With help from influential liberals, pro-Israel lobbyists push to define resisting Israeli apartheid as hate speech.
Alternet — Last week, just a few minutes before the House Foreign Affairs Committee met for a hearing, one of the Israel lobby’s most dependable members of Congress, Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen huddled with twenty supporters of AIPAC, the lobby’s front line organization in Washington. It was a routine affair for the Florida Republican and her pro-Israel allies, whom she addressed by their first names. But a member of the public who witnessed the meeting noticed a startling new agenda was on the table.
The witness told me that Ros-Lehtinen vowed to destroy the mounting grassroots BDS campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
To do so, she pledged to weaken the First Amendment. “Free speech is being used in our country to denigrate Israel and we need to actively fight against that,” Ros-Lehtinen declared, according to the source.
Disturbing as her statement might have been, it was consistent with the rhetoric bellowed out by nearly every presidential contender who appeared on stage at DC’s Verizon Center.
Speaking before some 18,000 AIPAC supporters, Senator Ted Cruz not only pledged to starve educational institutions of federal funding if they dared to support BDS, he promised that under his watch, “they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Echoing Cruz, Republican contender John Kasich announced his intention to “use the full force of the White House” to destroy what he called “the scourge” of BDS.
The Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, was no less draconian. Reverting to the “Goldwater girl” sensibility of her conservative college years, and tossing aside her recent appeals to social justice intersectionality, Clinton vowed to punish the campus left for supporting Palestinian human rights.
Slamming BDS as a form of anti-Semitic hate speech, Clinton offered encouragement to the young, affluent and almost uniformly white pro-Israel students bused into AIPAC in droves.
“Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities,” she implored them.
The BDS movement has gathered momentum at a staggering pace since it was devised by Palestinian civil society groups in 2005.
With its call for grassroots level boycotts to pressure Israel into respecting the human rights of Palestinians, the movement has spread across European capitals and found fertile soil on American college campuses. Yet just a few years ago, AIPAC and its affiliates displayed little interest at all in it.
When he appeared at AIPAC in 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent his entire speech badgering the Obama administration for not attacking Iran. He did not feel compelled to mention Palestinians even once.
Despite the influential role played in the 2012 Republican presidential primary by Sheldon Adelson, a key benefactor of Netanyahu and the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, BDS was scarcely mentioned by any of the candidates, nor was it discussed much in mainstream American media.
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