Palestine: U.S. State Department’s Deliberate Conflation of Anti-Semitism with Criticism of Israel Threatens Freedom of Expression and Palestinian Rights

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies condemns the latest effort by the current administration of the United States (U.S.) to delegitimize and silence opposition to Israel’s apartheid regime and smear organizations and their work to monitor, document, and criticize Israel’s widespread and systematic human rights violations targeting the Palestinian people as anti-Semitism. To designate human rights defenders and organizations seeking to uphold international law and hold perpetrators of violations and grave breaches in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to account, including corporate actors, as anti-Semitic is defamatory, restricts freedom of expression, and strengthens Israel’s ongoing and escalating institutionalized campaign to silence and delegitimize opposition to its apartheid regime and denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. This is yet another blatant effort by the U.S. to shield Israel and corporate actors from accountability.

On 19 November 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo declared, “The United States strongly opposes the global discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign (Global BDS Campaign) and practices that facilitate it, such as discriminatory labeling and the publication of databases of companies that operate in Israel or Israeli-controlled areas,” and added that the State Department would review and withdraw its funding from organizations deemed to be involved in or supporting such activities.[1]

The right to boycott is protected as one manifestation of the right to freedom of expression, opinion, and association. Historically, boycotts have been an important tool for accountability and bringing an end to illegal situations, such as apartheid in South Africa and the Jim Crow laws in the U.S. The BDS Movement is a Palestinian-led global civil society movement which describes itself as an inclusive, anti-racist movement opposed to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The right of the BDS Movement to freedom of expression and boycott has been defended by Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, and UN human rights experts.

On the same day, Secretary Pompeo also announced that the U.S. would label products from Israeli settlements as “Product of Israel” or “Made in Israel” thereby normalizing Israel’s de facto annexation of parts of the West Bank in flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions 465, 471, and 2334, which direct the international community not to be involved in Israeli settlements and to differentiate between Israel and the territory it occupies since 1967.

Business activities are critical to the maintenance, expansion, and sustainability of Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement enterprise, which exploits the land and natural resources of the oPt and results in a myriad of human rights abuses, including population transfer, house demolitions, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement. The labeling of products and services is one way for States to differentiate between illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territory and Israel, in line with their legal obligations as third state parties under international law, including UN Security Council resolution 2334 which calls upon all states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” In addition, the U.N. database of businesses involved in Israeli settlements is one important tool towards ensuring that states and corporate actors undertake the necessary human rights due diligence and respect international law in their activities and relationships in occupied territory.

We reaffirm the importance of and our support for human rights defenders and organizations in promoting and protecting human rights and the rule of law in Palestine, particularly in light of this attempt to intimidate through smear tactics and arbitrary measures. We further call on the United States to respect the right to freedom of expression, opinion, and association of all people without discrimination.

[1] Similar measures have also been taken by individual states in the United States to punish companies that refuse to do business with Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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