WASHINGTON — A group of pro-Palestinian activists held a briefing at the United Methodist Building to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates for punitive measures against Israel by private and government sectors, after their planned gathering was pushed off Capitol Hill turf.
The event, sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, was originally supposed to take place on Capitol Hill in the Rayburn House Office Building. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office reportedly requested Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-Texas) office cancel the event after a staff member in their office booked the room on Capitol Hill for the group’s pro-BDS briefing.
“There was a mix-up and we are very glad we were able to move the event here and have people come out and, like several of the speakers have said, hopefully in the future we can hold events in Congress because it’s an issue obviously very important to the American people, and our tax dollars are being used to fund the occupation and to fund these policies that are abusive of Palestinians’ human rights,” Ramah Kudaimi, director of grassroots organizing at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, said during the Sept. 16 briefing.
“We deserve the right to actually have these hearings and talk with our members of Congress about them and demand that our taxpayer dollars are being used to deal with the things we need at home such as hospitals, roads and schools,” she added.
Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal who was one of the speakers at the briefing, expressed disappointment that the group had to find a different venue and could not hold the event on Capitol Hill.
“I had the privilege of coming here every morning for a whole summer to Capitol Hill. I used to be so excited to come and see elected officials from all walks of life representing all sides of our country, all perspectives and all political ideologies,” said Saksena while standing in front of a screen that read, “The Right to Boycott.”
“I was going to talk about how that experience really instilled in me a love for democracy and how that love for democracy took me to law school and eventually brought me to Palestine Legal. At Palestine Legal the backbone of our organization, like the backbone of American democracy, is the First Amendment,” he added.
Saksena said the U.S. cannot have a healthy democracy without the free exchange of ideas.
“Democracy is strongest when we are able to express our ideas and when we are able to challenge each other’s beliefs,” he said.
Alli McCracken, co-director of the liberal antiwar group Code Pink: Women for Peace, updated the attendees on Code Pink’s efforts to oppose Israel. She touted the group’s opposition to the company Ahava for producing some of its cosmetic products in the West Bank. McCracken said Code Pink’s goal was to hold public protests as a way to convince them to move their factory out of “occupied Palestine.”
According to McCracken, Code Pink protested at Ahava events in different countries while wearing bikinis with fake mud to symbolize the company’s advertisements for its Natural Dead Sea Mud products.
“Ahava means love in Hebrew but our slogan for the campaign is there is no love in occupation,” she said.
In March 2016, Ahava announced plans to move its factory out of the West Bank.
McCracken said Code Pink had informed Oxfam International, a humanitarian aid organization affiliated with “Sex and the City” actress Kristin Davis, a spokeswoman for Ahava, about their view of Ahava’s operations with the hopes that Davis would end her relationship with the company.
“Lucky for us she immediately was very receptive to it and dropped Ahava — she stopped being their representative, so that drew a lot of attention to the campaign, making people start talking about Ahava and how it is illegally profiting from these settlements,” she said.
Shezza Abboushi Dallal, a member of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, and Philip Farah, co-founder of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, also participated in the briefing.