Yes, Israel does interfere in the affairs of other states

It is said to be antisemitic to accuse Israel of interfering in the internal affairs of other states.

Except it’s true.

As Netanyahu boasted recently: “In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.”

In this article, Philip Weiss shows the Israel lobby in action – spearheaded by the Israeli consul.

 

Rep. Deborah Silcox introduces Harold Hershberg of Israeli consulate (l, partial image) to Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Atlanta, GA. March 11, 2020. Screenshot.

A Georgia state legislator who has pushed the state law opposing boycotts of Israel testified at a hearing that the Israeli consulate “asked me” to introduce an amendment to the law, and she did. The lawmaker appeared at the hearing in March with an Israeli consular officer seated at her side, and introduced him to the House committee.

State Rep. Deborah Silcox made her comments a month after Benjamin Netanyahu bragged that Israel was promoting these laws. Netanyahu tweeted on February 12:

Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted… In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.

The Israeli government’s intervention was first reported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in a March press release. I learned about it from an interview with a lawyer who is suing the state of Georgia, which was posted on Empire Files by journalist Abby Martin last Friday.

Here is the back-story.

Thirty-two states, including Georgia in 2016, have adopted laws denying state funds to those who advocate boycotting Israel. The U.S. Senate has passed a bill urging other states to do so (The “Combatting BDS Act of 2019”). Last summer the Forward reported that an organization that has helped draft these laws received a grant from the Israeli government.

In February 2020, Abby Martin was “disinvited… from delivering a keynote speech at an academic conference” at Georgia State University, losing out on a $1000 honorarium, because she refused to sign what she calls an “Israel loyalty oath,” affirming that she would not engage in boycotts against Israel.

Backed by several groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Martin then sued Georgia State in federal court, saying that it had violated her First Amendment rights by applying the law.

A month after that suit was filed, Rep. Deborah Silcox testified before the Georgia House’s Governmental Affairs committee in favor of a bill she had introduced to raise the floor on the contracts governed by the law — from $1000 to $100,000.

Martin’s attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, says raising the floor for contracts is an attempt to get Martin’s suit thrown out as moot. When $100,000 is at stake, contractors are far less likely to challenge the law, she says.

The law’s supporters are afraid of legal challenges, because higher courts are sure to strike down the law as unconstitutional, Verheyden-Hilliard says.

At the hearing on March 11, Silcox can be seen sitting and chatting with a man in the front row before she testifies, then introducing him to the committee.

“Thank you Mr Chairman…. I do want to introduce briefly Harold Hershberg, who’s here with me with the Israeli consulate… I appreciate him coming down this morning to join us.”

Silcox goes on to say that Israel asked her to raise the monetary limit.

"We have had some issues on a small scale with this and so the Israeli consulate and a number of people have asked me to raise the limits."

Harold Hershberg is listed as the director of government and political affairs for the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

In her video interview last week, Abby Martin cited Netanyahu’s tweets as a “veiled threat” to make Israel’s critics suffer financially; and then noted that Georgia state officials are responding to this Israeli government pressure.

Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund deplored the collaboration.

It’s remarkable and fundamentally distressing that you have elected officials in the United States who actually are willing to sacrifice Americans’ cherished First Amendment rights at the request of a foreign country. And it’s demanding basically that you and anyone else sign a loyalty oath to a foreign country, in order to be able to sign a contract with the state of Georgia.

The situation is so extreme that in fact, one of the state legislators, Deborah Silcox, when they were seeking to amend the law and raise that limit to $100,000, to try and to moot your case actually said in a committee meeting, at the state legislature, that she had been asked to take that step by the Israeli consulate and apparently even brought a member of the Israeli consulate to speak in that meeting.

This is the United States. This is where we’re told over and over again, that it’s American rights, that we have the First Amendment, that we have the constitution, that we have the bill of rights, that this stands for American freedom, and then they can just quickly turn around and say ‘Well another country directed that we take these actions, and So we’re going to do that’.

Verheyden-Hilliard went on to say that Israel’s intervention is testimony to the power of the boycott movement.

The fact that Netanyahu is responding to this litigation and to the challenges— the effort that is coming from the highest official in Israel to a movement in the United States and worldwide– says something about the impact of that movement. The history of boycotts, in the United States and global boycotts, is one of struggle, one of unity, one where people come together in nonviolent collective action to fight for justice. And when you think obviously of the boycott of apartheid South Africa, when you think about the Montgomery bus boycott in the United States or Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott, these are crucial moments in which people are able to find a way to act together in collective action and have an impact when they need to have an impact. And Israel and Netanyahu are very afraid of this movement and are trying to do everything they can to stop a movement for justice that they oppose.

Last month two liberal Zionist organizations joined the case on Martin’s behalf. J Street and T’ruah filed an amicus brief in federal court, saying they oppose BDS but that the laws punish open debate.

J Street believes that censorship of those who question American or Israeli policy puts the intellectual integrity and future of the Jewish community at risk and threatens to further calcify opinions about the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, making more remote the realization of a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Earlier this month, Silcox lost a reelection bid to a Democratic challenger in her north Atlanta district.

Thanks to Terry Weber.

Comments (1)

  • Rachel Lever says:

    Need similar instances for the forced introduction of the IHRA “definition of antisemitism” which has been promoted to weaken the ground around the BDS movement and divert the focus onto antisemitism.

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