Yesterday, in a rather stunning feat of what looks like malicious trolling, Representative Ilhan Omar co-sponsored a resolution designed to support the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the state of Israel. The resolution itself is clever. It doesn’t mention Israel, and is crafted as an ode to free speech. Its key operative provision merely “affirms that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Well, yes. Free expression is free expression. Individual anti-Semites have just as much a constitutional right to boycott Israeli products as individual racists have a constitutional right to refuse to patronize black-owned businesses. The fact that the Constitution protects such conduct doesn’t render it any less repugnant, and lest you doubt the underlying intention of Omar’s actions, she made it very clear in an interview with Al-Monitor that the resolution was an “opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”
Supporters of BDS, however, must reckon with some inconvenient facts and some rather important laws: The movement’s anti-Semitism often leads it to advocate violations of the law.
Before I came to National Review, I served as a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, and we intervened directly to inform BDS-supporting institutions of both the movement’s anti-Semitic roots and its unlawful conduct toward Israeli students and academics.
In 2014 I co-authored a letter to the Westin Bonaventure hotel informing it that it would almost certainly be in violation of California nondiscrimination law if it went ahead with plans to host the American Studies Association’s annual meeting. The ASA had declared that it “endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” which meant that it intended to bar Israeli “institutions and their representatives,” which include all individual Israeli academics “serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents, etc.), or of the Israeli government,” from participating in the conference.
This declaration flatly violated California civil-rights statutes, which prohibit “business establishments” from discriminating against or boycotting any person on the basis of, among other things, their race, religion, or national origin. Under pressure, the ASA reversed course and declared that Israeli academics could attend its meeting.
Later that same year, I co-authored another anti-BDS letter, this time to Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, warning her that if the student-employee union voted to join the BDS movement, the UC system risked serious violations of federal law, state law, and its own nondiscrimination policies. How? The explanation was simple: “The consequences of any boycott would be grave for Israelis working and studying alongside [union] members, subjecting them to scrutiny, reprisals, and retaliation merely because of their national origin or the national origin of their sponsors or affiliates.”
The fundamental truth about BDS is that while not all of its supporters are anti-Semites, the movement itself is anti-Semitic in its intent and effect. Many of its most prominent supporters are crystal clear about their purpose. The Jewish Virtual Library has collected some of the more egregious quotes for posterity:
“BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”
“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.”
“Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel. . . . That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”
I could go on and on. Even at its most benign, the BDS movement singles out Israel for the most exacting scrutiny and the most egregious punishment in much the same way that the U.N. focuses obsessively on the Jewish state’s alleged crimes to the exclusion of staggering, mass-scale human-rights abuses across the globe. Standard definitions of anti-Semitism include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” That’s BDS in a nutshell: It’s a vile movement, from the ground up. There is no moral ambiguity here.
Legally, the analysis is more complex, but the white-nationalist analogy holds up quite well. Yes, you have a right to join the tiki-torch brigade and march to your heart’s content. You have a right not to watch pro sports because most of the athletes are nonwhite. But the instant you form or join a public accommodation — or the instant you join an arm of the state — your discrimination becomes unlawful.
The bottom line here is clear: When Ilhan Omar supports BDS, she shouldn’t be permitted to wrap herself in the American flag. The Constitution grants her the same rights it grants all other bigots, but for the movement to mean anything it has to violate the law, including the very non-discrimination statutes that were designed to lead the United States out of its Jim Crow past.