free speech

GOP: Ilhan Omar Is Un-American Because She Supports the First Amendment

The Constitution defender has logged on. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

The Republican Party has spent the past several days accusing four Democratic congresswoman of “hating America” and rejecting its values. In that time, the GOP has produced approximately no evidence to substantiate its charges. No footage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez burning a flag has been uncovered; no photo of Ayanna Pressley training with Maoist guerrillas in the Berkshires has been published.

But this week, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib did introduce a congressional resolution affirming that all Americans have a constitutional right to participate in boycotts. And this, apparently, qualifies as evidence of their dearth of patriotism and hostility to American values.

A pillar of the Republican indictment of Omar and Tlaib is that they are insufficiently deferential to the Israeli government on questions of Palestinian rights. And, since vehement opposition to the occupation of the West Bank is equivalent to anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism is un-American, the congresswomen’s views on the Israel-Palestine conflict render them anti-American.

Therefore, many conservatives expressed incredulity when Omar and Tlaib — both of whom support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel — decided to introduce a resolution defending the legitimacy of boycotts this week, as though such a move did not confirm the worst things that had been said about them.

GOP members of Congress roundly condemned the resolution (which some Democrats also oppose). National Republican Senatorial Committee senior adviser Matt Whitlock claimed that the resolution likened Israel to Nazi Germany.

But the resolution does nothing of the kind. In fact, the words “Israel” and “Palestine” appear nowhere in its text. The resolution does not invoke the precedent of Americans boycotting Nazi Germany to support an argument for boycotting Israel today; it does so to support the argument that boycotts are a vital form of political expression, and therefore, “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

This resolution exists because opponents of BDS have introduced legislation to Congress that would make it a felony to support a boycott of the Israeli government, one punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, 27 states have passed anti-BDS laws that impose sanctions on individuals or commercial enterprises that participate in boycotting Israel.

One can reasonably object to BDS as both a movement and a tactic. But the notion that it is inherently anti-Semitic to support a boycott of Israel is absurd. Most arguments for why the BDS movement is fundamentally anti-Semitic center on its supposed commitment to a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yet the Israeli government shares that same commitment — only its preferred one-state solution involves the permanent suspension of basic political freedoms for Palestinians in “Greater Israel.” And for the moment, the U.S. is doing nothing to dissuade the Jewish State from moving forward with de jure apartheid. Asked on PBS Wednesday night, “What rights do you believe the Palestinians deserve to have?”, the Trump administration’s top Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt replied, “Rights is a big word.” He then declined to endorse the two-state solution or Palestinian self-determination.

But all that is beside the point. Plenty of individuals and organizations oppose both the BDS movement and laws that punish its supporters for exercising their First Amendment rights. And Omar and Tlaib’s resolution is focused entirely on the latter. Republican lawmakers understand that boycotts are a form of political expression — several of them endorsed a boycott of Nike earlier this month. Thus, their ostensible position isn’t that boycotts are something other than a form of political expression, but rather, that the American people’s rights to freedom of expression must be curtailed to protect the interests of a foreign power.

And they call the left un-American.

GOP: Omar Is Un-American Because She Supports Free Speech