In danger in Israel’s reaction to Ben and Jerry’s? The right to protest.

Ben and Jerry’s recently announced that it will not renew its agreement with its Israeli licensee when it expires in 2022, stating that it is “incompatible” with the brand’s values ​​”for sale in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)” . The move, which created tensions between the brand’s independent board of directors and its British parent company, Unilever, was the culmination of years of pressure from defenders of Palestine and, more recently, the Movement for black lives, which sees the struggle for Palestinian rights as an integral part of the struggle for black freedom.

Much has been written about Israel’s relentless offensive against the ice cream company. But there has been less talk of the consequences for Americans’ right to protest if our constitutional right to boycott is voided by Israel’s demands. As a Palestinian and advocate supporting those who face a cruel backlash for supporting Palestinian rights, I can tell you that these efforts are just the tip of a broader attack on all of our rights to speak out for justice.

Almost as soon as Ben and Jerry’s announced his decision, Israel and its American lobby got to work, threatening the ice cream company for heeding calls to end corporate profits made at the expense of Palestinian human rights. The Israeli prime minister warned Unilever that Israel planned to react “aggressively” to the decision. Its president called it a form of “terrorism”. An ambassador sent a letter to governors of 35 US states calling on them to enforce laws aimed at blocking boycotts against Israel for its violence against Palestinians.

The message to other American companies was clear: support Palestinian human rights and we will make you pay.

The reaction of Israel and its allies is familiar and expected. The pro-Israel lobby has sworn countless times to punish entities that disrupt Israeli apartheid affairs or criticize Israel for denying Palestinians their rights. (Just three years ago, pro-Israel supporters sounded the alarm on Airbnb for delisting properties in illegal Jewish-only settlements, harassing the company with harassing legal threats until it reverse its decision.) And, since 2014, Israel and its allies have attempted to lock down a growing movement for Palestinian rights by pushing for legislation in the United States targeting boycotts, divestments and sanctions that seek to hold Israel back. responsible for its violations of international law.

My organization, Palestine Legal, has tracked how over 30 states have enacted laws prohibiting state contracts and / or investments in entities that boycott or divest from Israel. Some create McCarthyist blacklists of boycotters. Others require vendors in the service of the state to commit in writing not to boycott Israel during the term of the contract. Hundreds of other imitation measures have been proposed across the country by lawmakers who support Israel.

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