Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Ilhan Omar introduces resolution affirming boycotts as protected free speech

Resolution affirming boycotts as First Amendment right co-sponsored by Reps. John Lewis and Rashida Tlaib


Andrea Germanos
July 18, 2019 9:00AM (UTC)
This article originally appeared at Common Dreams. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

Rep. Ilhan Omar drew praise for introducing a resolution on Wednesday affirming the use of boycotts as constitutionally protected free speech and a tactic for effecting social change.

"This is HISTORIC!" tweeted antiwar group CodePink.

Co-sponsored by Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and John Lewis, D-Ga., HR 496 says that "governments and nongovernmental organizations alike have sought to criminalize, stigmatize, and delegitimize the use of boycotts in an attempt to stifle constitutionally protected political expression."

Per the text, the resolution:

  • affirms that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution;

  • opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad; and

  • urges Congress, states, and civil rights leaders from all communities to endeavor to preserve the freedom of advocacy for all by opposing anti-boycott resolutions and legislation.

The resolution from Omar — who has faced repeated criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for noting the power of the Israel lobby — does not mention Israel, Palestine or the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement known as BDS.

Still, CodePink, in an email to supporters, framed the new measure as "a counterweight" to the bipartisan HR 246, a pending measure that seeks to oppose "efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel and the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement targeting Israel."

Strikingly, while Lewis is a co-sponsor of HR 246, Tlaib and other critics of the anti-BDS proposal have called it "unconstitutional."

Lewis' co-sponsorship of the new HR.496, CodePink said in its email, is one "of the most incredible aspects of this resolution." The group noted that he's "a long-time civil rights leader and 32-year-long congressmember known for his strong support for Israel."

As such, the group said, having Lewis as part of the resolution making clear the right to engage in political boycotts "sends a clear and direct statement that the right to boycott must be protected, regardless of one's position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is a game-changer!"

Jewish Voice for Peace also applauded Omar's new resolution, praising the three House lawmakers for their "unwavering support for human rights, free speech, and the fight for social justice — everywhere."

The BDS National Committee also made the connection to the measure's broad affirmation of the right to boycott and how it affects the BDS activists.

"This groundbreaking resolution will inspire human rights defenders everywhere, including BDS activists for Palestinian rights," said Bind Awwad on behalf of the movement, adding that it provides reassurance "that progressives, including in Congress, are defending freedom of expression and the right of oppressed communities, including Palestinian, to peacefully fight for their rights."


Andrea Germanos

Andrea Germanos is a senior editor and staff writer at Common Dreams.

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