Defying the Boycotters
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emboldened the anti-Israel boycott movement by warning Israel of further delegitimization and condemnation if it dares to spurn his soon-to-be-proposed peace framework, bipartisan activity in the House of Representatives told a different story. Congressmen from President Obama's home state affirmed their bipartisan support for Israel.
This past week Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced the Protect Academic Freedom Act (H.R. 4009). This bipartisan legislation amends the Higher Education Act of 1965, blocking universities from receiving federal funds if they engage in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars. This measure is a direct response to the American Studies Association (ASA) academic boycott of Israel that took place in December.
But the Roskam/Lipinski amendment goes beyond merely penalizing academic institutions for obstructing academic freedom. It sends a clear, unequivocal message calling out the boycott and delegitimization campaigns against Israel for what they truly are -- bigotry.
"These boycotts not only threaten educational cooperation between the United States and Israel, but ultimately undermine the academic goals of all nations. Congress has a responsibility to fight back against these hateful campaigns, which contradict academic freedom and are designed to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel," said Roskam in a written statement.
Such recent developments in the evolution of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement illustrate the chasm between the administration and politicians closer to home. For Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama administration, the BDS movement represents a tactic-a tool of fear being used to strongarm Israel into compliance with the Obama administration's formula for Middle East peace.
The Obama administration knows exactly what it's doing. In a letter to Kerry, the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman elucidates the fact that Kerry's warnings and his threats are one and the same:
"In speaking about the price Israel will pay if the peace talks break down and Israel is blamed, you may have thought you were merely describing reality. But as the key player in the process, the impact of your comments was to create a reality of its own."
While the White House has exploited the BDS movement for its own purpose, state legislators in a bipartisan manner are joining the House of Representatives, demonstrating their support for the only democracy in the Middle East -- expressing their condemnation of BDS campaigns and the anti-Semitism that drives them.
In Pennsylvania, State Sen. Anthony H. Williams introduced Senate Resolution 279 that calls upon "the Department of Education, the State System of Higher Education, each of the State-related universities and all of Pennsylvania's independent colleges and universities to reject anti-Semitism and not participate in the academic boycott." The Pennsylvania House has followed suit with an identical resolution.
Similar legislation has already passed New York's state senate, and Maryland followed suit just last week with over 50 cosponsors. The Illinois senate is expected to propose legislation similar to Pennsylvania's this week.
What cannot be ignored or minimized concerning the action of Congress and state legislative bodies is their willingness to call the boycotts what they are -- anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama lack the integrity to do the same, their moral compass directing them to seize the opportunity to harness a time-tested, tried and true hate campaign to drive a political agenda.
Sounds like Pennsylvania Avenue could learn a thing or two from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Paul Miller is an op-ed contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. He serves as principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-based new media and political consulting firm.