In August, the California Senate Appropriations Committee will decide the fate of AB 2844, a bill coauthored by Santa Barbara Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to stigmatize supporters of Palestinian rights. The Appropriations Committee will decide whether to pass the bill onto the Senate floor or keep the bill in the suspense file — a purgatory for costly legislation.
Jackson — a champion for labor, women, and the environment — could leverage her stellar reputation to persuade other lawmakers to scuttle this censorship bill.
It could happen. She could make it happen — and might want this headache to just go away.
Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jackson voted for AB 2844 in committee, but she did not utter a word of support for the bill during the packed hearing.
I know because I was at the June 28 hearing in Sacramento, where I stood at the microphone to register my opposition along with the ACLU, Palestine Legal, and Jewish Voice for Peace, the fastest growing Jewish organization with over 200,000 supporters.
Under AB 2844, any “entity” — multinational, sole proprietor, church nonprofit, or university — conducting or receiving $100,000 or more in business or assistance from a state agency must sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury (a felony) that the entity does not now nor has ever adopted a policy against a U.S. recognized sovereign nation or peoples as a “pretext” or cover for discriminating against Californians under state civil rights laws.
The bill is a pretext to ostracize supporters of the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign to end second-class status for Palestinians. This campaign was born in 2005, when Palestinian civil society issued a call for global support to apply international pressure to stop Israeli human rights abuses — theft of Palestinian land for Israeli settlement expansion and hoarding of water in the West Bank. The world learned that Palestinians in occupied territory long for a sip of fresh water while settlers splash in swimming pools and tend to their gardens.
If people want to protest or divest from Israel for political reasons — because they are outraged over these abuses — that is their right, for the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that boycotts are a form of political speech and that “speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.” (NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.)
The First Amendment aside, AB 2844 also tramples all over the Fifth Amendment: due process. How can one be guaranteed due process if no one really knows what would constitute a crime under this law? If a business, under pressure from a global human rights campaign, pulls out of Israel — refusing to manage prisons or segregated bus systems under an illegal occupation — yet fails to reveal the withdrawal on its affidavit, would the business be committing perjury? If a college chancellor signs on the dotted line, not revealing that a professor in the history department teaches a unit on ethnic cleansing in Palestine — the massacring of Palestinian villagers prior to the establishment of the State of Israel or the banishment of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland — would that amount to perjury? What is a “policy” under a “pretext” anyway?
Opponents of AB 2844 understand that if the bill passes, the Israel lobby will use the legislation as cover to threaten to defund or harass universities like UCSB, where Students for Justice in Palestine constructed a mock cardboard apartheid wall to symbolize the Israeli wall that restricts the movement of Palestinians, cutting deep into the West Bank, encircling Palestinian towns. In fact, the bill encourages harassment by authorizing “the Attorney General to receive and investigate complaints … ” against those who have signed the required affidavits.
The State of California would need an army of investigators and bureaucrats to decipher and enforce the legislation for which Jackson is a principal coauthor. The bill would not only tax the Attorney General’s office — which would need to hire additional staff — but also create a negative business climate while inviting lawsuits on constitutional grounds.
If Santa Barbara’s senator and her colleagues in the Legislative Jewish Caucus — which features an Israeli flag flying on its website and hosts “Capitol Knesset” lunches — are miffed at student activists simulating Israeli military checkpoints on campus, let the senators and assemblymembers write their own commentaries to counteract the BDS campaign for the Palestinian right of return, an end to the occupation, and equal rights for the Palestinians living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
The free marketplace of ideas is about persuasion, not coercion — so Jewish Voice for Peace-Santa Barbara is pushing back on the legislative arm-twisting. The organization recently took out a “NO on AB 2844” ad in The Santa Barbara Independent, featuring a woman with duct tape slapped across her mouth.
California already has anti-discrimination laws and prohibits hate speech that carries the threat of violence.
We do not need to chill speech or legislate a witch hunt of those who are too loud or too passionate or too opinionated or too correct.
We need what our nation’s founders advocated when they wrote the First Amendment: lively and raucous public debate that shakes the foundation of our deeply rooted assumptions, causing us to either embrace those beliefs with greater fervor or reject them for a new, more enlightened worldview that recognizes the equality and dignity of all people.
In the name of free speech, urge Hannah-Beth Jackson — the author of landmark legislation for equal pay for women — to live up to her exemplary record by joining with other lawmakers to reject this censorship bill. Call Sen. Jackson at (805) 965-0862 or (916) 651-4019 to echo the call: No on AB2844.
Marcy Winograd, KTYD’s News Director in the early’ 80s, is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and a statewide Coalition to STOP AB2844. She now lives in Santa Monica, home to the principal author of AB2844, Assemblymember Richard Bloom.