I’m so delighted that President Obama and Congress are moving to impose sanctions on Russia over its military intervention in Crimea. Regardless of whether one thinks this is a wise or just policy in the case of Russia, this is setting a great political precedent in the United States for considering boycotts, divestment and sanctions on Israel over its military occupation of Palestine – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Until now, it has been the case that in the United States, if you talk about any kind of boycott, any kind of divestment, any kind of sanction to pressure the Israeli government to end its military occupation of Palestine, some apologists for the Israeli occupation have gone into rhetorical meltdown. Until now, we’ve collectively tolerated that the hysterical opposition to “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) of these apologists for the Israeli occupation be taken seriously in public discourse. In New York, Maryland, and Illinois, state legislators want to punish you if you even think about boycotting one egg from the Israeli occupation. We’re all for the right of free speech – unless you misuse your free speech rights to say something bad about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
But now, when it is proposed to sanction Russia over its military intervention in Crimea, it passes through public discourse like a hot knife through butter. No one complains that Russia is being “unfairly singled out.” No one claims that people who want to impose sanctions on Russia are motivated by an irrational hatred of the Russian people. No one claims that supporters of sanctions want to “delegitimize Russia” or “destroy Russia,” nor that supporters of sanctions “refuse to accept Russia’s right to exist.”
People are raising legitimate questions about sanctions on Russia, as they always should when new sanctions are proposed. Are they likely to be effective at achieving stated goals? Who is likely to be harmed by them, directly or indirectly? If they will harm innocent people, is that harm ethically justifiable?
But no one with any influence in public discourse is calling supporters of sanctions against Russia bad names, or demanding that they be punished for their political opinions.
Let’s draw a line in the sand. From now on, supporters of sanctions against Israel for its military occupation of Palestine must demand the same respect for our democratic rights that supporters of sanctions against Russia for its military intervention in Crimea enjoy. From now on, we must not tolerate any abrogation of our democratic rights to advocate for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli occupation. Let’s start by telling legislators in New York, Maryland, and Illinois to kill legislation abrogating our democratic rights to advocate for sanctions against the Israeli occupation. I’m looking at you, Illinois diaspora. “By the rivers gently flowing.” Stand up for our First Amendment rights.
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