BDS and Free Speech

The Netherlands has just declared the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel to be free speech. Israel is furious; but for classic conservatives, there is no easy answer to this issue.

“Statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” [Dutch Foreign Minister Bert] Koenders said Thursday...-- Jerusalem Post

Of course, Israel is furious about this.

In response to the Dutch move, [Israeli] Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon lashed back and told the Post that there needed to be limits on the concept of freedom of speech.

“Once free speech becomes a pretext for allowing hate speech, then it is no longer legitimate,” Nachshon said. -- Jerusalem Post

"Limits on the concept of freedom of speech?" Sounds detestable. Who gets to decide those limits?

Boycotts have been a major part of the Western social arsenal for centuries. History has been swayed by boycotts.

  • The Boston Tea Party led to a sense of American identity and the American Revolution
  • The Irish led boycott against eponymous Captain Boycott resurrected Irish nationalism and put Britain on notice that the Gaels were not beaten.
  • The Jews themselves unsuccessfully tried to boycott German goods in the 1930s, in hopes of toppling Hitler.
  • In Mandatory Palestine, both the Arabs and Jews tried to boycott each other. Labor Zionism was predicated on Jewish exclusivity.
  • Blacks led a boycott of the Montgomery Bus line to desegregate buses.
  • In NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware, 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld boycotts as protected speech.

So boycotts have an honorable history. It is with trepidation that any Western government should intervene to stop them. Normally, they are a vital part of the democratic process. At least Sweden thought so, as well.

...Sweden had been the only European government to recognize that BDS is a civil society movement and that governments should not try to impede it. -- Electronic Intifada

But other nations in Europe have judged in favor of Israel. They agree with the Israeli government that BDS is hate speech intended to bankrupt the Jewish state into dissolution, just as South Africa was broken.

In October 2015, the French high court declared BDS illegal.

French law prohibits targeting of nations for discrimination -- Times of Israel

While one applauds France's preference for the Israeli position, the Muslim world asks why it is deemed okay for the French to draw nude pictures of Mohammed, insulting Islam, in Charlie Hebdo, but peaceful boycotts against Israel are now taboo. Of course, France is less inclined to appreciate Islamic calls for free speech after the Islamic attacks in Paris. Since when were the Muslims ever peacefully in favor of free speech? At least the French did not shoot up BDS organizations.

The fact remains, however: even though Islam obviously does not respect free speech; should the French have restricted free speech; albeit for a different purpose? Though Islam is despicable, free speech has taken a hit in France.

Amazingly, Spain, formerly the land of the Spanish Inquisition, declared BDS a form of discrimination, and therefore illegal. This is no clear voice coming out of Europe.

Is BDS free speech, a democratic movement to effect change in the Mideast, or anti-Semitic discrimination intended to destroy Israel? Depends on which country one is in, and which court is appealed to.

Now the U.S. Government has passed tough legislation to outlaw participation in, or complicity with, the Arab League Boycott of Israel; but this was done on the basis that American businesses should not be coerced into supporting the policies of foreign governments, not as a restriction on free speech. Individuals were never forbidden to boycott Israel, though until recently there was never a social demand for it.

In response to BDS, here in the USA, states have passed anti-BDS legislation laws where companies and groups, deemed to have boycotted Israel, are now blacklisted (counter-boycotted) from government contracts. BDS activists note that some of these states had no problem boycotting South Africa; and have vowed to fight these blacklists through the courts.

I do not support BDS, but I do support free speech; and so I am in a quandary.      

Such restrictions on free speech come to no good. After WWII, with the Holocaust in mind, European countries passed laws protecting minorities from hate speech. Instead of protecting Jews, the laws ended up protecting Muslims from criticism. Michel Houellebecq was hauled into French court for merely criticizing the literary merits of the Koran. Geert Wilders was hauled into Dutch court. Brigette Bardot was regularly in and out of court. And this is just a short list.

Laws intended to protect Jews ended up protecting the enemies of Jews.

Should boycotts become illegal in the USA, it may criminalize state laws intended to continue the boycott against Iran, a boycott Israel would endorse.

We urge states to do exactly the opposite. Rather than drop their sanctions against Iran, states should strengthen and expand those sanctions. Regardless of President Obama’s view of Iran, the states certainly have numerous moral and reputational reasons to prohibit the investment of public assets, such as pension funds, into companies doing business with countries that sponsor terrorism, and to prohibit state agencies from doing business with such companies. -- Wall Street Journal

An anti-boycott precedent could hurt Israel more than help it.

