Those of us who follow these issues are likely already aware of the sustained “lawfare” campaign currently being conducted by pro-Israel special interests. That being said, I think a lot of people are out of the loop on the goings on, and I would like to highlight a particularly troublesome trend: Where criticizing the behavior of another nation state can land you in hot legal water, even in a country where criticizing your own government carries no legal consequences.
As Glenn Greenwald notes in this Intercept article,
THIS TREND TO outlaw activism against the decadeslong Israeli occupation — particularly though not only through boycotts against Israel — has permeated multiple Western nations and countless institutions within them. In October, we reported on the criminal convictions in France of 12 activists “for the ‘crime’ of advocating sanctions and a boycott against Israel as a means of ending the decadeslong military occupation of Palestine,” convictions upheld by France’s highest court. They were literally arrested and prosecuted for “wearing shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Long live Palestine, boycott Israel’” and because “they also handed out fliers that said that ‘buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.’”
As we noted, Pascal Markowicz, chief lawyer of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, published this celebratory decree (emphasis in original): “BDS is ILLEGAL in France.” Statements advocating a boycott or sanctions, he added, “are completely illegal. If [BDS activists] say their freedom of expression has been violated, now France’s highest legal instance ruled otherwise.” In Canada last year, officials threatened criminal prosecution against anyone supporting boycotts against Israel.
In the U.S., unbeknownst to many, there are similar legislative proscriptions on such activism, and a pending bill would strengthen the outlawing of BDS. As the Washington Post reported last June, “A wave of anti-BDS legislation is sweeping the U.S.” Numerous bills in Congress encourage or require state action to combat BDS.
So I can’t mince words when I say, “illegal,” because it already is depending on what borders happen to surround you at this moment. Here in the US, I don’t think it will withstand legal challenge, but that challenge has to happen first, and while I’m optimistic in some ways, I feel that the courts in the US are increasingly untrustworthy with free speech issues. I don’t like to be alarmist, but in a country where the laws are contemplated seriously without major objection, there is always a chance they will be upheld. This is a serious issue, especially from an international humanitarian perspective. If you think Israel is going to be exceptional in this regard, I’d argue that you have another thing coming. Other countries will clamor for this special treatment, and it’s going to be hard to rationalize this special status.
In a way, we’ve already had this debate with regards to The Interview and North Korea. This country seemed prepared to go to war over the rights of a few filmmakers to create a silly movie. But if you argue for a boycott of another nation over human rights abuses, suddenly you’re the enemy of the state? There’s something deeply wrong with that. I have to add: The people who are pursuing this course of action are undermining their own cause. People who have the moral high ground don’t usually get so desperate to silence their critics.