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Glenn Greenwald: Congress Is Trying to Make It a Federal Crime to Participate in Boycott of Israel

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Twenty-six states have laws preventing state agencies from contracting with companies or individuals aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. However, its opponents say BDS is a thinly disguised anti-Semitic attempt to debilitate or even destroy Israel. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest piece is headlined “A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States—So She Lost Her Job.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, his latest piece headlined “A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States—So She Lost Her Job.”

Glenn, why don’t you talk about, you know, exposing this story nationally? But we’re talking about the law in Texas. In fact, more than half the states in the United States have a contract like she was being forced to sign, if she wanted to keep her job as a speech pathologist.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, there are 26 states in the U.S. that have some version of this Texas law. They’re not all as severe as the one in Texas, though many of them are. Others have various kinds of restrictions on people who boycott Israel, prohibiting the expenditure of any funds to invest in companies, for example, or in pension funds, that have companies that invest—that advocate a boycott of Israel. They all have one thing in common, which is that they impose limitations on the opportunities and abilities of private citizens or private companies that support or participate in the boycott of Israel.

I think the most extreme example, Amy, that actually stuns me the most, is Andrew Cuomo in New York, who in 2016 issued an executive order, because he couldn’t get it passed through the Legislature, barring New York state agencies from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. And he actually ordered them to compile a public list, that would be published on a website, of any companies that were found to be boycotting Israel—yes, I can.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, if you could talk further about: How public do you have to be to be in violation of the law? If you say to a friend you’re not going to buy a product from Israel because you don’t want to support the occupation by the Israeli state of the Occupied Territories? Do you have to be a card-carrying member, if they have cards of BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement? What would lead you—how would a law like Texas’s—when would they say you have violated the law?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, I’m not sure if you were able to hear that last answer, the end of it. I was talking about the law—

AMY GOODMAN: We heard you.

GLENN GREENWALD: —imposed, yeah, by Andrew Cuomo in New York, where he ordered the agencies to use public information to compile a list of companies who said they were boycotting.

In the case of Texas, they’re really just relying on the word of the contractor. So, Bahia or others could just lie and say, “I promise not to boycott Israel,” even though they really are. Presumably, you could get someone fired if you find out that they really are supporting the boycott of Israel.

And the point I was making about New York and other states is that, at the same time that, for example, Governor Cuomo ordered a boycott—or, barred a boycott of Israel, two months earlier, he ordered his state employees to boycott North Carolina in protest of an anti-LGBT law that that state had adopted. So, in Andrew Cuomo’s worldview and the worldview of Texas, you’re allowed to boycott other American states and harm American businesses and be employed; you’re just not allowed to harm or boycott this one foreign country, Israel. You can boycott Canada or Russia or anybody else. It’s just special protection for Israel, that not even American businesses enjoy. That’s what makes it so shocking.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, this prospect of, the possibility of an omnibus budget bill being passed with a similar legislation at the national level, could you talk about that and how little attention it’s gotten?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. So, last year, a Democratic senator from Maryland, Benjamin Cardin, who’s one of the most loyal AIPAC supporters, introduced a bill that would actually make it a crime, a felony, to participate in an international boycott of Israel. And it attracted 43 co-sponsors—29 Republicans, 14 Democrats. And the ACLU screamed and yelled about this. They issued warnings saying this is one of the gravest threats to free speech they had ever seen. A bunch of Democratic senators who had co-sponsored it, like Kirsten Gillibrand and other, withdrew their support.

But now Cardin is back with a somewhat watered-down version, but still very threatening, that’s designed to uphold the state laws and also to allow financial penalties on the federal level for anyone participating in a boycott. He’s trying to sneak it through a bill that has to be passed, the lame-duck budget bill, so there’s no separate vote on this. He would just sneak it in there. And the ACLU is trying to do everything they can to warn people of the grave threat posed by Senator Cardin and his allies to make it a federal crime to participate in the boycott of Israel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the very act of getting all of this legislation passed to prevent people from participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement seems to indicate that there is a growing fear that the movement is having an impact.

GLENN GREENWALD: Of course. It is having an impact. In fact, we now have two members of Congress, newly elected members of Congress, who are the first Muslim women to be elected to the Congress. They’re celebrated stars of the Democratic Party. And they both explicitly support the boycott of Israel. So, you have some members of the Democratic Party, like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who say that boycotting Israel is anti-Semitic. But now you have this new generation of Democrats who are much more critical of Israel, including two who support the boycott. It’s spread on U.S. campuses. It’s spreading throughout Western Europe. There are Jewish groups who are so offended by the occupation that they now support the boycott of Israel.

So you’re absolutely right, Juan. The reason why there’s a worldwide effort to criminalize and suppress and punish it is precisely because they worry that the same thing will happen to Israel as what happened to the apartheid regime in the 1980s in South Africa when they were targeted with an identical boycott, which is the regime and the repression finally fell. And that’s what they’re most concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, I wanted to read the beginning of a piece just out by University Michigan professor Juan Cole. He writes—and he’s writing about Airbnb. He says, “The living space-sharing company Airbnb on Monday denied an allegation by the Israeli tourism minister that it had suspended its delisting of apartments in Israeli squatter settlements (which are Jewish-only) in the Palestinian West Bank. Airbnb has to boycott the Israeli squatter settlements because they are illegal. The European Union has for some time imposed some sorts of boycott on settlement institutions, and requires the labeling of settler goods, and a full economic boycott is under consideration in countries like Ireland.”

He goes on to say, “The argument sometimes heard is that Airbnb is treating the squatters differently than it does other disputed territories. It is a stupid argument and quite dishonest,” writes Professor Cole. “There aren’t any other countries that are keeping 5 million people stateless and without citizenship in a state, and gradually usurping all their rights and property.”

Can you talk about this? For example, Airbnb?

GLENN GREENWALD: The Airbnb case is really interesting, because they didn’t say they were going to delist all apartments or properties in Israel proper; they said only in the occupied territory of the West Bank, which the U.N., at the end of 2016, ruled was an illegal occupation. And one of the interesting things about the Texas law that makes it so offensive is it not only bars people from boycotting companies in Israel, but also Israeli companies in the West Bank. You’re not even allowed to do the milder, more mainstream version of the boycott aimed just at the illegal settlements in the West Bank that even the U.N. said was illegal.

And now there’s a dispute: Has Airbnb really caved in to the pressure and reversed their policy? Israel says they have; Airbnb is denying it. But that’s where these laws that we’ve been just talking about come into play and are so pernicious. Imagine if you’re an Airbnb executive. You could stand to lose a lot of state business, because there’s so many laws now in so many states—and it might be national—barring governments from entering into contracts with you as a company if you in any way boycott Israel. And this is the coordination that they’re trying to impose to prevent this kind of boycott from succeeding.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then ask you to stay with us, Glenn. But we’re going to be joined by Marc Lamont Hill. Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. We’ll link to his piece, “A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States—So She Lost Her Job.” This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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