Flag of Israel, courtesy of Wiki­media Commons

Free speech advo­cates fre­quently crit­icize college cam­puses for their out­landish protests of right-wing speakers and anti-speech demon­stra­tions. While these com­plaints cer­tainly have merit, freedom of expression is in danger of encroachment from a much more influ­ential insti­tution than orga­nized college stu­dents: the Israeli lobby.

Israel’s Knesset, the country’s uni­cameral elected leg­is­lature, passed a law in 2011 that penalizes “persons or orga­ni­za­tions that boycott Israel or the set­tle­ments,” according to Haaretz. The Knesset passed the law in response to the growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanc­tions movement crafted to garner inter­na­tional awareness and support for a free Palestine.

The article noted that anyone “calling for the boycott of Israel, including the set­tle­ments, can be sued by the boycott’s targets.” The leg­is­lation not only vio­lates freedom of expression, but John Locke’s famous notion of the right to dis­po­sition of one’s property in any way one wishes.

Boy­cotts against oppressive regimes similar to Israel’s mil­itary rule in the West Bank have a robust and pow­erful history. Gandhi’s fol­lowers refused to consume British goods and held large gath­erings to burn clothes. China’s May Fourth Movement fea­tured a boycott of Japan, resulting in a 40 percent reduction of Japanese exports to China. Nelson Mandela and the African National Con­gress imple­mented many suc­cessful boy­cotts to oppose South Africa’s apartheid state.

Anti-BDS leg­is­lation isn’t the Jewish nation’s only departure from natural rights; Israeli legal code is wrought with similar free speech infringe­ments. For example, Pales­tinians can be pros­e­cuted for posting a picture of a mur­dered loved one on Facebook based on how many likes and shares the post has. Moreover, a con­tro­versial ‘anti-ter­rorism’ law passed in 2016 obscures the legal dif­ference between legit­imate, peaceful protest and asso­ci­ation with ter­rorist orga­ni­za­tions, opening the door for even more free speech abuses.

As solu­tions to the Israeli-Pales­tinian con­flict appear more and more futile, the presence of civil dis­obe­dience and peaceful protest is ever more imper­ative. Banning peaceful forms of dissent is a bad political tactic and clearly anti­thetical to free speech prin­ciples. Unfor­tu­nately, this dis­as­trous policy has been spreading around the world.

In Feb. 2016, the U.K. passed a law making it illegal for any entity receiving public funding to refuse to buy goods from illegal Israeli set­tle­ments. These bodies would not only lose their public funding, but addi­tionally face “severe penalties” if they violate the statute, according to The Inde­pendent.

In Oct. 2016, France’s highest court upheld the con­vic­tions of a dozen activists who advo­cated sanc­tions and a boycott of Israel in order to end the occu­pation. The extremist crim­inals wore shirts let­tered “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel” and handed out fliers insisting that “buying Israeli products means legit­imizing crimes in Gaza.”

The issue made the leap across the pond into a sig­nif­icant minority of U.S. state leg­is­la­tures over the past few years. Here in Michigan, a law signed earlier this year stip­u­lates that state agencies “may not enter into a con­tract with a person… unless the con­tract includes a rep­re­sen­tation that the person is not cur­rently engaged in, and an agreement that the person will not engage in, the boycott of a person based in or doing business with a strategic partner.”

Last year, Andrew Cuomo, the Gov­ernor of New York, issued an exec­utive order requiring all agencies to cease dealing with busi­nesses and orga­ni­za­tions that support BDS.

Even worse, the American Israel Public Affairs Com­mittee tar­geted the U.S. Con­gress earlier this year by writing a bill to crim­i­nalize BDS. The bill would have amended existing law so that, according to the ACLU, an indi­vidual or business could suffer a “minimum penalty of $250,000” and a “maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison” for par­tic­i­pating in the boycott. Before reaching the public eye and fal­tering, the bill had 234 co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate.

As a result of a Texas anti-BDS law, some Hur­ricane Harvey victims must agree to an absurd clause when applying for a relief grant. In Dick­inson, Texas, the appli­cation reads, “the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.” Basing hur­ricane aid on political alignment is an unam­biguous sub­version of free speech and a clear example of dis­crim­i­nation.

With rampant, despotic per­se­cution of Pales­tinians in the West Bank and eco­nomic stran­gu­lation in Gaza, peaceful activists have turned to eco­nomic boycott, but they con­tinue to struggle against powers that be. Even if people approve of the mil­itary occu­pation of the West Bank, at least support Pales­tinians’ right to speak against it.