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Anti-Israel Groups Team Up to Attack Florida’s Anti-Boycott Legislation

A collection of anti-Israel groups have teamed up to undermine a bill prohibiting the state of Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

Florida House Bill 527, which bars “local governmental entities from entering into contracts with companies” that participate in a boycott of the Jewish state, passed the state’s House Appropriations Committee unanimously, the Sun Sentinel reported on Thursday.

The bill is not expected to currently affect many, if any, companies in Florida, with its co-sponsor state Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D) indicating that it was more of a “preventative measure” to block future initiatives by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Launched in 2005, BDS aims to stigmatize and isolate Israel through social, economic, and political boycotts until it accedes to a number of unilateral Palestinian demands. Critics of the campaign have accused it of being discriminatory in tone and intention, and pointed out that many of its leaders have publicly affirmed that they seek Israel’s destruction. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a hard-line opponent of the two-state solution, said in 2014 that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance,” while leading activist As’ad Abu Khalil acknowledged in 2012 that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.”

A coalition of pro-BDS groups including Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have partnered with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a bid to defeat HB 527, and sent representatives to attend the appropriations committee hearing on Wednesday. According to the Sentinel, some members of SJP told the committee that the bill infringed on their right to free speech. However, as HB 527 does not outlaw boycotts of Israel, but rather establishes that tax-payer money should not be involved in such efforts, the committee rejected their argument.

The coalition also launched a website called “Stop Joe’s Bill” in an attempt to stop passage of the Senate version of the anti-BDS legislation, which is sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron (R). The website describes BDS as an effort to “shed light on the apartheid conditions” faced by Palestinians, and features a video that calls Israel a “hyper militaristic paraiah state.”

The rhetoric echoes language routinely employed by many of the individual groups in the coalition, which have previously faced charges of whitewashing Palestinian terrorism and engaging in anti-Semitic discrimination.

“SJP and/or its members spend almost all of their energy demonizing Israel, advocating for its eventual destruction, showing an unfortunate affinity for pro-terrorist figures, bullying and intimidating pro-Israel and Jewish students with vicious and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric, and even at times engaging in physical violence,” wrote Daniel Mael in the October 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, adding that the group previously sponsored an event featuring a known fundraiser for the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.

FOSNA, an arm of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center founded by Palestinian priest Naim Ateek, has faced similar charges. “Ateek’s theology, which supposedly challenges a literal understanding of the Old Testament as a ‘Zionist text,’ features violent imagery that depicts Jewish acts of deicide as well as forceful repudiations of Jewish national self-determination,” wrote Shiri Moshe in The Tower Magazine in June 2015. “In one particularly memorable address, he compared Israel’s creation to Original Sin, and contested that Judaism does not teach its adherents to love non-Jews.” Ateek’s goal is to spread “Palestinian nationalist agenda within churches worldwide” through Sabeel, Yitzchak Santis of the watchdog group NGO Monitor wrote in an op-ed for The Tower last year.

JVP, in turn, often sends members to lobby in favor of pro-BDS resolutions supported by FOSNA and SJP, giving initiatives to isolate Israel– which polling indicates are rejected by the majority of American Jews– the veneer of Jewish support. According to NGO Monitor, JVP’s Passover Haggadah includes as one of its ten plagues “the ‘plague’ of the ‘Denial of the Right of Return.'” The right of return, which seeks to facilitate the immigration of millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel and transform it into a single, Palestinian-majority state, has been called “a euphemism for the destruction of Israel.” JVP also opposes Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Israel erected after the election of Hamas in 2007. Egypt has a similar blockade in place.

Laila Abdelaziz, the Legislative and Government affairs for the Florida branch of CAIR, threatened to file a lawsuit against Florida if it passed the anti-BDS bill. In 2007, CAIR was named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in court documents related to a Texas terrorism case against the Holy Land Foundation, previously the largest Islamic charity in the United States, which was found guilty of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.

Abdelaziz’s statement can be seen in the video embedded below.

Majority Leader Dana Young (R) responded (at 20:37 in this video) to Abdelaziz’s threat, saying, “I for one am offended by any testifying individual who comes and threatens a lawsuit as a way of trying influence our work here as a legislature. I believe that we have an obligation to make our decisions based on policy and the threat of litigation is absolutely absurd in this process, so ma’am I do take issue with your testimony. Members I encourage you to support this good bill.”

Contrary to Abdelaziz’s assertions, laws requiring that companies certify that they are not participating in anti-Israel boycotts have already been passed in a number of states without facing legal challenges. A bill prohibiting Illinois’ pension from investing in companies that engaged in BDS unanimously passed both houses of the state’s legislature in May and was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner. In June, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) signed a law preventing state entities from contracting with business that boycott “a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade,” such as Israel. Similar bills have also been passed in Tennessee and Indiana.

Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich explained the legal justifications for the legislations in May of last year:

The federal government has long used restrictions on contractors as a way to promote various social values. Thus contractors have been required to abstain from a variety of otherwise legal activities, like not practicing affirmative action. And state pension funds have long engaged in “socially conscious” investing, avoiding investing in companies on the basis of their environmental, employment or labor practices. The Illinois bill simply adds anti-Israel discrimination to the mix.

The United States has long had legislation criminalizing participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel. Courts have upheld the constitutionality of these measures. The U.S. can just as rightly oppose privately propagated boycotts as it could governmentally-sponsored ones. Indeed, the separation is not ironclad, as many of the NGOs calling for boycotts of Israel are supported by foreign governments.

He also pointed to the hypocrisy of the BDS campaign, which is on the defensive as states pass laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel. While BDS is constitutionally protected to promote anti-Israel initiatives, “this constitutional protection is not one-sided, and cuts both ways,” Kontorovich wrote. “Supporters of Israel can seek government action in response to the alleged bad deeds of the boycotters.”

[Photo: Adam Ellis / YouTube ]