McCarthyism Redux: BDS and the Right to Boycott

I know how monomaniacal I sound on this topic, but I get this way when facing brazen, unapologetic McCarthyism. Some of this stuff has to be read or heard to be believed, so I simply draw these items to your attention in case you haven’t seen them, and in case, having read/seen them, you feel inclined to take appropriate action. Obviously, they’re not intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list of links on the subject, and not even meant as advocacy of BDS itself as the right tactic to adopt.

Here are two links from Democracy Now on the campaign to undermine the right to boycott. The first tells the story of Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist in Texas who lost her job after refusing to sign what amounts to a loyalty oath to Israel: “a pledge that she would ‘not boycott Israel during the term of the contract’ and that she would not take any action that is ‘intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.'”

Her lawyer points out that the oath would have been violated by her personal refusal to buy products made by Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories, or to lie about her intention to do so. It is now considered anti-Semitic in some quarters even to request (much less demand) that Israeli product labels distinguish between items manufactured in Israel proper, and those manufactured in the West Bank. Any act that tends to put boycott activity in a favorable light, or could simply be interpreted as leading to favorable consideration of it is regarded by opponents of BDS as anti-Semitic–even a request for accurate labeling. Whose rights or reputation are safe under conditions like these?

The second link describes the attempt, by Congress, to criminalize boycotts by sticking an anti-boycott provision into the forthcoming budget bill–the bill that has to be passed by Friday to avert a government shutdown:

Just to be clear: the federal provision makes it a federal crime to participate in an institutionally organized boycott of Israel.

Even The New York Times has belatedly come to see a red flag here:

Blandly put, but entirely true.

And here, finally, is a piece in a local (Jersey) paper by a friend of mine, Steve Shalom, Professor of Political Science at William Paterson University, describing his disillusionment with New Jersey’s “progressive” Senator and presidential hopeful, Cory Booker:

Though I myself have a rather wishy-washy (“complicated”) view on the merits/demerits of BDS, Steve and I are both active with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group that takes an explicitly pro-BDS stand. If the federal legislation that Booker supports were to pass, JVP would effectively become a criminal organization, and those of us associated with it would effectively become criminals or accomplices to criminality. No matter how cleverly that message is diluted, evaded, or explained away, the implication of criminality–of Thought Crime–remains.

Anti-BDS legislation is a step toward totalitarianism. That it’s a step toward totalitarianism in defense of a sectarian state like Israel makes it worse, not better. Those of us on the receiving end of this assault–whether we’re entirely in favor of BDS or not–face a long, uphill battle. Any help you can give us is help we appreciate–and help, after all, that ultimately redounds to your benefit as well as ours. Our rights are your rights, and vice versa. The violation of ours is the violation of yours, as is the defense of both. Something to consider.

4 thoughts on “McCarthyism Redux: BDS and the Right to Boycott

  1. “I get this way when facing brazen, unapologetic McCarthyism.”

    That’s odd; I would have expected you to have a soft spot in your heart for Eugene McCarthy.


    • That someone named “Shalom” belongs to the Jewish Voice for Peace seems rather appropriate. But what if his last name has been Milkhama?


      • I think Steve would be a member of JVP regardless of his last name. After all, my last name means “landlord,” and I’ve been a renter almost all my life. My first name means “mystical knowledge of God,” and we see how that’s turned out.


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