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Robert Azzi: Say it ain’t so, Maggie

  • Mary Anne Grady Flores of Ithaca, N.Y., wears tape over her mouth during a rally at the state capitol on June 15, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. Critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians protested Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order prohibiting state investments in any company that supports a boycott of Israel. AP



For the Monitor
Sunday, January 06, 2019

Protest, if you will, Chinese incarceration of more than 1 million Uighurs in “re-education” camps, the destruction of Uighur mosques and the burning of Qurans by Chinese government officials.

Protest, if you will, Myanmar’s genocide against Rohingya Muslims by asking friends not to travel to Naypyidaw for tourism.

They might not change their plans, but maybe it’ll give them pause about what they experience.

Feel free to boycott states like North Carolina and Indiana when they pass anti-LGBTQIA laws and protest, if you will, attempts to suppress the voting rights of minorities and communities of color.

Move your vacations, conventions and sports events. Write letters to the editor to protest policies designed to disenfranchise fellow Americans and, if you must, protest in the streets.

Boycott Nike, if you will, if you don’t agree with their support of Colin Kaepernick.

Sanction North Korea, Iran and Russia.

Occupy Wall Street, protest at Standing Rock, stand with Parkland’s students.

If you keep it nonviolent it’s legal – and very American.

And when your opposition protests legal acts of conscience, remind them about the prohibition of government making laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Remind them of the First Amendment, which protects all Americans, protects nonviolent protest and speech.

At least it’s supposed to work that way.

Texas resident Bahia Amawi, who evaluates young children with language difficulties, is an Austria-born American who’s lived in America for 30 years and is the mother of four American-born children.

In 2009, Amawi began working with the Pflugerville Independent School District to assess and support school children within the county’s Arabic-speaking immigrant community.

This year, as customary, Pflugerville offered to extend her contract for another year.

Amawi was prepared to sign the renewal until she read she was required to affirm that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

Texas was insisting Amawi must sign a loyalty oath as a condition of employment, an oath that would bar Amawi – or any American signing such a contract – not only from deliberately not buying Israeli goods but, most egregiously, also from any Israeli companies operating in the illegally occupied West Bank, in Gaza, in East Jerusalem.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, as he signed the 2017 bill, said, “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

It’s not just Texas.

In 2016, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing N.Y. state agencies to terminate business with companies or organizations that support an Israeli boycott: “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you.”

Twenty-six states have enacted similar laws; similar bills are pending in another 13 and, ominously, lurking in Congress is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S.720, designed to punish Americans who choose to nonviolently boycott Israel over its illegal settlement and occupation policies, even though the Anti-Defamation League has called such laws “ineffective, unworkable, unconstitutional and bad for the Jewish community.”

S.720 – in direct contradiction of our constitutional right to freedom of speech and dissent – would impose civil and criminal penalties on American companies and organizations that participate in boycotts supporting Palestinian rights and opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

S.720, the Cardin-Portman bill, is co-sponsored by 58 senators, including by our own Sen. Maggie Hassan.

Say it ain’t so, Maggie!

Israel, which aggressively opposes the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement – calling it anti-Semitic in spite of its Jewish supporters – has recently, in a truly “democratic” move, passed a law baring entry to foreigners – even Jews – who publicly support BDS.

In July 2018, in opposition to Israel’s position, 41 mostly left-wing Jewish organizations published a letter decrying “attacks (that) too often take the form of cynical and false accusations of anti-Semitism that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid.”

Many of Israel’s supporters, including many American Jews – including many in New Hampshire – oppose Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and refuse to buy products from settlements in occupied territories.

S.720 denies them that right, and violates our First Amendment rights.

Are you listening, Maggie?

It’s about all of us. Whatever one’s own views are – pro or con – it’s important to recognize BDS as a nonviolent global political movement modeled on the 1980s movement that helped end racial apartheid in South Africa.

It isn’t about Israel’s right to exist – it’s about resistance to illegal occupation and social justice.

It works.

The American Civil Liberties Union says S.720’s First Amendment wording is non-binding and “leaves intact key provisions which would impose civil and criminal penalties on companies, small business owners, nonprofits and even people acting on their behalf who engage in or otherwise support certain political boycotts.”

Amawi, when asked by The Intercept if she considered signing the contract answered, “Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.”

Please listen, Maggie. Please listen.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)