The Israel lobby seeks to criminalize criticisms

That Israel is on the road to becoming a rightwing theocracy should be no surprise to anyone following developments in that country. As part of that effort, Israel keeps making the plight of Palestinians worse by denying them the basic necessities of life. This atrocious inhumane treatment of Palestinians and other minority groups in Israel, Gaza and the Occupied West Bank has led to increased support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

As Robert Mackey writes, criticisms by the EU of Israel’s actions has stung, with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in a closed-door meeting that the concern of the EU for the rights of Palestinians is ‘crazy’.

In recent years, Israel has destroyed hundreds of European-financed structures — including schools, playgrounds and solar panels — built to help Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu and his ultranationalist supporters have harshly criticized European governments for providing financial support to Israeli rights groups, including Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, which work to expose abuses by Israel’s military in the occupied territories.

The prime minister and members of his right-wing coalition government have also complained bitterly about an E.U. directive issued in 2015 to clarify that the label “Made in Israel” cannot be used for products from Israeli settlements built in the occupied territories, which are illegal according to both the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Charter.

However the Israel lobby is strong in the US and they have most members of the US congress in its pockets and they are trying to kill the opposition by taking away their free speech rights, an act of political arrogance that is breathtaking. Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim write about the lobby’s latest move, led by one of its chief organs AIPAC.

THE CRIMINALIZATION OF political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the west. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing t-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

But now, a group of 43 Senators – 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats – want to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: anyone guilty of violating its prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000, and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

THIS PERNICIOUS BILL highlights many vital yet typically ignored dynamics in Washington. First, journalists love to lament the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, yet the very mention of the word “Israel” causes most members of both parties to quickly snap into line in a show of unanimity that would make the regime of North Korea blush with envy. Even when virtually the entire world condemns Israeli aggression, or declares settlements illegal, the U.S. Congress – across party and ideological lines – finds virtually complete harmony in uniting against the world consensus and in defense of the Israeli government.

Second, the free speech debate in the U.S. is incredibly selective and warped. Pundits and political officials love to crusade as free speech champions – when doing so involves defending mainstream ideas or attacking marginalized, powerless groups such as minority college students. But when it comes to one of the most systemic, powerful, and dangerous assaults on free speech in the U.S. and the west generally – the growing attempt to literally criminalize speech and activism aimed at the Israeli Government’s occupation – these free speech warriors typically fall silent.

Third, AIPAC continues to be one of the most powerful, and pernicious, lobbying forces in the country. In what conceivable sense is it of benefit of Americans to turn them into felons for the crime of engaging in political activism in protest of a foreign nation’s government?

As long as the Israel lobby remains powerful, the US will not deviate from its disastrous course in the Middle East.


  1. says

    Israel is on the road to becoming a rightwing theocracy

    It has always been a theocracy. You can’t describe any nation that was founded on the basis of religion as anything else. Maybe an “ethnocracy” but since the ethnicity is a religious cultural identity, that’s a stretch.

  2. hyphenman says

    @Marcus Ranum No. 1

    Actually, no. We can talk about where the country has come to, but from Theodore Herzl to Ben Gurion to Golda Meyer, Israel was meant to be, and began as, a socialist country. Those leaders thought that the religious element--a tiny, tiny minority in the early years--would shrink and disappear or at least remain an inconsequential element. They didn’t foresee the rise of orthoprax Jews as a political force and the mass migration from the diaspora that came following the Six-Day War.

    Israel was conceived and founded by secular/ethnic Jews.


    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  3. busterggi says

    Well according to the bible the Jews are the original Maaster Race so is it surprising they act like their Nazi imitators?

  4. hyphenman says

    @busterggi No. 3

    Please don’t confuse any Hebrew Scripture references to Chosen People with ideals (religious or secular) of a Master Race.

    There’s an old Jewish joke (yes, that’s redundant, I know)…

    A man is complaining in shul (synagogue) about all his troubles and god says, “Hey, I made you the chosen people didn’t I?” The man replies, “Just between us, you couldn’t have chosen someone else?”

    In a more Talmudic sense, Chosen is understood to mean chosen for a special obligation, not chosen for special treatment or favor..


    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  5. aashiq says

    Israel is no longer a foreign country. It is a sacred object, to be revered and protected from criticism. The relationship between Israel and the US is increasingly akin to that between India and England during the colonial period…a small country running a larger country to its own benefit.

    This is the take on this wretched new law by Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept:

  6. aashiq says

    @hyphenman #2
    Pakistan was also founded by secular Muslims at around the same time as Israel. Their plans were remarkably similar. It now seems that both countries will end up in the same place. Alarmingly, both are nuclear countries and a threat to their neighbors.

  7. hyphenman says

    @aashiq No. 6

    Very true, and all the more reason we must continue to hold tightly to our opposition to those who would make of the United States the Christian nation the founders did their best to prevent.


  8. aashiq says

    Israeli power is enabled in the US by Americans who are clearly conflicted. These conflicts are now in the open, but unchallenged. This is (and should be) troubling not only for Americans, but for Israelis as well. Israel is a foreign country, and each and every American has the absolute right to criticize any foreign country. Yet, laws are being passed to make criticism of Israel illegal. People are generally terrified to bring up Israel in polite company, to avoid the risk of being labelled anti-Semitic.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    On the bright side, there’s basically zero chance that laws like this in the US that criminalize this kind of political speech will survive court review. (However, I’d be concerned if I was cooperating with a foreign entity, and especially if I was doing money exchanges with a foreign entity.)

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