Letter sent to Washington State Congressional delegation on May 8:
We are Washington residents and Washington organizations joining with Washington Freedom to Boycott because of our grave concerns about the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720 and H.R. 1697. These bills are part of a concerted campaign to suppress criticism of Israeli policies and to condemn the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. Even in their amended forms, these bills would have a chilling impact and possible serious consequences for our freedoms of speech and action.
Whatever your views on Israel, Palestine, or the BDS movement, we urge you not to support or vote for any anti-boycott measure that threatens our right to take collective action against injustice.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that boycotts are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. From the boycott of British tea in 1773 to the boycott of segregated buses in 1956 and beyond, boycott campaigns have a long and proud history in social justice and civil rights movements in the U.S.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is a grassroots campaign to gain equal rights for Palestinians and to pressure Israel to abide by international humanitarian law. While BDS is modeled after the South African boycott and thus calls for broad boycotts against Israeli institutions, nothing in it calls for discrimination against individuals solely because of their national origin, religion, or ethnicity.
S. 720 seeks to prohibit boycotts called by foreign governments or government entities. BDS is not a governmental entity. It is a call to action issued by a group of individuals and civilian associations. However, S.720 specifically defines the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) as a governmental organization. As a result, anyone who boycotts any of the Israeli products the UNHCR has listed could be subject to the penalties delineated in the 1979 Export Administration Act as referenced by S. 720.
Despite arguments to the contrary, S. 720 and H.R. 1697 can be used to target individuals. Their terminology of “domestic concern” can be interpreted to mean a corporation, a church, a sole proprietorship, or even an individual participating in an organization. Although the amended version of S. 720 has removed the possibility of a prison sentence, the bill still threatens a fine for noncompliance and therefore unconstitutionally threatens protected boycott actions.
These anti-boycott measures are not standing up to legal and other scrutiny. In Dickinson, Texas, the City Council had to reverse its position on aid to individual hurricane victims after a national outcry about how a Texas anti-BDS law was being applied. The ACLU has mounted lawsuits on behalf of a Kansas teacher and an Arizona lawyer who have been negatively impacted by anti-BDS legislation in their respective states. On January 30, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Kansas anti-BDS law that calls for contractors to certify that they are not engaged in boycotting Israel, saying that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”
Brian Hauss, ACLU attorney, stated, “The court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law...This ruling should serve as a warning to government officials around the country that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts.”
We ask that you refuse to sign, sponsor, endorse or vote for any form of anti-BDS or anti-boycott legislation. Please stand firm in support of our constitutional rights and freedoms.
Washington Freedom to Boycott
Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites
Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington State (CAIR)
Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land
(Diocese of Olympia)
Evergreen Students for Justice in Palestine
Freedom Socialist Party
International Trauma Treatment Program
Jewish Voice for Peace – Seattle
Jewish Voice for Peace - Tacoma
Kairos Puget Sound Coalition
Northwest Detention Center Resistance
Northwest Regional BDS Coalition
Occupation Free Seattle
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace
Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL)
Palestine Solidarity Committee - Seattle
Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane
Peace Justice and Healing - Tacoma
Race & Climate Justice – Seattle
Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice
Rising Tide - Seattle
Seattle Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (Seattle CISPES)
Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC)
Stop Veolia – Seattle
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Antioch University – Seattle
Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights - University of Washington (SUPER-UW)
United for Peace of Pierce County
Vancouver for Peace
Veterans for Peace - Greater Seattle Chapter 92
Veterans for Peace – Rachel Corrie Chapter 109
Voices for Palestine
Washington Fair Trade Coalition
Whatcom Human Rights Task Force
Whatcom Peace and Justice Center
The Whatcom Peace & Justice Center is now accepting applications for summer interns. We have three positions: nonviolence, communications, and militarism research. Interns will be expected to put in an average of 4-7 hours per week through September 2018 and attend a weekly intern meeting, though scheduling is flexible. Internships are unpaid.
