On March 21, 2019 H.Res. 246 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-D) titled “Opposing Efforts to Delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Targeting Israel.” On July 23, 2019 the resolution passed in the House by a 398 – 17 vote. Prior to the passage of that resolution Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-D) introduced H.Res. 496 on July 16, 2019 titled “Affirming That All Americans Have The Right To Participate In Boycotts In Pursuit of Civil and Human Rights At Home And Abroad, As Protected By The First Amendment to the Constitution.” This resolution has not been voted on as of yet but has been assigned to the House Committee on the Judiciary which has jurisdiction over constitutional issues. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
One of the key issues in the debate on the conflict in the Middle East appears set to play out in the halls of the U.S. Congress. The two resolutions introduced in the House of Representatives since March have re-ignited a discussion as to the role of protest groups and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s protection of free speech and the right to engage in boycotts. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is a global movement working to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. H.Res. 246 and Israel clearly oppose the BDS movement because of how it may affect the State of Israel economically and diplomatically.
Rep. Omar’s H.Res. 496 is in opposition to H.Res. 246 but takes a different approach than what one might expect her to take. While Rep. Omar’s position supporting the Palestinian people is well known her resolution is framed as a Freedom of Speech issue. It never mentions Israel or BDS by name but instead focuses on how prior boycotts were significant moments in American history – the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the 1980’s boycott of South African goods because of apartheid policies there as well as a number of Supreme Court cases from the Vietnam War era and the Civil Rights Movement that affirmed the right to boycott.
Between the two resolutions, it appears that Rep. Schneider’s H.Res. 246 is not aimed at protecting the free speech right of Americans but is an attempt to try and stifle discussion and dissent on the conflict in the Middle East in favor of the State of Israel. A resolution like that could have the effect of “chilling” speech on the issue if people become fearful of taking a position that the government clearly does not favor. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-D), a noted Palestinian supporter, said, “Dissent is how we nurture democracy” and stood in opposition to H.Res. 246. Rep. Omar could have introduced a resolution stating her opposition to Israel but she made a key choice in deciding to frame the discussion as a free speech issue to be decided by each person as they see fit. The key point here between the two resolutions is to not to try and manipulate the American people into taking the political position that the U.S. Government prefers as Rep. Schneider’s resolution could do. The point is to instead use the protection of free speech to give Americans space and freedom to pursue and advocate for issues important to them even if they are unpopular to others, which is what Rep. Omar’s resolution does. As the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware said when it affirmed the right of people to engage in boycott activity on unpopular issues, “[B]oycotts and related activities to bring about political, social and economic change are political speech” and occupy “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values” and are protected by the First Amendment. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blog post on the right to boycott issue.
- Defending Rights And Dissent – non – profit group seeking to strengthen participatory democracy by protecting the right to political expression.
- Freedom Forum Institute – good overview of free speech issues.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.