Monthly Archives: March 2018

Palestine and the American First Amendment: A victory for the BDS movement in Arizona

Hatem Bazian writes: Friday, March 17, I reached an agreement with Arizona State University (ASU), the Arizona Board of Regents and Arizona attorney general that will allow a speaking event on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement on April 3, 2018, at the university. The agreement is a victory for the BDS movement since the speaking contract previously included an unconstitutional anti-BDS clause that prohibited me from speaking on a boycott of Israel during my visit.

The agreement with ASU is a victory for the First Amendment and the rights of free speech. Again, pro-Israel forces worked hard to silence the voices of justice and human rights, but hard work and dedication made the difference. This is a victory for the BDS movement and a victory for Palestine’s voice in the U.S. I am deeply indebted to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) hard work that will make it possible for me to exercise the rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution – the right to speak at ASU on BDS and to oppose the Israeli apartheid. This success was made possible through the hard work of CAIR Arizona, CAIR National and the American Muslims for Palestine’s (AMP) team on this important legal challenge.

Last month, I received an invitation from the Muslim Student Association to deliver a lecture on Palestine, the current crisis resulting from the U.S. president’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the effectiveness of the BDS movement at ASU. As per the regular procedure for such an engagement, the students sent me ASU’s contract detailing all the conditions that must be fulfilled as well as the costs associated with travel, accommodations and stipend.

I read the contract and started filling it out but stopped as soon as I got down to item 20 on the list of contractual conditions. Surprisingly, ASU’s contract included the following text for item number 20: “No Boycott of Israel. As required by the Arizona Revised Statutes § 35-393.01, Entity certifies it is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel and will not engage in a boycott of Israel during the term of this Contract.” This text was added to all ASU and other Arizona state public agencies contracts to adhere to the new law, which, at the root, seeks to protect Israel from the BDS movement.

I stopped filling out the contract as a matter of principle. I cannot and would not sign this contract in full conscience, being one of the key BDS organizers in the U.S., an academic who writes on BDS and an activist on Palestine with the strategy to use a nonviolent, human rights-focused movement to address Israel’s continued violations of international law. The contractual condition creates an ethical dilemma since it stipulates individuals to sign provided they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel and will not engage in a boycott of Israel during the term of this Contract,” something that I cannot do as a precondition to be able to speak at a public university on BDS.

This contractual condition boils down to ASU and Arizona setting up a prior restraint on speech. “In the First Amendment law, a prior restraint is government action that prohibits speech or another expression before it can take place,” as the Cornell Law School explains. The government or any power has “two common forms of prior restraints. The first is a statute or regulation that requires a speaker to acquire a permit or license before speaking, and the second is a judicial injunction that prohibits certain speech. Both types of prior restraint are strongly disfavored, and, with some exceptions, generally unconstitutional.” Here, the ASU contract included language that clearly sets up prior restraint on my ability to speak about BDS during my upcoming visit to the campus.

Consequently, and with the help of the CAIR office in Arizona, I challenged the law so as to not accept the prior restraint imposed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) through its work in the U.S. political system to prevent those points of view that are critical of the ongoing Israeli occupation. I believe that this regulation in Arizona and other states like it is an attempt by AIPAC, other major Zionist organizations and the Israeli government itself to win an unwinnable cause, to maintain support for an apartheid state that constantly violates international laws. The law attempts to defend the indefensible by restricting freedom of speech and academic freedom so as to rescue and protect Israel and its continued apartheid and occupation. More critically, the condition and the Arizona law treats Israel as an exception to the norm. The law restricts free speech that is foundational to the First Amendment and a constitutionally protected right – the ability to ask for public adherence to a call for BDS of Israel.

On a national level, AIPAC and all the major, mainstream and established Zionist organizations – the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Anti-Defamation League(ADL), Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) – are engaged in a full campaign to restrict free speech on BDS and curtail criticism of Israel and its continued human rights violations. The attempts at legislation supported by all the major mainstream Zionist organizations is intended to shield Israel from criticism and possibly cause American people to abandon Israel as they did in the past when it chose to divest from South Africa. Here, a heavily Israeli funded and full national campaign is underway to counter the BDS movement. This campaign attempts to use federal and state legislation to target individuals with structured and systematic defamation, as well as to work to recruit voices that normalize Zionism among segments of the Arab and Muslim communities through the Shalom Hartman Institute Muslim Leadership Initiative and fictitious interfaith projects that focus on silencing Palestine. Israel’s supporters have been the leading agents on restricting free speech and academic freedom on many college campuses by advocating a whole host of civility codes and conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel while using university administrations and administrative regulations to limit the free expression of solidarity with Palestinians. The cases of San Francisco State University with professor Rabab Abdulhadi’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) program and the University of California Berkeley in relation to a course on Palestine is a case in point where university administrations became part of the strategy to limit pro-Palestine free speech and academic freedom while coordinating these strategies with local Zionist leadership and, at times, with the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco – the representative of a foreign state given access and solicited for ideas on how to limit the constitutional rights of American students and professors.

