On Monday, Paste’s Jacob Weindling wrote about the city government of Birmingham, AL rescinding a civil rights award meant for activist Angela Davis because of protest from the “local Jewish community” and “some of its allies.” As everyone who follows local, national, or international politics knows, Davis lost her award because of pro-Israel interests that seem to rise up in coordinated opposition to anyone or any group that dares to utter a sympathetic word about Palestine, much less identify Israel as an apartheid state. Here in Durham, NC, where I live, a “citizen” recently filed a lawsuit attempting to undo a city council resolution ending police exchange programs with Israel using a loophole. It doesn’t matter how minor the issue—any perceived slight to Israel meets with opposition from groups who never seem to lack in outside financial support.
Now, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is attempting to do something much larger than mere block-to-block fighting—the very first bill of the new session, loaded with symbolic significance and sponsored by Marco Rubio (and supported by many Democrats), has nothing to do with improving the lives of ordinary Americans. In fact, it’s a foreign policy that contains as its chief measure a law that would give governments on the state and local level in America the “legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel.” The Intercept, which has done terrific reporting on this issue, notes that:
Punishment aimed at companies that choose to boycott Israel can also sweep up individual American citizens in its punitive net because individual contractors often work for state or local governments under the auspices of a sole proprietorship or some other business entity. That was the case with Texas elementary school speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who lost her job working with autistic and speech-impaired children in Austin because she refused to promise not to boycott goods produced in Israel and/or illegal Israeli settlements.
These sorts of bills have been declared unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds by two different federal courts, but if a test case is ever appealed up to the Supreme Court, the outcome would be much less certain. And with the full power of AIPAC behind such measures, you can bet they’ll push it as far as they can.
At the moment, the bill has the necessary 60 votes because of the seven Democratic co-sponsors and the support of minority “leader” Chuck Schumer. But at least one Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, is drawing a line in the sand.
As Feinstein noted, she is an Israel supporter and a Jewish-American, which makes her statement all the more important—it implicitly hits at the cheap smear that any criticism of Israel is also anti-Semitic.
The bill will go before the Senate on Tuesday, and if it passes, it will proceed to the House where it may face a sterner test in front of the Democrat-controlled chamber.