Azzi: BDS — 'At least we shall have spoken'

"Palestinian activists have long supported the Black people’s struggle against racism," Angela Davis, Black American academic and social activist said in 2020. "When I was in jail, solidarity coming from Palestine was a major source of courage for me. In Ferguson, Palestinians were the first to express international solidarity. … We have a profound responsibility to support Palestinian struggles."

We have a profound responsibility to support Palestinian struggles for liberation and freedom.

Robert Azzi
Robert Azzi

Following recent, and sadly, successful attacks on the First Amendment in 36 other states, New Hampshire Republicans in the House of Representatives are today seeking to silence the legitimate voices of Granite Staters who wish to exercise their constitutional rights to non-violently boycott, divest and sanction political entities with which they disagree.

The proposed state legislation, HB339, would prohibit state investment in any organization or institution that opposes apartheid, opposes settler-colonialism, opposes Israeli domination over the Palestinian people, opposes persecution of an occupied people, opposes war crimes of incarceration, displacement, and annexation.

HB339 isn't the first time New Hampshire politicians have attempted to privilege Israel over the humanitarian interests of the Palestinian people. In 2017, Sen. Maggie Hassan was a co-sponsor of Senate bill - Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720/H.R.1697) – that would make it a felony for Americans to support an international boycott against Israel.

Had that passed, I could be Hassan's felon.

“Despite the Israeli government's continued attacks on human rights defenders," Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice of Peace wrote, "it can’t hide the truth: Palestinians are abused daily by the Israeli military and police, the 12-year siege on Gaza is illegal and immoral, and every day Israel is slipping further away from any pretense of democracy ...”

I support BDS — as New Hampshire Republicans, as Hassan should — because it’s a nonviolent response initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, to the continued incarceration of hundreds of Palestinians held under administrative detention without either indictment or trial.

I support BDS in spite of the fact that my president, Joe Biden, published a 2020 policy paper that said his administration will “firmly reject the BDS movement — which singles out Israel and too often veers into antisemitism – and fight other efforts to delegitimize Israel on the global stage.”

He was wrong.

I support BDS because it does not delegitimize Israel; it delegitimizes illegal occupation and oppression by a nation to whom America gives nearly $4 billion a year — mostly in military aid — which is then deployed against the Palestinian peoples.

It does not legitimize antisemitism.

In 2019, 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars wrote to the German government that boycotts are a legitimate and non-violent tool of resistance: "We reject this motion, which is based on the false allegation that BDS as such equals anti-Semitism. We call on the German government not to endorse this motion and to fight anti-Semitism, while respecting and protecting freedom of speech and of association, which are undeniably under attack."

Further, in 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, was specifically developed by a "group of scholars in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle East studies" to provide an enhanced definition to use as guidance to identify and legitimately confront antisemitism while protecting free expression and individual rights.

The criminalization of pro-BDS political speech and activism is an existential threat to free speech. If Israel can be so privileged so too can other special interests.

If not protected my free expression, Palestinian humanitarian and political rights. are together in jeopardy.

I recognize and support BDS just as I recognized, and supported the boycott in South Africa that helped strike down apartheid.

”I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces," Nobel Peace laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu said in 2014. "Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

In 2019, Sara Roy, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University wrote "... To the Members of the German Government: I write to you regarding the motion recently passed by the Bundestag that equated BDS with anti-Semitism. I also write to you as a Jew, a child of Holocaust survivors and as a scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.... I lost a large extended family to fascism and racism. By endorsing the motion that alleges that BDS is anti-Semitic — regardless of one’s position on BDS — you are criminalizing the right to free speech and dissent and those who choose to exercise it, which is exactly how fascism takes root..."

In 1933, when the American Jewish Congress declared a boycott of Nazi-German goods, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise said “We must speak out. If that is unavailing, at least we shall have spoken."

Today, it is important to recognize that even when boycotts don’t change anything, as the anti-Nazi boycott of 1933 did nothing to stop the harassment of German Jews, that it’s morally necessary to act.

At least we shall have spoken.

Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Azzi: BDS — 'At least we shall have spoken'