Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Louis B. Brandeis Center website.
Last week the British government issued guidance banning local government and public sector Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) actions toward any country not blacklisted by the Foreign Office. The Canadian Parliament passed a motion calling on the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” …… Seven U.S. states have now passed laws condemning or forbidding BDS- type actions. Building on these victories, the anti-Semitic by another name BDS movement may yet be defeated.
The Counter BDS (“Counter BDS”) forces are garnering significant legislative victories. The British ban stands out for several reasons. As Britain is Israel’s fourth largest trading partner, the guidance protects an important economic relationship. The British government’s directive makes clear that this decision is mandated by international treaty, in this case, the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement, which requires that all signatories treat partner governments equally. As an European Union member (if only for the moment), Britain’s directive may embolden other EU members into adopting a similar policy.
Emphasizing the illegality of a British public sector boycott of Israel is something Counter BDS groups need to follow. For over a decade BDS advocates have wrapped themselves up in humanitarian and legal disguises which permits them to take a 1984 -Newspeak moral high ground. By pointing out the fallacy of BDS pronouncements, the British government has demonstrated the illegitimacy of many anti-Israel BDS arguments. Moreover local councils are never elected because of their foreign policy platforms and to say that they have the democratic power to make such decisions is a Bolshevik/Hard Left argument which one hoped had disappeared in the last century.
The Canadian parliamentary resolution is important for different reasons. It attacks the moral basis of the BDS movement when it urges the Canadian government to condemn BDS actions. Counter BDS needs to regain the moral legitimacy BDS has stolen. Look at the statement of the Reverend James Moos, speaking for the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination in the USA, which voted in favor of an Israeli divestment resolution last June 2015: “The United Church of Christ condemns all forms of violence and anti-Semitism, and affirms Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders…. “We similarly assert the right of Palestinians to have a sovereign, independent and viable state within secure and recognized borders.” Moos speaks as if Israel has rejected Palestinian overtures for peace in order to launch attacks on its peaceful neighbor. In reality, Israel is the legal occupier of the territories until the Palestinians come to the peace table and recognize the right of Israel to exist, something no Palestinian leader has ever agreed to in Arabic.
The state legislature laws are a significant US victory for Counter BDS. Illinois’ new law stops the state’s pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel. Similarly, the South Carolina legislature has passed legislation banning the state from entering into contracts with companies that participate in political boycotts generally. Tennessee’s General Assembly and New York’s State’s Assembly condemned BDS.
The U.S. Congress has taken action, including anti-BDS language in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015. While President Obama opposed some of them in a signing statement, his words have no legal effect and can clearly be disregarded by the next president. Meanwhile, Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) introduced the “Combating BDS Act of 2016” (S.2531 and H.R.4514), bills “which seek to authorize state and local governments to divest assets from and prohibit investment in any entity that ‘engages in a commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.’” As a leading BDS advocate says, this bill is dangerous because: “First, they seek to proactively prevent the doctrine of preemption from being employed in the future to invalidate state-level anti-BDS laws. This doctrine holds that federal law takes precedence over state law when the two are in conflict. By passing the Combating BDS Act, Congress would align federal law with emerging state law to prevent this potential conflict from arising in the future. Second, the bills attempt to immunize state and local governments from legal challenges by corporations which may be harmed by state divestment.”
Counter BDS now has a strong base on which to build. These laws stop anti-Israel economic boycotts (reinforcing explicit decades- long U.S. policy), de-legitimize BDS’s attempt to delegitimize Israel and also assist Counter BDS in its fight to prevent new BDS resolutions on college campuses and in other venues as well.
Photo by raysto