Minnesota should repeal anti-BDS legislation

September 30, 2022 6:00 am

Family and relatives carry the coffin of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral on May 13, 2022 in Jerusalem, Israel. According to eye witnesses, Palestinian/American reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, was shot by a live bullet on the morning of Wednesday May 11. She was covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images.

In May, Shireen Abu Aqleh was assassinated in occupied East Jerusalem. She was a famous Arab journalist and also an American citizen, and her death was mourned throughout the Arab world. Reporting by CNN, the New York Times, and the Associated Press confirm what many Palestinians already suspected — Aqleh was killed in a targeted attack by the Israeli government.

Here for instance, is CNN: 

An investigation by CNN offers new evidence — including two videos of the scene of the shooting — that there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death. Videos obtained by CNN, corroborated by testimony from eight eyewitnesses, an audio forensic analyst and an explosive weapons expert, suggest that Abu Akleh was shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces.

Israel’s killing of Aqleh echoes the actions of another major ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia. In 2018, the international community expressed its outrage when the Saudi government assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, also a journalist and an American citizen. The Khashoggi killing hardened American rhetoric towards Saudi Arabia, but did little to change policy. In Israel’s case, American leaders have barely bothered to rhetorically condemn the killing. Instead, President Biden called on Israel to investigate the killing themselves, which they have already declined to do. 

The assassination of Aqleh is just one recent example of human rights abuses by the Israeli government. Another example came during her funeral procession, when Israeli Soldiers beat her mourners with batons and ripped Palestinian flags off her coffin, causing her pallbearers to drop her coffin. These thuggish abuses of power are just small examples of the human rights violations committed by the Israeli state. In February, Amnesty International released a report accusing the Israeli government of apartheid. The report alleges systemic discrimination against Palestinians both in the occupied territories and in Israeli territory. These accusations of apartheid have been echoed by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). 

The evidence is clear. Israel discriminates systemically against people with darker skin. Their police brutalize demonstrators, and often kill them. Journalists are also targeted and sometimes shot. The reality of these human rights violations should have special resonance for Minnesotans. A recent report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found the Minneapolis Police Department engages in racial discrimination and often uses excessive force. There are many documented cases of MPD using excessive force on demonstrators and targeting journalists during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. 

The oppression of Black people in Minneapolis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem has a lot in common. In fact, at the time of George Floyd’s killing in 2020, over 100 MPD officers had received training by the Israel Defense Forces. It is no coincidence that Black Lives Matter organizers have consistently voiced solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Despite this, Minnesota’s government has doubled down on their support for Israel. In 2017, former Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law H.F. 400, which prohibits state contractors from doing business with companies who boycott Israel. This law was part of a nationwide strategy to ban the boycott, divest and sanction movement, known as BDS. ., The BDS strategy is modeled after the successful international effort to end apartheid in South Africa. They ask businesses to refuse to operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), which are considered to be illegally occupied under international law. 

There are three major reasons for Minnesota to repeal H.F. 400. 

First, Minnesota’s anti-BDS law is blatantly hypocritical. In 2016, Minnesota announced its college sports teams would not travel to North Carolina in protest of anti-transgender legislation passed by North Carolina’s legislature. This strategy ultimately led to the repeal of the North Carolina law. Boycotts work. If Minnesota thinks it is okay to boycott another American state, why should our contractors be forbidden from boycotting another country?

Second, this anti-boycott law contradicts basic principles of free speech and association. Americans have the right to associate with whomever they choose, and cannot be compelled to sign oaths of loyalty to other countries. Just as Minnesotans had a right to boycott North Carolina over their anti-LGBT policies, Minnesotans should have the right to boycott companies who operate in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories. 

Constitutional challenges to anti-BDS laws have already been made in other states. The 8th Circuit recently upheld an Arkansas anti-BDS law. The decision was written by Judge Jonathan Kobes, a Trump appointee who the ABA rated as “Not Qualified” during his confirmation. The ACLU voiced opposition to the 8th Circuit decision and is appealing it to the Supreme Court. As our newly radical courts deliberate on the constitutionality of anti-BDS legislation, Minnesota progressives will have to ask themselves whether they side with Trump’s judicial hacks, or with the ACLU and other free speech organizations.  

Third, companies have a moral imperative to join the BDS movement. Last year, Ben & Jerry’s announced they would no longer sell ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories, stating, “we believe it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.” This is a simple, correct, and admirable moral stance, supported by other human rights organizations. 

Human Rights Watch warns, “It is impossible to do business in the settlements without contributing to or benefitting from human rights abuse.” Other companies should follow the lead of Ben & Jerry’s and Human Rights Watch and join the BDS movement. At the very least, they should not be punished for taking a stand. Not in Minnesota.

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