Photo: ANSWER Coalition

The government shutdown has created hardship for millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed, making their lives and the lives of their families precarious. Over a million families living in public housing could lose their housing. Yet, the first bill put together by the U.S. Senate in 2019 is not about giving relief to federal workers, it is about making it illegal to criticize Israel.

Senate Bill 1, shows where the priorities of the U.S. ruling class and its representatives lie. They are more concerned about stifling dissent than meeting the needs of the people. This bill, sponsored by Democrats and Republicans alike, is the first piece of legislation scheduled to be acted on by the upper house of the 116th Congress.

The bill contains the “Combating BDS Act of 2019,” which supports state anti-BDS laws mandating that all contractors working for the state agree to not participate in any BDS activity while under contract. The effect of this is that individuals contracted to provide services to the state are barred from BDS activity even in their personal lives.

On Jan. 8, fearing their own base as hardships inflicted on working people by the government shutdown entered the third week, Senate Democrats  blocked voting on the bill until after the shutdown crisis is over. The bill, however, clearly shows the priorities of both Democratic and Republican politicians.

Bill attacks Boycott, Sanctions and Divest movement

The act seeks federal legislation to strengthen laws passed by 26 states requiring any company or individual doing business with the state to pledge not to engage in any form of boycott of the state of Israel. It is a direct response to the growing success of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions call made by Palestinian civil society in response to the illegal occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the denial of Palestinians’ equal rights in Israel and their right to return to their homes there.  These state laws, and SB 1, have been denounced by many civil rights and free-speech advocates including the mainstream Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

One of the more well-known victims of these state laws is Bahia Amawi, a Texas speech pathologist who was fired from her job of nine years when she refused to sign a no Israel boycott pledge as a consequence of a 2017 Texas anti-BDS law. Amawi is now suing the local school board for a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.

SB 1 and the state laws are an attempt to silence voices in solidarity with the Palestinian people because the call by Palestinian civil society reiterates three basic demands that have the backing of the international community:

  1. End Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the apartheid wall in the West Bank;
  2. Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

U.S. ignores world opinion, international law

U.S. politicians often like to refer to the will of the “international community” and the “rule of law” when it cobbles together a coalition of imperialist powers to carry out  acts of genocide like the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Iraq, or the destruction of Libya. Yet the U.S. government and its capitalist politicians willfully ignore world public opinion and the law when it does not meet the imperialist agenda of occupation and exploitation.

In 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, citing manifold violations of international law, concluded, “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Amnesty International has called for an end to the blockade of Gaza since 2007. In 2004, the International Criminal Court in The Hague called the wall built by Israel around the Gaza Strip illegal and a breach of international law.

Israel responded to being called out on its legal violations by thumbing its nose. In 2018, the Knesset passed the nation-state law, which codifies that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination inside Israel, making apartheid the formal rule of law in Israel, and completely disregarding the right of the 1.4 million Palestinians living inside the Zionist state for full equality. At the same time, Israel has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and continues to blow up Palestinian home inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.

It can do this because it has powerful backers in Washington. The U.S. government pressured the UN administration to disassociate itself from the 2017 ESCWA report on Israeli apartheid, and remove the report from its website. Israel has the upper hand in any military conflict with the Palestinian people because the Zionist state has received tens of billions of U.S. dollars in direct and indirect aid since its creation in 1948. And now, in addition to the “Combating BDS Act,” the same pending Senate bill also affirms that Israel will continue to receive $3.3 billion a year in U.S. aid for the next 10 years.

Why government and corporate anti-Semites back Israel

U.S. imperialism’s support of Israeli apartheid is not based on concern for Jewish people or fighting anti-Semitism. Instead, Israel is seen as playing a unique role for the United States in the Middle East as a watchdog against, and a punisher of, the Arab revolution in this strategic and oil-rich area of the world. This has been the case for every U.S. administration, Democratic or Republican, since Israel’s formation on stolen Palestinian land in 1948.

The Senate’s legislation ignores the fact that many Jewish people and some Jewish groups in the U.S. support BDS. Here, Code Pink unfurls a banner by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: twitter.com

Today, open anti-Semitism is officially taboo in U.S. politics, but it has always been a characteristic of the upper echelons of the super-rich, along with white nationalism and other forms of racism. Open anti-Semitism was made less taboo by Trump when he responded to the 2017 resistance of anti-racist forces to the violent attack by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, with “there were good people on both sides.” The night before the attack, the white nationalists had marched through Charlottesville chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.

Palestinian struggle will not be stopped

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, referring to the displaced Palestine people in 1949, said, “The old will die and the young will forget.” For over 70 years, the Palestinian people have resisted the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the forced displacement from their homeland, living under military rule, administrative detention, and genocidal policies of collective punishment and blockade. The old have passed on the history of the Palestinian people and the young have learned, remembered and continued the fight for self-determination.

While the U.S. imperialists and their Zionist partners in Israel are confident in their military superiority, they are worried about the perception of Israel around the world, most importantly in the United States. No military prowess can prevent the liberation of Palestine if the world’s people actively turn against the Zionist state of Israel and support the Palestinian people.

Sanctions helped destroy South African apartheid

This fear among the Israeli and U.S. ruling class over the BDS movement’s call for the non-violent tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions, references a similar campaign used by the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, which made the apartheid state of South Africa a pariah in the international community.

The anti-Apartheid BDS movement shined an unfavorable light on U.S. imperialism as a partner of the legal segregated society of apartheid South Africa. It was only in the last years of the rule of that apartheid regime that the United States, forced by the strength of the struggle, acknowledged the grassroots sanctions movement. Until the fall of apartheid, Nelson Mandela and the ANC were considered enemies of the U.S. government.

Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism, it is opposing racism

Israeli leaders, the U.S. capitalist class and its bought politicians, and Zionist organizations and supporters fear the same for the Israeli regime if the current BDS campaign succeeds.

This is why Israel and its supporters seek to falsely charge any person or organization that supports the just demands of BDS, takes an pro-Palestinian position, or makes even the most modest of criticisms of Israel with being “anti-Semitic.”

Equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has been a tactic for the leaders of Israel even before the state of Israel existed. In looking to establish the state of Israel, the Zionists could not afford any discussion about the racist and colonial nature of their views and the consequences for the existing population in Palestine.

There is opposition to anti-BDS legislation among some liberal sectors. Senators Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein have voiced opposition to the proposed Senate law while denouncing the BDS movement. This is because suppression of free speech is not a good image for the United States, which proclaims itself to be the promoter of freedom and democracy around the globe.

The rescinding of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to Angela Davis by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute under Zionist pressure is the latest example of how fearful the Zionists are of solidarity with the Palestinian people. If a prominent anti-racist activist such as Angela Davis, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, is honored by the civil rights movement, it questions the smear campaign of anti-Semitism used to stifle pro-Palestinian voices.

But this attack on Davis has backfired amid the outrage of anti-racist activists, including Jewish groups and individuals. The Birmingham City Council issued a statement denouncing the group’s rescinding of the award, and other forces in that city, where Davis was so active, are organizing another event honoring her.

SB1 needs to be exposed and fought. But even if passed, no law can overturn reality. The Palestinian cause will remain a just one, deserving support from all people.  International solidarity will remain an important tool, not only for the Palestinian people but for all who suffer from racism and imperialism.

The U.S. ruling class and its politicians are the enemy of the people of Palestine and the United States.

Boycot, Divest and Sanction Israel! Free Palestine! Long Live International Solidarity!