The BDS Hubbub

Joshua Runyan

Freedom of speech. It’s a right so engrained in our psyche as Americans that we react viscerally to most attempts to curtail it.

But all speech is not free. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed in 1919: You can’t falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

As a society, while we jealously guard the rights of others to spout opinions that are abhorrent, we tend not to give a blanket license to speech that is false or, worse, injurious. We also recognize that the right to free speech is something that can be bargained away, as most executives subject to contracts with their employers can attest.

So why the hubbub over Maryland legislators’ continuing effort to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?

At its worst, BDS spreads the canard that Israel is promulgating apartheid over the Palestinians. The false charge effectively endangers the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians in that it encourages international isolation of Israel, which in itself emboldens Palestinian intransigence.

At its best, however, BDS seems to be animated by an insidious form of anti-Semitism, holding the Jewish state alone to account for a variety of alleged misdeeds regularly committed by the most “civilized” of nations.

That is why most of the Jewish community has mobilized behind the anti-BDS effort in Annapolis, which now seeks to enact legislation that would prevent companies that participate in the BDS movement from investing in the state retirement and pension system, as well as prohibit those companies from securing state procurement contracts. To be sure, there are opponents, including such groups as Baltimore Palestine Solidarity and Jewish Voice for Peace.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, these groups view the legislation through a primarily free speech lens. JVP volunteer Jodie Zisow-McClean, for instance, contends the bills in question would silence her right to speak out against what she says are Israeli injustices in the West Bank.

The legislation’s supporters, including the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, disagree. “House Bill 949 is simply an exercise of Maryland’s proprietary power to spend or invest state funds in a manner that reflects the moral and economic interests of the people of the state of Maryland,” the Zachor Legal Institute, a nonprofit foundation that specializes in constitutional law, wrote in testimony it submitted as part of hearings on the issue at the General Assembly.

From what I can tell, no one is challenging Zisow-McClean’s right to her opinion, nor to her right to voice it. What seems to be at issue is whether or not Maryland has to invest in it. Seen from that angle, it might be best for the government of the Free State to limit the damage done to Israel by a movement bent on its destruction.

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  1. “Seen from that angle, it might be best for the government of the Free State to limit the damage done to Israel by a movement bent on its destruction.”

    The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement not only doesn’t desire the destruction of Israel, its aims *require* there be a State of Israel, since it calls upon Israel to grant equal rights to its Arab citizens.

    Mr. Runyan also seems to be an anti-Palestinianist. For since there are more egregious rights violations in the world than the BDS movement, his singling out the BDS movement for opprobrium would appear to show that he is not motivated by love of Israel but by hatred of Palestinians. That is precisely the accusation he is making against Palestinians who support Palestinian human rights.

    Mr. Runyan perhaps doesn’t believe in a people’s non-violent protests for their human rights. Perhaps he thinks that Palestinian human rights are not violated. Or perhaps he thinks that they do not have them.

    Or perhaps he is simply ignorant of the true aims of the BDS movement

  2. (1) The modern civil rights movement started with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. This boycott did not aim to “destroy” the City of Montgomery, but rather to change its anti-black bus-segregation policy. It worked.
    (2) Ditto the California farm workers boycott against the grape growers. It worked.
    (3) Ditto the boycott against South African apartheid. It worked.
    (4) I don’t travel to North Carolina these days for a minor league baseball vacation. I am not out to “destroy” the State of North Carolina, but am boycotting the Tarheel State until it reverses its anti-transgender public bathroom policy.
    (5) District of Columbia citizens are currently boycotting Maryland’s Eastern Shore—where I live—because of Rep. Andy Harris’s negative interference in their governance.
    (6) The pro-Palestinian BDS movement does not aim to “destroy” the State of Israel. Instead, BDS aims to reverse Israel’s policy of encouraging and supporting illegal West Bank settlements, and denial of Palestinian’s property, civil, political, and human rights in the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself.


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