This past weekend, I read an interesting article in The Intercept, “US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel.” It caught my eye because I’ve had the privilege of meeting and discussing this boycott campaign with one of the founding members of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, Omar Barghouti. What I know about the movement leads me to conclude that it comes nowhere close to being a threat to the state of Israel, if that country is serious about ending its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.
The subject is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, H.R. 1697, that would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or Israeli businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to 20 years.
I did a double take when I saw that one of the many co-sponsors of the bill is our 20th Congressional District representative, Jimmy Panetta. What follows are the comments that I would share with him in a letter or face to face:
Dear Congressman Panetta,
I wonder if you can explain to your constituents why you’ve chosen to attach your name to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, HR 1697.
In the first place, its title is misleading and it tries to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It is NOT anti-Semitic but rather it is against Israeli occupation of Palestine. It was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and, like that successful movement, is non-violent in nature and simply aimed at giving Palestinians the same rights as the rest of humanity.
Secondly, HR 1697, an AIPAC-sponsored proposal, appears to impose civic and criminal punishment on individuals solely for their political beliefs about Israel and its policies. Doesn’t that violate the 1st Amendment? Strictly speaking from a constitutional perspective, this bill seems to be antithetical to the very ideals Congress seeks to uphold. So, again, Mr. Panetta, why are you co-sponsoring it?
Thirdly, why would a congressman from the 20th District – one based on agriculture and tourism – feel the need to be a part of this bill? You sit on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, not Foreign Affairs or Financial Services. Additionally and ironically, we live in an area that was affected by a boycott of its own back in the 1960s. What’s the difference between UFW supporters of that historic grape strike in Delano – like Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Bill Monning – and BDS supporters? How is your co-sponsorship of HR 1697 going to impact Monterey or Santa Cruz counties? And, on the other side of the world, what kind of message is this bill sending to the Palestinians and Israelis when things are heating up once again in Jerusalem over the Al-Aqsa dispute?
In an effort to urge you to reconsider your co-sponsorship, I would be happy to provide you neutral and accurate information about the BDS movement, if you’re interested in being fully informed. Additionally, you undoubtedly are aware there are many Palestinians and other Arabs who are your constituents here on the Monterey Peninsula and in the rest of your district. Many of them, I am sure, share my concern over your seemingly needless support of HR 1697. If you’re interested, we could meet with you to give you information that might make you rethink your support of this unfortunate bill.
Celeste B. Akkad
If Partisan readers feel as I do about this issue, I urge you to contact Congressman Panetta.
Celeste Akkad lives in Carmel.