Some might say that free speech ends when it comes to the survival of the Jewish people. Questioning Israel's legitimacy is inherently anti-Semitic. Sounds good! But is it logical?

One might opine that the Confederacy had no legitimate right to exist. Does that make the person anti-Southern? Southerners can exist as individuals without a nation-state. Is it therefore intrinsically anti-Semitic to deny the legitimacy of Israel, if one accords civil rights to individual Jews?

Zionists would answer that Jewish identity is so tied up with the land, and since Jewish law requires one to be in the land, that yes! to deny the legitimacy of Israel is to be intrinsically anti-Semitic.

However, do all ethnic groups have a right to independence?!

Is one anti-Welsh if one thinks the claim for Welsh independence is weak? Is it anti-Celtic to deny the Bretons of Northwest France their own country? Is it anti-Quebecois to question the drive for Quebec independence?

If a three-state solution (Wales, Scotland, England) is proper for Britain, how about a five-state solution for Spain (Galicia, Catalonia, Basque Country, Andalusia, and Metro Madrid)? After all, all these groups have had a continuous presence in their lands for two thousand years. And let us not forget about the Cornish! They are resurrecting their formerly dead language.

I am emotionally sympathetic to claims of some of these groups, while less sympathetic to others. I think Catalonia can and should be free, but I cannot see a group as small as the Bretons ever attaining independence as a practical matter. But questioning the legitimacy of Breton independence does not make me anti-Breton. I have no opinion on Flemish independence.

The Palestinians would assert then that it is intrinsically anti-Palestinian to deny the right of Palestine to exist in Palestine. Jews would reply that Palestinians are Fakestinians. Palestinians would point to recent DNA evidence questioning the quantum of Hebrew DNA in modern Jews. Zionists would point to counter-evidence.

Elhaik says he has proved that Ashkenazi Jews’ roots lie in the Caucasus -- a region at the border of Europe and Asia that lies between the Black and Caspian seas -- not in the Middle East. They are descendants, he argues, of the Khazars, a Turkic people who lived in one of the largest medieval states in Eurasia and then migrated to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. -- Forward

It is last week's study versus next week's.

New genetic study: More evidence for modern Ashkenazi Jews’ ancient Hebrew patrimony -- Standford.edu

Whom to trust?

The two sides in this debate refuse to yield, and now the fight has been taken into European -- and soon to be American -- courts. They will fight to the last shred of Western Enlightenment Law has been eviscerated. Fifty years ago this would not have landed in anyone's court and the battling sides would have been told to confine their bickering solely to the Mideast.

I do not support BDS; but I do support the First Amendment. I want Israel to live, but I do not want dangerous restrictions put on free speech. Such laws always backfire. Ask Michel Houellebecq or Geert Wilders.

There is no easy answer to this problem. BDS is starting to hurt Israel. Agrexco, an Israeli agricultural firm, went bankrupt. Sodastream suffered a setback from BDS. BDS is rearing a generation of anti-Israel intelligentsia on campuses all over the Western world. If left unchecked BDS will snowball. Israel is right to fight it.

But is restricting free speech the only option left? Can't Israel fight BDS without eroding the most precious right of the past three centuries: Free Speech? and calling for restrictions? Particularly when conservative Zionists are so quick to use their freedom to attack Islam? Wouldn't restrictions also backfire on them?

I have no easy answer to this. I do not want to see Israel hurt or go under, but neither do I want free speech restricted. If one says BDS is an agent of Arab foreign policy -- and it may be -- and therefore should be illegal; how long would AIPAC hold up to similar scrutiny?

No one had expected the Arabs/Palestinians/Fakestinians to fight on this long or this determinedly. And it seems that no one will be allowed to take a neutral position. Will the West have to prioritize whether the Jewish state or Free Political Speech is the superior value? One's opinion on Israel is no longer confined to theory. It now seems Western democratic institutions and practices will be adversely affected.

The Arabs demand free speech to destroy Israel, but scream and shoot if Mohammed is criticized. Zionists wants free speech to criticize Islam, but will sue and if possible, prosecute, if one advocates BDS. We in the West no longer have the option to tell the opponents to take it elsewhere.

Any position I would take would get me flamed. So I leave it to the readers to thrash it out in the comments, chiefly because I am horrified that we have so few other options.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is neither Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.

