Ilhan Omar Introduces Resolution to Defend Americans' Right to Boycott

Legislation is unveiled as Omar plans visit to Israel next month, testing Israeli anti-boycott law ■ Text cites boycott of Nazi Germany as example for other boycotts of 'Americans of conscience'

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar
Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images/AFP

Under fire from U.S. President Trump and ahead of a newly-announced trip to Israel and the West Bank, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has introduced a resolution championing “the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights.”

The resolution, referred to the House Judiciary Committee this week, is clearly aimed at countering legislative efforts to outlaw the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel – although it does not mention Israel by name.

Omar’s resolution is co-sponsored by her fellow progressive “squad” member, Palestinian-American Minnesota Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, along with Rep. John Lewis, a veteran House member and a hero of the civil rights movements.

The squad: U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, second from left, speaks, as U.S. Reps., from left, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, listen, in Washington, on Tuesday, July 16, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite,AP

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The resolution was unveiled at the same time Omar revealed her plans to visit Israel and the West Bank along with Tlaib next month, a visit that will test  Israel’s law which allows authorities to deny entry to individuals who support boycotting the country.

The resolution affirms 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” and “opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad.” Finally, it “urges Congress, States, and civil rights leaders from all communities to endeavor to preserve the freedom of advocacy for all by opposing anti-boycott resolutions and legislation.”

Among examples of America’s “proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad” the resolution cites “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.”

The resolution cites other instances of international boycotts by “Americans of conscience”: Boycotting Imperial Japan in the run-up to WWII, the U.S. boycott of  the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the boycott of South African goods during the Apartheid era.

The resolution was immediately applauded by the BDS movement.

“It reassures us that progressives, including in Congress, are defending freedom of expression and the right of oppressed communities, including Palestinians, to peacefully fight for their rights,” Hind Awwad, a spokesperson for the BDS Movement, said in a statement.

Jewish Voice For Peace, which supports the BDS movement, said that the resolution showed “unwavering support for human rights, free speech, and the fight for social justice.”

Omar’s new legislation comes as House Democrats remain conflicted over an anti-BDS resolution, H.R. 246, which is set to come to a vote next week, with moderate pro-Israel Democrats backing the measure and progressives opposing it as a violation of free speech. 

That bipartisan bill “opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel,” declaring that BDS “undermines” Israeli-Palestinian negotiations towards a two-state solution. 

Tlaib slammed the bill last week as being “unconstitutional” and claimed that it was meant to “silence opposition of Israel’s blatantly racist policies that demonize both Palestinians and Ethiopians.” 

According to Politico, progressive Democrats have been “urging” party leaders to postpone a vote on the anti-BDS bill in the interest of party unity. 

But pro-Israel Democrats, the report said, have been pushing back, insisting that the bipartisan bill be brought to the floor for a vote before Congress break for August recess.  

If they fail to do so, some suggested in the report, Trump would use the Democratic delay of the resolution to continue to “paint Democrats as anti-Israel.”