Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign combating Israeli human rights abuses and violations of international law. The resolution contained dishonest language smearing one of the movement’s most prominent advocates, Omar Barghouti, and inaccurately depicted the international non-violent movement for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people as designed to undermine peace. At the same time, it acknowledged that “boycotts and similar tools aimed at promoting racial justice and social change have been used effectively in the United States, South Africa, and other parts of the world.”
The resolution received bipartisan support, with 398 votes in favor and 17 against. Most disturbingly, the votes in favor included 77 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of 95 voting House Members supposedly united behind the “Progressive Promise” of “Fairness for All.”
Though the resolution is technically non-binding, its effect will be -- and without a doubt, its intention was -- to chill protest at the grassroots level. By passing a resolution depicting BDS as dangerous and threatening, 398 representatives have sought to undermine a protest movement for human rights by sending the message that the full weight and political machinery of the U.S. government will do everything in its power to overpower and overwhelm the grassroots movement for peace and justice. This is only the most recent instance of opponents of BDS and allies of the Israeli government seeking to silence critics without having to engage with their arguments or hear their demands.
This resolution comes as 27 states have passed anti-boycott laws (including five executive orders issued by governors), which numerous federal judges have found violate the First Amendment. At the same time, private citizens and right-wing advocacy groups -- emboldened by displays of support from the highest levels of government -- have deployed the machinery of the federal government to silence critics of Israeli policies.
With each new lawsuit and piece of legislation, it becomes clearer and clearer: those in power rightfully fear that when calls for peace and justice are heard and the truth comes out, the tide will turn and the public will demand justice and accountability.
After a grassroots advocacy campaign led by Palestinian activists, Airbnb announced that it would no longer list homes in illegal settlements for rent on its website. They immediately faced a lawsuit from Israeli settlers – who filed claims of racial discrimination against Airbnb. In the face of legal bullying, Airbnb quickly backed down, agreeing to re-list Israeli settler properties, even though those properties are on Palestinian land. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the original Palestinian landowners, who are asserting that they deserve a voice in court proceedings, and who brought claims against the settlers who listed their stolen properties on Airbnb. We are currently awaiting a ruling on whether their claims can be heard.
When the American Studies Association (ASA), a private, academic organization, decided to honor the call of Palestinian civil society and endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, four members sued the organization and even named Dr. Steven Salaita, a prominent Palestinian-American scholar who joined the board after the vote, as a defendant. The Center for Constitutional Rights is defending Dr. Salaita, and arguing that the lawsuit is an attempt to silence advocacy on an issue of public interest – in this case, the human rights of Palestinians – and should be dismissed under Washington, D.C.’s Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Act.
Given the current global trend toward authoritarianism, it is unconscionable that 77 self-described “progressives” in the House of Representatives would choose to prioritize silencing dissent, rather than protecting it. Both in the U.S. and around the world, right-wing populists have borrowed two central tenets from fascists before them: militarized nationalism, and the deployment of the full machinery of government to silence dissent. Across movements of resistance, progressives and advocates for social justice – including those 77 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – have insisted on the right to protest and demand an end to oppression. Why do advocates for the human rights of Palestinian deserve any less?
Why are those 77 members – and the 321 others who voted in favor – so afraid of Palestinian peoples’ human rights advocacy? What is the critique that they feel so threatened by, that they choose to silence it from the highest levels of government? Earlier that week, the Israeli government carried out the demolition of at least 10 apartment buildings, holding 70 apartments, on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, evicting and leaving homeless the Palestinian residents, including children, who called them home. This is in addition to the more than 60 Palestinian homes that the Israeli government has already destroyed in East Jerusalem this year and the ongoing, rapid expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In the face of these Israeli government policies, rather than express outrage, 77 self-proclaimed “progressives” borrowed a tactic from an authoritarian playbook to drown out voices before they could be heard -- voices calling for social justice and human rights.
Can they really call themselves “progressive?”