The Netherlands has just declared the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel to be free speech. Israel is furious; but for classic conservatives, there is no easy answer to this issue.

“Statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” [Dutch Foreign Minister Bert] Koenders said Thursday...-- Jerusalem Post

Of course, Israel is furious about this.

In response to the Dutch move, [Israeli] Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon lashed back and told the Post that there needed to be limits on the concept of freedom of speech.

“Once free speech becomes a pretext for allowing hate speech, then it is no longer legitimate,” Nachshon said. -- Jerusalem Post

"Limits on the concept of freedom of speech?" Sounds detestable. Who gets to decide those limits?

Boycotts have been a major part of the Western social arsenal for centuries. History has been swayed by boycotts.

  • The Boston Tea Party led to a sense of American identity and the American Revolution
  • The Irish led boycott against eponymous Captain Boycott resurrected Irish nationalism and put Britain on notice that the Gaels were not beaten.
  • The Jews themselves unsuccessfully tried to boycott German goods in the 1930s, in hopes of toppling Hitler.
  • In Mandatory Palestine, both the Arabs and Jews tried to boycott each other. Labor Zionism was predicated on Jewish exclusivity.
  • Blacks led a boycott of the Montgomery Bus line to desegregate buses.
  • In NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware, 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld boycotts as protected speech.

So boycotts have an honorable history. It is with trepidation that any Western government should intervene to stop them. Normally, they are a vital part of the democratic process. At least Sweden thought so, as well.

...Sweden had been the only European government to recognize that BDS is a civil society movement and that governments should not try to impede it. -- Electronic Intifada

But other nations in Europe have judged in favor of Israel. They agree with the Israeli government that BDS is hate speech intended to bankrupt the Jewish state into dissolution, just as South Africa was broken.

In October 2015, the French high court declared BDS illegal.

French law prohibits targeting of nations for discrimination -- Times of Israel

While one applauds France's preference for the Israeli position, the Muslim world asks why it is deemed okay for the French to draw nude pictures of Mohammed, insulting Islam, in Charlie Hebdo, but peaceful boycotts against Israel are now taboo. Of course, France is less inclined to appreciate Islamic calls for free speech after the Islamic attacks in Paris. Since when were the Muslims ever peacefully in favor of free speech? At least the French did not shoot up BDS organizations.

The fact remains, however: even though Islam obviously does not respect free speech; should the French have restricted free speech; albeit for a different purpose? Though Islam is despicable, free speech has taken a hit in France.

Amazingly, Spain, formerly the land of the Spanish Inquisition, declared BDS a form of discrimination, and therefore illegal. This is no clear voice coming out of Europe.

Is BDS free speech, a democratic movement to effect change in the Mideast, or anti-Semitic discrimination intended to destroy Israel? Depends on which country one is in, and which court is appealed to.

Now the U.S. Government has passed tough legislation to outlaw participation in, or complicity with, the Arab League Boycott of Israel; but this was done on the basis that American businesses should not be coerced into supporting the policies of foreign governments, not as a restriction on free speech. Individuals were never forbidden to boycott Israel, though until recently there was never a social demand for it.

In response to BDS, here in the USA, states have passed anti-BDS legislation laws where companies and groups, deemed to have boycotted Israel, are now blacklisted (counter-boycotted) from government contracts. BDS activists note that some of these states had no problem boycotting South Africa; and have vowed to fight these blacklists through the courts.

I do not support BDS, but I do support free speech; and so I am in a quandary.      

Such restrictions on free speech come to no good. After WWII, with the Holocaust in mind, European countries passed laws protecting minorities from hate speech. Instead of protecting Jews, the laws ended up protecting Muslims from criticism. Michel Houellebecq was hauled into French court for merely criticizing the literary merits of the Koran. Geert Wilders was hauled into Dutch court. Brigette Bardot was regularly in and out of court. And this is just a short list.

Laws intended to protect Jews ended up protecting the enemies of Jews.

Should boycotts become illegal in the USA, it may criminalize state laws intended to continue the boycott against Iran, a boycott Israel would endorse.

We urge states to do exactly the opposite. Rather than drop their sanctions against Iran, states should strengthen and expand those sanctions. Regardless of President Obama’s view of Iran, the states certainly have numerous moral and reputational reasons to prohibit the investment of public assets, such as pension funds, into companies doing business with countries that sponsor terrorism, and to prohibit state agencies from doing business with such companies. -- Wall Street Journal

An anti-boycott precedent could hurt Israel more than help it.

