American BDS organization takes its case to Capitol Hill
By Dan Diker
The "US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation," a national coalition of anti-Israel organizations, held its annual conference on October 14-17 in Arlington, Virginia. The final day of the conference is designated as a congressional Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, during which US Campaign members will be urged to meet with their representatives to further the organization's agenda. The US Campaign is a pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) organization that denies the legitimacy of Israel's existence, demonizes the Jewish state, and calls for cutting all ties between the United States and Israel. Its leadership and members are supporters of terror groups (in some cases are tied to outlawed terror organizations) and have a record of violence.
Given the US Campaign's full-throated support for the BDS campaign (which calls for the boycott of Israeli academics, cultural figures, and businesses based solely on their Israeli nationality), it is possible that those who facilitate the organization's work may run afoul of U.S. anti-discrimination and anti-BDS legislation. Members of Congress might consider whether they wish to provide an audience to members of a discriminatory organization tied to terror and violence.
Opposition to Israel's Existence and Calls for Its Destruction as a Jewish State
The US Campaign was set up in the spring and summer of 2001 by activists looking to end U.S. support for Israel – in parallel to the wave of Palestinian suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians known as the "Second Intifada." The coalition now consists of several hundred anti-Israel organizations. Its work is overseen by an 11-person Steering Committee and carried out by an eight-person staff.
According to the organization's website, "The US Campaign endorsed the Palestinian call for BDS shortly after it was issued in July 2005. Academic and cultural boycotts were endorsed in 2009." The BDS campaign which the US Campaign endorses and promotes aims for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. In the words of the founder and most prominent leader of the BDS campaign, Omar Barghouti, "Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine." The BDS campaign also makes clear its opposition to the U.S. policy of support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Barghouti declaring, "Going back to the two-state solution, besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with."
The US Campaign's Co-founder and Director of Organizing and Advocacy, Anna Baltzer, has likewise declared that she is not opposed merely to any supposed Israeli occupation but to the very existence of Israel itself, explaining, "I recognized that the problem was not simply occupation, but rather the creation and maintenance of an ethno-nationalist Jewish entity….I realized occupation was just one step in a much longer process, and I couldn't simply oppose one and not the other."
While some BDS organizations including the US Campaign occasionally try to maintain ambiguity as to whether their opposition is to Israel's existence or to its presence over the Green Line, they make little real effort to hide their ultimate goals. One of the most experienced and well-known anti-Israel figures in the United States, Norman Finkelstein, criticized his fellow activists for occasionally trying to hide their true goals, insisting, "I mean we have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuousness. [The BDS activists] don't want Israel. They think they are being very clever….You know and I know what the result is. There's no Israel!"
Ending Diplomatic Ties between the United States and Israel – Malaysia as a Role Model
The US Campaign works to end U.S. military, diplomatic, financial, corporate, and all other forms of support for Israel. Baltzer recently held up Malaysia as a role model for the United States in this context. In a 2015 lecture, she opined, "Malaysia has been a leader in having no diplomatic ties with Israel, which is extraordinary. In many ways [Malaysia's] status quo is something that [we] dream about achieving in our context. It is our holy grail."
Support for and Ties to Terror and Violence
The US Campaign leadership and members have shown consistent support for (and ties to) terrorism and a track record of violence and incitement. Baltzer flagrantly whitewashes the terrorist activities of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, one of the most violent Palestinian armed groups, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, EU, and Canada. In a March 2007 article written from Nablus meant to convey the "truth" about events in Palestine to American readers, Baltzer claims, "It's worth noting that [Israeli] soldiers are the very targets of the wanted men, not Israeli civilians. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade plans attacks against armed fighters." In truth, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have carried out dozens of terror attacks targeting Israeli citizens in Israeli cities within the pre-1967 lines, in which hundreds of civilians have been murdered or injured. As just one example, on January 5, 2003, two Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, murdering 23 Israeli civilians and injuring over 100. In fact, less than three months before Baltzer published her article, a Martyrs Brigades terrorist walked into a bakery in the Israeli city of Eilat and blew himself up, murdering three Israeli civilians. Baltzer, however, chose to unquestioningly convey the propaganda of a Martyrs Brigades commander who claimed (after being asked by Baltzer whether he had a message for the American people), "I am opposed to violence against any civilians, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, Muslim or Jewish."
