Like others who post to this blog, I am generally not in favor of academic boycotts. But I don’t have the same reservations about economic boycotts. But, ultimately, my different attitudes toward the two types of boycotts may amount to a distinction without a real difference because I would not try to eliminate anyone else’s right to engage in either type of boycott.
The following item has been distributed by the Cleveland chapter of the JVP, or Jewish Voice for Peace:
“Have you heard that the Ohio House is trying to pass a bill to boycott companies that support the BDS Movement?
“Here’s what’s happening: Since March legislators from both parties have been promoting HB 476, which would prohibit any state agency from contracting with a company that boycotts or divests from Israel. The bill, should it become law, is almost certainly unconstitutional and would create all kinds of problems for the state and the business community.
“However, supporters of Palestinian human rights are fighting back. Local Ohio chapters of JVP have joined forces with other peace and activist groups in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and elsewhere around the state to form a coalition called Freedom2Boycott in Ohio. We are strategizing and organizing to make sure that Ohio legislators know that many of their constituents support BDS and will defend their right2boycott as protected by the First Amendment!
“The bill is currently before the House Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight, which intends to vote on it next week. Over the last two weeks, organizers in Freedom2Boycott in Ohio have marshaled an overwhelming number of witnesses to testify against this dreadful piece of legislation. Indeed, more people have testified against this bill than against any other bill brought before the committee this year—Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, business owners, and many others.
“Don’t let the Ohio House cave in to the politics of fear that helps to underwrite the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. Add your voice to Ohio residents who support the #right2boycott as a vital political tool.
“This legislation is part of a nationwide push to stifle the movement for justice in Israel/Palestine, and is a sign of how threatened the anti-Palestinian forces feel by the growing strength and size of our movement.
“If you want to be more involved in supporting this effort by organizing in your town, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Just to be clear, I am not sure whether I support the boycott of Israel advocated by the JVP and other groups. But I do oppose this legislation.
Furthermore, although this legislation seems clearly to have some bipartisan support, it is important to note that there are currently Republican super-majorities in both houses of the Ohio legislature. So it strikes me as extremely ironic that in opposing this bill, I am actually to the Right of many Republican legislators, for this legislation seems to me to be unnecessary governmental interference in and regulation of corporate decision-making.
Worse, it seems to me that this sort of legislation runs a very great risk of sacrificing fundamental conservative political principles to momentary political considerations. For if this legislation is passed, then there will certainly be pressure to pass parallel legislation penalizing or prohibiting boycotts of and divestment from fossil fuel companies, gun manufacturers, and other entities against which progressive groups might wish to exert economic and political pressure. And if those laws are passed, when one or both houses of the legislature along with the governorship eventually return to Democratic control, there will be no basis for any argument, credibly grounded in conservative political principles, against legislation that would roll back those penalties or prohibitions for those supporting boycotts or divestments—or that would mandate corporate participation in boycotts or divestment movements.
So, I think that one can make the argument that this legislation is not in the long-term best interests of even the most ardent supporters of the state of Israel and its current policies toward its Palestinian population. Regardless of what one thinks about the BDS movement or how one thinks that the issues related to the absence of a Palestinian state can best be resolved, it is a mistake to believe that legislation passed in Ohio, or anywhere else in the U.S. except perhaps Washington, D.C., will somehow make it easier, rather than even harder, for Israelis and Palestinians to find some resolution to their longstanding issues. Ultimately, the legislation is probably much more indicative of how the legislators want to define themselves politically than of how they can influence events on the ground in the Middle East.