Good for Assemblyman Richard Bloom for wanting to free the orcas at Sea World and for passing legislation to protect us from toxins in our cosmetics, but thumbs down for his latest effort to chill debate on Israel Palestine.
Soon, perhaps in the next few weeks, the California legislature will vote on Bloom’s controversial bill (AB2844) “California Combatting the Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel Act of 2016.” This bill – also co-sponsored by State Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) – would bar state and local contracts with any private company boycotting Israel and its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Private companies refusing to demolish homes or run segregated bus systems in illegally occupied territory could find themselves on a government blacklist, as Bloom’s bill – reminiscent of the McCarthy era – requires the state Attorney General to keep a list of Israel boycotters.
Regardless of how one feels about Israel and its occupation – which the United Nations has deemed a violation of international law – champions of free speech must side with defenders of the U.S. Constitution, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and shudder at this bill’s potential impact on free speech, as the courts have ruled that boycotts are protected speech under the First Amendment.
Still, efforts to punish the boycotters are holding sway in Sacramento, where lawmakers are fearful of being labeled anti-Semitic if they vote against Bloom’s bill. Ironically, one of the chief opponents of the bill is Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that boasts 200,000 members and supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign for equal rights – one person, one vote – in Israel Palestine; the right of return for Palestinians exiled in 1948; and an end to the Israeli occupations.
If you look back in history, you’ll find that social movements often embrace boycotts as a non-violent tool for social change – the Civil Rights Movement’s boycott of Montgomery’s buses, the financial and cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa – primarily because these boycotts are successful. Perhaps that is what worries the backers of the anti-BDS bill the most. Since the BDS call was issued in 2005, some 170 organizations representing Palestinian civil society and thousands of organizations worldwide have joined the call to end the Israeli occupation. Several University of California campuses have voted for divestment, as has the World Council of Churches. Rocker Roger Waters will not perform in Israel, nor will Snoop Dog, nor Carlos Santana.
It’s time for Bloom and Allen – both of whom rose through the ranks of the progressive movement – to ask themselves on which side of history they want to stand – with Joseph McCarthy or Nelson Mandela?
A member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Marcy Winograd lives in Santa Monica and teaches English at Venice High School.