BDS ‘free expression’—attorneys say

Legal experts back Palestinian BDS as ‘free expression’

Lawyers say Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel is ‘lawful exercise of freedom of expression’.

 man-with-soldiers-and-bdsA number of Western states are considering outlawing BDS [EPA]

Around 200 leading legal experts have signed a statement defending the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) as a lawful exercise of freedom of expression.

The legal experts from 15 countries agreed the BDS movement should be treated the same way as the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa.

Lawyers backing Friday’s statement include South African jurist John Dugard, who served at the International Court of Justice, and Guy Goodwin-Gill, former legal adviser for the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“No government ever attempted to outlaw or criminalise the Anti-Apartheid Movement for advocating boycott, disinvestment or sanctions to compel South Africa to abandon its racist policies,” Dugard said. “BDS should be seen as a similar movement and treated accordingly.”

Robert Kolb, a legal expert who served with the Swiss Foreign Ministry, said BDS activism should be legally protected.

“The right of citizens to advocate for BDS is part and parcel of the fundamental freedoms protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights,” said Kolb, who was part of the group that signed the statement.

BDS groups welcomed the lawyers’ statement, terming it a “defining moment” before saying the backing would help quell attempts by pro-Israel groups to proscribe the movement.

“This is a defining moment in the struggle against Israel’s patently repressive legal war on the BDS movement for Palestinian rights,” said Ingrid Jaradat of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, a coalition of civil society groups at the forefront of the movement.

“Leading European jurists have now confirmed that advocating and campaigning for Palestinian rights under international law is a legally guaranteed right for Europeans and indeed all citizens of the world.

“Israel’s desperate attempts to outlaw the BDS movement and to legally bully its supporters into silence threatens democratic space.”

Crackdowns on BDS

A number of measures targeting the BDS movement have been introduced in Israel and Western countries with varying degrees of success.

Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama approved legislation that required official non-cooperation with groups that comply with boycotts of Israel. Around 20 US states have passed anti-BDS bills or are in the process of doing so.

In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has tried to equate the BDS movement to the “loathing of Jews”, a charge activists reject.

Attempts at censoring BDS activism have not been successful, however.

A French court in Tolouse overturned a ban on a BDS event in May, describing attempts by the town’s mayor to stop the gathering as illegal.

In England, a court struck down a legal challenge attempting to force councillors in the city of Leicester to reverse a motion to boycott Israeli goods.

Student activism

Supporters of the BDS movement argue attempts to stifle it are proof that it is an effective means of protesting Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

The movement is particularly visible among students and activists on campuses across the world who are attempting to pass motions backing Israel’s boycotts despite strong opposition from pro-Israel groups.

On Thursday, students at the University of Manchester in northwest UK passed a motion forcing their union to support the BDS movement.

Etisha Choudhury president of the pro-Palestinian student group Action Palestine said attempts to stop BDS were part of broader efforts to prevent criticism of Israeli policies.

“BDS is a call from 171 Palestinian civil authorities from within the occupation so essentially they [opponents] are just trying to block the Palestinians,” Choudhury told Al Jazeera.

Huda Ammori, who put forward the motion, said BDS was one of the few remaining ways Palestinians could effectively challenge Israeli occupation.

“I think BDS is the last hope for Palestinians,” said Ammori, describing efforts by the international community to help Palestinians to date as lacking. “The movement is a call to wake up and bring attention to the cause.”

The BDS movement is particularly visible among students and activists on campuses across the world [Getty Images]

letter to Governor to protect freedom of speech


My name is (insert full name) and I am an Ohio resident.

I am writing to ask you to veto H.B. 476: the bill to prohibit a state agency from contracting with a company that disinvests from or boycotts Israel.

The bill also violates the US Foreign Policy over the past 50 years by both Republican and Democratic administrations by supporting illegal Israeli settlement expansion, the end of which is the objective of the international non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.

Furthermore, an amendment was introduced at the last minute by surprise in the House by Rep Sprague to double the 1% of Ohio assets to 2% (amounting to about $130 million) for investment in a foreign country, specifically Israel. Please don’t risk our money in an unstable country in an unstable region.

Please support the right of Ohioans to boycott Israel and I think you should too. Did you know that Palestinians in the occupied territories are subjected to forcible relocation, demolition of their homes, theft of land, systematic infringement against civil, social, economic, and cultural rights, segregation, institutional discrimination, and other abuses documented by the United Nations? The situation is no better inside Israel, where Palestinian citizens are prohibited from living in more than 400 Jewish communities in Israel.

Please protect my constitutional right to free speech. Please stand up for human rights against oppression and discrimination, by stopping this unconstitutional Bill.

Attached you will find a legal memo explaining why H.B. 476 is unlawful. Also, here is a link to the legal memo explaining why it violates state and federal laws.…/u…/2016/11/whyHB476isunconstitutional.pdf


Ask Governor Kasich to veto the anti-BDS bill HB 476


Last week over 20 Ohioans, including members of Project Peace and Northwest Ohio Free Speech Alliance, traveled to the Ohio Statehouse to give testimony opposing House Bill 476, the bill to prohibit a state agency from contracting with for-profit entities that divest from or boycott Israel.   In spite of our best efforts, the bill was rushed through the lame duck session of the Ohio General Assembly and is now sitting on Governor Kasich’s desk.  Will you call him this week to ask him to veto the bill?

House Bill 476 is a response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It runs counter to the core values of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. The bill punishes economic boycotts, which are entirely lawful acts of free speech. It interferes with US foreign policy and rampantly violates Ohioans’ free speech rights.

If passed, any company, including all for-profit sole proprietorships and partnerships as well as corporations, desirous of receiving payments or benefits from the state of Ohio will be required to sign away its right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Participation in much of Ohio’s economic activity will require a coerced foreign policy position.

The bipartisan co-sponsors of H.B. 476 aim to shut down supporters of the international BDS movement, which is based on the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa of a quarter century ago. BDS is a nonviolent global grassroots effort to restore the fundamental human rights of Palestinians. The campaign is aimed at building pressure on the state of Israel to end its illegal occupation and to follow international humanitarian law in its policies toward, and treatment of, Palestinians.

Will you please call Governor Kasich’s office to ask him to veto the bill?  Ask him to protect Ohioans’ free speech rights.  Let him know that economic  boycott is a right protected by the  Constitution and is a time-honored method to protest oppression and human rights violations.  The Governor’s office phone is:   (614) 466-3555.  You will probably reach his voice mail and will be asked to leave a brief message. You may also use the contact form at the Governor’s web page.

If you’d like to learn more about the bill, click here for the legal memo explaining how the bill violates state and federal laws.  Here is the legislative page for HB 476.

Many thanks for your advocacy!