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Palestine advocates slam symbolic US resolution condemning Israel boycotts

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement 'should be protected and not attacked', US activist says
House resolution comes amid wider push to outlaw BDS in United States (AP/File photo)

Palestine advocates and progressive US lawmakers slammed the passage of a symbolic House resolution condemning Israel boycotts, saying the measure threatens freedom of speech in the United States.

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to end its rights abuses against Palestinians.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish-American advocacy group that supports Palestinian rights, said that "while ultimately toothless", the resolution "continues a dangerous trend of censuring criticism of the actions of the Israeli government".

"The Israeli government has shown, over and over, that it will continue to violate Palestinian human rights with impunity," the group's executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, said in a statement.

"This is precisely why the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment Movement should be protected, and not attacked. BDS holds Israel accountable - unlike the White House or Congress," she said.

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Officially called HR-246, the nonbinding resolution affirms that the House "opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel".

That includes "efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel", the resolution states.

HR-246 comes amid a wider push to restrict boycotts of Israel across the United States.

Dozens of US states have passed legislation barring state contractors from boycotting Israel, among other measures.

American civil liberty groups and Palestine advocates have decried these anti-BDS laws as an attack on freedom of speech, which is guaranteed under the US Constitution.

So far, federal judges in Kansas, Arizona and Texas have struck down each state's anti-BDS law.

Ignoring Israeli 'brutality'

Palestine advocates say HR-246 is the latest attempt to restrict support for Palestinian rights in the US - and shield the Israeli government from criticism.

"The resolution smears and makes false statements against a movement that is rooted in freedom, equality, and justice," said Palestine Legal, a US-based legal advocacy group, in a statement on Wednesday.

The organisation said the motion may "chill" Palestine advocacy in the US.

"It may intimidate people from speaking up and empower other actors - from universities to state governments to social media platforms - to target activists and censure other protest movements," it said.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian rights, rebuked US lawmakers for passing the resolution "as Israel commits war crimes against Palestinians and their soldiers laugh & pose with civilian homes they destroyed".

Munayyer was referring to the Israeli destruction of nearly a dozen buildings in the Palestinian village of Sur Bahir earlier this week. Those demolitions were widely condemned, with rights groups accusing Israel of committing a war crime.

"What they don't get is, this is precisely why civil society boycotts continue to grow; the abject failure of govt to hold Israel accountable," Munayyer wrote on Twitter.

'This resolution completely ignores the Netanyahu government's brutality, dehumanisation, and subjugation of Palestinian people at the root of this peaceful movement'

- US Representative Betty McCollum

Khaled Elgindy, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said it was "sad for American democracy and the US Constitution when only 22 of 435 members of the House of Rep's are willing to stand up for free speech and the First Amendment".

Seventeen members of Congress - including Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - voted against the resolution, while five others abstained.

The Arab American Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, expressed gratitude for the dissenting lawmakers.

"We salute the 22 conscientious Members of Congress who did NOT support a dishonest resolution condemning First Amendment-protected boycotts in support of Palestinian rights," the group said on Twitter late on Tuesday.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who was one of the few US lawmakers who voted against HR-246, added that the measure" does damage the standing of the US House in the eyes of the world".

The resolution "renounces the peaceful promotion of human rights, self-determination and justice on behalf of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation", McCollum said in a statement released on Tuesday.

"At the same time, this resolution completely ignores the Netanyahu government's brutality, dehumanisation, and subjugation of Palestinian people at the root of this peaceful movement."