Civil Rights Groups Tell Governor Pence: Don’t Stifle Free Speech

Indianapolis—A broad coalition of Indiana and national civil rights organizations have asked Indiana Governor Mike Pence to repudiate a non-binding Indiana legislative resolution that brands boycott, divestment, and sanctions (“BDS”) tactics to achieve equality and justice for Palestinians as “anti-Jewish.” SR 74 was passed by a voice vote on April 29th, following HR 59, a similar measure adopted by the Indiana House of Representatives.

A letter to Pence delivered May 15th argues that passage of SR 74 will stifle free speech by equating criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. “Our opposition to SR 74 arises from our firm commitment to constitutional principles, beginning with respect for free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. SR 74 is an affront to these rights. While ostensibly opposing anti-Semitism, it erroneously conflates criticism of Israeli policies and practices toward Palestinians with hatred of Jewish people. In its intolerance for political advocacy that it clearly misunderstands, the Resolution threatens to chill protected speech by intimidating people who wish to criticize Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians,” the letter stated.

Signatories to the letter are the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, U.S. Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Signatories to the petition include Indiana Center for Middle East Peace; Jewish Voice for Peace—Indiana; Students for Justice in Palestine—IUPUI; IUPUI Muslim Student Association; IUPUI Interfaith Coalition for Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine—University of Indianapolis; Indiana Palestine Solidarity Network; Hoosier Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (HUUJME); Christians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East; Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center; Veterans for Peace—Indiana Chapter; and the National Lawyers Guild—Indiana Chapter.

This non-binding resolution and a similar one in Tennessee seem intended to slow the growing momentum of the U.S. BDS movement. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church’s Pension Board have endorsed divestment from specified companies profiting from Israel’s human rightsabuses against Palestinians; student governments on 24 college campuses have asked their school administrations to divest; the American Friends Service Committee has divested; and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a signatory to the letter and a strong supporter of BDS, hosts many hundreds of national and local member organizations across the country.

The BDS movement is committed to nonviolent economic pressure as a catalyst for a just peace, which Palestinian civil society organizations have defined as an end to Israel’s military occupation and withdrawal from occupied Palestinians lands, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognition of the right of return by Palestinian refugees, under international law.

Read the Coalition’s letter here and full petition here.