COLUMN: AIPAC, ACLU and Congress are tilting at windmills

In Miguel de Cervantes’s magnum opus “Don Quixote,” the befuddled hero jousts with windmills he thinks are giants.

That image very well describes the current tussle between liberals and the “Israel-first” crowd about an anti-boycott law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are burning straw men and rallying their troops against an imaginary enemy they have constructed for themselves.

The ACLU released a letter last week on the law igniting the controversy. Glen Greenwald wrote an article up in arms. The AIPAC issued a statement. The authors of the bill wrote a response letter, misrepresenting what they’re seeking to pass.

By doing so, everyone scores points with their supporters at the expense of clarity. This siege mentality rewards loyalty and consolidates the reputations of these groups as guardians of fill-in-the-blank values.

First, let’s get right what the Israel Anti-Boycott Act actually does.

The Editorial Board and the ACLU correctly identify it as a expansion of the previous Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945, which made it a crime to participate in the Arab states’ boycott of Israel, according to the ACLU.

That has already been reauthorized several times.

As Jay Michaelson wrote in The Daily Beast and the Office of Antiboycott Compliance explains, “...while the law addresses all ‘U.S. persons,’ it is actually about corporations, which are forbidden from joining the boycott, or cooperating with the boycotters by furnishing them any information. Exceptions are provided for companies that are effectively forced to cooperate to avoid the ‘secondary boycott’ of countries who do business with Israel.”

The law specifically targets companies and their executives, not your student council boycotting Sabra hummus and SodaStream.

It’s not like Israel’s recent boycott law that lets airport security deport you for your political views.

Enter the United Nations Human Rights Council from center-left in 2016.

The final resolutions recommit to the two-state solution, calling for more funding, labels on settlement products, and for companies to “avoid, identify, assess and address any adverse human rights impacts related to their activities,” according to the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

The drafted legislation basically adds “and the U.N.” to the list of prohibited boycott-organizers your company can’t support.

The ACLU’s worry is the expansion of “the scope of criminal laws targeting peaceful political activity,” according to its letter.

But its concern is myopic. If it’s honest, it should be worried about the original anti-boycott laws, not the recent addition. The ACLU also distracts from the troubling stigmatization of non-violent Palestinian resistance against a long military occupation that controls every aspect of Palestinian life.

Of course the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement exploits ambiguities of what the campaign stands for. It’s unclear whether it’s against Israel’s existence or the occupation.

As Michaelson notes, the failure of the movement to condemn its own anti-Semitic elements “corrupts the entire enterprise and provides fodder for endless hysterical right-wing rants about anti-Semitism on college campuses, pride marches, and U.N. meetings.”

Raising false flags will not help the Palestinian cause. Like Sancho Panza in “Don Quixote,” we need to ask “where are these giants?”

My hint: it’s the weapon supplier.

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