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Minnesota shouldn’t punish its own people or businesses for adhering to their conscience

Ziad Amra

The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering two bills that would require the state to discriminate against U.S. citizens, both as individuals and companies, based solely on their viewpoints concerning Palestinian human rights. The legislation — House File 400 and Senate File 247 — would deny benefits such as contracts to Minnesotans who engage in boycott or divestment campaigns as a means of pressuring Israel to end its 50-year-old military occupation of Palestinian land and other human rights violations. In fact, civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Minnesota, have warned that this type of legislation would result in an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment of Minnesotans by infringing on our constitutional right to engage in boycotts, a form of political speech.

I am a Palestinian-American, born and raised in Minnesota, and I have had family members killed and imprisoned by the Israeli military. Some of them had their land confiscated without any due process or compensation. As in the case of many other Palestinian families living under Israel’s military occupation, this was done without consequence or repercussion.

I have for decades worked to advance the cause of peace and justice in the Holy Land. I have done this by building relationships locally with people of diverse backgrounds and religions and by serving as a legal adviser to a Norwegian aid project in the occupied West Bank in the mid-1990s, which was meant to advance the self-governing capability of Palestinians.

It’s with that background that, while testifying against HF 400 on Feb. 7, I was most struck by the testimony of Walid Issa, a professional lobbyist who is actively working for this unconstitutional bill in an effort to undermine his fellow Minnesotans who are advancing freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In 2005, the largest grass-roots Palestinian coalition — made up of labor unions, students groups, human rights groups, and others — issued a call for BDS to bring pressure on Israel to adhere to international law and end its occupation of Palestinian land. BDS is a time-honored tradition in the United States that helped end apartheid in South Africa and was also used to end segregation in the South during the civil rights movement.

Issa’s positions on BDS, like that of many of its opponents, are baffling. He claims to support “adding cost to the occupation,” which is exactly what BDS does — yet he actually opposes it in practice. Another common argument employed by Issa and others who oppose BDS is if only we invest in the occupied territories, peace will be possible — as if that hasn’t been tried before. One reason the occupation must end is the enormous costs it imposes on Palestinians – more than half the land and 80 percent of the water of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are off-limits to Palestinians and for the exclusive use of Israelis. A United Nations report estimates that the occupation costs Palestinians approximately 85 percent in lost GDP, or over $6.9 billion per year.

The sad reality is that supporters of this anti-BDS legislation have no desire to put pressure on Israel to stop its daily destruction of Palestinian homes, adding to Palestine’s refugee population, already the largest in the world; its incarceration of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of childrenstreet executions of Palestinians by the Israeli military and illegal settlers; or its ongoing, relentless expansion of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. While all of this is happening daily, supporters of HF 400 and SF 247 are working to punish Minnesotans who are advocating against these horrendous actions.

Without freedom, Palestinians will never reach their full potential either economically or socially. Palestinians will only achieve their freedom once Israel’s illegal, half-century-old military occupation and other human rights abuses end. Nonviolent advocacy and BDS are entirely legitimate and in fact necessary to bring pressure on Israel to end its decades-long violations of Palestinian human rights and bring about a true and lasting peace in the region. Palestinians have clearly asked that we end our complicity in their suffering and stand on the side of freedom, justice, and equality. The world is heeding their call and Minnesota should not punish its own people or businesses for adhering to their conscience.

Ziad Amra is a board member of the Minnesota Chapter of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a member of the Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/03/2017 - 08:43 pm.

    Hmmm

    Isn’t BDS trying to do the exact same thing?

  2. Submitted by mark nupen on 03/04/2017 - 08:22 am.

    Ziad Amra and 3/4 article on MN legislation

    Mr. Amra, I agree with you freedom of speech article re Mn legislature proposals.
    However, I would have hoped that your article above would have discussed a little more about the Arab / Palestinian refusal to recognize the state of Israel? This has been the cause of the wars and constant fighting since Israel declared their state in the beginning. They clearly hate the Jewish state and it’s people. A war has been fought plus ongoing confrontations and the Palestinians are the biggest victims of this conflict, with series of corrupt leaderships and anti-Jewish leaders dominating and suppressing even the Palestinians!
    Please do discuss why the Palestinians cannot resolve this otherwise ongoing conflict that in the Arab minds will only go away when Israel has been extinguished! The Palestinian ‘dictators’ validate the Jewish ‘extremists’ inhumane behavior!
    Give us an update on the ‘Arab community’s thinking here’.

