Massachusetts Human Rights Advocates Applaud Withdrawal of Anti-Boycott Amendment: Proposal Would Have Impeded First Amendment Rights

Contact: Eli Gerzon, Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston: (339) 223-3185, eli@eligerzon.com

Boston, MA: After pressure from advocates for Palestinian rights, Massachusetts Senator Cynthia Creem of Newton withdrew amendment 133 of Economic Development Bill S.2423 around 5 pm yesterday.  If passed, 133 would have put a chill on free speech by penalizing businesses who engage in nonviolent economic boycott.

“This amendment is part of a national strategy to silence Palestinians and those who favor an even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine problem,” said Cole Harrison, executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action. “Other justice movements may also suffer consequences. Political boycotts are a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment, as reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in an NAACP case in 1982.”

Members of the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition mobilized supporters to contact their senators in opposition to the amendment.  The coalition of over 60 organizations formed to oppose this type of law in March, when the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) announced its intention to lobby for legislation penalizing boycotts of Israel.  Additionally, legal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Palestine Legal oppose anti-boycott legislation on first amendment grounds.

“Had it been in effect years ago, this amendment would have curtailed the boycott of South African Apartheid. Boycott is a tactic that goes all the way back to the Boston Tea Party,” said Susan Etscovitz, a member of the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine and a constituent of Senator Creem in Brookline. “The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions for equal rights is gaining ground across the United States. Groups that oppose Palestinian rights, including the JCRC, are resorting to unconstitutional silencing tactics because they are losing the debate.”

Meanwhile, local advocates continue to employ boycott in the movement for justice in Palestine/Israel. The Massachusetts Against Hewlett-Packard (MAHP) campaign, launched in May, calls on the commonwealth and its municipalities to boycott the company until it ends its complicity in mass incarceration, US deportation of immigrants, and Israeli occupation.

“I’m disappointed that this amendment was introduced to deny the ability of Palestinians and our supporters to use boycotts to protect our families from illegal military occupation,” said Ibraheem Samirah of MAHP. “At times like these we should be encouraging nonviolent activism instead of punishing it. I’m glad Senator Creem withdrew her amendment as suddenly as she proposed it.”

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Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston is the local chapter a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 60 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an  Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.