Baltzer is hardly alone in her support for terror and violence among the US Campaign leadership and membership. US Campaign Steering Committee member Bekah Wolf is married to convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist Mousa Abu Maria. US Campaign Steering Committee member Abe Greenhouse was charged in 2007 with criminal mischief and unlawful possession of a weapon after he took part in an assault on a couple and 64-year-old man in New Jersey, allegedly throwing steel cylinders and shattering the rear window of the couple's vehicle. Greenhouse first gained notoriety when he threw a pie in the face of former Soviet refusenik and Israeli minister Natan Sharansky while Sharansky was delivering a lecture at Rutgers University in 2003.
US Campaign's Hamas-Supporting Partner
One of the "Member Groups in Good Standing for 2016" in the US Campaign is the organization "American Muslims for Palestine" (AMP). In April 2016, former U.S. Treasury terror finance analyst Dr. Jonathan Schanzer testified before Congress regarding the numerous connections between AMP and three organizations that were shut down or held civilly liable by the U.S. government for providing financial support to the Hamas terrorist group. For example, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was designated by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist-supporting entity in 2001 for having channeled approximately $12.4 million to Hamas. One of HLF's officers was identified by Hamas' top official as "the Hamas leader for the U.S." While a number of HLF officials fled the United States or were convicted, at least three have transferred to central positions in AMP. Whether they are still involved via AMP in terror financing is unknown. What is clear is that AMP has become one of the most significant funders of the violent campus BDS group "Students for Justice in Palestine," providing money, speakers, training, and even "apartheid walls" to SJP activists on campus.
This penchant for violence and terrorism extends beyond the leadership of the US Campaign to the invited guest speakers at its upcoming conference. For example, one guest speaker is Abir Kopty, a Christian Arab citizen of Israel, former member of the city council of Nazareth, and BDS activist, who in 2013 was investigated by the Israeli police for incitement to violence. The investigation was triggered by her call for the Christian Arab organizer of a meeting to discuss Christian enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces to be defamed and branded as a "collaborator."
Another session at the upcoming conference will be led by Al-Haq, a Palestinian NGO headed by Shawan Jabarin. Jabarin has admitted to being part of the U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). While he claims to have ended his PFLP connections during his student years, the Israeli Supreme Court determined in 2007 that "[Jabarin] is apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…. In part of his activities, he is the director of a human rights organization, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organization which does not shy away from acts of murder and attempted murder which have nothing to do with rights, and on the contrary deny the most basic of all human rights…without which there are no other rights – the right to life."
BDS Discrimination and Anti-Semitism
The BDS campaign calls for the boycott of Israeli academics, cultural figures, and businesses, based solely on the criterion that they are Israeli. As such, it is widely seen as being discriminatory. Furthermore, as BDS singles out and demonizes the world's only Jewish state, and in practice often targets Jewish supporters of Israel, it has also frequently been described as anti-Semitic. For that reason, thirteen U.S. states, as well as Congress, have passed legislation aimed at combating BDS.
The upcoming US Campaign BDS conference will take place at the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel in Arlington, Virginia. The Virginia Human Rights Act explicitly declares that it is the policy of the Commonwealth to "Safeguard all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin… in places of public accommodation." It further notes, "The provisions of this chapter shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of its policies."
The BDS conference will conclude with a Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. It should be noted as well that the type of discrimination inherent in the BDS campaign is prohibited in Washington, D.C., as well. The Washington, D.C. Human Rights Act states, "It is the intent of the Council of the District of Columbia…to secure an end in the District of Columbia to discrimination for any reason other than that of individual merit, including, but not limited to, discrimination by reason of race, color, religion, national origin."
Due to the discriminatory and anti-Semitic nature of the BDS campaign, more and more countries and states are taking concrete steps against it. As mentioned, 13 American states have passed anti-BDS legislation; Congress has passed two pieces of anti-BDS legislation and is considering several more. President Obama, as well as both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, have strongly condemned efforts to promote boycotts of Israel. Beyond the United States, anti-BDS legislation and legal decisions have come into effect in the UK, France, and Spain, and bank accounts of BDS organizations have been shut down in Germany, Austria, France, the UK, and Ireland.
Members of Congress, regardless of their stance regarding Israel's presence in the West Bank, must carefully consider accepting requests to be lobbied by representatives of an organization that calls for the destruction of a U.S. ally, supports terror and violence, and promotes discriminatory and anti-Semitic policies.
Dan Diker is a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya. He is a former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress.