PROTESTING ILLINOIS’ ANTI BDS LAW AND THE CENSORSHIP OF INDIVIDUAL AND CORPORATE ACTIONS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
We are a coalition of Chicago based organizations in solidarity with Palestinian rights and with the right to boycott. We see the attempts to criminalize and demonize the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement as an attack on free speech and human rights, not just for Palestinians but for all who advocate for human rights. None of us is free until all of us are free.
Protect Palestinians, Not Their Killers
In 2016 I visited the West Bank village of Umm al-Kheir with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, where I met an incredible person: Sheikh Suleiman al-Hathaleen. He was a wiry, powerful man in his late 60s, and an indomitable force: standing proudly and defiantly against attacking Israelis soldiers and bullying settlers, armed with nothing but his courage and his unwavering sense of justice. In 2021 alone, Sheikh Suleiman was arrested more than 60 times for his activism..
On January 5th, while Sheikh Suleiman was protesting yet another illegal seizure of his community’s property, an Israeli settler ran him over with a tow truck, dragging his body 10 meters. The police left Hajj Suleiman lying on the ground, his skull, spine, ribs, and pelvis fractured. He died 12 days later.
Israeli police did not attempt to stop the truck and the driver has never even been questioned.
In the last year, Israeli forces have killed more than 300 Palestinians, nearly a quarter of them children. Last year, the UN documented at least 450 settler attacks against Palestinians and their property, with 118 of those resulting in death or injury.
This past week we saw the brutal destruction of the Salahiya family’s home in the dead of night in Sheikh Jarrah, with family members beaten and made homeless. We saw mass arrests of Palestinians, (including many children) in the Naqab.
And yet…here in Illinois our own state government shelters Israel from responsibility, censoring and demonizing Palestinian activism with its anti BDS Law, which prohibits state pensions from investing in companies that refuse to do business with Israel. Andrew Lappin, who chairs the Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions, (while not smearing Palestine supporters and calling Islam “the political iceberg of democracy”) has stated that his goal is to maintain Israel’s “sovereignty” over the West Bank. Last month, as activists for Palestinian rights protested, representatives for the Jewish United Fund, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, and other pro Israel organizations actually claimed that there is nothing illegal about the Occupation, and that defeating BDS is a matter of justice and human rights.
Where is the justice for the Salhiya family in Sheikh Jarrah?
Where was their concern for the human rights of Sheikh Suleiman?
And why does Illinois protect the “rights” of colonizers and killers, but NOT those of Palestinians? Why do we pay for a committee of anti Palestinian bigots to tell us that Illinois companies and pensions MUST support Israel…or be punished?
State Senator Sara Feigenholtz, who wrote the Anti BDS Law states that “our public pension investments must align with our state’s public policy objectives”. Is it Illinois public policy to jail Palestinian children, throw Palestinian families into the street, and run trucks over elderly Palestinian men?
We say NO. We call on Governor Pritzker and the members of the General Assembly to replace this law with one that reflect human rights, to recognize that the settlers who killed Sheikh Suleiman and expelled the Salhiya family are committing war crimes, and that it is Israel that deserves our censure and our condemnation, not those who take a principled stance again it.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Anti BDS Laws
WHY DOES ILLINOIS CENSOR CORPORATE AND PUBLIC BODIES’ FREE SPEECH RIGHTS?
In 2015 the Illinois General Assembly passed Public Act 099-0128, the Anti Boycott Divestment Sanctions Bill. Supported and encouraged by then governor Bruce Rauner, the law was the first in a series of anti Palestinian state laws aimed at punishing Palestinian free speech, in some cases by criminalizing protected political activity of state employees.
The Illinois law prohibits state-run pension funds from investing in companies that for political reasons refuse to do business with “ the state of Israel or in territories controlled by Israel”. It created the Illinois Investment Policy Board and the Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions. There are currently 45 companies on the prohibited list for boycotting Israel.
In July 2021, Ben and Jerry’s, the Vermont ice cream company founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs, made the historic announcement that they would cease doing business in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This courageous decision prompted cries of outrage from Israel and its supporters, and increasingly outlandish demands to boycott Ben and Jerry’s. States like Illinois, which already had anti-BDS laws, moved to enforce them against B&J’s parent company Unilever.
