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Government & Politics

Legislation in Ohio Statehouse Urges Colleges To Take a Stand Against BDS Movement

photo of anti-BDS backers

Just a day before Jews celebrate one of their holiest days, Yom Kippur, a state lawmaker is drawing attention to a resolution they say would attack anti-Semitism on the state’s college campuses.

There’s a movement on college campuses called BDS. The acronym stands for “Boycott, Divest and Sanction.” Supporters of it are trying to get people and businesses to launch those actions against those doing business with and in Israel because of what they consider injustices against Gaza and Palestine. Republican Representative Andy Thompson says the BDS protestors often engage in anti-Semitic behavior.

“We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The BDS movement is about wiping Israel off the map. And if we don’t stand strongly and firmly against that, if we do not insist that our campuses protect the rights of Jewish students and allies of Israel, we could potentially face much darker outcomes.”

Thompson’s legislation condemns the movement and urges state universities to take a stand against those who advocate for it. Michael Goldstein is the executive director of the Ohio Chapter of the group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. Goldstein, who is Jewish, says it’s a Christian group dedicated to educating Christians to their Biblical duty to support the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Goldstein says the legislation is needed because BDS groups are infringing on the first amendment rights of Jews on campuses.

“They have carried out an array of intolerant activities to silence Jewish and pro-Israel voices, many of them Christian, most frequently through the attempted cancellation, shutting down or disruption of pro-Israel events but also through the vilification and intimidation of Jewish and pro-Israel groups and individuals with the clear intention of de-legitimizing their perspective or their point of view or causing them to be too afraid or uncomfortable to express it."

A question of free speech?
But Rahul Saksena, an attorney for the group Palestine Legal says the resolution is troubling because it is part of a national effort to stifle the free speech of those who support Palestinian rights.

“It’s part of a larger trend that we are seeing across the country to censor and suppress First Amendment-protected speech that’s critical of Israeli government policy and supportive of Palestinian rights. So people in the U.S. are increasingly embracing boycotts and the tactics to help achieve justice and equality for Palestinians and that by increasing support for Palestinian rights is really challenging the status quo in this country, a status quo that favors uncritical support of Israel and I think in response that’s making Israel and its organizations nervous.”

ACLU 'leery'
The Ohio Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union hasn’t taken a stance on the bill. The ACLU of Ohio’s Mike Brickner says his group supports the rights of all people to be able to boycott or support certain causes. But he says he’s leery of this resolution.

“It is one of many new bills that we have seen, both in Ohio and also across the country that strike out against BDS activists. There was a bill that passed last General Assembly here in Ohio that limited the ability of the state to conduct business with people who participate in BDS activities. We are also seeing a bill that was introduced in the U.S. Congress earlier this year that is pending that we also think would harm people’s ability to boycott and come with some potential penalties if a person did engage in boycott activities with the BDS movement.”

Brickner says his group is watching this type of legislation to see how it will play out in the context of free speech for all sides. As for Thompson’s bill, it has just been introduced. It still has to go through the legislative process.