On Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) filed a resolution defending boycotts — intended to push back against states that refuse to do business with companies boycotting Israel due to the Palestinian Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement. Her resolution defended boycotts in general by mentioning historic American boycotts against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
“We are introducing a resolution … to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights in regard to boycotting. And it is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement,” Omar told Al-Monitor.
The resolution, H.Res. 496, does not explicitly mention Israel or BDS, but it does condemn the political movements against BDS.
Praising America’s boycott tradition, the resolution notes that “despite this tradition, governments and nongovernmental organizations alike have sought to criminalize, stigmatize, and delegitimize the use of boycotts in an attempt to stifle constitutionally protected political expression.”
Therefore, the resolution calls on Congress to affirm “that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution”; to oppose “unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad”; and “urges Congress, States, and civil rights leaders from all communities to endeavor to preserve the freedom of advocacy for all by opposing antiboycott resolutions and legislation.”
Omar added some moral weight to her pro-BDS measure by citing America’s “proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad,” including boycotts against Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union — the U.S. Olympic Committee boycotting the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow — and apartheid South Africa.
The suggestion that BDS involves key “civil rights” advocacy overlooks the anti-Semitism the movement inflames on American college campuses. Activists have denounced Israel as a “white supremacist state.” There is a liberal veneer to some modern anti-Semitism.
Comparing boycotts against the anti-Semitic evil of Nazi Germany to boycotts that inflame anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses is utterly disgusting. It is exactly this kind of ugly rhetoric that led Trump to lash out at Omar along with other members of “The Squad.” This does not justify his tweets, but it should be condemned nonetheless.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.