Interns will gain experience in nonprofit management and community organizing, will learn about local and international issues, and may get to know Bellingham and Whatcom County through new eyes. There will be ample opportunity to shape your internship experience. Background experience in living/studying critical race theory, legal work, social inequality, community organizing, media, fundraising, and/or event planning will be helpful, as will a growth mindset.
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The Whatcom Peace & Justice Center works to create a voice for peace and social justice in Whatcom County through partnerships with local community and religious organizations, direct action, public witness, and education on alternatives to violence and war. We call on our government and society to disavow policies of violence and seek a culture of peace.
By Matteo Tamburini, WPJC Board Member
In the midst of horrible news from Gaza, the ongoing tensions with North Korea, the rise of neo-fascist and anti-immigrant movements throughout Europe (especially in my other home country, Italy), and the ongoing string of racist incidents, including the epidemic of police officers killing unarmed Black people, in this country, I would like to focus on John Oliver, darling of a certain subset of Progressives. His TV show, “Last Week Tonight,” which often offers insightful analysis on commentary on recent events, had a piece on Venezuela on May 13 (watch below) dedicated to mocking the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, and apparently absolving the United States of any responsibility for the current crisis in Venezuela.
Around 14 minutes into the segment, Oliver says: “America has undoubtedly done some awful things in Central and South America. We backed coup attempts, juntas and atrocities in Chile, Argentina and Guatemala but refreshingly, what is happening in Venezuela is actually not our fault.”
As any even casual observer of history knows, the United States has done a lot more, and much worse throughout its history. Since Mr. Oliver and his famously thorough research team apparently don’t know hardly anything about U.S. involvement in Latin America, I will offer a very incomplete syllabus for further investigation below.
Let’s start from Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), a United States Marine Corps major general, who at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
He is famously quoted as saying: "I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. "
Let’s follow up on a list of U.S. interventions after World War 2.
Nicaragua: The United States supported the Somoza dictatorship until 1979, then funded the Contras to attack the Sandinista government, along the way selling cocaine in the United States while the CIA and DEA looked the other way. This also conveniently provided President Reagan with a pretext to wage a disastrous “war on drugs” against Black people in the United States. Our support for the Contras was condemned by the International Court of Justice in 1986, and then our government vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions calling for the ICJ decision to be upheld.
Guatemala: After orchestrating the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz (on behalf of the United Fruit Company), the United States then supported a genocidal campaign that claimed the lives of well over 200,000 indigenous people. https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf
Bolivia: The United States was the major foreign backer of the dictatorial regime of René Barrientos, who seized power in a 1964 military coup. The CIA and U.S. Special Forces played a key role in suppressing a leftist peasant uprising that followed, including the 1967 murder of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a key leader in the movement.
El Salvador: The United States funded and supported the slaughter of thousands during the Salvadoran Civil War, including many catholic priests and nuns, most prominent among them the archbishop Oscar Romero (killed in 1980), victims of people trained at the “School of the Americas” (look it up).
Brasil: The United States supported the 1964 coup that overthrew Joao Goulart and led to a 20-year military dictatorship.
Haiti: Don’t get me started. Let’s just leave it at the forcible removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. And then read up on how white elites in the United States have always been terrified of a country that arose from a successful revolt of African people who had been enslaved.
Cuba: Our embargo has been denounced at the United Nations General Assembly every year almost unanimously.
Dominican Republic: The United States government supported Rafael Trujillo, whose 31 years in power are considered one of the bloodiest eras ever in the Americas.
Honduras: The Obama administration supported the coup in Honduras that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009
Venezuela: Perhaps not irrelevant context for the rest of his story, Oliver failed to mention that the United States supported the coup in Venezuela that temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in 2002.
Given the United States’ record (of which the list above is a woefully incomplete snapshot, and certainly does not come close to properly accounting for the atrocities and horrors visited on millions of innocent men women and children), and the role that the media have historically played in demonizing foreign leaders when their agendas run afoul of the economic interests of our domestic elites, I would like to suggest that at the very least John Oliver and his researchers owe themselves and their viewers a second history lesson.
We invite the WPJC community to contribute fact-checked submissions on local, national and global current events. Linking to original sources and articles is required. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for review.