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Protecting our right to boycott

Photo: AFSC

As more states retaliate against BDS, we must stand against attempts to suppress protected speech and action.

Over the past month, there have been two significant victories for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which holds corporations and institutions accountable for their support for or complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

First the British security services company G4S announced it would sell off all of its business interests in Israel. G4S was the target of sustained global boycott and divestment campaigns because it provides services in Israeli prisons that hold Palestinian political prisoners, and it provides security services at checkpoints to settlements and along the Wall. G4S also will sell its U.S.-based juvenile detention business interests.

This announcement was followed by news that the Israeli skin care company AHAVA had decided to move its factory from the West Bank settlement, where it is currently headquartered, to Israel. AHAVA was also the focus of a multiyear global boycott campaign because of its presence in an illegal Israeli settlement.

While these announcements mark significant victories, celebrating doesn’t mean that it is time to end the campaigns against G4S and AHAVA. Both companies will remain targets until their statements become reality.

And even when these companies fulfill their promises, BDS work will not end. We will continue to raise awareness and push for change until there is freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

It is also time to remain vigilant. Those opposed to change are not taking the growth and success of BDS laying down.

Over the past year, anti-BDS groups have introduced and passed legislation to punish and suppress boycott, divestment, and sanctions activists:

  • In July 2015, Illinois passed a law that forces the state to create a blacklist of companies that the state determines are involved in boycotts targeting Israel, including settlements. Eleven companies were recently blacklisted, and the state pension must now divest from these companies.
  • In March 2016, Arizona passed a law that creates a blacklist of companies, organizations, and entities that “boycott Israel” and bans the state from contracting with these entities. 
  • In Pennsylvania, a proposed law will strip state funding from any educational institution that took action in response to a BDS campaign. 
  • In New York, a draft law will, among other things, require that the state compile a blacklist of individuals, nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations that support politically motivated boycotts of Israel. 

Find out more about these laws and what you can do to challenge them on the Right to Boycott website.

As these laws are passed and implemented, they will harm a number of organizations that have taken moral stands against companies doing business in settlements.

This is the case in Illinois, where several European banks have been added to the state’s blacklist because they refuse to support businesses based in illegal Israeli settlements. The Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, United Church of Christ, and other groups will likely face similar sanctions and could be banned from receiving state funds—affecting food pantries, homeless shelters, and other community services provided by these institutions.

If more of these measures pass, you can expect that BDS advocates will challenge them in court.

As they are being debated, it is critical that we stand together to oppose further attempts at intimidation and suppression of protected speech and action.

Please visit Right to Boycott to find out more about these challenges to BDS and what you can do.

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US.