AIPAC and many of its regional affiliates have been working overtime to push for legislation across the U.S. to restrict free speech on BDS, and in some cases to criminalize advocacy for Palestinian human rights. The victory in Arizona is very important and serves as a model to challenge legislation that seeks to protect Israel at the expense of constitutional rights, the right of free speech and freedom of association, since considerable demonization and criminalization efforts on college campuses are directed at Students for Justice in Palestine. Israel and its supporters should not have veto power over the First Amendment and legal challenges should be mounted to expose the efforts of a foreign government and its agents to undermine the right of anyone in the U.S. to critique a country that is addicted to human rights violations and U.S. foreign aid. BDS is out of the bottle and attacking the First Amendment is a battle Israel and its supporters will certainly lose. Read original article

Beyond the brink: extinction of the Northern White Rhino

The world’s last northern male white rhino, Sudan, has died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya due to age-related complications, survived only by his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu.

It is strange that when first writing the title for this post, I wrote ‘on the brink of extinction’, but given that the world is inured to everything being on the brink of extinction, I changed the title.

Hopefully, given that his genetic material was collected, some serious genetic science can now get Fatu pregnant, and some luck intervenes to produce both males and females.

Wall Street corruption and Senate bill S.2155

Bernie Sanders famously made his filibuster speech on December 10 2010 on financial reform, and has tirelessly pursued the subject ever since. His inability to carry the DNC primary against Clinton was clearly due to the power of the banks. Here he is again fighting against the proposed Senate bill S.2155: “The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act”, which is likely to pass with a majority, giving the top Wall Street banks, who are serial offenders on many different levels, and a serious danger to the public, new immunities.

Russian presidential elections: March 2024

In this election, in March 2018, Putin is standing as an independent candidate allied to the so-called All-Russia People’s Front (ONF),  a coalition between the ruling party and numerous nongovernmental organizations. He will win this election: in Russia all the bargaining and power plays take place before the elections.

But what is ex-talk show host Ksenia Sobchak doing in the race? She is standing in her capacity as leader of the Civic Initiative party, and will not win in this election. However, the real purpose behind her participation is to give her the exposure to do better next time. She is also in the process of trying to get better exposure in the US, airing views that are unpopular in Russia, on Crimea and gay rights, for instance, to build a reputation as a liberal. Her views on these matters have cost her dearly, as polls show that with a bit more than 1% ready to vote for her, 80% of the electorate say they would never vote for her, making her the most unpopular of all the candidates in the race.  But clearly Sobchak and her advisers hold the view that it is better to be hated than to be unknown, and to alter her policies as she gains prominence.

In the presidential debates (in the video above), she added drama to the usually prosaic debating process by standing up to the heckling of the nationalist party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who for decades has monopolised the dramatic limelight, storming off in tears at the end when the TV mediator wouldn’t give her extra time.

So it is quite probable that she will do well in the Duma elections in 2021, and in the presidential elections in 2024. In view of the close relationship between her family and Putin, changes in her policies over time may mean that she eventually stands as an independent candidate allied to the groups in the ONF, to become Putin’s successor. She will be 43 and Putin at 72 will become kingmaker in the establishment background. It is significant that Putin admitted in his state of the nation speech that he was now mainly concerned about reform and the future succession. The video display of new weaponry at the end of the speech was a statement, really, of what he has been doing up to now.

No candidate other than Sobchak – with her obvious standing in the Russian élite – can be the right “compromise candidate” for the warring factions in the next pre-election standoffs in Russia. The Western media’s focus on Alexei Navalny and his inability to stand in the elections, on the other hand, fails to address the main point that he is simply not trusted not to give the keys of the kingdom to foreign powers in the vein of Yeltsin and to some extent Medvedev. The reform problem in Russia is one of encouraging the development of a political class that serves Russia, hopefully the Russian people, without liquidating and absconding with the country’s resources abroad.

No new figure can emerge in such a relatively short space of time that the system will be able to digest. As for supporting the idea that Russia might give up Crimea and gay rights, this policy makes her noticed on the domestic scene and makes her look good in the West, giving her the international status her establishment backers will want. Eventually backtracking on policy proposals is what every politician ends up doing.

Update 19th March on 2018 elections: Sobchak is a credible (in the Russian system) fourth out of eight candidates with a tiny 1.67% of the national vote.

Vladimir Putin:76.66%
Pavel Grudinin:11.80%
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 5.66%
Ksenia Sobchak:1.67%
Grigory Yavlinsky:1.04%
Boris Titov: 0.76%
Maxim Suraykin: 0.68%
Sergey Baburin: 0.65%