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Over 60 Massachusetts Organizations Protest Anti-Boycott Legislation

Plan to Deliver Open Letter to Commonwealth Senators and Representatives Tuesday Morning

Over 60 organizations across the Commonwealth have formed the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition, including groups representing Muslims, Christians, Jews, American Indians, students, professors, labor unions, lawyers, and LGBTQ communities; as well as advocates on human rights, peace and justice, anti-racism, housing, criminal justice reform, corporate accountability, civil liberties, and climate change.

The Coalition released a letter asking Massachusetts lawmakers to oppose any bill that would legislate against Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) strategies for justice in Palestine/Israel.  The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has announced plans to submit such legislation.

“Since at least 1902–with the action led by Jewish women against Kosher butchers charging exorbitant rates for meat in New York–the boycott has been a crucial tactic by which Americans have voiced their conscience and contributed to positive social change,” said Jeffrey Melnick, Professor of American Studies at University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a member of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine. “Today I stand with all who want to protect a time-honored American approach to political protest which has made such a difference, in New York, in Montgomery, and in Cape Town.”

While the bill’s text is not yet available, its intention is similar to that of dozens of other anti-boycott bills introduced into state legislatures across the country: to curb a growing movement for leveraging consumer and constituent power to persuade Israel to comply with international law and to respect Palestinian human rights.

“These coordinated, nation-wide efforts to stop activists from doing our peaceful, legitimate BDS work show that when it comes to speaking out on Palestine, there is a free speech exception,” says Noah Habeeb of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine. “The good news is, you only have to shut down the conversation when you think you’ll lose it – and that means we are winning.”

“Anti-BDS legislation often contains objectionable language that erases the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories,” says Susan Nicholson of Massachusetts Peace Action’s Working Group on Palestine/Israel.  “By erasing this distinction, Massachusetts lawmakers would place themselves in opposition to nearly five decades of unbroken US policy opposing settlements.”  

Representatives of these groups will deliver letters to Massachusetts lawmakers tomorrow (Tuesday, 3/15) mid-day, following a State House briefing by Israeli activist Jeff Halper at 11:00 AM in room 348.

The original letter and signatories are below:

An Open Letter to the MA State House from the MA Freedom to Boycott Coalition

“Non violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding…It is a sword that heals.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Why We Can’t Wait,’ 1963

The Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition asks the Massachusetts legislature to heed Dr. King’s words as they consider upcoming anti-boycott legislation.  While the bill’s text is not yet available, its intention is similar to that of dozens of other anti-boycott bills introduced into state legislatures across the country: to curb Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a peaceful and legitimate strategy for leveraging consumer and constituent power to persuade Israel to comply with international law and to respect Palestinian human rights.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1982’s NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. that boycotts intended to effect political, social or economic change are protected by the First Amendment.  Such boycotts have been essential tools in US movements for civil rights, labor, the environment, and the struggle against South African Apartheid. As grassroots groups building stronger Massachusetts communities, we are concerned that anti-boycott legislation is not only an unconstitutional violation of free speech, but a threat to our right to organize.

We urge Massachusetts lawmakers to respect constituents who – like growing numbers of Americans across the country – recognize the capacity of boycotts to bring about positive change in Palestine/Israel and the rest of the world as it is forged into Dr. King’s healing sword.

Signed,

Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia

American Friends Service Committee – Cambridge

Arlington Street Church – Social Action Committee

Better Future Project

Black and Pink

Boston Alliance for Water Justice

Boston Climate Action Network

Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights

Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine

Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine

Cambridge to Bethlehem People to People Project

Cambridge United for Justice with Peace

City Life Vida Urbana

Code Pink

Corporate Accountability International

Dorchester People for Peace

Executive Board & Members of United Steelworkers of America Local 8751

Families for Justice as Healing

Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine at UMass Boston

First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain

Friends of Sabeel – New England

Grassroots International

Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine

Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee

Islamic Society of Northeastern University

Intelligent Mischief

Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston

Jewish Voice for Peace – Western Massachusetts

Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine

Justice for Palestine at Harvard Law School

Kairos/Franklin County Justice for Palestine

Make Shift Boston

Massachusetts Global Action/Encuentro 5

Massachusetts Peace Action

Muslim Justice League

National Lawyers Guild – Massachusetts Chapter

No More Guantanamos

North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice

Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine

1for3.org

Palestine Advocacy Project

Palestine Israel Task Team of First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, UCC

Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims

Project Voice, American Friends Service Committee, Massachusetts

Showing up for Racial Justice – Boston

St. Francis and St. Theresa Catholic Worker of Worcester

Tree of Life Educational Fund

Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace

Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine

UMass Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine

United American Indians of New England

United for Justice with Peace

UUs for Justice in the Mid-East Massachusetts

Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment

Wellesley College Students for Justice in Palestine

Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine

Western Massachusetts Labor for Palestine

Youth Against Mass Incarceration