Land of the free

18 Dec

This post also features in OffGuardian

The map below shows the spread across the USA of laws against support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. It was compiled by Palestine Legal, an organisation dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Americans who speak out for Palestinian freedom. 

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One state with anti BDS legislation on its books is Texas. Says The Intercept:

The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel. That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.

The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas state Rep. Phil King, said at the time that its application to hurricane relief was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.

Here’s what Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, had to say as he signed King’s bill into law on May 2, 2017:

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Now meet Bahia Amawi, a speech therapist in the lone star state. Having lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel, she’s suing the state of Texas in a bid to repeal the law which compelled an Austin school district to fire her for so refusing.

Says the Times of Israel:

Amawi worked with the local Arabic-speaking community at the Pflugerville Independent School District since 2009, on a contract basis. She told the news site that the district renewed her contract each year without incident, but when she received the documents for the 2018-19 school year in August, Amawi said it included a new clause requiring that she “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and 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 Israel, or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

Washington Post has Pflugerville District, which alongside State Attorney General Ken Paxton is in the firing line of Amawi’s lawsuit, saying:

This language is required by the State of Texas for all school districts in Texas, along with other governmental entities. Unfortunately … all Texas school districts are at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law, and in situations such as this, we are forced to spend time on state political issues and not on our core mission — educating students.”

Nor is Bahia Amawi the only one suffering here. The Intercept tells us that:

Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their conditions and treatment needs.

The Intercept goes on to quote Amawi directly:

If I [signed the pledge] 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.

… the point of boycotting any products that support Israel is to put pressure on Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people”

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Three comments.  One is that though the hard left was in the main always opposed to the Israeli State, or at any rate its policies on the Palestinians, the liberal left tended, mindful of recent European history, not only to support it but give it a blank cheque on whatever it deemed had to be done. That began to change after the Shatila and Sabra camp massacres in Lebanon, 1982. Since then its acts have seen the weight of liberal and centre left opinion steadily tilting away from Israel, to the point where the Jewish State is approaching a position once the preserve of South Africa. Israel is vulnerable, despite the support of Western ruling elites, to grassroots boycott. Recognition that, for all its hasbara, Israel is losing the propaganda war is the context in which anti BDS legislation within its ally and primary underwriter1 should be seen.

Another is that this shift is analagous to that much wider change which has seen mainstream Western media slowly losing their grip on our hearts and minds. Thanks to the rise of the internet – with its triple whammy of vastly extended choice of news sources, many-to-many social media and, related but distinct, threat to revenues for corporate media’s two hundred year old business model – a ruling class monopoly on opinion formation and manufactured consent is weakened. This poses problems for a status quo loaded massively in favour of the few against the many. (All the more so when, as now, war drums are beating.) Like those anti BDS laws the war on fake news is best understood as early skirmish within conflicts greater, more fraught and ultimately more far reaching in significance.

But one of capitalism’s many dialectics is that for all its terrifying instability, it is extraordinarily adaptive in its Borg-like ability to accommodate all – or at any rate most – opposition. Not to mention its own crimes. Which brings me back to the issue at hand. Given more confidence in the survival of our species – and liberal democracy – I’d offer generous odds on Bahia Amawi being granted, half a century from now, Rosa Parks status.2

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  1. It almost goes without saying that as descriptors of America’s relationship with Israel, “ally and underwriter” are far from exhaustive.
  2. One BTL comment in the OffGuardian version of this piece speaks of Amawi as worthy of “far more respect than those US lawmakers”. I just – 16:45 on Xmas Eve – did a search on “Bahia Amawi” to find two things. One was that Israel’s liberal newspaper Haaretz agrees. See Carolina Landsmann, December 21. The other was ten pages of Google returns on that search with not one Graun or Beeb instantiation. When I then searched on “Bahia Amawi Guardian” and “Bahia Amawi BBC” I got nil, zero, zilch. Recall that these crusaders for truth and decency were sanctimony incarnate in their demands that Jeremy cleanse the Labour Party of antisemitism. Funny old world, innit?