Some might say that free speech ends when it comes to the survival of the Jewish people. Questioning Israel's legitimacy is inherently anti-Semitic. Sounds good! But is it logical?

One might opine that the Confederacy had no legitimate right to exist. Does that make the person anti-Southern? Southerners can exist as individuals without a nation-state. Is it therefore intrinsically anti-Semitic to deny the legitimacy of Israel, if one accords civil rights to individual Jews?

Zionists would answer that Jewish identity is so tied up with the land, and since Jewish law requires one to be in the land, that yes! to deny the legitimacy of Israel is to be intrinsically anti-Semitic.

However, do all ethnic groups have a right to independence?!

Is one anti-Welsh if one thinks the claim for Welsh independence is weak? Is it anti-Celtic to deny the Bretons of Northwest France their own country? Is it anti-Quebecois to question the drive for Quebec independence?

If a three-state solution (Wales, Scotland, England) is proper for Britain, how about a five-state solution for Spain (Galicia, Catalonia, Basque Country, Andalusia, and Metro Madrid)? After all, all these groups have had a continuous presence in their lands for two thousand years. And let us not forget about the Cornish! They are resurrecting their formerly dead language.

I am emotionally sympathetic to claims of some of these groups, while less sympathetic to others. I think Catalonia can and should be free, but I cannot see a group as small as the Bretons ever attaining independence as a practical matter. But questioning the legitimacy of Breton independence does not make me anti-Breton. I have no opinion on Flemish independence.

The Palestinians would assert then that it is intrinsically anti-Palestinian to deny the right of Palestine to exist in Palestine. Jews would reply that Palestinians are Fakestinians. Palestinians would point to recent DNA evidence questioning the quantum of Hebrew DNA in modern Jews. Zionists would point to counter-evidence.

Elhaik says he has proved that Ashkenazi Jews’ roots lie in the Caucasus -- a region at the border of Europe and Asia that lies between the Black and Caspian seas -- not in the Middle East. They are descendants, he argues, of the Khazars, a Turkic people who lived in one of the largest medieval states in Eurasia and then migrated to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. -- Forward

It is last week's study versus next week's.

New genetic study: More evidence for modern Ashkenazi Jews’ ancient Hebrew patrimony -- Standford.edu

Whom to trust?

The two sides in this debate refuse to yield, and now the fight has been taken into European -- and soon to be American -- courts. They will fight to the last shred of Western Enlightenment Law has been eviscerated. Fifty years ago this would not have landed in anyone's court and the battling sides would have been told to confine their bickering solely to the Mideast.

I do not support BDS; but I do support the First Amendment. I want Israel to live, but I do not want dangerous restrictions put on free speech. Such laws always backfire. Ask Michel Houellebecq or Geert Wilders.

There is no easy answer to this problem. BDS is starting to hurt Israel. Agrexco, an Israeli agricultural firm, went bankrupt. Sodastream suffered a setback from BDS. BDS is rearing a generation of anti-Israel intelligentsia on campuses all over the Western world. If left unchecked BDS will snowball. Israel is right to fight it.

But is restricting free speech the only option left? Can't Israel fight BDS without eroding the most precious right of the past three centuries: Free Speech? and calling for restrictions? Particularly when conservative Zionists are so quick to use their freedom to attack Islam? Wouldn't restrictions also backfire on them?

I have no easy answer to this. I do not want to see Israel hurt or go under, but neither do I want free speech restricted. If one says BDS is an agent of Arab foreign policy -- and it may be -- and therefore should be illegal; how long would AIPAC hold up to similar scrutiny?

No one had expected the Arabs/Palestinians/Fakestinians to fight on this long or this determinedly. And it seems that no one will be allowed to take a neutral position. Will the West have to prioritize whether the Jewish state or Free Political Speech is the superior value? One's opinion on Israel is no longer confined to theory. It now seems Western democratic institutions and practices will be adversely affected.

The Arabs demand free speech to destroy Israel, but scream and shoot if Mohammed is criticized. Zionists wants free speech to criticize Islam, but will sue and if possible, prosecute, if one advocates BDS. We in the West no longer have the option to tell the opponents to take it elsewhere.

Any position I would take would get me flamed. So I leave it to the readers to thrash it out in the comments, chiefly because I am horrified that we have so few other options.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is neither Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.