targeting Israel. The move is connected to a recent surge of legislative moves by Canada, the UK, and France, to stifle the BDS movement. Many are speculating that such motions condemning BDS might eventually lead to the criminalization of BDS activists, as has already occurred in places like France.
Joining us now to discuss this is Josh Ruebner. Josh is the policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Josh, thank you so much for joining us today.
JOSH RUEBNER: Thank you so much for having me.
PERIES: So, Josh, let’s start off with getting the facts about this. The bill is really to deal with a whole host of trade regulatory issues. But this provision in the bill, how will it be used and by whom?
RUEBNER: Well, I actually don’t think that it’s very significant, what was passed into law and signed by President Obama this week, in terms of actually impinging upon Americans’ First Amendment protected right to engage in freedom of speech, to engage in and advocate for boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel and corporations that profit from its oppression of Palestinians.
In fact, the provision that you mentioned in the bill that was passed is actually very limited in scope. It just sets up what are the foreign barriers to trade with Israel, and what the United States is doing to encourage, or rather discourage, foreign governments and international organizations from engaging in boycott, divestment, and sanctions. But it doesn’t in any way affect the widespread grassroots movement in the United States advocating for BDS.
PERIES: And then how do you explain this round that’s going on in terms of France, UK, Canada passing a motion just last week, in a similar vein?
RUEBNER: Well, no doubt there is a concerted internationally coordinated effort underway to try to put a lid on the BDS movement. And in a recent interview that was in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, it actually was publicized that it’s the Israeli foreign ministry that is actually engaging in these efforts, along with its allies, to try to pass this anti-BDS legislation around the world. And in fact, we’re looking at more than one dozen federal-level anti-BDS bills and resolutions that are currently in play in Congress. And there are approximately a dozen state-level anti-BDS initiatives as well, calling for the boycott of entities that engage in support of the BDS movement, calling for state divestment against entities and corporations that support BDS against Israel.
So it is very significant. But there was a lot of puffery done on the part of AIPAC to really inflate the significance of what took place in this latest bill.
PERIES: Now, Josh, you mentioned that you were concerned about some of the measures being taken by some of the state governments in terms of the BDS campaign. Why were you so concerned?
RUEBNER: Well, we’re seeing right now in states such as California, in New York, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona, that all of these legislatures are debating legislations and bills right now that would do one or both of two things. Number one, it would basically boycott the boycotters. In other words, if you support a boycott of Israel then you will be ineligible to do business with the state, and/or setting up a situation where the state would create a blacklist of companies that support BDS, and then divest state pension funds from those companies as punishment for those companies exercising their freedom of speech, and exercising their moral right not to profit from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
PERIES: And last October, France’s highest appeals court criminalized the BDS campaign and upheld a ruling convicting 12 activists who were boycotting Israeli products. Would you say we are headed in that direction?
RUEBNER: No, I don’t think so, because I think that we have a stronger First Amendment freedom of speech heritage, and protection and rights in the United States than in other European countries. I think that the degree to which Americans are free to engage in political speech [militates] in our favor in terms of advocating against these type of anti-free speech pieces of legislation. And in fact, the Supreme Court ruled in a case in the 1980s that was brought against the NAACP for their organizing of a boycott of a hardware store that these types of political boycotts are on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values in this country.
PERIES: All right, Josh. I thank you so much for joining us today and explaining this, and actually defusing it a bit. I appreciate it.
RUEBNER: Thank you very much for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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