4 Replies to “Land of the free

  1. The power that Israel has over the US government is staggering, and over the years I’ve seen Israel carry out more and more acts of unrestrained violence and human rights abuses but its influence has only increased, not only with US governments but with many countries around the world.

    I agree that social media and the internet is slowly changing hearts and minds of the public but governments seem almost impossible to change their views and one can only conclude that this must surely be because they are influenced by something other than truth and reality! BDS movement is so vehemently opposed by Israel that it accuses those involved in it of denying that Israel has a right to exist and in being anti Israel ! Again it’s accepted without any challenge by the US as per you article.

    BDS aims to change the behaviour of Israel towards Palestinian people, it’s not questioning Israel’s right to exist.

    South Africa was subjected to the same, because we wanted them to change thier behaviour towards people based on thier colour, not because we questioned the right of South Africa to exist !

    • Good points Mahboob, though I’d caution against a one-sided understanding of your first paragraph. It’s true the “friends of Israel” lobby has enormous clout. It is not only feared in the Beltway but can take scalps in the British Labour Party. The words Ken and Livingstone come to mind!

      Such realities lead some observers – not all of them antisemitic – to claim the USA to be a vassal of Israel. This ignores a reality likewise ignored by liberal opponents of Israel’s illegal occupations and apartheid practices. The USA and its junior partners are rapacious imperialist powers. Nowhere more so than in the middle east, where in the name of peace and/or humanitarianism they have sought by all means necessary – see the early paragraphs of part one of my unfinished series, Why the West Hates Putin – to control the oil rich region. In this respect Israel, like Saudi Arabia, is a client state of the West in general, USA in particular. The importance of both as regional gendarmes was boosted by the fall of the Shah in 1979, and has only increased since then.

      Which is not to say the many sided relations end there. Israel is also trading partner and major arms exporter (importer too, by way of credit transfers which make Lockheed Martin and what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex rich at the expense of US taxpayers). Last but not least the IDF’s experience, gained over sixty years in the occupied territories, has spawned a lucrative business in training other repressive states – doubtless including yours and mine – in the gentle art of counter insurgency.

      The complexity of such realities points to the need to move away from understanding the world in purely nation terms. True socialists, which is to say internationalists, have always understood this of course. But even socialist understandings of the relations between state and capital are premised on theoretical work not seriously updated for a century. It seems to me that major theoretical and empirical work, on the nature of the state in the age of advanced imperialism, is long overdue. Problems in characterising the relationship between Tel Aviv/Jerusalem and Washington/Wall Street are a case in point.

  2. I have always believed and still do that the US was both opportunistic and part owned and directed by the Zionist extremist cabal in 1948 and was the willing conspirator in the establishment of a friendly US part owned military forward base in the ME – Israel, in other words. Too little has changed in this arrangement and the Israel experiment is as useful now in the Imperialist agenda as it was then. For as long as this statement of my belief can be shown as being true, all the Imperialist exploiters will continue to turn a blind eye to Israeli atrocities and Human Rights Violations, even to the extent of introducing anti Human Rights Laws against their own people.

    TPTB within these regimes such as EU Bloc countries and the US, do not care what the masses think, only what they do (think yellow vests) and until those masses do something in defiance of those holding power, Israel will be allowed to continue its flagrant disregard for humanitarian concerns, much the same as those countries supporting it.

    Although I have no great intellect, just basic 101 observation, any comparison between the disgusting Apartheid state of S. Africa and equally appalling rogue state of Israel is a total waste of time. S.Africa was expendable as far as the power brokers were concerned, Israel is not, it is strategically and dependently useful.

    • Good point you make in that final paragraph, Susan. (I can’t for the life of me see why you so frequently throw in that “no great intellect” disclaimer.) My comparison of the two states is confined to the metric of moral opprobrium.

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