  3. Submitted by David Markle on 03/04/2017 - 08:46 am.

    An important difference

    BDS is not the government, it’s individuals engaged in a peaceable attempt to organize and persuade. A governmental restriction on boycotting or promotion of divestiture would seem to clearly violate individuals’ rights of free speech and assembly.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/04/2017 - 09:06 am.

    It Never Ceases to Amaze Me

    how the political leadership of Israel ignores the lessons of the past,…

    ignores the admonitions of their own Hebrew prophets,…

    and how their ancestors’ disregard of what the prophets asked of them,…

    led to the destruction of their nation two thousand years ago,…

    and now makes the same mistakes, insists on walking in their ancestors’ missteps,…

    while expecting a different result.

    Their decades-long walk toward their own destruction is aided and abetted by a small cadre of “conservative Christians,”….

    who have taken a collection of scattered verses from the Bible,…

    and a very fanciful set of misinterpretations of the “Revelation to St. John,”…

    to create a narrative in which God will allow those humans to force God to usher in “Armageddon,”…

    by expanding Israel to include the original boundaries of the Kingdom of Solomon…

    (which would require the Palestinians to be out of the picture and out of Israel’s boundaries),…

    razing the Dome of the Rock on the ancient Temple Mount,…

    rebuilding the ancient Temple that once stood there,…

    and sacrificing a “perfect” red heifer – one with no white spots – on the altar of the Temple.

    Then according to this Christianist fable, those who have orchestrated this sequence of events together with their supporters will be “raptured” off to the best seats in heaven,…

    where they will watch the rest of humanity go through hell on earth under the punishing dictates of the “antichrist.”

    Evidently our Republican friends in the Minnesota legislature have bought into all or part of this conservative Christianist fable,…

    and are seeking to make it impossible for their fellow Minnesotans,…

    those who see the history of Israel and her current attitudes and actions in a very different light,…

    based on a very different (and more faithful) reading of the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament,…

    to support the rights of the Palestinians,…

    because lifting up and supporting their rights makes it far more difficult for the conservative Christianists to make them disappear from the world’s awareness,…

    and thus stands in the way of their forcing God to bring on Armageddon.

    It never occurs to these conservative “Christianists” that in their belief that God has put them in control of the timing of Armageddon,…

    they are attempting to usurp God’s authority and thus wholeheartedly violating the first of the Ten Commandments,…

    Commandments to which they would (mistakenly) claim extreme fealty.

    I would hope our legislators and our governor would come to realize the underlying origins of this bill,…

    and roundly reject it because of those origins.

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/04/2017 - 10:35 am.

    Sinple question

    I’d like to start with a simple question: can we apply the title of this piece to a cake or bouquet maker who doesn’t want to serve the same sex wedding? Because if that proverbial cake maker discriminates against gays in a sense of applying different standards to them than others, BDS discriminates against Israel and Jews by applying to them different standards (which other country is currently boycotted? Syria? Iran? Venezuela? China? Or how about boycotting Hamas? Or what about Lebanon which does not allow Palestinians to work there?) This is exactly what lies beneath the latest wave of anti-Semitism in America – an idea that it is OK to apply different standards to Israel and, by extension, to all Jews.

  6. Submitted by Barry Ranger on 03/07/2017 - 03:12 pm.

    Stand strong for the right to Boycott!

    Many thanks to Ziad Amra for his fine defense of the BDS movement and his opposition to the
    attempts by the Minnesota legislature to suppress it.

    It is critical to understand that the movement for economic pressure through boycotts, divestment and sanctions is inherently NON-VIOLENT. It is a tactic that was successfully used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela to end discrimination by peaceful means.

    BDS against Israeli discrimination has taken root and is growing. It is slowly but surely succeeding, as indicated by the great anxiety and the responses it has engendered by the Netanyahu government and its supporters. The anti-BDS effort in the Minnesota legislature is but one example.

    BDS was initiated by and remains under the control of Palestinians. It is supported by virtually all Palestinians and all their civil and political organizations in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Israel and in the Diaspora world wide. This unity is remarkable because on many other matters, Palestinians have had considerable difficulty finding unity.

    How foolish it would be….How absolute counter-productive it would be in a region beset by horrible violence for decades….to outlaw or discourage the use of a non-violent tactic.

    As a proud member of the Twin Cities Jewish community, I appeal to our elected representatives not to go down that sordid path.

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