On September 9th, despite opposition from representatives of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Peace, the US Palestinian Community Network, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace, the IIPB board voted to investigate Unilever and possibly add it to the prohibited investments list. The committee is also investigating Chicago based Morningstar for recommending against investing in Israel due to its poor human rights record. Our coalition opposes the statute and the targeting of Ben and Jerry’s /Unilever and Morningstar for the following reasons:
A DECEPTIVE LAW
“Israel” vs West Bank Settlements
B&J is refusing to do business in the illegal Israeli West Bank settlements, not in Israel proper. This is a significant distinction. The law in question can punish any company that “refuses to do business with Israel or in territory controlled by Israel”. The provision disregards longstanding U.S. policy to not support the illegal settlements, or any acts that further Israel’s annexation and settlement expansion.
The United Nations rapporteur on the region has described the settlements as a war crime, whose illegality is enshrined in international humanitarian law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention; and has been confirmed by the UN, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, and the International Red Cross. Leading pro Israel organizations and most US officials condemn them as an obstacle to a two state solution.
When the anti boycott law creating this board was passed in 2015, proponents claimed it was needed to protect against antisemitism. However, Ben and Jerry’s was started by 2 Jewish businessmen; the company based its decision to stop selling in the illegal Israeli settlements on human rights, not on ethnic bigotry. Morningstar’s Israel assessment offers neutral, fact based data on risk. Political or financial criticism of Israel is not antisemitism.
Recently FOIAed documents revealed that members of the Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions asked for support in protecting Israel’s sovereignty over “Judea and Samaria”, an annexationist term for the West Bank. Thus it’s clear that the real goal of the committee is to support Israeli control of the settlements, not to protect Jews.
Anti Palestinian Racism and the Right to Boycott
Even Zionist leaders and organizations which object to boycotting Israel recognize that there is a right to boycott. J-Street, Americans for Peace Now and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky have all taken positions against outlawing or punishing boycotts against Israel. The right to boycott is a constitutionally protected form of political speech.Essentially, the statute puts Israel in a special category, as the only nation protected from criticism. By definition, this discriminates against Palestinians, the only oppressed racial/ethnic group that is banned from engaging in a legal, constitutionally protected form of protest. While Illinois censures the human rights violations of other countries, it punishes any company that takes a stand against such violations in Israel, and forbids public pension funds from making human rights based investment decisions.
Illinois Coalition For Justice Equality and Free Speech calls on the IIPB to cease adverse actions against Unilever and Morningstar. We call on Governor Pritzker to review the discriminatory, unconstitutional nature of this statute and of the Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions, and to support the right of companies and pension funds to follow socially responsible investment principles. The Coalition will rally at the Thompson Center 100 W. Randolph, 16th Floor on December 22 at 11:00 am before addressing the Committee members in person at their noon meeting. Join us in standing up for equality, justice and freedom for all.
Ask the governor to review the discriminatory, unconstitutional nature of this statute and of the Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions, and to support the right of companies and pension funds to follow socially responsible investment principles.
207 State Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
James R. Thompson Center
100 West Randolph St., Suite 16-100
Chicago, IL 60601
Governor Pritzker @GovPritzker
Tweet Our Campaign!
Why does Illinois punish companies that won’t operate in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine? #StandwithBenandJerrys #RightToBoycott
The US gov’t, faith groups, human rights orgs and the UN all oppose illegal Israeli settlements. But this IL Board wants @BenandJerrys to support apartheid. #RightToBoycott #Boycott4Justice
Why is @GovPritzker’s investment policy board telling @BenandJerry’s we won’t invest public pension funds with companies that oppose apartheid? #PalestinianLivesMatter #BenandJerrys
Why is it cool to support human rights and fight discrimination and racism – for everyone except Palestinians? Ask @GovPritzker #EndDiscrimination #EndRacism #PalestinianLivesMatter
By punishing #Unilever and #Morningstar The IL Investment Policy Bd supports illegal West Bank settlements, #apartheid #PalestinianLivesMatter #Boycott4Justice
Why does the Illinois Investment Policy Bd punish companies and pension funds for taking a human rights stand? Protect your #RightToBoycott #PalestinianLivesMatter
IL law can prohibit public pension funds from making ethical investment choices. Respect the #RightToBoycott #Boycott4Justice
Stand Strong with Palestinian Civil Society, Stand up for Human Rights, don’t support #apartheid #StandwithBenandJerrys
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- American Friends Service Committee
- American Muslims for Palestine
- Arab Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East
- Black Lives Matter Chicago
- Chicago Alliance Against Racist Police Repression
- Chicago Area Peace Action
- Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy
- Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
- Committee for a Just Peace in Israel Palestine
- Community Renewal Society
- Democratic Socialists of America, Chicago chapter
- Gay Liberation Network
- If Not Now Chicago
- Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition – Illinois
- Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago
- Palestine Legal
- Peace & Justice Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago
- Students for Justice in Palestine Chicago
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- US Palestinian Community Network