On Feb. 20, 2018 a delegation of labor, faith-based and human rights activists met with U.S. Rep. John Larson to urge him to co-sponsor H.R. 4391, “The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.”
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only Country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year. Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations. For more information see nwttac.dci-palestine.org.
H.R. 4391, introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D. Minn) presently has 22 Congressional co-sponsors, but none in Connecticut. The legislation would require an audit of the $3.8 billion given to Israel each year by the U.S. in order to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not utilized for the detention and abuse of Palestinian children at the hands of the Israeli occupying forces. Rep. Larson has thus far declined to co-sponsor the legislation. However, he stated that he would support a call for a hearing on the legislation.
During the course of the meeting in Congressman Larson’s office, the delegation also challenged his co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, H.R. 1697. In support of his position Congressman Larson referenced the Cardin-Portman letter dated July 20, 2017. The Cardin-Portman letter asserts that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is not an infringement on First Amendment rights.
According to John Fussell, vice president of Tree of Life Educational Fund (www.tolef.org) the Cardin-Portman letter disguises the purpose of the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act.” Indeed the very name of the legislation exposes its true intent.
Fussell acknowledges that H.R. 1697 does not target individuals simply expressing their point of view regarding Israel’s ongoing military occupation — provided such point of view is not expressed in the form a commercial boycott. The legislation targets commercial activity initiated by international governmental organizations such as the U.N. or the European Union and criminalizes such boycott activity targeted at Israel’s occupation. Individuals who do more than express their point of view and join in a commercial boycott initiated by an international governmental organization such as the U.N. or the European Union that targets Israel’s human rights abuses and occupation, face criminal penalties under the Israel Anti-Boycott legislation promoted by Cardin-Portman. H.R. 1697, co-sponsored by both Congressman John Larson and Congressman Joe Courtney, criminalizes such commercial boycott activity with up to 20 years in prison and large financial fines. The legislation attempts to neuter the very pressures proven successful in past human rights struggles.
In this manner, H.R. 1697 infringes and/or chills First Amendment Rights of U.S. citizens who choose to pressure Israel to end the occupation through solidarity with such commercial boycotts. Connecticut Human Rights activists have specifically requested Congressmen Courtney and Larson to remove their co-sponsorship of that legislation.
Israel is the only country in the world that maintains a 50-year ongoing military occupation of another people. The human suffering that results is unconscionable and the status quo is not sustainable. It is undemocratic and not in Israel’s interest for this state of affairs to continue. Nor is it in America’s interest to simply rubber-stamp this occupation status quo.
Boycotts have been a tried and tested peaceful non-violent means of pressuring human rights abusers to end such practices. Boycotts, commercial and individual, were utilized in the struggles for civil rights here in the U.S. as well as in the struggle to end South African Apartheid. A Democracy that cares for human rights celebrates and protects non-violent political activity such as boycotts rather than criminalizes such conduct. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS) deserves support and praise as a non-violent human rights tool to oppose apartheid, belligerent occupation, and oppression.
Yes, Israel is a U.S. ally. But when an ally is wrong our political leaders must have the moral courage to tell them so and apply diplomatic and economic pressures to promote democracy and respect for human rights. Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the Palestinian people is wrong. Connecticut’s congressional delegation should be adding their support to non-violent democratic efforts to pressure Israel to end its fifty-year military occupation of another people. In refusing to support H.R. 4391 and in supporting H.R. 1697, Congressional thumbs weigh on the wrong side of the social justice scale.
“We look forward to more dialogue with each of the Connecticut Congressional members (Larson, Courtney, DeLauro, Himes and Esty),” Fussell said. “We urge them to support H.R. 4391 and to oppose H.R. 1697.”